Access Ready Politics
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, the Internet as we know it today did not exist as the ubiquitous infrastructure for information and commerce. Neither did the information technology-driven political campaign. Today information technology plays a critical role in the daily, political, and civic life of Americans. Twitter, Facebook, and other such technologies have emerged as the arteries through which today’s political blood flows. This governs how political campaigns spread their message. It can be argued that political campaigns fall under the Titles of the (ADA) as public accommodations and should be using accessible information technology to attract voters with disabilities. An Access Ready policy is intended to advance accessibility across the information technology used in the political process.
Much of the information technology used in political campaigns today render use by individuals with disabilities difficult or impossible. These technological barriers are imposed without real consideration given to the needs of the voter. True, unless candidates and campaign officials are intentionally disenfranchising voters with disabilities? The information technologies used in political campaigns must be accessible if candidates are going to create an Access Ready political process. Being unable to access the information technology used by candidates puts voters with disabilities at a great disadvantage. An Access Ready environment is when accessibility is designed into information technology from the outset. What good is an accessible election system purchased at great cost if the political campaigns that beg its use are not accessible as well?
It is difficult to imagine a political campaign without the unprecedented access to information that the web provides. Why would it be acceptable not to provide such access to voters with disabilities? No other minority would stand for such limitations. Information technology is dramatically changing the way that campaigns and parties deliver their messages. Increasingly, political parties are providing the public access to information through their websites. By requiring the adoption of an Access Ready Policy, political parties can achieve and maintain accessibility through their information technology. After all, it is in most cases the Parties who fund and drive the information process behind most campaigns. Becoming accessible is only the beginning, without policies in place to maintain it the effort is wasted.
Through political campaign websites, voters can obtain information or correspond with candidates. They can volunteer and access campaign news and position statements. The availability of these online services makes the decision-making process easier for voters, and campaigns to operate efficiently and cost-effectively. It is a fact that when you make things accessible to voters with disabilities you make them easier for everyone. Accessible information technology can make political campaigns more vibrant and engaging. Accessibility expands the voter and donor base. For campaigns to ignore people with disabilities as a constituency is a tremendous mistake. This minority now represents twenty-five percent of the electorate according to the Centers for Disease Control. An Access Ready policy moves political campaigns in the right direction.
The disability community, including friends and families, now represents significantly more than 25% of the electorate. People with disabilities are an untapped talent pool ready to join political campaigns in both paid and volunteer positions. Given the rehabilitation funding spent by taxpayers, it is ridiculous not to seek out qualified individuals with disabilities. The adoption of an Access Ready Policy that applies to information technology across political campaigns would bring inclusiveness and support from this growing influence group. The promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide an equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to participate in all aspects of American civic and political life will be achieved only if it is clear to political campaigns that their information technology systems must be accessible.
Douglas George Towne
Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.