Access Ready joins the National Council on Independent Living in Mourning the Loss of Marca Bristo

Associate Facilitators Gathering Amongst a Field of Flags

 

Access Ready joins the National Council on Independent Living in Mourning the Loss of Marca Bristo

“To our NCIL family,

It is with a heavy heart that we write to inform you of the passing of Marca Bristo. Marca passed away on Sunday, September 8 from cancer.. Until stepping down just recently because of her prognosis, Marca was President and CEO of Access Living, the Center for Independent Living she founded in Chicago, IL nearly 40 years ago. She co-founded NCIL in 1982 and served as our second President. Marca was a tireless activist who dedicated her life to fighting for disability rights, and the Independent Living community has lost an incredible advocate and friend.

Sarah Launderville, NCIL’s President and long-time friend of Marca described Marca as a force and a kindred spirit. Sarah said, “Marca was a trailblazing advocate. She had a very kind heart and built relationships, and she also had a sharp edge that got things done. She will be deeply missed, and my heart goes out to the IL community as we grieve this incredible loss.”

Marca was a staunch advocate for local, national, and international disability rights for over four decades. In addition to her roles with Access Living and NCIL, she served as the first disabled Chair of the National Council on Disability (NCD) from 1994-2002 and more recently as the President of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities. Her advocacy led to some of our community’s biggest achievements, including helping to author the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and participating in negotiations for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Marca has received numerous awards and honors for her disability rights work including: the Distinguished Service Award of the President of the United States in 1992; the Henry B. Betts Laureate in 1993; the 2007 Chicagoan of the Year by Chicago Magazine; being selected as a co-chair of Governor Pritzker’s Transition Committee on Human Rights; and just this summer, being awarded NCIL’s Max Starkloff Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 Annual NCIL Conference.

Kelly Buckland, NCIL’s Executive Director, said, “I will remember Marca for a lot of reasons, but the one that most often comes to mind was my first NCIL Conference in 1989. Marca was President of NCIL and led a March on the White House to get President George H.W.. Bush to support the ADA. That led to a meeting between the NCIL leadership and the White House the next morning, and eventually led to White House support for the ADA. She was truly a great leader and I am honored that I got to know and work with her. The world is a better place because of her.”

Marca was in a league of her own. The Independent Living Movement has lost a passionate and visionary leader. She will be missed dearly, but her memory will certainly live on. And, as a previous Board Member and leader in the Independent Living movement, Marca’s picture will be added to the Wall of Fame in the NCIL office.

We would like to express our sincere condolences to Marca’s family and friends during this difficult time. A private funeral and burial will be held for Marca’s family. A public memorial service will be announced at a later date.”

 

Labor is the Key

American Flag with blue sky and white clouds

On Labor Day we thank the men and women who have built America. Those that have toiled to build the
railroads, bridges, tunnels and great buildings to those who create ships, airplanes, automobiles and the
rockets that took us to the moon. We are all a part of the great American workforce. Now comes the twenty-first
century with the need to keep building the dreams of people into an accessible livable future. It is information
technology that is lighting the way to that future. The potential of accessible information technology means that
people with disabilities can be a greater part of the American labor force than ever before. The 70%
unemployment rate of the disabled today can become a mystery of the past.
People with disabilities represent one of the greatest untapped labor resources in the nation’s history. With the
advent of information and emerging technologies the frustrations of how to best utilize this resource can fade
away. Technology is turning limitations of the past like difficulties in transportation, the need to communicate
electronically and the desire to work from home into great advantages. A great shift away from the brick and
mortar workplaces of the past is taking place, just as the self-employment (subcontractor) trend is putting more
control in the hands of workers at all levels. These shifts in labor mean greater flexibility for both the workers
and those needing the work done. Control that will be of great advantage to workers with disabilities.
When I became blind in 1967, the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 70% or higher. Today
it is still the same. Throughout our history, politicians and bureaucrats love to bemoan rising unemployment
numbers or trumpet rising employment rates. Seldom if ever do the same individuals highlight the
unemployment rates among the disabled. This is a shameful reality across government entities. Yes, we spend
billions on rehabilitation without much result as evidenced by the unreasonably high unemployment rate among
the disabled. Is this because there is no real policy shift that supports the employment of people with
disabilities? A policy shift like the Access Ready Environments Initiative. Without such policy shifts all the
rehabilitation money possible will make little difference.
Throwing money at a problem is often only half of the solution. Complex social issues like the rehabilitation and
integration of people with disabilities into the mainstream workforce require a paradigm shift in thinking and
behavior. This must begin and be supported by policy changes. The Americans With Disabilities Act has
proven that you cannot just pass a law and throw money at a problem to bring about such fundamental change.
The information technology age has brought about an even greater opportunity to support such a policy shift.
Over the next five years we must move toward building an Access Ready Environment through information
technology. It is a shift that can have great long-term effect on the employment of people with disabilities.
As a paradigm shifting movement the Access Ready Environments Initiative is beginning where all great
change starts to build toward a tipping point, which is the local level. While it can also be the most difficult it is
in the cities and counties where people really see the need and can change policy which is understood as “just
doing the right thing”. It is true that this is where the most parochial attitudes and uneducated stubbornness is
found, but it is the goodness of people who will overcome this entrenched opposition. Through this initiative we
can change the employment landscape for people with disabilities utilizing accessible information technology if
we will only require it in a rising tide that shows labor is the key.

The Uniform Voting Experience

 

The extension of the uniform voting experience must now go beyond the simple act of voting as technology takes hold throughout the election process. The voter check-in process at the polls is one where technology has been shown to be of great assistance. 

The sheer volume of voters and legal notice requirements are putting tremendous pressure on the recruiting, training and retention of poll workers across the nation. The implementation of computer-driven accessible check-in solutions offers a resolution to these issues. 

It can do all these things while relieving the poll worker of many tedious tasks.

·         It frees the poll worker from sworn responsibility for perfect delivery of legal notice statements.

·         It frees the poll worker from debating with individual voters the voting path they must take.

·         It improves the poll workers ability to communicate with the voter from a service aspect.

It does all this while supporting election administrators:

·         By reducing poll worker training and turnover.

·         By no longer making legal requirements and notices subject to being filtered through poll workers with their own views and prejudices.

·         By engaging every voter in the entire process from check in to voting while meeting the individual needs of each voter regardless of their language or disability access needs.

·         By creating a uniform check-in which is part of the voting experience that meets the requirements of the law and smoothes out the process into a faster and more enjoyable experience.

A computer-driven accessible check-in solution can do all these things and more provided all voters are taken into account during the requirements and purchase process. Provided the spirit of the uniform voting experience in the Help America Vote Act is followed. Provided that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act is obeyed by requiring that all poll place check-in technology is accessible to people with disabilities.

 

Developing Technologies

The gathering of organizations like the American Council of the Blind brings to the forefront the great opportunities we each have. New ideas, concepts, technologies, and policies are shown, debated and grown.
Looking at those attending this years disability conventions one must think back to the past and ask
what the disabled of the 1940s or the 1840s would think.
Americans with disabilities have freedoms and abilities they could not have dreamed of.
The accessible and adaptive technologies of today and yes tomorrow are expanding our personal
freedoms with no limit beyond what we ourselves choose to accept.
The litany of names that are expanding freedom and abilities are too numerous to mention but are
being led by the AIRAs, OrCam’s and Human Wares. Just when you think things can’t get better along
comes a new concept that changes the game.
Whether we look at VOTEC who is expanding access to the election process, Discover Technologies who is making software like Share Point accessible or Inclusion Solutions who keep finding and bringing new and innovative products and services into the market that are game changers. We mention all these as examples and not as endorsements. There are so many new companies and developments that it is impossible to list them all.
I bring these forward as examples that I personally have utilized and know their freeing effect.
It is not just about learning or work. It is about play time as well. Let’s talk about Blindfold games who has broken down the digital gaming barrier so I as a person who is blind can play games that are like Space Invaders, Battleship, and many more.
The invention is not only in the realm of blindness. Take a look at the tracked wheelchair that is a true all-terrain chair that even comes with a snow plow attachment and a rifle mount for hunting.
All of these things advance accessibility and will like all other inventions lead to new advancements. It is hard to see into the future of accessibility and know what is coming next. Access Ready is working to make sure that new information technology goods and services will be universally accessible. To that end, we see places like Orange County, Florida reaching new levels of understanding and effort where access is concerned.
Nothing is perfect and much work is yet to be done, but many are seeing the great opportunities for
changing the game.

If We Don’t Fail

In the past millennium, the mind of humanity gave the printed word to the masses, gave individual freedoms their greatest opportunity, freed many from slavery, and began the industrial revolution easing the burdens of millions while providing opportunities to many more. We harnessed wind, water, fire and the movement of people and revolutionized government.

In the last century, we probed the depths of the oceans, took to the air, stepped foot on another world and eradicated diseases. We took the industrial revolution from the mechanical to the intellectual through the evolution of information technology. We split the atom, mapped the human gene and so much more.

The knowledge base of humankind is online for all to access and our understanding is growing by leaps and bounds at a rate multiplied by the speed of thought enhanced by the power of faster and faster information technology.

As we celebrate the two hundred and forty-third anniversary of the beginning of the American revolution, we can look back with great pride at the accomplishments of the republic through its people.

With the exception of native Americans who are the only true possessors of this land, we are all immigrants from other lands. Our ancestors came here seeking a better life and to build something new.

Our collective and individual drive, ingenuity and sheer fortitude in the face of great odds and adversity made America what it is.

Not a place of one religion, creed or color.

Not a place of those who have and those who have less. Not a place of hereditary privilege or poverty.

Not a place where you are judged by who or what your parents were, but by what each of us makes of the opportunity we each have as Americans.

We The People have fought mighty wars to defeat such contentions, making it clear that we will not be such people.

There has been a growing feeling that we have somehow lost our greatness. A feeling fostered and grown by those who clearly do not understand the true heart of the American people.

We The People understand all too well what is going on. After all, it is We The People who hold the ultimate responsibility of how our government behaves.

Looking back we know what we have done and looking forward we know what the genius and generosity of We The People can do.

America must lead across so many fronts in the twenty-first century.

The inventiveness of our people knows no bounds. We can not even imagine the concepts, technologies, and expansion of abilities that are to come. The freedom that will come through such growth if we assure that all can utilize and participate in the miracles of the future.

In this, we are not talking just about making things accessible to people with disabilities, but accessible to all.

We The People have made hard choices in the past to do the right things. We again face such hard choices but have within ourselves the truth, justice, and compassion to bring American ideals to ourselves, our posterity and to the world.

Why do millions come to add their flame to our great torch of freedom? There are as many reasons as there are people, but it can be summed up in one word. Opportunity.

We as a nation are still struggling with this thing called freedom and how to make it work for all. It is the stories of those seeking the freedom that we want to hear the least, that we need to hear the most. They remind us of why America exists.

We The People have the capacity within ourselves to grow our freedoms until their light shines into every dark corner at home and abroad.

No, we should not police of the world, but we can grow freedom by example.

Give access to all. Make sure no one is left out. Make real the freedoms we each hold in our hearts.

Freedom of expression, speech, and worship

Freedom from fear, ignorance, and want

Freedom from dishonesty, exclusion, and immorality

Freedom of aspiration, invention, and empowerment

 

We can have all these things and bring them again to the world by example if we don’t fail.

The Freeing Effect of Technology

This century has opened with a dawn of new technologies that offer freedom of action and participation at levels never before achieved by many people with disabilities. The reverse is also true when designs do not incorporate accessibility, making the new technology a punitive barrier. The slight shift that is taking place is more toward the former than the latter as the hard work of advocacy takes effect.

 

Accessible technology is vital to the disabled at home and in the workplace. Many have found in the past that their investment in accessibility did not result in sales even when mandated by law. Now many who do not offer accessibility are finding they are at a disadvantage in the marketplace.

 

The ADA and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act require that technology be accessible. Many vendors are willing and our insistence that buyers comply with the law is changing the dynamic in many circumstances.

 

Government and big business workers with disabilities are insisting on a level technology playing field with their coworkers and employers are finding the benefits of such a motivated workforce.

 

Because employees with disabilities started demanding equal access alongside their coworkers, business and government began including accessibility in their purchasing requirements.

 

We recognize that this is not just about disability rights, but millions of dollars of investment as well as billions in purchasing dollars from business and government.

 

There is a recognition taking place on all sides of the vital requirement to get accessibility in information technology right and the negative long term effect that will be felt if we don’t. Advocacy organizations like Access Ready are having an effect, but it is the individual at the local level in their community or on the job that are the heroes in this story.

 

Yes, some of these heroes are the people with disabilities that have to deal with inaccessibility, but more and more we see the issue being pressed by co-workers, managers and yes corporate and government policy leaders.

 

Yes, some are coming to this understanding because of hardcore advocacy and legal actions. But many more just see the common decency in providing accessibility.

 

Still, more managers and policymakers are reaching an age where accessibility or the lack of it is beginning to affect them personally. Younger people stepping into these rolls see the world differently than their predecessors and simply can’t imagine not requiring accessibility.

 

Yes, there are conflicts between opposing attitudes in some cases. Such situations generally form over timing and money, but often over a lack of understanding.

 

Where timing is concerned people with disabilities need to work with the short term accommodations offered as long as a plan is in place to succeed those short term fixes with accessible solutions.

 

On the budget or money front, people with disabilities need to help bring an understanding of the higher costs of exclusion or worse yet legal actions.

 

Where a lack of understanding or an attitude challenge is blocking the path to accessibility, then people with disabilities need to support those arguing on our behalf with education, best practices and demonstrated outcomes. In other words show how and why providing accessibility is in the best interest of all involved whether employee, customer, taxpayer or the business or government entity itself. We should never forget that in the end, it is simply motivated self-interest that can turn the tide toward the freeing effect of technology.

Accessibility Investments

 

Many disability-related laws and regulations have required accessibility in the technology arena. Many companies have invested millions to comply only to find in the past that business, government, and non-profit purchasing agents did not care. Investors of accessibility also are finding now that disability advocates are growing in their praise of such corporate support of accessibility requirements.

Highlighting those companies that are investing in accessibility and support for their marketing efforts, by national disability organizations is becoming more accepted.  We will not say that there is a wave of this activity, but there are examples that have made sense like NFB’s relationship with AIRA. Those that are beginning to develop such relationships are being careful to look at the usability and effectiveness of the product before taking the leap.

Many companies have taken the position privately in the past that they will not invest in accessibility until the demand is harming their marketability. That position is fast becoming untenable.

We all know that government and business do not have to buy accessible technology if it does not exist, so what happens if companies stop investing in the development of accessibility? All the laws will not matter if the technology does not exist. There is a slow shift to demanding such accessibility on the part of business, government and nonprofit buyers which is bringing about more accessibility. This means the accessible products and services will exist and their lack will no longer be an excuse.

The concept that accessible information technology (IT) does not end with accessible websites and the documents on those sites is becoming more accepted. It must extend into every aspect of IT from devices to applications and services. Accessibility requirements are turning up in requests for proposals across all of IT and many companies who never considered such in their products and services are now having to do so.

Discussions are taking place with the financiers of new technologies that are encouraging them to require accessibility in the concepts they fund. It opens up the market and yes, mitigates the risk of legal actions. They are beginning to listen.

The cooperation of accessibility developers and disability advocates can only result in a wider range of solutions available to people with disabilities across community life. Supporting the purchase and implementation of new levels of accessible technology will assist business, government, and nonprofits in complying with access requirements and open more opportunities to people with disabilities.

Disability Advocacy

“Nothing about us without us” is not just a slogan. It is a guidepost, a philosophy and greatest of all, a rallying battle cry for people with disabilities everywhere. It is not to be trifled with or only given lip service to. We see many outside the disability community coming to an understanding of this direct statement.

People with disabilities have endured centuries of having their fate decided for them at the policy and personal levels. Many in government and business say they get it, but how many projects, programs or efforts meant to benefit the disabled are led by a person with a disability? I’m not talking about the blind guy you roll out on cue to show how inclusive you are. We must guard against being used that way no matter how much it may cost us personally. It is true, however, that there is new respect being shown to people with disabilities and accessibility needs and it is because of the strategic competence of advocates across many fronts. The growth of the disability community in size and recognized political power is lending credence to our newfound respect.

“Nothing about us without us”, means exactly that. No matter how well-intentioned it is, any discussion about disability at the policy or personal level that does not include representation at the policy level or the person whose life is being discussed at the personal level, is insulting, degrading and without real merit. Nowhere is this being more and more accepted than in the Information Technology (IT) world. The business, government, and Nonprofit sectors are fast coming to this understanding and beginning to include people with disabilities in their planning, testing and implementation of new IT goods and services.

In the past business and government officials use people with disabilities like props to make a point, but seldom included us in the actual planning or negotiations when it came down to it. We see that changing. They see that they are stronger with us than without us.

Nothing about us without us is being taken seriously. Whether we are working professionals in the policy field or a person with a disability trying to manage our own lives, we support each other by putting a stake in the ground and saying this far and no further, we will not abandon this position. Others now get it and are beginning to respect our positions.

Nothing about us without us is becoming a contractual obligation at the professional level and all of us who work in the profession need to agree to stand united on this point. Where individuals with disabilities are concerned it is often the first and last thing learned, remembered and included at all advocacy points.

We, professional policy advocates, are no longer being locked out after we have used our organizational contacts to reveal an issue or open a door to discussing it. Persons with disabilities are insisting on being a part of every discussion that holds sway over their lives and finding respect for that position in many places.

At all levels, we are no longer allowing ourselves to be used or perceived as props or pawns. Yes, this cultural shift is happening slowly, but it is happening.

Across IT and many other areas in the business, government and nonprofit sectors nothing about people with disabilities is being considered, debated or planned without the full participation of all those concerned. Public officials and corporate officers are no longer allowing such a thing because they recognize that it would be a betrayal of this ideal, but more than that, it is a waste of the knowledge that exists in each person with a disability.

No one is born understanding disability in all its facets. People with disabilities bring a unique level of experience in general and in specific as well. If our help is necessary, then the entire process can’t go forward without us. This is being recognized more and more so to the advocates I say keep going things are changing.

Accessibility as the New Standard

This century has opened with a dawn of new technologies that offer freedom of action and participation at levels never before achieved by many people with disabilities. The reverse is also true when designs do not incorporate accessibility making the new technology a punitive barrier. It does not have to be that way. The new technologies that are being revealed almost every day are in many cases truly amazing. Accessibility is becoming the new standard. Accessible technology is vital to the disabled at home and in the workplace. Many who previously found that their investment in accessibility did not result in sales, even when mandated by law, are finding now that those mandates are opening up the market. The ADA and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act require that technology be accessible at the Federal level with many states now following suit. The vendors are willing and the insistence of advocates is resulting in buyers complying with the law. The developers that have invested millions in product accessibility are finding a growing willingness at all levels to require accessibility as the new standard. Government and big business employees with disabilities are insisting on a level technology playing field with their coworkers and the public with disabilities are looking for access to the same goods and services available to the rest of the public on an equal footing. Yes, there are those still fighting accessibility demands in court, but they are learning that accessibility will not be refused. While it is not going the way of accessibility every time we see that, more often than not, there are sympathetic ears understanding the need. Much is being accomplished through forthright negotiation while other advocates are choosing the path of litigation. We can disagree with the tactics of some, but we should look at the cumulative result of all the activity. We are in no way where we need to be and we need to keep pressing, but over time it is being accepted that accessibility is the new standard.

The Inaccessible Web is Improving

The inaccessible web is vast and growing by leaps and bounds every day, but it is getting better. Yes, there are still millions of small business and government websites built using templates, however, the providers of such templates are feeling the demand for accessibility from customers. This is because the work of many advocates across the world wide web is being felt and responded to.

Many companies and government entities having good intentions, spent millions providing accessibility on their website.  Some web developers charge a great deal and some not so much. What is important is the certification of those doing the work and the real user testing that is done before the site goes live.

Finding those that are truly qualified is not as easy as it sounds, but even that situation is improving as developers come to grips with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and online document requirements. The tools to do such work are getting better as well which is also reducing the price of such things as document remediation.

Once the site is live and being used then the real test begins. This is because many website owners do not put accessibility protocols in place to keep the site accessible. This too is changing as managers begin to change the culture where accessibility online and through information technology is concerned.

We have all learned together that with the uploading of every new non-captioned picture, graphic or non-remediated PDF the site can become less and less accessible. Putting in place such protocols is a cultural change from the way things were done to how they need to be done now. It is not unlike the change from the sharp curb to sloped curb cuts which are now a matter of course.  After expending funds to make their website accessible many organizations have realized that changing the culture and attitude toward accessibility is the next vital step in the ongoing process.                 

Scanned PDF documents which are essentially a picture of a document and unintelligible to a screen reader are where many websites begin leaving the path of accessibility. PDF’s created as such can be read by many screen readers, but those PDF’s that have not been remediated or edited to be read by a screen reader are often just as unintelligible. We see more and more businesses, governments and nonprofits putting serious effort into training and processes that create accessibility.              

Website accessibility at the local county and municipal level are becoming a matter of course, thanks to the efforts of local advocates and organizations like Access Ready who bring the issue to the attention of officials. There are thousands of local jurisdictions across America who are now working every day to improve accessibility.  There are also attorneys plowing through the countryside filing legal actions with little if any prior notice who are mostly interested in collecting their fee and moving on. Access Ready has no objection to legal action where it is necessary, but we have seen cases where once the legal fees are paid, small business, government and nonprofits have little money left to make the changes necessary.

It is truly concerning to see this kind of legal activity slowing accessibility at the local government level because much of the governing that touches each of us is found and debated on those inaccessible websites and in those PDF documents. In Access Ready’s discussions, we have found general willingness in a large portion of the market without the need to threaten or take legal action. It is why we have a policy against taking legal action. We are here to educate, advocate and help.

The same issues can be raised in the nonprofit community. Inaccessibility on nonprofit websites and in their documentation can be truly counterproductive. Many of these organizations are in the business of providing services to the very people with disabilities that may not have access. Many non-profit teams are working hard to resolve online accessibility issues. Yes, the cost is an issue for nonprofits, but we have seen industry professionals donate services to non-profits to assist with accessibility issues. Access Ready is making efforts to bring such partnerships about. It is also launching fundraising programs so that we will be able to assist local nonprofits with their accessibility needs.

Inaccessible websites and documents violate a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy, which is transparency. We as Americans have the right and prerogative to know and understand what is going on in our government. Across America, we are seeing the shift in attitudes to a culture of accessibility.

In the commercial space, many companies are recognizing the need and queuing up to provide goods and services to eighty-two million Americans with disabilities. Yes, there are some still fighting the cultural shift, but it is a wave that will lift all boats as they say. Many companies have recognized and want a part of the 240 billion dollars of disposable income annually available to people with disabilities. This is a ready market given the transportation issues that face the disability community making shopping online a natural solution.

The inaccessible web and its accompanying documentation are only serving to deepen the digital divide and many who would most benefit from access. This reality is being recognized in many places. There is still much work to be done, but working together we advocates are making a start in partnership with business, government and the nonprofit sectors. The world wide web is where governance, commerce, and social services are moving to and will be expanding throughout the foreseeable future. Government, business and the nonprofit sectors must and in many places are stepping up to meet the accessibility requirements of a growing disability community.

People with disabilities and a growing public of mature citizens with similar needs are fortunate that the industry which provides support for accessible website design and ongoing PDF document accessibility services is growing and working hard to make providing accessibility easier, less costly and more understandable.

As people with disabilities, we should all take a step back and remember that no one is born with an understanding of accessibility. Especially in a time when technological development keeps moving the goal post.