The Movement Has Started!

The Movement Has Started
The Pinellas Council of the Blind (PCB) passed a resolution on Saturday, July 21, 2018, calling for Access Ready Environments to become the policy of the land. Often a leader on expansive accessibility policies and concepts the PCB will now forward its resolution to its representatives in Congress, the Florida Legislature, and other organizations including the Florida Council of the Blind for consideration. PCB President Eugene Batke stated, “The access ready concept is right for the time and about time. Now the hard work of making it real begins. We see great potential for access and employment across the board in this effort.” What will be the strategy for advancing the access ready policy? “A combined information and structured negotiation.” Stated the PCB Advocate At-large.

As a policy, the Access Ready Environments initiative is a quite simple thing to understand and act on. It is all about thinking accessibility from the outset in the development, purchasing, and implementation process of any information technology or program process effort at any business or government entity. Putting a policy in place that makes accessibility a forethought and not an afterthought should be an easy thing. To resist or ignore requests to put an access ready policy in place would smack of a discriminatory attitude. The result would be requiring that the subject entity be engaged in a structured negotiation to bring about an agreement. If agreement cannot be reached, then legal action of a costly and time-consuming nature would have to follow.
Legal actions to support the Access Ready Environments initiative would be costly in many ways. There is, of course, the legal fees and court costs, but of greater concern should be the public relations and marketing costs. A business or government entity that is shown to be avoiding accessibility where employees or customers are concerned can count on a bad rap in the marketplace. The government’s obligation to accessibility is not up for debate. A business that avoids the issue is ignoring a ready talent pool and the two-hundred and forty-billion dollars a year in disposable income generated by people with disabilities.

The Access Ready Initiative is an opportunity to save the cost of accessibility in advance and take the public relations high ground.

Attending the convention of the National Council on Independent Living this week I keep finding new applications for the Access Ready Initiative. For example, there is a coalition of organizations seeking to move the automobile industry toward designing vehicles that are more easily converted to be wheelchair accessible. Today a car must be radically altered to make it accessible. The concept is that manufacturers could design modules in the frame and body that would allow a vehicle to be altered in the assembly process. This would make the design access ready and therefore lower the cost of accessible vehicles drastically. This is important because the current cost is punitive and impacts wheelchair users’ ability to live fuller lives.
If America is the land of the free and home of the brave, then shouldn’t Americans with disabilities be free from the never-ending fight for access? Shouldn’t leaders in business and government be brave enough to step-up and say, “We will become access ready!” To adopt an access ready policy, it takes commitment, planning, and follow through. Commitment to enforce the policy, planning to save money over the long run, and follow through to make sure that the cost savings and implementation demonstrate the value in a vast talent pool of new employees and generated revenue through a wider range of customers with access to goods and services. An access ready environment is a proving ground for America as the land of the free and home of the brave.

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.

It’s a Mystery

It is a Mystery
Travelling across the conventions over the last two weeks I found myself confronted by one mystery after another. The first mystery came to light when I found myself speaking to a senior federal official visiting one of the conferences as an exhibitor for a small Federal agency. This person is a Diversity Specialist and in charge of the agency program responsible for making their workforce more diverse. It was shared with me that out of 1250 employees there is only one person who is deaf, and no blind or visually impaired employees. When I questioned how they were going about becoming more inclusive, I found that they know nothing about the government or nonprofit disability employment assistance infrastructure.
Another mystery that was evident to me this week, is that there is still a lot of misunderstandings about blindness and disability in general. I know and recognize that no one is born with information about disability, but the depth of the lack of knowledge among the general public is the mystery to me. There is still a general perception that if your blind or have another significant disability then you cannot possibly work or be a professional person. Many seeking advice about doing business in the disability community or recruiting employees with disabilities, act shocked when they find out that consultants like myself expect to be paid for our knowledge. Some act as if we should be honored just to be asked our opinion.

A mystery of another kind is the effort, dedication and just overwhelming hard-work of deaf-blind advocates I was witnessed to at the National Association of the Deaf Convention. As a blind person, nothing scares me more than the thought of having my hearing diminished. Since I was there to talk about accessible poll books on behalf of VOTEC I found our table was a magnet for deaf-blind advocates. I believe that many knew of my work on accessible voting over the past 18 years and came asking “What about the deaf-blind?”. Working through sign language in the palm of their hand they patiently engaged as I explained my concept of a solution through their interpreters who also deserve amazing credit. We could all learn something about dedication from them.

We all love a good who done it mystery and I have one to ponder. The Union Station Hotel in St. Louis is a beautiful building that has been turned into a wonderfully appointed Hilton. The mystery is that it is also the most poorly run Hilton I have ever stayed at. For example, a formal dinner one evening with eleven guests in the Presidential dining room took nearly three hours to get our orders which was wrong in the end. With some fifteen-hundred members of the American Council of the Blind as guests the hotel was woefully short staffed. According to the overworked staff doing their best, this is the norm. Who is the manager who is killing Hilton in St. Louis? Who done it?

As we approach the twenty-eighth anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act the great mystery is why have so many things not changed? Things that matter. The overall 70% unemployment rate among people with disabilities. That only 20% of election polling places are accessible and new technology being introduced, like poll books, are not even being required to be. Landmark legal cases and settlements require things like accessible hotel rooms, but I have yet to stay in a room where all the signage is in braille. Settlements require accessible online documents, but we just finished creating a database of nearly 9000 websites that give no attention to accessibility. There is no mystery about the work we have yet to do.

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.

 

 

“Lets Roll”

“Let’s Roll”
The Resolutions Committee of the American Council of the Blind voted to approve and recommend to the full convention a resolution calling for accessible check-in at polling places across the nation. The unanimous vote took place late on Sunday the 1st of July with little debate.

VOTEC Corporation’s CEO, John Medcalf, was in attendance to lend technical expertise to the discussion and said after the vote: “This is a crucial step toward acceptance of accessible check-in at the polls. It is gratifying to me to have the work of VOTEC’S team recognized.”

In the exhibit hall at the 2018 American Council of the Blind’s convention the VOTEC Welcome Voter Kiosk continues to meet with a great reception. The only complaint is that it is not being used in all polling places yet. Many vowed to take the information home to election officials and seek adoption of the system.

The Welcome Voter Kiosk from VOTEC continues to receive great reviews at the American Council of the Blind convention in St. Louis. A resolution requiring accessible check-in at polling places across the nation is awaiting approval by the entire body. Many attending the gathering are headed home to raise the issue in local election jurisdictions.

The American Council of the Blind convention in St. Louis is going well, things with the Union Station Hotel, not so much. A formal dinner held last evening that brought together leaders of Charter Communications (the parent of Spectrum Cable), The Florida Council of the Blind and Disability Relations Group began with a one hour wait at the table for drinks. The meeting as well as can be expected with Charter explaining the issues they have had providing accessibility to their customers who are blind, have low vision or another disability covered by the law since December, 2016.

At the meeting between Charter Communications, the Florida Council of the Blind and Disability Relations Group there was general agreement that access to cable programming is not only about compliance, but usability. Charter was unable to give a firm date when an acceptable system would be in place but did commit to having more information by October 1, 2018. I stated DRG’s position clearly. Those covered by the law requiring accessibility have been paying full rates and not getting full service. A demand was made that Charter needs to refund 50% of all fees paid since the law went into effect and that the discount needs to continue until accessibility is achieved.

It’s a grand old flag, a high-flying flag… As I travelled across America today from St. Louis to Hartford Connecticut patriotism was on display. From the ten-foot-tall Uncle Sam walking the concourse at the St. Louis airport handing out candy to the children, to the red-white-blue shirts, hats, scarves and shoes of my fellow travelers. As we left Union Station Hotel in St. Louis this morning preparations were in full swing for the day’s events. So much so that all the streets were blocked off around the hotel and we had to walk several blocks to find a taxi with the help of the doorman who was ranging far and wide to get us and others on our way.

America the beautiful, from sea to shining sea… Now in Hartford, Connecticut for the National Association of the Deaf convention to demonstrate the features developed by VOTEC to serve the deaf community through the Welcome Voter Kiosk. Last year, at the Deaf Leadership Conference we were given a lot of great ideas and now we are here to show the results. While not hardened into a final version yet because we want more input, we hope that the strides made will meet with great reviews. At these deaf and disability related conferences you really get to experience the genius and generosity of the American people. God bless America, land that I love…

American Council of the Blind votes unanimously to approve a resolution to require accessible check-in in polling places across the nation. At the same time the National Federation of the Blind Resolutions Committee gathered at the beginning of their national convention in Orlando voted to recommend to the full convention a similar action, going on step further in thanking VOTEC for leading the way on accessible check-in. The blind and visually impaired community is squarely behind accessible check-in at the polls.

At the National Association of the Deaf 2018 convention in Hartford the attendees have been wowed by VOTEC’s introduction of ASL instructions and the ability to communicate between the deaf voter and the poll worker through the Welcome Voter Kiosk. “Amazing technology!” “It will lead to more deaf and hard of hearing participating in voting.” “Great, stupendous, game changing!” “Fantastic, it leads to universal design.” “What VOTEC is doing will support access in so many other areas. It gives me goose bumps!”

At the National Federation of the Blind convention in Orlando, VOTEC’s Welcome Voter Kiosk continues to receive high marks in ease of use, innovation and inclusiveness from attendees. At the National Association of the Deaf convention in Hartford these same sentiments were evoked. Seldom have I seen the blind and deaf communities in total agreement where a new application of technology is concerned. Discussions with deaf-blind advocates have the potential to lead to breakthroughs in access to voting for that population who is so often overlooked.
At the National Association of the Deaf there were many deaf/blind advocates seeking access to voting. The discussions centered around a strategy put forward by Disability Relations Group that would need the political power of the deaf and blind communities to bring it to fruition.

If a Federal government agency like the Library of Congress were going to provide a device to the deaf/blind that would allow them to access books and communicate in refreshable braille: and that device could be configured so it would interact with devices like the VOTEC Welcome Voter Kiosk and accessible voting machines: and Congress could be convinced to first allow such a thing and then require election system providers to interface with such devices: Then a person who is deaf/blind could walk into their local polling place with their Federal government provided device and successfully check-in and then vote. I know it is a big if. It is also the only way I have been able to think of that would provide access at a reasonable cost with the necessary safeguards built in since the technology would be owned and provided by the government. It would take all the collective political will, power and coordination of advocates and government on what an unprecedented scale would be.

Gathered in Orlando the National Federation of the Blind unanimously voted out a resolution calling for all jurisdictions to have accessible voter check-in or poll book systems. The resolution recognizes VOTEC for leading in this field. At the National Association of the Deaf gathered in Hartford, VOTEC received great appreciation for their work on behalf of access for the deaf and was invited to exhibit at two prestigious events over the next year. First, at Gallaudet University this fall and next year at the World Federation of the Deaf convention in Paris, France. John Medcalf the CEO of VOTEC characteristically reacted “Hot Dog!” We have a lot of work to do yet, but it is gratifying to have such great advocates recognizing the teams work. Let’s roll!

 

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.

Gatherings

Gatherings
As many among the disability community begin to gather or head for the conventions this week we should all take a moment to remember the advocates that have gone before. They are too numerous to mention without the risk of leaving someone out. The pantheon of advocate leaders is remembered by each of us in our own way. We know the trials they faced and those we have yet to face.
As I head off myself this week I will be mindful of those disability and civil rights leaders who have trod the same ground. First to Nashville and a meeting hosted by Deputy Governor Jim Henry to discuss accessible poll books and check in systems for the election process in Tennessee. This is the next step in more accessible elections. The exciting part comes next in ST Louis.
Then on to ST Louis for the American Council of the Blind (ACB) convention. There I will participate in the demonstration of the VOTEC Welcome Voter Kiosk which is the leading accessible check in system for the election process in polling places. We hope also to see the ACB pass a resolution in support of accessible check in at the polling place which are being brought forward by the California and Florida Councils of the Blind.
The developers of technology for people with disabilities take a significant risk and often are not shown any gratitude by the people their technology is helping. Recently a technology developer asked me if people with disabilities cared about access? I did my best to explain that sometimes people do not understand the big picture even when their leaders show it to them.
Do people with disabilities care about accessible communications,
education, elections, information technology or websites? Of course, we do, but the average person does not care until a lack of access effects them or someone they love directly. These are long term problems that take long term efforts to get to long term solutions. That is the job of leadership.
People with disabilities need to care and show it when something is not accessible, and/or a modern technology or process comes on the scene to direct access to a new area of employment or community life. It is not just about supporting leadership or the developers of modern technology or methods. We all must get involved and lean into the process of advocacy in our own way.
In a room of disability leaders here in Tennessee Deputy Governor Jim Henry stands out. Seldom have I met a more committed public servant and dedicated advocate for people with disabilities then him. We have all been in meetings where people of title breeze through the room, say all the right things and then move on to the next room full of people and another issue. Not Deputy Governor Henry. This was a sit-down discussion and strategy session about bringing accessible check in poll books to Tennessee. It is true as Deputy Governor Henry said, “Tennessee leads”.
As a longtime advocate for people with disabilities who has worked at the local, state and national level I am often dismayed at the lack of willingness of various disability rights groups to work together. That is clearly not the story here in Tennessee. There is no thought of credit or issue of who comes first among the shoulder to shoulder leaders leaving the room. Today is my sixty first birthday and I could not have had a better gift then listening to the foremost disability leaders in Tennessee collectively take on the task of advancing the concept of accessible check in to gather more support across the states disability and political communities., to benefit all citizens with disabilities. “Tennessee leads”.
The Union Station Hotel in ST Louis is a grand old monument to a time when the pace was slower and great named passenger trains roamed the nation from coast to coast. They delivered family reunions, war time homecomings, the glitterati, rich, famous and infamous into the history of many Union Stations across the nation.
This ST Louis Union Station is home to the glitterati of the American Council of the Blind for the next week and it is safe to say that the layout of the hotel itself will challenge the mobility skills of dog and cane users alike. Never fear though the hotel staff and volunteers have things well in hand. Built at a time when the blind dared not go charging about the country all on their own and apparently remodeled without much concern for ease of access for anyone. We take it as a challenge to be overcome and bragged about.
I love trains and their history, so I love the ST Louis Union Station Hotel. It was an excellent choice and the difficulties that the structure creates are more than made up for by the hospitality of the staff and management. This is a gathering that will long be remembered, and it has not even really started yet. The excitement is building with each arrival as old friends from around the nation gather to make a difference in the lives of Americans who are blind or visually impaired.
Unfold those tables and lift those displays, hang those signs and put out those braille table top cards. You know you people that make the exhibit halls are the best. The who’s who of the blind and visually impaired vender world are setting up their booths and getting ready to show off all that is new. The building is a test for attendees and exhibiters alike, but we all love a challenge.
A visit to the local ST Louis gambling casino was fun even without an accessible slot machine anywhere to be found. Do not go without a sighted guide. So, I did my bit to contribute to the local economy and came away with a voucher for a few dollars that guarantees my return before leaving this fine city. We returned to Union Station’s 77-foot bar and the hourly different light and music show that gets the blood pumping every time from 5 till 11 pm in the cavernous lobby.
With the gathering of the American Council of the Blind at the Union Station Hotel in ST Louis the massive lobby is taking on the sound and feel of a jousting tournament with all those cane wielding experts crisscrossing the paths of guide dogs all while avoiding the ornate open stare cases, furniture luggage carts, hotel staff and god bless the sighted guide volunteers. A first blush curiosity though, the volunteers are not allowed to guide blind attendees through the labyrinth of halls that protect the location of the rooms from the guests. Only the two few hotel staff can do that. “It’s for security reasons.”
At the American Council of the Blind convention in ST Louis held at the Union Station Hotel the exhibit hall kicked off with a busy first day. The miracles of modern technology alongside the reliable standards in the blind community vied for attention in a great room where the fashionable of ST Louis society once cued up to board powerful named trains leaving for the coasts.
The California Zephyr, The Super Chief, The City of San Francisco, and countless other trains with no names thundered through where advocates at the American Council of the Blind convention are making their mark today. On the first day of the gathering in ST Louis VOTEC’s Welcome Voter Kiosk met with rave reviews as convention goers are about to consider a resolution calling for accessible check in at voting locations across the nation.
At a midnight meeting the resolutions committee of the American Council of the Blind is scheduled to review and vote on a list of resolutions that will stake out the organizations position on a host of topics including calling for accessible check in systems at polling places across the nation. Brought forward by the California and Florida state affiliates the resolution goes into the meeting with what appears to be great support. I hear that train a coming, its coming around the bend!

 

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.

The Conventions

The Conventions


In a few days, many of the national disability organizations will begin holding their annual and semiannual conventions. The American Council of the Blind, The National Association of the Deaf, The National Council on Independent Living, The National Federation of the Blind and others are gathering. Great planning, thought and expense has gone into these events. Among leaders, the rank and file they generate great interest. Old friendships are renewed and new ones made. Issues are discussed and plans are made. Marches are held, great speeches are given and songs are sung. Sponsors and exhibitors come in support and hope. Commitments are sought and given. Then what happens?


Some look at the gatherings as a reason for a vacation or party and are not truly engaged for the right purpose. They bolster our ranks and their voices fill our songs, but then they go home. Their participation is great, but we need more from them than singing. We need participation all year long. Everyone needs to make the calls, send the emails and show up at the meetings they are asked to. If this does not happen then next year, like last, we will be talking about the same issues and making new plans.


At the disability rights conventions this year, we face a time in our history when there are forces working to roll back the rights and access of people with disabilities. We are in a time when the United States Attorney General is using the Bible to justify immoral acts on the part of the government. Who is to say when such blasphemy will be turned our direction. Now more than ever the conventions must rise to the occasion.

 

The disability rights conventions are cause for celebration, but they must also be cause for commitment. The real and full participation of everyone attending in person or virtually is more vital this year given the forces arrayed against us. We must all use this time to be educated, plan and commit to the tasks ahead. There are some sixty-two million Americans with disabilities and an even greater number of friends, family members and supporters. We must use the conventions to become a thundering voice that cannot be ignored. The rights of millions are at stake along with that of our posterity.

 

The United States of America has just announced that it is pulling out of the United Nations Human Rights Commission on the heels of ripping babies out of the arms of their parents at the border. Yes, Americans with disabilities should be concerned and even worried about the course our government is taking. The political party blame game is in full swing, but it is reaching new heights of hysteria. Where it will go is any ones guess at this moment. We must ask, what is the end game?

 

It is safe to say that out of the 537 Federal elected officials in Washington that each of them has their own idea of where we need to go as a nation, how to get there and what the end game really is. As Americans with disabilities and the single largest potential voting block, we need to decide if we will be sheep and just follow along or fully take on our responsibility and drive the course of events. I am small, but taken together with other Americans with disabilities, our friends, families and supporters we are one hundred million plus strong. The 2018 conventions are where we begin.


Many people with disabilities take their advocacy responsibility seriously, but many more do not. We know this by the lack of voter turnout and failure to engage when called for. If the majority did engage then congressional phone lines and email boxes would be jammed when called for. That kind of involvement is such a simple thing when you think about it.

 

Those that need to get our message at the local, state and national levels are not afraid of us because they have never felt the full force of what we could muster if we were to act in unison. I’m not saying that we all need to agree on every issue, but many issues could bring the majority into alignment and generate a storm of influence the likes of which lawmakers at all levels have never felt before.


Consider this, if we had voted as a majority in the last presidential election then our disability friendly candidate would be in the White House right now. The candidates at all levels do not really seek our endorsement because they do not see us as players. The conventions are a place where we can begin to change that. If we do not, then the blowtorch of prejudice, indifference and anti-minority anger will be turned our direction. You can already see it in upcoming budget discussions where social programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security Disability are on the chopping block.

 

So, suitcases, hat boxes, portable barrooms, braille printers, all kinds of technology and all kinds of people are being gathered up to descend on places like Hartford, Orlando, St. Louis and Washington, DC with a purpose. Perhaps this time it could be with a mission.

Let us all resolve to support each other in a mission to set things right and protect our rights today and in the future. Let’s gather and make a joyful noise that will be clear all the way to the White House and beyond. Let’s learn all we can, help each other to make and keep commitments that can be relied on. We must join and come away from the conventions with a renewed sense of purpose, drive and Steele hard resolve. We must speak with the thunderous chorus of one hundred million voices speaking in unison, “This far and no further!” We must send a message that we will not become second class citizens again.

 

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.

Be it Resolved

Be It Resolved
Whereas, the Americans With Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and other federal/state laws require that all new or updated buildings meet federal and state physical accessibility guidelines;

Whereas, the courts have upheld these requirements;

Whereas, the Americans With Disabilities Act requires that government services and places of public accommodation meet accessibility guidelines;

Whereas, the courts have upheld these requirements;

Whereas, The Americans With Disabilities Act requires that places of employment make reasonable accommodations to provide for the employment of people with Disabilities;

Whereas, the courts have upheld these requirements;

Whereas, the cost of retrofitting or upgrading both buildings and technology is often held out as a reason not to provide accessibility;

Whereas, the unemployment rate among people with disabilities has remained unreasonably high often approaching 85% for some disability groups;

Whereas, many with in the disability community are under employed and not allowed to reach their greatest potential;

Whereas, many potential employers give lip service to the law and the concept of employing people with disabilities, but these intentions are undermined by hiring managers who quietly fear the cost of making a workplace accessible;

Whereas, federal, state and local governments allocate hundreds of billions of dollars annually to the education, training and equipping of people with all types of disabilities so they may enter the work force successfully;

Whereas, this effort is being thwarted by a general lack of workplace accessibility, a total lack of understanding of the abilities of people with disabilities and in some cases outright discrimination;
Whereas, modern technology driven workplaces are often not readily accessible to potential employees with disabilities;

Whereas, accessible twenty-first century information technology has proven the ability to level the workplace playing field between employees with disabilities and their non-disabled counterparts;

Whereas, this same technology has proven the ability to make public facing portals to service, retail, and information delivery accessible to people with disabilities;

Whereas, inaccessible twenty first century technology creates unreasonable, punitive and costly barriers to people with disabilities;

Whereas, information technology is clearly the lifeblood of twenty-first-century employment and commerce;

Whereas, the cost of accessible technology if required in advance is marginally different from inaccessible products; and

Whereas, legal and moral precedent exists for the advance planning and implementation of Access Ready Environments;

Now, therefore, be it resolved by we, the sixty-two million-plus Americans with Disabilities, our friends, families, and supporters of an equal or greater number assembled in conscience, commitment and intent herein request and require that;

Federal, state and local governments, business and places of employment and public accommodation voluntarily implement all steps necessary to require that information technology managers, departments, developers, and providers take actions to impose Access Ready information technology environments in advance of their need in the same way that structures are required to be accessible in advance of their need; and

That the Congress of the United States and the legislative bodies of the various states take legislative action to require that Access Ready information technology environments be imposed under the appropriate titles of the Americans With Disabilities Act and supporting state statutes; and

That the Congress direct the United States Access Board or other appropriate bodies to set Access Ready information technology standards designed to create employment and public-facing environments that are or can easily be accessible to people with disabilities; and

That disability rights, consumer, service organizations and government departments serving people with disabilities take all steps to inform, notify and educate other departments, places of public accommodation including, but not limited to potential employers of the need to implement Access Ready environment requirements in information technology purchases; and

That Federal, state and local government purchasing departments along with those of business and commerce impose Access Ready requirements on respondents to requests for proposals and other solicitations related to the purchase of information technology; and

That government and business Information technology managers, departments, developers and providers at all leadership levels engage with disability technology experts to review their current employee and public-facing systems to ascertain the necessary upgrades to create an Access Ready environment; and

That disability organizations and experts begin to examine public facing information technologies in order to inform the government and business owners of those systems of the issues found, and further to take appropriate actions to bring about changes that will provide Access Ready environments; and

Be it further resolved that the United States Department of Justice is hereby requested to review, investigate, monitor, report on and take action against employers and places of public accommodation who have a proven track record of avoiding, refusing to implement, and/or failing to otherwise provide for Access Ready information technology environments by policy, unreasonable budget restrictions and/or supporting an atmosphere of institutional discrimination against people with disabilities; and

That individuals with disabilities with the support of their friends, families and civil rights organizations begin a grassroots campaign utilizing existing complaint and legal avenues to bring to the attention of government and business the need for immediate action to alter the course of technology development and implementation to include accessibility from the outset and not as a case by case afterthought; and

That organizations who provide services to, represent and/or are otherwise engaged with the disability community be vigilant on their own account to assure that they are setting an example of how to be Access Ready by imposing their own reviews to provide accessibility across their own information technology platforms; and

That the disability community as a whole resolve to call out, take action against, and economically boycott businesses/advertisers who continue to develop, promote and purchase inaccessible information technology; and

Be it finally resolved that Americans with disabilities are unwaveringly committed to making Access Ready information technology environments a standard across all areas of employment, public accommodation in government and commerce in order to make the twenty-first century a true time of access for all; and

That we herein put all on notice whether they wish us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure that our posterity of Americans with disabilities shall not be forgotten in the technologically driven historic future of the world to come.

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.

Stunned Looks

Stunned Looks
The Access Ready environments initiative has evoked a common response from advocates and another from business/government leaders. Disability advocates recognize how in this information technology driven world that access ready environments in the office is just as important as making sure the building they are housed in is physically accessible. Business/government leaders often have a stunned look of disbelief as if access to the tools of modern office practice are a bridge to far beyond the building being accessible.
Carrying access ready forward to the public facing space in business/government also brings those leaders up short. Why is the question. For some reason the idea of planning ahead and requiring access across all environments is a foreign concept. Even in the face of cost reduction and legal arguments. The other question that must be asked is, why are we required to come hat in hand begging for access in the workplace and other technology driven spaces like elections, retail and information?
Why must people with disabilities almost always ask for accessibility nearly twenty-eight years into the life of the Americans With Disabilities Act. We can never assume that accessibility is a norm in any environment. Not only does this include buildings, but it most certainly includes the majority of information technology environments both employee and public facing.
The providers of such technologies are at this point aware of the legal requirements as are the purchasing departments of business and government. At this point we must ask if such disregard is merely a lack of structure in purchasing, an ignorance of the law or is it an intentional act of discrimination that manifests itself in the form of an institutional hate crime? It is time that people with disabilities take action against such discrimination, ignorance and criminal hatred.
Some will say that the term hatred is to strong, but what other word best describes such a flagrant and ongoing disregard of the law and common decency. It is time we start calling out business and government leaders for the purveyors and promoters of such hatred. I use the word hate because it can no longer be said that providing access always increases cost. The providers and purchasers of technology know this, so what else is the answer to the question of why?
People with disabilities along with business and government can greatly benefit from accessible software solutions, while inaccessible technology creates a punitive barrier that blocks access and puts business and government at legal and moral risk. The unwillingness of business and government leaders to impose accessibility requirements on new technology purchases demonstrates a shocking knowledge of the law or an intentional discriminatory policy intended to keep people with disabilities out of the workplace and apparently out of their customer/constituent base.
Ignoring people with disabilities as potential customers by failing to provide accessible information tells of an uneducated business leadership. After all people with disabilities represent more than two hundred forty billion dollars of discretionary income annually. Ignoring people with disabilities as constituents by failing to provide access to information is treating more than twenty percent of the population as second class citizens.
The evidence indicates that business/government leaders who are refusing to build access ready environments are doing so because they simply do not want to. They do not want us in their stores, offices, programs, agencies, departments and certainly not in the voting booth. Given this attack on our civil right to participate in economic and community life or access the services of government people with disabilities and our supporters must take direct action.
We must publicly recognize all those who join the access ready initiative and do so with our money and support. We must also shame and identify all those who continue to ignore accessibility and do so by economically boycotting them and their sponsors as well as taking legal and/or political action against them where ever possible.
Economic action can take the form of boycotts and disability organizations could take the lead in publicly identifying the good and bad among the business community. Legal action does not always mean going to court because much has been gained through the strategy of structured negotiation. Political action means grassroots organizing both at the ballot box and through mass complaints filed through the bureaucracy. If people with disabilities do not do these things, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.
People with disabilities can also take political action through the form of candidacy. I am not suggesting that people run as single-issue candidates, but by the simple act of running they can prove the abilities of people with disabilities. Volunteering to serve in political campaigns and at the local, state and/or national level in organizations that serve causes other than disability can provide the same kind of proof. The point is to get engaged.
On the economic front we must make more of our combined buying power. Creating affinity purchasing groups, negotiating group discounts, Sponsoring trade shows and other such activities can project our economic power. Some will say that they have little economic power, but as a combined community people with disabilities, our friends and families have great power.
If every person with a disability, our friends and family members took one action as simple as a phone call, sending an email, mailing a letter, attending a consumer group meeting or other such activity on a monthly or even better a weekly basis, our collective power would soon be felt. We spend way too much time whining to ourselves and each other about the lack of access, respect and inclusion. This kind of preaching to the quire is a good release of frustration, but not very helpful. A stunned look often means a person is caught off balance and we need to take advantage of that. It is time to act.

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.

Remembering with Pride and Prejudiced

Remembering with Pride and Prejudiced

Remember the names, Lexington, Bunker Hill, New Orleans, Veracruz, Gettysburg. We must remember all those who gave the last full measure of devotion. Remember all those who went into battle whole and came out bearing the disabling wounds of valor. Remember the awards earned on the battle field in the face of great odds after being disabled by the rage of the enemies of freedom.
Remember Little Bighorn, San Juan Hill, Manila Bay, Belleau Wood, Flanders. Remember all those who stood up for the rest of us yet to be born into the privilege of freedom. Read the histories and remember the millions who came home disabled by war, but with pride in what they had done for freedoms cause.
We must never forget the debt we can never repay to the makers and defenders of our life liberty and pursuit of happiness. This land of the free has proven itself truly the home of the brave. How many citations express, “having been wounded several times and against all odds the officer held off the charge of the enemy saving his platoon.” Time and time again with disabling wounds American courage has come through despite disability.
Remember Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, Corregidor, Midway, Anzio, Normandy. From the time of the three-cornered hat to the modern advanced combat helmet it is the bravery and determination of the minds and hearts that wore them that has kept freedom’s flame alive around the world. Many have faced untold terrors in battle both physically and mentally disabling, only to come through to ultimate victory.
Remember the Pusan perimeter, Pork Chop Hill, the Tonkin Gulf, Tet offensive, Saigon. When there is disaster, terrorism, or the spread of oppression in the world it is America that has stood up and our bravest that have held the moral high ground. Have we been wrong? Yes, but never has it been the fault of those who carry the flag.
Remember the earth quakes, floods, disease, famine and other natural disasters that have been alleviated by the dedication of Americans serving the red, white and blue. When wrong they stand up even when our political leadership can often not find it in themselves to do the same.
Remember the USS Maine, USS Arizona, USS Pueblo, USS Thresher, USS Stark, USS Cole. Remember all our brave ships and those who sail them into harm’s way. Remember the countless sailors who have gone down to the sea in ships to defend freedom only to find themselves on that eternal patrol. Remember those who have returned with hooks for hands and wood for legs, with patches over one eye as lasting memorials to their bravery.
Remember the B-17 flying fortress, P-51 Mustang B-52 Stratofortress, F-104 Starfighter, F-14 Tomcat, B-2 Spirit, F-117 Nighthawk, and the thousands who flew them into history. Remember the endless mission’s day after day. Remember those who returned and those who did not. Remember all that risked and sacrificed life and limb in the sky for us.
Remember the M4 Sherman, M48 Patton, M1A Abrams, tanks and all those who crew them. Those whose personal Steele is tougher than their tanks. Remember the weapons of war that are nothing without the patriots that take them into battle. Remember Rosy the riveter and all those who work to put the tools of victory in the right hands at the right time. Remember all those who serve in and out of uniform to defend freedom.
Remember Granada, the first Gulf war, The embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Remember September 11, 2001. Remember the first responders who gave all to save lives. The spirit of our great nation was tested, and we responded like only a free people can. Remember the best and bravest who stepped up and have served their country in this time of continuing war on terrorism.
Remember Afghanistan, Iraq and the countless battles with no name between Lexington and Afghanistan where Americans stood their ground against all odds. Remember the millions who have paid for our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Remember the families who have served by enduring the death and disability of their loved ones.
As we remember the past we must also look forward to safeguarding the freedom of future generations of Americans. Throughout our history great feats of valor have been accomplished after heroes were disabled by wounds on the battlefield. Today the military is changing and becoming more technology driven. Are there not places for people with disabilities able to serve their nation in jobs because of that technology? We are patriots like everyone else.
The bravest among us who have proven that disabilities earned on the battlefield are not impediments to their ability to fight and complete their mission, have also proven that people with disabilities can and should serve in uniform where appropriate. The Pentagon itself has begone to recognize this by keeping several troops in uniform after being disabled while serving. The technology of today and tomorrow provides many opportunities for people with various disabilities to serve in various roles.
Many young people with disabilities are just as smart, motivated and patriotic as their none disabled counterparts. They are not seeking wheelchair accessible fighter planes, tanks or submarines. They are seeking to fill roles that make sense. Many of today’s technology driven jobs are necessarily sedentary and could be filled by people with many different types of disabilities.
As we pay tribute to those who have stood up for us in the past and do still today, perhaps it is time to look forward to those who can be just as much a part of our nation’s defense despite their wheelchair, blindness, deafness, or other disability. There are some who will say the military is not a place for social movements or that such a thing will disrupt the unit and be counter to good order and discipline. The same things were said about women and African-Americans. Guess what, the unit changed and adapted. In this case it will again. God bless all those who serve and their families. We remember with pride and hope that the prejudiced of the past will not prevent people with disabilities from serving their country in the future.

 

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.

Getting Ahead of the Curve

Getting Ahead of the Curve

The Florida Council of the Blind (FCB) on 05-20-2018 unanimously passed a resolution calling for the Florida Secretary of State to require that electronic Poll Books be accessible to the blind and visually impaired. Immediate past President and Chairman of the Resolutions Committee, Paul Edwards, explained that in the past, the FCB had raised accessibility concerns about voting machines and vote by mail systems after the fact of their design and purchase. This time we are getting ahead of the curve on electronic poll books.
The Florida Council of the Blind has now joined with the California Council of the Blind and the Michigan National Federation of the Blind in calling on their states to assure accessibility in the latest wave of new election technologies to begin entering the polling place. These resolutions are being forwarded to the respective national conventions in a request for national action.
Electronic poll books are coming, and they must be accessible to people with disabilities. They bring security, transparency, and the direct involvement of the voter in the verification of their eligibility to participate in the election process.
Engaging the voter at this level of participation assures them that their information is correct and provides a clearer understanding of the process including the issues that require a person to cast a provisional Ballot. This releases the poll worker from the difficult and sometimes frustrating task of telling a voter why they must vote provisionally or not at all.
Providing accessible poll books can present the voter who is blind or visually impaired with the same information often posted in the polling place to inform voters of changes made in the election after the ballot was printed. Often poll workers do not have the time to inform voters with these disabilities of the posted information.
Americans with disabilities want to participate in the entire election process. Why is it that Secretaries of State, Election Directors, and local level election officials often appear surprised and even annoyed when we ask for accessibility to be required in the development of new technologies like electronic poll books? In effect they are saying that they are providing accessible voting machines and polling places so people with disabilities should be satisfied. Let the word go forth from this time and place, that we will not be satisfied until accessibility throughout society is a matter of course and not a source of frustration and annoyance. Accessibility must extend to all parts of community life and most especially elections where the fate of our lives is determined.
The population of Americans with disabilities is growing and we take our responsibility as citizens seriously. Accessible elections at all levels of technology and location are necessary for our participation to be confirmed as respected. As a person with a disability myself I am growing frustrated at the fact that twenty-eight years after the Americans With Disabilities Act came into being accessibility is still often an afterthought.
Americans with disabilities can in fact be the largest voting block across the nation. Could it be that this is the reason accessibility in the election process is given little thought if any? Could it be that this effort to keep us from voting independently and privately is the most insidious institutional hate crime of all?
Just like with many other industries the election world is being made more inclusive by technology. Perhaps I should say that it can be if the obstructionists would get out of the way of democracy. The more technology we have supporting our election process the more inclusive and free it will be. Elections can be both secure and inclusive at the same time.
Many would argue that the more transparent and inclusive of everyone including Americans with disabilities our elections are the more secure they will be. Only the smallest of minds with the self-centered points of view seek to limit the number of Americans who can vote freely, independently and privately. They seek to guard the process as if it belongs to them alone.
Accessible electronic poll books just like accessible vote by mail systems provide all voters with a view into the process and the ability to vote at a time and place of their choosing free from hardship and influence. Is that what narrow incumbent gate keepers are afraid of? If we make it to transparent and to easy, then many Americans will exercise their most basic and important right as a citizen? The right to vote.

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.

Our Moms

Our Moms
As Mother’s Day passed this week I found myself thinking about my Mom and how all I am today is because of her. To be sure my Dad was there and providing for our family like Dads did in those days. It was my Mom though who never let me quit. That is the story of Moms across the disability community.
It is sad to say, but true that when a child with a disability comes into a family at birth or later by accident or disease it is most often the father who cannot take it on and becomes distant or leaves all together. It is our Moms that stay the course, learn, teach, fight, and become our greatest cheerleaders.
It is no secret that Dads today are more involved with their children then when I was a boy. It is also no secret that in many families’ fathers struggle when they find out that Johnny is not going to be a football player or even walk or see again. From the time I was young up until today I have witnessed Moms become the Steele backbone that keeps the family going and refuses to allow their child with a disability to quit.
If you want to have your heart opened, then visit a children’s hospital or a class room where Moms volunteer to help their child and others with disabilities. You may see in a moment how tired they are, but not when their child can see them.
In 2018 quite often both parents and sometimes even the older siblings work to support the family. In families where there is a child with a disability a large part of that support often is centered on that child especially when the complications of a significant disability come into play. More often than not, it is the Mom who coordinates, galvanizes and focuses the family.
In 2018 when single parent homes are often the case we do find the role of Mom and Dad being filled by one person who must manage all that is necessary. When there is a child with a disability in the picture family life gets more complicated with the complexity of the disability. Everyone must pitch in.
Where we find families that include a Mom with a disability they are today often required to fight to keep their children. This is because of an ugly trend today that finds the State and sometimes the courts challenging the right and ability of a parent to raise their own children. Why is this happening? I believe quite often it is because those challenging the circumstances are just scared at the prospect and cannot find it in themselves to face such a prospect.
Many people without disabilities are afraid of disability because they do not see how they would face the same issues. Through all these complexities it is the Mom who stands strong in the vortex of life that protects and provides.
My Mom Thelma was all a child with a disability could ever hope for. She never wavered in her support and encouragement of my sister and myself who are both totally blind. She never said you cannot, she always approached things from the point of view of what will make it happen. We most always found a way.
All I am or ever hope to be is in large part due to her. When I became one of the first blind students to graduate from public school in New York she gave me a beautiful rose wood briefcase and said, “get a job.” She gave me the support I needed to do what I wanted to do, but never enough so I could sit around and do nothing. I love you Mom.

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.