The funding of advocacy at the organizational or personal levels has always been difficult. The footsteps that today’s advocates follow in have been carved by people with disabilities often paying out of their own pocket to advance the civil rights or access for those in the future. Yes, the Centers for Independent Living and consumer groups like the American Council of the Blind, National Association of the Deaf and the National Federation of the Blind support advocacy efforts as far as they can, but even then, this support is not as widespread as needed. Twenty-eight years into the life of the Americans With Disabilities Act there is still great work to be done. Disability Relations Group is seeking to change this dynamic.

Advocates for people with disabilities, like all civil rights workers, have always faced funding issues, not unlike the American revolutionary leaders who were often funding the fight for freedom out of their own pockets. History remembers the personal and yes, corporate benefactors who have supported Freedom’s March and the sacrifices made by the few over the many years. The cause of access for people with disabilities in the twenty-first century can be different, however. This is because much of the access we need is based on information technology. There is a growing technological industry around accessibility. What if there was a legitimate pathway for that industry to support advocacy efforts? What if that path provided income to advocates?

There has been a disconnect between the advocates for people with disabilities working to bring about accessibility and the providers who create and market the very technology, goods and services that create that same accessibility. As if it were unholy ground, advocacy organizations and as a result, individual advocates have avoided taking compensation from the venders of the goods and services needed to accomplish accessibility. This has foreclosed revenue sources on the idea that to take funding from venders as a result of sales would somehow make the advocates work illegitimate. Yes, there should be care taken in the selection of venders who market goods and services, but to continue this practice of avoiding such relationships will only reduce the effectiveness of advocacy.

Funding advocacy through the sales of goods and services that provide access to people with disabilities is a natural fit and will also provide paying employment/business opportunities for advocates with disabilities. Given the 70% average unemployment rate across the disability community it would appear to be a good move from many points of view. Who would be better suited to see where particular technologies, goods and services could fit to provide more accessibility than advocates with disabilities who understand the needs? The disability community in general needs to get over the idea that there is something wrong with advocates being compensated for creating market opportunities for legitimate and truly helpful technology, goods and services providers. Through the Access Ready Environments Initiative, DRG plans to create such opportunities.

Twenty-eight years into the life of the Americans with Disabilities Act it is time for the business, e-commerce, government and nonprofit sectors to take access for people with disabilities seriously. Until now the accessibility of information technology has been largely an afterthought that has proved costly when planning for accessibility from the start would cost pennies on the dollar in comparison. This lack of forethought in information technology is also proving to be a major stumbling block to lowering the unreasonably high unemployment rate in the disability community. It is thwarting the best efforts of Vocational Rehabilitation professionals and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent each year to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The Access Ready Environments Initiative creates the possibility of changing the dynamic between information technology and users with disabilities from both the employee and public facing perspective. By utilizing the vast cadre of professional and semiprofessional individuals and organizational advocates to examine needs and advise on potential solutions makes great sense. Utilizing the initiative to provide income and funding to those advocates from the providers of solutions will create the potential for a well-funded advocacy effort and employment opportunities. So if you’re an advocate who has been funding your efforts on behalf of people with disabilities out of your own pocket and you’re interested in joining the Access Ready team then contact Disability Relations Group at 727-531-1000 or [email protected] to change the funding dynamic.

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.