The Access Ready Accessible Election Technology Strategy
When the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, information technology did not exist as we know it. Today information technology plays a critical role in the daily personal, professional and civic life of Americans. Increasingly, election jurisdictions governed by the ADA, other Federal and state laws are using websites and new information technologies to provide access to their services, and activities. Access Ready is a policy effort to assist the government in providing service delivery to people regardless of their abilities, through the accessible information technology world of the twenty-first century. To do this as a matter of course and not by half-hearted accommodations.
In today’s election world security is driving new technologies and in some cases pushing accessible election systems aside as if the law no longer applies. Local and state, as well as Federal election officials, are not requiring accessibility as they search for electronic poll books and other new systems for the polling place.
Not having accessible public facing information technology is saying to 25% or more of the public that their participation as voters is unwelcome. With the level of inaccessibility rising to a pervasive level across the election space, it is necessary to adopt a direct strategy of engagement to bring this issue to the forefront. The process created by Access Ready will bring the issue directly to election officials in a non-confrontational and reasonable manner, to seek a solution over the next five-budget cycles.
Too much emphasis has been placed on providing accommodations for people with disabilities as an excuse for not providing accessibility. Often such accommodations rely on inadequately trained and time-limited poll workers, resulting in poor or simply unavailable access to a private and independent election process, to the person with a disability. We must not allow accommodation to become a barrier to accessible voting in the twenty-first century.
Stage one of the Access Ready accessible Election Technology strategy includes a review of election jurisdiction websites for compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This review will provide evidence from the usability, document, and video captioning accessibility point of view. Stage one contact with reviewed entities will take place using email, direct mail, and telephone over seventy-five days in three waves.
Stage one of the Access Ready accessible Election Technology will inform reviewed entities of the findings and provide examples of accessibility issues. Local advocates for people with disabilities will be engaged in the process to support outcomes. The communications will invite reviewed entities to put in place a policy designed to bring about an Access Ready election system. Because elections are a critical access point, election system officials will be asked to make those systems a priority. Once an agreement has been concluded guidance will be provided in relation to the best process and resources necessary to implement the goals. For entities who refuse to discuss accessibility, stage two will bring structured negotiation into play.
Stage two of the Access Ready accessible election technology provides for a direct mail communications process that presents the issues to the general legal counsel of reviewed entities. This seventy-five-day process is designed to engage legal counsel in a structured negotiations process. The goal of which is to assure that the reviewed entity puts an Access Ready policy in place. Access Ready’s Director of Structured Negotiations will lead this process from a legal perspective. Reviewed entities who refuse to engage will be revealed publicly and the case files will be made available to national advocacy organizations who may wish to follow up with actions of their own. Accessible election technology has great possibilities if we can agree to do what is right.