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.