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.