Where Has the Time Gone?
On August 6th, 2001 Disability Relations Group (DRG) was created. Its mission was and is to better relations and understanding within the various disability communities and between people with disabilities and the rest of the world. This would require working on large and difficult issues. During the first 4 years we concentrated on accessible voting and furthering the independent living philosophy which are still major focuses today. As the Chief Facilitator I honor all those who supported this work then and now. Advocates, Clients and DRG Team Members alike. I am proud of the part we played in the shadow of great disability leaders through the passage of accessible voting legislation, the creation of standards and the development of the first accessible voting technologies.
From 2004 through 2009, Disability Relations Group (DRG) continued to concentrate on accessible elections by demonstrating systems across the nation. The systems adopted by over 50% of the election jurisdictions I am proud of the input we facilitated with various disability groups during the development and deployment process. My only regret is that we were unable to include more input from people with disabilities early in the process. This was not possible because of the implementation requirements of the Help America Vote Act. We entered the field of telecommunications working to establish the policy requirements for a highbred Voiceover Internet Protocol system that overcame issues related to communications for the deaf. A highly technical problem ignored by others.
Between 2009 and 2013, Disability Relations Group (DRG) continued its work on accessible elections and telecommunications while branching out into transportation concerns. For some time, I had worked with various local, state and national working groups that concerned themselves with transportation issues. In all that we work on, transportation always comes up as a problem to be overcome. DRG participated in the writing of hundreds of grants and advised on programmatic development related to transportation. The employment and business opportunities available to people with disabilities is another area of concern DRG entered as I became a Certified Business Technical Assistance Consultant for VR. We worked with people with disabilities and major disability service organizations to bring their small business dreams and projects to life.
Between 2013 and 2017, Disability Relations Group expanded its work on employment/business development and access to the election process for people with disabilities. We developed the national business plan for Heavendropt, a fashion line made from retired US military parachutes and created by people with intellectual disabilities. We began looking at what the Help America Vote Act meant and found that the intent supported by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act was that the entire process needs to be accessible. From registration, to the polling place, through checking-in to vote, the act of voting at the polls and by mail is included. Going to the disability community for guidance and our new partner VOTEC we began work on the entire process.
In 2017 and 2018, Disability Relations Group (DRG) has continued its work on accessible elections and begun examining the use of accessible technology. The digital divide keeps people with disabilities from accessing business and government goods, services and employment. Twenty-eight years into the Americans with Disabilities Act we find both the public and employee-facing information technology spaces largely inaccessible. This is of such concern that DRG has reoriented its entire focus to launch the Access Ready Environments initiative. This education initiative seeks policy changes and action from business and government that requires information technology environments to be accessible when built or updated just as structures are required to be accessible. This is the future for people with disabilities and DRG is committed to it.
Douglas George Towne
Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.