Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke has a sister with an intellectual disability, Erin, who inspired him to come up with a robust disability plan intended to address shortfalls in inclusive standards across the United States. Two mainstays of his plan include changes to the Affordable Care Act to ensure people have access to medical equipment like wheelchairs and canes when they need them (as well as the resources to maintain them), and modifications to the Air Carrier Access Act that would give the option to people who believe they have been discriminated against to pursue legal action. In a recent tweet he noted “...For too long, we have overlooked people with disabilities. That must change.”
People with Disabilities
Domino’s Pizza has been embroiled in litigation for well over three years against plaintiff Guillermo Robles, who alleges its website and app make it impossible for a person using a screenreader to order a pizza online. After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld its ruling in favor of Robles (that the ADA does in fact apply to websites) in January, Domino’s petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case. On Monday the Supreme Court decided not to hear it, and did not supply any comments or dissent to justify the rejection. In it of itself, this is not a tacit approval of the Ninth Circuit’s decision, but the rejection does imply to US companies that are fighting digital accessibility lawsuits that the ADA will continue to apply to digital properties and content for the foreseeable future.
Becoming paralyzed from the waist down at 23 after a diving accident was a turning point in Marca Bristo's life. After seeing how patients with disabilities were treated at the hospital where she worked, she became an advocate for them, fighting for equal rights across multiple platforms. She helped co-found Access Living, a non profit organization that helps people with disabilities maintain independence, and led it for many years. She also joined other disability rights leaders to help pen the ADA, and Bill Clinton even appointed her chair of the National Council on Disability, a role she held for eight years. She succumbed to cancer at age 66 on Sunday, August 31.
Brent Lowe is no stranger to difficult personal situations. He’s blind, and has lived for years alone with his 24-year-old son (who has cerebral palsy) and a caretaker on Abaco in the Bahamas. Recently, however, Hurricane Dorian made his life exponentially harder. After its fierce winds ripped off the roof of the house where they were hunkering down, Lowe knew he had to get himself and his son out of their house, or risk death. As soon as he stepped off his front porch he found himself chin-deep in water. He had no choice but to put his son over his shoulder and carry him to a neighbor’s house to wait out the storm. Lowe was evacuated to Nassau while his son stayed on Abaco with a family member. With his house gone, Lowe is understandably devastated. "We need a place to go," he said. "I don't know exactly what we are going to do. We need help."
With people with disabilities representing a tiny minority in public office, others who may want to run are hard-pressed to find help in this arena. However, one non-profit, the National Council on Independent Living, prides itself on being one of the only resources for people with disabilities to get answers to their tough campaign questions. It recently launched the nonpartisan Elevate Campaign Training program, which specifically caters to people with disabilities who are interested in pursuing public service positions. This new online-only initiative offers webinars so people all over the country can watch and learn about topics as diverse as fundraising, campaign online strategy, operations, and messaging.
With an estimated market value of over 30 billion dollars, assistive technology is gaining traction among entrepreneurs and startups all over the world. Take the wheelchair that goes up stairs made by Scewo, whose fans are eagerly awaiting its late 2019 rollout. Or the Swiss-made MyoSuit, a robotic exomuscle suit that helps support movement and provide stability to people who may have trouble going up stairs or getting out of chairs. The Young Guru Academy in Turkey is keen to help visually impaired people with their WeWalk stick, which warns users about obstacles above chest height and can be integrated with a voice assistant and Google Maps. It’s a growing market, and more and more people are realizing how important it is for people with disabilities to live normal lives.
The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is the primary sponsor of a new local initiative intended to help the parents of special needs children. Many of the top attractions in Fairfield County have made efforts to accommodate children with disabilities, but the parents of those children are often unsure how to find out if the attraction caters to their specific needs. “Accessibility For All,” as the initiative is called, is intended to make the relevant information easily accessible for parents. To accomplish this, they added a role of “Accessibility Coordinator” at each attraction, an individual who will always know what accommodations are available. They also created a website where parents can go to find all the accessibility information for each attraction in one place online.
Much of the NYC subway stations are inaccessible to people with disabilities, a situation that has resulted in multiple lawsuits against the MTA. Services like Access-A-Ride exist to help bridge the gap in public transportation options for people with limited mobility, and riders are charged what they would pay for a ride on the subway: $2.75. However, the MTA is considering a fare hike of $.25 per ride, which would no doubt impact people with disabilities more than the average New Yorker, given that they often live on fixed incomes. The disability community is split on whether the fare hike should extend to services like Access-A-Ride: many feel they should not be treated differently from anyone else, but others are concerned with the financial impact on a vulnerable group.
Philadelphia has a lot going for it: reasonable cost of living, plentiful restaurants and bars, and historic charm, to name a few of its better qualities. However, it is not generally considered an incredibly accessible city. Saron McKee, the city's new director of ADA compliance, aims to change all that. As someone who uses a wheelchair to get around she has firsthand experience with the frustration of navigating a city that is less than fully accessible. Starting with a $300,000 budget, her department will partner with MIlligan & Company to assess the accessibility of 500 structures over the next three years. The city has high hopes for McKee’s success, and her almost 20-year track record of helping people with disabilities will well serve her in this new role.
South Beach Jazz Festival founder R. David New was sick of the stigma surrounding people with disabilities, especially in the performing arts, so he decided to do something about it. Thus, the South Beach Jazz Festival was born. All groups must have at least one person with a direct relationship with a disability, be it physical, mental, or even an illness. This is the third year of the festival, whose talented performers this year include a blind pianist and a Dee Dee Bridgewater, a Grammy award-winning artist.
Said New of his vision for the event: “Disabilities are such a challenge and struggle for so many people and I wanted for people to know that from those challenges beautiful music and talented individuals could evolve, bringing inspiration and enjoyment to others.