People with Disabilities

July 26, 2013 marks the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On July 26, 1990 President George H. Bush signed the Act, giving civil rights protection to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. If you want to help celebrate, check out the ADA Anniversary website created by the Southeast ADA center, a member of the ADA National Network and a project of the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University.

A student with a low vision disability sparked allegations that the University was in violation of the ADA. The student fell behind in coursework due to a lack of accessible course materials, prompting the student to dropout early in the quarter.

In a Justice Department announcement yesterday, it was said that a settlement was reached with Louisiana Tech University and the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System to remedy the alleged violations to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The University agreed to implement several policies that require they deploy learning technology, web pages and course material that meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA.

Read more about Louisiana Tech University adopting WCAG 2.0 level AA standard in a settlement with the Feds.

Read the Department of Justice Press Release here.

I was interviewing the owner of a large web design firm on my radio show, Seacoast Business Connections and the topic of accessibility came up. As my guest was explaining to me that his firm makes a point of designing with accessibility in mind even if the client is not concerned with it, his twin boys, both of whom were born with cerebral palsy (CP), played in the lobby just on the other side of the studio’s large glass window.

Weight Watchers announced today that they have an ongoing initiative to make its websites, iOS mobile applications and print information more accessible and inclusive for its members and subscribers with visual impairments and will conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 level AA. 

Read More About Weight Watchers Accessibility Initiatives

Lainey Feingold stated, "Weight Watchers has been a great partner in Structured Negotiations with the ACB and blind Weight Watchers members.   Linda Dardarian, of the Oakland civil rights firm Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho, and I represented the blind community."

Since I am a web accessibility analyst, I have the good fortune of being mobility impaired.  Of course, I only can say this regarding my work.  It is like being a veterinarian and not having pets.  Without the personal experience, you couldn’t empathize with the pets’ guardians.  You wouldn’t observe subtle, unique signs that a dog or cat is not feeling well.

Unemployment for people with disabilities rose slightly last month to 13.6% - up from 12.9%,  Shaun Heasley reported on June 7, 2013 in the online news, Disability Scoop

“The Labor Department began tracking employment among people with disabilities in October 2008. … Data on people with disabilities covers those over the age of 16 who do not live in institutions. The first employment report specific to this population was made available in February 2009. Now, reports are released monthly.” said Heasley.

Improved accessibility in electronic products, websites, documents and mobile applications can help close the unemployment rate gap between people with disabilities and the general population, which is now around 7.6%.   Betsy Beaumon, VP and General Manager of Global Literacy at Benetech shared some success stories on Huffington Post in May.

By improving accessibility, persons with disabilities have a better chance at education, employment and improved quality of life.

Dr. Don Martin addresses questions often asked by students with disabilities who have been admitted to graduate school in the May 17, 2013 issue of US News and World Report.  “If you have a disability and are planning to start graduate school soon, you are most definitely not alone. According to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, students with disabilities were almost 11 percent of postsecondary students in 2008,” says Dr. Martin, USNews.com Negotiate Graduate School as a Student with Disabilities.

The Disabilities Services Offices at most universities assist students with a declared disability.  They might help students to find accessible housing or secure class materials such as books, articles, and notes in accessible formats like eBooks and braille.  They also supply assistive technologies like readers and real-time captioning services. 

Interactive Accessibility has a long record of involvement in secondary and graduate school accessibility.  Kathy Wahlbin, President and CEO, has been a frequent speaker at conferences educating people on the importance of accessibility and has provided accessibility training for many universities.  She has been a featured speaker at the CSUN and Accessing Higher Ground conferences.  She also teaches a college course on Universal Design and Accessibility for the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“Universities have been the proving ground for many web-based technologies.  Online classes where students download lessons and upload homework, participate on discussion boards, and view live class lectures have pushed the envelope for Web Accessibility.  Interactive Accessibility has been honored to be a part of this frontier.” Says Kathy, “Our team is dedicated to making the World Wide Web accessible for all users. We love being a part of the challenge of integrating web formats like smart phones and tablets in an accessible way. Educating the newest class of developers in accessible methods is one of the best ways to ensure accessible web content in the future”

Where the ADA does not spell out specifics, legal leveraging is filling the gap on how schools must accommodate making course textbooks and materials accessible.  The recent settlement between the nonprofit group Disability Rights Advocates and UC Berkley sets a precedent which proponents hope other universities will follow.

Rebecca Williford, an attorney for the DRA, said, “Access to print material is an emerging issue.  We’re hopeful that the technology is going to get better and that the agreement with UC Berkeley will help to put students on a more equal playing field.”

The improvements Berkeley agreed to include:

  • providing digital versions of textbooks within 10 days,
  • providing  course readers within 17 days
  • encouraging instructors to identify course materials earlier,
  • providing scanning machines to allow students to self-scan materials.

The school will also implement a library print conversion system to enable students to request a specific book or journal from the library.  This system will make materials available in different formats in about 5 days.

Read more about this story at LA Times - Pact gives disabled UC Berkeley students more access to books.

When other people laugh at Jack Carroll’s disability, he does not become angry or embarrassed. In fact, he instigates the laughter. Jack, a fourteen-year-old school boy who has cerebral palsy, already knows what makes a comedy act successful. According to the young comedy genius, “in comedy your weaknesses are your strengths”. If you see his comedy act, you’d definitely agree…while laughing.

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