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Accessible Elections Legislation Has Not Helped Much

Polling place check-in and the voter registration process is still not universally accessible.

Accessible elections have not helped much.

Many have worked hard to make the election process accessible to voters with disabilities. Many have not taken advantage of it though, if they had, HR 620 would not be such a threat to disability rights.

The Oct 2017 GAO report on the accessibility of polling places painted a dismal picture of election accessibility. If Americans with disabilities forced the issue and collectively used the ballot box we would be an unstoppable political force.

The political pendulum currently at the extreme right will swing back to a more even distribution of power in this nation. We must work to move it towards that tipping point where the rights of people with disabilities and so many others will be safe again.

Access to the entire election process is vital. This must include a voter driven transparent and accessible check in process at polling places.

VOTEC Corporation is the only election system vendor that has engaged the disability community on the development of an accessible check in kiosk for polling places. The result is a 508 compliant product that serves the widest range of people possible.

Douglas George Towne
Chairman Disability Relations Group

Self-Advocacy is Essential in the Disability Community

Where is the fight?

From Washington DC through the state capitals and in city halls across America the fight for disability rights is still being waged. The battles take many forms from great attacks like HR620 (the ADA Notification and Education Act) to the every day personal slights and degrading actions like  the assumption that if you have a disability you must be poor and unable to perform a real job.

It is the political climate that is responsible for the former and a lack of information and social understanding that perpetuates the last. The disability community is in part responsible for the political climate by not acting in consort as one political power base. We are also to blame for not providing and promoting better information about ourselves and insights that open up understanding of our abilities.

As a population of some sixty two million we could be better organized as a political voting block and not only stop attacks on our rights, but run the table at the Federal, state and local levels. We could also become active in the two major political parties and control their support as well.

On the social front we could promote our individual successes and show how the technologies of today not only make our work possible, but in many cases make us better employees than our non-disabled counterparts.

On the political front we must organize as though our lives depend on it, because they do. I’m not talking about top down grand pronouncements but rather street level community organizing. It begins with a few friends gathered around a kitchen table who agree to each gather a few more friends around other kitchen tables. These circles of action are the basis for making our presents felt. These circles of action then communicate using social media to coordinate there efforts.

At the social and employment levels we could gather stories and make the media pay attention first through social media and then by influencing their advertisers. The circles of action can campaign to the companies who fund media outlets through advertising to force editors and publishers to cover disability from a more positive and powerful prospective.

This is not about age groups with in the disability community. It is about all of us coming together and using the tools we have available. Those that can speak should speak, those that can write should write, those that can organize should organize and those that can hoast circles of action should hoast. The point is we let the issues overwhelm us on a day to day basis and that has to stop.

Each of us can befriend another person who can bring help to our community.

If we fail then we have no one to blaime, but ourselves as we watch our rights slip away. The fight is here and now at all levels. Get involved.

Douglas George Towne

Chairman Disability Relations Group

 

The Disabled Community Should Not Need to Prove Their Right to Access

When members of the disability community advocate for access to technology, education, transportation, or healthcare, why are people surprised?

 

Each time we open a new advocacy campaign on a subject not previously considered by those in power: They
always act surprised. They seem to think that people with disabilities should be happy with a bite of the apple
and should not want the whole pie.
Whether it concerns new election technologies, software that makes the workplace accessible or policies and
programs that include us in community life, We must keep speaking truth to power. America is our pie too.
Why is it that whenever people with disabilities or any minority group seek their rights under the constitution, we
have to force those rights from the very government that was established to guarantee them. Remember, “life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness” belongs to us all.
Having been recently in front of several Secretaries of State and Election Directors discussing the expansion of
access to elections through accessible poll books, I was struck by the attitude that we needed to convince them
why we should have equal access. We need to convince them, when it is their sacred duty to provide equal
access to all eligible voters.
Since the inception of the Americans With Disabilities Act and many other civil rights laws whose birth did not
come without painful debate: There have been those trying to undo the civil rights of other Americans. What is
it that fires such animosity toward minority rights?
In one way or another we are all part of a minority group. We all have friends or family who are touched by
disability, poverty or some other factor that by choice or chance imposes the heavy burden of the label minority.
There was a time when disability was thought to be a bipartisan issue. Now given the efforts of many that may
no longer be the case. The question is will we accept second class citizenship?
As a minority group people with disabilities are in a special position to bring understanding into many debates.
It can be fairly said that as the first and second generations of advocates have gotten older and passed that we
have not done enough to fire the energy, willpower and dedication of up and coming younger advocates. We
must do better.
We must seek a new growing national group of young zealots ready to yank the political pendulum back from
the extreme right to a place where outcomes are more evenhanded. Advocates who take the surprise of the
power brokers and use it to make the point that we want the whole pie and we will not be relegated to second
class citizenship under any circumstances.
What is amazing is that any public official in 2018 would even consider an action or inaction that would relegate
any American to second class Citizenship. Have we not fought those battles over tyranny and triumphed?
Perhaps it is only the giant providers of tyranny that have been defeated.
Perhaps it is the local, state and Federal officials of small minds and hearts that feel the rush of power in their
bellies when they get to put down the rights of others? All minorities must meet the small despots with the
same determination that defeated the giants of past tyrannies.
Douglas George Towne
Chairman Disability Relations Group

Institutional Hate Crimes

Institutional Hate Crimes 


What are institutional hate crimes? We are not talking about what are currently violations of the law, but rather the violation of the spirit of civil rights laws at many levels. These violations take many forms including hidden agendas, personal indifference and institutional biased. They allow attitudes to overwhelm facts.


Institutional hate crimes result in overwhelming unemployment rates among the disabled, unequal police practices in minority communities and the promotion of out dated institutional thinking across many industries. They are crimes of the spirit that are another blight on American freedom that find their routes in the healthy white male supremacy movement.


Institutional hate crimes take place when the eyes and ears (the employees) of an institution like a business or a government agency know that something wrong is going on and they do nothing. They protect the institution not the victims. They are immoral crimes that are right in front of us every day. When will we call them out for what they are?


Who are the victims of institutional hate crimes? They are the women and yes, men who endure uninvited sexual advances and worse. They are the minority employees passed over in favor of a white or able-bodied coworker. They are the people with disabilities who are unemployed because a department manager will not spend the money to make the workplace accessible even when it is available in the budget.


Institutional hate crimes become institutionalized when the actions or lack of action put the entity ahead of the law, the common good and most especially the person. They become hate when good people do nothing to right the wrong. Because all it has ever taken to begin changing an institution is a few good people. They become a crime when the wrong has become institutionalized to the point that it is de-facto policy existing even though it is counter to the law in fact or spirit.


Perhaps we have reached a point in human affairs where we must publicly recognize that such actions or inactions are institutional hate crimes. After all such indifference shocks us when it leaks out into public view. 


As modern Americans we like to think such things no longer exist, but we know they do. If they did not then the unemployment rate among the disabled would no longer be 70%, Racial tensions would no longer weaken the fabric of the culture and sexual preference uninvited advances, or abuse of many kinds would no longer be the factors they are. If such indifference did not exist then we would not need whistleblower laws, investigative journalism or anonymous hotlines. 


Institutional hate crimes related to the employment of people with disabilities are often excused by pointing to cost. This as if a lack of funds is a legitimate reason for denying a person’s civil rights. The institution legally knows this is not an acceptable excuse but people within the entity often think they know better and that is based on their own personal bias and even prejudiced. 


Such institutional hate crimes take place even when budget is available and even when the institution is aware of the needs in advance. The Access Ready initiative is designed to shed further light on needs and how institutions can save money by being ready in advance. 


Institutional hate crimes that relate to sexual misconduct, cultural, racial, religious or other workplace issues are even harder to overcome because they are imbedded in the culture. They are supported by the silent indifference of white male supremacy. 


The term institutional hate crimes may be new to the ears of most, but I suspect that many of us know what they are and recognize them when we think about it. It is time that we all push toward a tipping point where good people will act to end them. Change is difficult and the phrase “We don’t do it that way” is often the statement that begins the process of installing the attitudes that lead to these kinds of crimes against what we know to be right. We are not seeking the upending of institutions, but rather the incorporation of right into the thinking of those who run them.

 
It is time for each of us to take an unyielding position that commits to publicly outing such institutional hate crimes. Many will be afraid to do this from their own position for fear of their job. They must find a way to tell someone what is going on. 


We must unite to bring all such issues into the light of truth. It is not just about what affects me as a person who is blind. It must be about those things that affect others as well. 

Chairman, Douglas George Towne

Disability Relations Group

 

Upgrades to Existing Technology Often Fail to Accommodate Existing Adaptive Technologies

The development of new technology with all its lights, beeps, bells, touch screens and possibilities are coming so fast and furious today that it is hard to discover what is of value and what is just another distracting toy. There are many things in the consumer space that pretend to be of value and could be if they had not been rushed to market before they were ready. Many great concepts have been lost or set aside because the finance side of development pushed the genius side of the house to put a product into the market before it was truly ready. People with disabilities have been disappointed many times in a new product because it did not really do what we were counting on it to do. The disability marketplace has been cautious where promises from technology companies are concerned. This is because vaporware has been a problem since the early 1970’s when a big electronics manufacturer promised a TV built for the blind that was never delivered. Companies that show prototypes off are often taken back at the lack of enthusiasm that their investment is met with by the disability community. It is not the genius of today we do not trust, but rather the experiences of the past that give us cause to wait and see. Accessibility is hard to do, but even harder if the product team is not guided by a person with a disability that understands what is really needed. Wandering through the adaptive technology shows over the past year it is easy to be amazed at the quantity of new ideas, concepts and just plain gadgets out there. One must ask, how many came from a need identified by a person with a disability and how many were just dreamed up by an engineer with time on their hands? I seek technology that solves a real access, life, or policy need. Perhaps technology developers and leaders in the disability world should collectively identify issues at the access, life, and policy levels so solutions can be sought. Perhaps annual adaptive technology shows could seek to put the right people in the room to consider the question and guide future development. 


Just imagine the result if those who understand the disability access needs at the life and policy levels were to meet with those who have the skills, funding and marketability to take on challenges. What would be the result? Would we see employment, transportation, community life and other barriers overcome by new ideas? Technologies of true importance. 

 

I am not saying that many technologies entering the market are not already truly important. I am only suggesting that bringing together the right people from the disability and technology worlds might see the emergence of specifically purposed technologies designed to solve emerging or long-standing issues. This might be a different path from that which is the norm that sees the development of new ideas on a more circumstantial or haphazard basis at present. 

One of the worst circumstances that takes place is when we as people with disabilities become dependent on technology from a provider and then they let us down. Often this happens because changes in the technology landscape makes the current device we are using obsolete and the fix is not as easy as an upgrade or patch. 

 

An example of this are changes to the internet security protocols that made some note takers for the blind unable to interface with many websites. Some devices like the HIMS U2 could not be upgraded to solve the problem. Many blind students and professionals who use such devices like myself, were just stuck until a new product was available. 

 

Then came the much anticipated HIMS Polaris. A device that would solve access issues to the internet and bring us many steps closer to the features working professionals, who happen to be blind, need. Rushed to market? Yes, without question. Given the number of significant bugs. Not only that, but features like the database that had been in previous HIMS devices were not included. There was apparently no thought given to the needs of the people who had been depending on these devices. 

The HIMS Polaris is still a device full of critical bugs that slow down work and require the use of older devices like the HIMS U2 for some of us to keep working. Here is a concept. What if technology developers came to an understanding that many of us have real jobs where we depend on our technology. That these are not five thousand-dollar toys. What if they considered the needs of the users and did not make decisions based on a rush to market to beat the other guy. That would be a truly important move. 

Douglas George Towne

Chairman, Disability Relations Group

 

Demand a Disability Policy Advisor in the White House

Is the Disability Community Adequately Represented to the White House?

As we file our tax returns this week it is time for the disability community to take stock of our position in this Republic. Looking at the evidence, the picture is not good on many fronts where our participation in the life of the Republic is concerned. Parts of Congress, the Judicial and the Executive branches of our own government appear to have declared war on us. 


Looking at elections, The General Accounting Office Report issued in 2017: found continued barriers and that 60% of polling places surveyed had one or more impediments to the participation of voters with disabilities. The Congressional response was to pass HR620 the ADA Notification and Education Act virtually stripping the teeth out of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 


On elections, approximately $380 million in funding for states (and hopefully local election authorities) was recently appropriated by Congress. These funds, administered under Section 101 of the Help America Vote Act, will provide a much-needed cash infusion into elections. The National Disability Rights Network is calling for at least 10% of this money to be spent on accessibility. 


Accessible absentee voting is a hot issue. Ohio was just ordered to provide accessible absentee voting for the blind and other states will surely follow. Some have also pointed out that voter check- in systems or new electronic poll books may not be accessible for many voters. 


The California Council of the Blind announced the final settlement of their federal lawsuit against the County of San Mateo and the State of California challenging the unlawful and discriminatory exclusion of blind and low vision voters from the County of San Mateo’s absentee voting program. 


The National Council on Independent Living is celebrating a 12 million dollar increase in funding for Centers for Independent Living. Part of the most recent budget bill to pass Congress this money was a hard-fought victory. 


At the White House, unlike many Presidents before him, this President still has no Special Assistant or recognized Policy Advisor on disability.  Perhaps, like in all other things, he considers himself an expert on disability. That would explain why he believed gutting disability services in his budget proposal was the right thing to do?

The Presidents vast understanding of disability may come from his and his company’s history with the Americans With Disability Act. We have not had much public review of that history. Is that because there is none or is it because like in other “affairs” there have been gag orders put in place to keep plaintiffs silent? 
With all the issues, questions and bureaucracy Americans with disabilities must face every day, we must admit that things are better than they once were. There are no more forced sterilizations or involuntary medical experiments. Children with disabilities go to the same failing public schools as every other American child and can incur the same level of student debt as well. 


Many public office holders with disabilities ignore us with the same level of commitment as their non-disabled counterparts. With all that being said, we still have the same basic rights as every other American which allows me to write this article in the safety and security of the knowledge that I am protected by the Constitution as an American Citizen. May God bless America. 

 

Douglas George Towne

Chairman, Disability Relations Group

 

Accessibility Provides Good ROI for Businesses

Investing in Accessibility DOES offer a Return for Businesses

Many disability related laws and regulations require accessibility in the technology arena most especially. Many companies have invested millions to comply only to find that government and corporate purchasing agents do not care. Investors in accessibility also find that disability advocates are lackluster in their praise of such corporate support of accessibility requirements. Why???
Instead of highlighting those companies that are investing in accessibility and supporting their marketing efforts, national Disability organizations hide behind the shield of impartiality. Why??? 
They say “we cannot endorse any one company.” Even if that company is leading the way on accessibility when their competition is making it clear that they will not invest in accessibility until they have to. Why??? 
We all know that government and business do not have to buy accessible technology if it does not exist so what happens if companies stop investing in the development of accessibility? All the laws will not matter if the technology does not exist. Why???
Recently during a discussion about accessible poll books I told a Secretary of State that this was not about one company. The Secretary countered by saying that right now it is about one company who is making their product accessible. I asked him why that is? Could it be that they are doing the right thing even though you have not by failing to require that all poll books be accessible to people with disabilities? Why???

National, state and local disability organizations/leaders need to begin recognizing those companies that are investing in accessibility. They need to do so as a matter of course from an advocacy point of view and not because the company makes large contributions to them. Why not. 
Many companies who have invested heavily in accessibility are not in a position to make such “contributions” to gain the public support of organizations and their leaders. If the disability leadership continue to treat technology developers in such a backhanded way they will stop developing access. Then what? 
For their part accessibility developers could offer long term support of disability advocates through contributions based on the implementation of their products Disability organizations could take a more active role in the promotion of the competitive development of an ever expanding range of accessible technology. 
The cooperation of accessibility developers and disability advocates can only result in a wider range of solutions available to people with disabilities across community life. Supporting the purchase and implementation of new levels of accessible technology will assist government and business in complying with access requirements and open more opportunities to the disabled community.

Douglas George Towne

Chairman Disability Relations Group

 

Unity in the Disability Community Advances Accessible Election Technology

Disability advocacy groups in California are joining forces to make poll books accessible.

“We are fully on board with accessible check in at the poles”- Thomas Gregory Birkley center for Independent Living

At the Future of California elections conference Secretary of State Alex Padilla set forth his belief that “Voter Suppression is routed in white supremacy.”
Ever Lee Hairston, president, National Federation of the Blind of California 
asked “If the Secretary would give consideration to requiring that electronic 
poll books be accessible so people with disabilities don’t suffer voter 
suppression themselves?”
The generation of election officials serving between the years 2000/2008 left a legacy of accessible voting and polling places for people with disabilities. No that legacy is not complete everywhere, but it is getting better as time passes. 
This generation of election officials now has the opportunity to span the gap between the accessible polling place and voting machine with a electronic kiosk poll book that meets the 7 standards of accessibility set under the Federal 508 guidelines That can be their legacy. 
At the California Council of the Blind (CCB) conference engineer and voting technology expert Noel Runyan stated, “Where reasonable technology is available, all of the information systems
in the polling place should be accessible to voters with disabilities.” 
At its conference the CCB is taking up a resolution designed to make clear the organizations position that electronic poll books are required to be accessible to voters with disabilities under HAVA and the ADA. 
At the California Council of the Blind conference VOTEC’s accessible check in system called the Welcome Voter Kiosk received rave reviews from 98% of users during triples intended to gather further design information. 
The rank and file CCB members are speaking openly about the fact that VOTEC asked what the blind community wanted and then built their accessible Welcome Voter Kiosk to meet the requirements set by the blind and other disability groups. 
“Of course the entire election process including check in at the poles needs to be accessible any other conversation is a non starter with me.” Jeff Tom immediate past president and Chairman Government relations of the California council of the blind. 
The CCB voted unanimously in support of a resolution calling for the California Secretary of State to require that poll book check in systems be accessible to the blind and visually impaired as the law requires. 

Douglas George Towne

Chairman Disability Relations Group

 

Gun Violence and the Disability Community

Gun violence adds to the population of the disability community.

Gun Violence Increases Disability Population

The National Rifal Association through their abuse of free speech is a clear and present danger to the safety
and security of the United States. Never have so few, endangered so many for so long. It is not just about the
tragic deaths of children for whom we all greave. It is also about the millions physically and mentally disabled
by gun violence.

Great companies are severing ties with the NRA and the voices of millions of young people are not intimidated
by the tactics of gun extremists. The disability rights movement should follow on to prevent millions of gun
related disabilities in the future. Let us find compromise.

The second amendment is a sacred constitutional trust between the American people and the government we
the people established. Polls indicate that a super majority want laws that make sense and at least attempt to
keep guns out of the hands of the dangerous and deranged to help prevent deaths and disabilities through
mass gun violence.

We must all applaud Dick’s Sporting goods Walmart and others in the market place for having the courage to
act where little is found among political leaders. The youth have it right when they say that the NRA is
protecting the rights of gun makers and not the rights of gun owners. Cut up your membership card, no more
death and disability for the sake of profit!

We the people demand changes. The NRA has bought lawmakers we must do it ourselves. Drop NRA
memberships, boycott businesses who support them. No more death and disability for profit through mass gun
violence.

Douglas George Towne
Chairman Disability Relations Group

Proposed Budget Cuts will Negatively Impact the Disability Community

NOW is the time to advocate for Disability Programs Like Independent Living.

Many members of the disability community have historically looked to the Presidency for understanding, protection and support when it could be found no
where else. In this Presidency, Americans with disabilities and many other minorities find no shoulder to lean on.

I am a fiscal conservative disgusted by a bloated federal budget full of half hearted programs designed to give
the allusion of action.  However, MR President, minority communities like those with disabilities need help and your
protection, not to have programs cut with no replacement that would actually work. That is the opportunity.

The Budget Proposal Cuts Independent Living and other vital disability programs based on what I
must assume is a lack of understanding. I base this on the fact that to the publics’ knowledge he has no
qualified person with a disability advising him on these matters inside the bunkered White House.

MR President you are the most media aware person to ever sit in the Oval office. The disability community will
make you and the Congressional majority regret these cuts if they become reality. We are a tsunami of voters
sixty two million strong.  Since the disability rights movement began it has been the consensus that our issues were non-partisan.  This proposed budget has made disability a partisan issue for the first time in my memory. So be it. We must rise to meet the challenge.

Douglas George Towne
Chairman Disability Relations Group