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

 

The Freedom Technology Offers Should be Expected by Disabled Employees and Students

This century has opened with a dawn of new technologies that offer freedom of action and participation at levels never before achieved by many people with disabilities.  The reverse is also true when designs do not incorporate accessibility making new technology a punitive barrier. 

Accessible technology is vital to the disabled at home and in the work place.  Many find that their investment in accessibility does not result in sales even when mandated by law. 

The ADA and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act require that technology be accessible.  The vendors are willing and we must insist that buyers comply with the law. 


Developers like Discover Technologies have invested millions in product accessibility only to find that buyers don’t care even when the law requires it.  Government and big business workers with disabilities are not insisting on a level technology playing field with their coworkers.  Even when the product is the only path to access like in the case of Discover Access for Share Point. 

If employees with disabilities don’t start demanding equal access alongside their coworkers then companies will stop including access in product design. We must recognize that this is not just about disability rights, but millions of dollars of investment as well.  If they stop developing accessibility then no one will have access in the workplace. 

 

Douglas George Towne 
Chairman Disability Relations Group