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


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


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