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discrimination

There Should be Compensation and Remediation for the Real Damages Inaccessibility Causes

February 19, 2016 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I just thought I would respond to Chris Hofstader’s excellent article Stop The ADA Trolls.

While I certainly agree we shouldn’t be supporting these accessibility lawsuit trolls, I also do not feel we should be defending companies that have less-than-stellar
accessibility records. If a company has consistently failed to acknowledge accessibility advocacy and act positively to address accessibility concerns,
why shouldn’t we just leave them to be eaten by the wolves?

You see… I believe there are real damages caused by inaccessibility, and I feel we should, actually, consider a more aggressive approach toward companies
that consistently ignore us.

Blind people lose their jobs due to inaccessible software. Blind children miss out on educational opportunities due to inaccessible educational technology used in the classroom. Inaccessible apps in the new sharing economy result in a complete denial of service, which clearly counts as discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act here in the United States and other similar laws around the world. There are so many other inexcusable ways blind people are excluded because of inaccessibility. How can we put a stop to this discrimination?

Here’s how I see all this working:

  1. Blind people have been consistently advocating with a company for full inclusion / equal accessibility, but the advocacy has been completely or substantively ignored.
  2. A case is opened and documented with an accessibility advocacy clearinghouse that tracks and reports accessibility advocacy efforts and their results, or lack of effective action.
  3. A letter is sent to the company’s CEO outlining the concerns and clearly asking for equal accessibility.
  4. One or more blind persons file a lawsuit against the offending company asking for equal accessibility and for serious monetary damages, including not only the inaccessibility itself, but also for the emotional distress / pain and suffering it has caused.
  5. The lawfirm filing the suit subpoenas evidence, including the documentation from the case filed in step 2 and the letter sent in step 3.
  6. The process continues, on and on, with company after company, in a systematic and transparent manner, until we, possibly, achieve real results!

That’s right! I think the lawsuits should most certainly be filed, because companies are wrong to continue excluding us, but I think it should all be done
in a clear, above-board manner.

How Do We Effectively Educate the Public and Combat False Assumptions About Accessibility?

January 19, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I just finished reading Independent Street : Is Your Web Site Blind-Friendly? How to Avoid a Lawsuit by Wendy Bounds. While Wendy provided a good overview of the issues surrounding the law and the need for web site accessibility, I found many of the comments to be rather shocking! How do we effectively carry out the monumental task of educating the public at large and those who could become part of the accessible solution of the future? How can we show the world that accessibility is a good idea and that, in most cases, becoming accessible doesn’t have to represent a huge expense? Just as most of us recognize the inherent human rights of other populations, such as African-Americans and women, we must recognize that accessibility is a right and a necessity in order for those of us with disabilities to be participating, productive members of society. I have just posted my own comment to this article and ask that each and every one of you who read Blind Access Journal please do likewise. It may also be helpful to check out Mike Calvo’s excellent response to the article and many of its associated comments. We must all do our part to get out the good word about accessibility.

The Heart of Accessibility Evangelism

September 8, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I think we all recognize that, in many cases, there simply is not a strong bottom-line business reason for companies (either assistive technology or mainstream) to work hard on making sure their technologies function in ways that are in the best interests of all users, including those of us whom happen to be blind. There are, thus, only two major levers available to us in our advocacy efforts. The first involves the fact that, in our society, accessibility is simply the right thing to do. This approach involves the “heart” of accessibility evangelism. The second approach involves making a business case for accessibility based on the application or presumed applicability of one or more disability rights laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. In this rather rough approach, accessibility is ultimately forced as an alternative that is less expensive than continuing to ignore our needs.

In the case of screen readers, the economic incentive is simply to ensure the product works with Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office and the Windows operating system. Any additional capabilities, especially with respect to custom job related applications like Salesforce.com and Siebel, is viewed as icing on the cake. Precious little effort is expended on the part of assistive technology companies to ensure the usability of many customer relationship management (CRM) and other similarly critical application infrastructures required in today’s workplaces. How many jobs do you know about where use of e-mail, spreadsheets, web browsing and word processing are all that’s required in order for a qualified employee to conduct the duties of the position?

Most mainstream technology companies claim there’s little or no real business incentive to make their products and services accessible to us. After all, blind people represent less than a percent of the world’s population and there’s just not enough money in it for companies to justify the expense. Only the possibility of legal action or the presumed applicability of some Federal laws make the expense of accessibility less than the potential loss of business from government agencies.

As we all can see, the current state of affairs remains bleak. It has been this way for a long time now, yet the problem may accelerate due to the ever-widening gap between the capabilities of increasingly sophisticated and visually oriented mainstream technologies with respect to the rather limited nature of current screen reading technology for the blind. My apologies if this offends, but it is, ultimately, the truth against which I would invite any credible challenge.

As we continue to advocate for mainstream technology companies to reasonably accomodate our needs for equal access to the technologies in our daily lives, on the job and in the classroom, we must also simultaneously advocate for our assistive technology companies to focus on innovation, rolling out screen readers that can meet the challenge of the current and future world of technology, much of which continues to be developed by people who have absolutely no inclination toward accomodating us. It is wonderful when assistive technology and the mainstream computer industry can work together, meeting one another halfway in order to provide access, but the days of screen reader developers relying on this approach have been numbered for quite sometime in all but a precious few cases.

As we insist on innovation which will permit us to continue learning and making a living, we are going to have to devise new methods of accessibility advocacy. Our approaches must convince the decision-makers in the technology industry that at least one of the following statements is true:

  1. Conscience dictates that delivering accessibility is simply the “right thing” to do.
  2. The presence or absence of accessible technology often makes the difference between whether or not a blind person is able to fill a particular position in a company or take advantage of an educational opportunity.
  3. It is better to help blind people than it is to hurt, ignore or otherwise leave us out in the cold.
  4. Accessibility is a good thing to do from a media or public relations perspective.
  5. Accessibility can represent an “interesting” project to undertake from a development point of view.
  6. A small increase in the customer base will result when products and services are made accessible to blind computer users.
  7. Blind customers of companies who take the effort and time to address our needs tend to be among the most loyal portion of the company’s overall customer base.
  8. Sighted people who care about what happens to their blind colleagues, friends and relatives may prefer doing business with companies who do the “right thing” with respect to accessibility.
  9. Religion may indirectly dictate that blind people should be afforded equal access to information.
  10. The laws in several nations of the world directly or indirectly mandate a certain level of accessibility for people with disabilities.

It is important to note that only four of the items (customer loyalty, increased customer numbers, laws and public relations) on this “accessibility evangelism top ten” list can be said to relate directly to business considerations. The rest relate to the heart. What does a person believe to be the “right thing” to do with respect to their emotional make up as well as their logical mind? Should we devise ways to shame those who would ignore us into doing the right thing? Would a person ignore the needs of their spouse, relative, close friend or colleague should they become blind? How would such a person want to see their blind spouse treated? Wouldn’t they insist on reasonable accomodations? Should we place a bit more emphasis on the “heart” of accessibility evangelism? Your thoughts are welcome as always in the form of a comment to this article.

Blind Citizen Not Allowed to Tour USS John F. Kennedy Aircraft Carrier

March 7, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

On Sunday, March 4, my friend Mika Pyyhkala was not permitted to participate in a public tour of the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier in Boston Harbour. Age old, unproven stereotypes concerning possible safety concerns were trotted out as the reason. The National Federation of the Blind has become involved in this incident on Mika’s behalf. The organization issued the following press release vowing to take action.

Numerous articles have been written in newspapers and posted on blogs concerning this issue, but I think it is absolutely critical that the most important point not become lost. Blindness, by itself, has not ever been proven to present any more or less of a safety concern in participation in any particular activity than it is for an average sighted person. It has, in fact, been my personal experience that any safety issues that have arisen concerning my blindness have often involved the lack of attention on the part of one or more sighted people. For example, I was hit by a sighted driver of a truck who was in a hurry and talking on his cell phone while crossing a street in February of 1997. Right now, we’re talking about the military’s denial of a tour of an aircraft carrier. But, we could just as easily be talking about a Child Protective Services agency taking a child away from his or her parents simply because those parents happen to be blind. We all take our chances as we live, and safety concerns surrounding blindness are most often simply unproven, and probably unprovable, stereotypes not based in fact.

Aside from the initial stereotypical safety concerns, the U.S. Navy officer was quick to emphasize the large number of sighted people being allowed to participate in the tour and the lack of an available person to accompany Mika. This concept that it is somehow acceptable to pat us on the head and toss us aside without a thought simply because it is inconvenient or people are simply “too busy” to bother with us is absolutely wrong and should be found personally offensive by all blind human beings. This “too busy” situation is encountered entirely too often when blindness involves the need for reasonable accomodations in order to fully participate. I have dealt with staff in doctor’s offices who attempted, totally without success due to my persistence, to avoid helping me with paperwork by claiming to be “too busy” to help. Sometimes, such people expect me to be accompanied by a sighted person who can act as a “caregiver” with whom they would probably feel more comfortable dealing rather than bothering with me directly.

As a blind community, whether aligned with ACB, NFB or neither consumer organization, we must do everything possible to vigorously confront the safety stereotype and the improper “too busy” mentality that is too frequently used to deny us access. I hope ACB and NFB will find a way to join forces in an attempt to challenge the military on this issue from a public relations perspective. The Navy should apologize to Mika for the initial outright denial of access and provide him with a full private tour of the USS John F. Kennedy. Members of the media should accompany Mika to document his safe, successful tour of the ship.

Categories: discrimination