Disability Independence Day

The Disability Rights Movement in the United States is a difficult and ongoing fight. From inaccessible buses and buildings to today’s inaccessible websites, the disability community has a long legacy of protesting for equal access. On March 12, 1990, more than 1,000 disabled people gathered at the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, to advocate for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The path to reach the members of the House, where ADA legislation had stalled, was up 83 stone steps. For dozens of people with mobility impairments, this stairway exemplified the never-ending barriers that cause disability. Under the social model of disability, when people have to navigate an environment filled not only with physical barriers but social and communication barriers that limit access, this results in disability.

In a bold display, more than 60 activists left their wheelchairs and mobility devices and began making their way up those 83 stone steps; it became known as the Capitol Crawl.

A disabled man on his knees and a disabled woman scooting ascend the US Capitol steps.
Members of ADAPT during the Capitol Crawl / Photo credit: Tom Olin

The sight of people literally dragging themselves up stairs to demand equal accommodation left an indelible image on the US public and lawmakers. The Capitol Crawl is credited with being the most influential event to lead to the signing of the ADA on July 26, 1990. Today, we celebrate this landmark piece of legislation as Disability Independence Day.

Accommodations—like curb cuts, ramps and elevators—that make the environment easier for all people to navigate daily life are just some of what the ADA promises. As digital creators, we have a responsibility to extend these rights online when people use websites, kiosks and mobile applications. Since the Web was not around in 1990, it is not mentioned in the ADA, but many accessibility lawsuits have ruled that Title III of the ADA applies to digital commerce. If you want your product to be innovative and inclusive, design with disabled people in mind.

Five ways to include d/Deaf users in your designs

More than one in twenty people—an estimated 430 million people—experience disabling hearing loss according to the World Health Organization’s 2021 fact sheet on deafness and hearing loss. Some are functionally deaf, having little to no hearing. Others are culturally Deaf with a preference for communicating with sign language. A lack of public awareness and familiarity with d/Deaf people’s needs is still common, which can lead to oversights in the designs of smart devices, web content, mobile apps and communication styles. Let’s look at five ways that we can improve online experiences for d/Deaf users.

Read the full story on the TPGi blog.

a small smart speaker lit up to indicate its listening

Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2021

The third Thursday in May is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).

The purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital access and inclusion, and the more than one billion people with disabilities/impairments.

GAAD homepage

Spring is all around here in Texas, with loads of beautiful blooms like these poppies—a flower often associated with war casualties in the West. It seems like a poignant symbol right now as we assess the loss of lives and survivor health issues of those affected by COVID-19, including millions of people with disabilities.

Beyond trying to avoid physical sickness, disabled people have faced enormous challenges in getting tested, treated and vaccinated. The US healthcare system and government social safety net programs are enormously difficult to navigate with numerous barriers for people trying to get information digitally. A few examples:

  • Coronavirus maps and data in unstructured formats
  • COVID-19 websites that don’t work with screen readers
  • Drive-through only testing and vaccination sites
  • Critical information missing text equivalents, like video captions
  • Vaccine-finder websites with poor mobile support

I spend dozens of hours every week evaluating digital experiences as an accessibility engineer. It’s my job to find weaknesses in the ways information is presented to people. Most of the time, I’m documenting code issues that by themselves are small barriers but combined across a website cause enough inaccessibility that people can’t do what they want to do. I wonder how many disabled people already struggling in a culture that sees us as lesser couldn’t get a test or can’t schedule a vaccination because the people who built these websites didn’t even consider our needs.

I think about my needs as an autistic person with ADHD and bipolar disorder. I’m easily distracted and easily nauseated by moving content. The media query prefers-reduced-motion was made for me. I want to rid the web of every auto-advancing carousel I see. But despite a lot of evidence carousels are ineffective, they are still ubiquitous.

Every day sees more research about why digital accessibility is necessary, and it comes with endless anecdotes from people using assistive technology about how the web and mobile landscapes are still wildly unusable. This problem has been framed as an empathy problem, a coding knowledge problem, even as just a cost problem. So, how do we get designers and developers to care about the needs of the disabled?

It’s clear that accessibility as a concept is not considered a core tenet of good design and development by the establishment. Focus remains largely on the normative desktop browser experience that centers sighted, hearing users without cognitive or mobility impairments. It’s hard to imagine that there is much more we can do in this fight for visibility and inclusion.

I hope this GAAD, you believe you have a right to access information and will demand that right be honored. The time has passed where anyone creating for the web can plausibly deny knowing about accessibility. Whether it’s pointing out missing captions and alt text on social media or contacting customer service about issues a site has supporting assistive technology, each of our small voices can combine into a collective clamor for inclusive design.