“They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people.” – Fannie Lou Hamer
What does it mean to be free? Freedom means to
be out of any form of bondage. So, what does it mean to be in bondage? The life
of Fannie Lou Hamer expresses a clear example of what it means to be in
bondage. Everyone in bondage wants to be free, but only a few relentlessly
fight till the end for their freedom. It is easy to give up when the battle
gets tough. But there are some heroes –
like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jnr – that fight relentlessly for
their own freedom as well as the freedom of their people, even when this means
that they have to suffer persecution. Fannie Lou Hamer falls in this pack too.
Much of the freedom we enjoy today came with a price, a price that Fannie Lou
Hamer paid, by resisting oppression and injustice, and refusing to be silenced
even in the face of death, to ensure that her people were free and empowered.
But we must not let her efforts go in vain; we still have much work to do. We
still are not totally free yet. We still suffer racism and injustices and
oppression. Black people, especially those with disabilities, are still
severely marginalized. However, 2020 is the year! This is the golden
opportunity to make a turnaround and make our voices heard. Fannie Lou Hamer
advocated with her own life to ensure that black people could vote. Now is the
time to uphold her legacy by turning up for this election and exercising our civil
No true change happens if we choose not to
take an action. For ages, black people have been on the receiving end of all
sorts of discrimination. We have fought for freedom and justice and equality, a
struggle that cost many of our ancestors their lives. At a time when we could
not vote, people like Fannie Lou Hamer rose to challenge the status quo. This
did not immediately go down well; they had to suffer severe repercussions.
Fannie was fired from her job and chased from the plantation that had been home
to her for nearly two decades — just for registering to vote. She lived her
life with dreams to raise a family of her own, but the oppressors forced a
disability on her – an unconsented sterilization – with the unethical,
diabolical aim of controlling the black population. Today, black people with
disabilities experience arguably the worst form of discrimination. Ableism is very rampant, probably on the rise.
However, this is about to change, only if we allow it – by voting.
Before and during the time of Fannie Lou
Hamer, voter suppression, specifically targeted at black people, was real.
Unfortunately, despite all the efforts and sacrifices of our heroes from the
past, voter suppression is still among us. Black people are still
systematically denied the ability to vote, as proven by a study. Black people with disabilities are
probably the most affected here. With profound inaccessibility and systemic
ableism still plaguing our nation, it is no surprise that voters with
disabilities are blocked from the ballot box. But real change
will not occur if we do not make persistent, conscious efforts to see it
happen. This may involve some sacrifices, but this is the only way we can pave
the way for a better life for the next generation of black people, just as
Fannie Lou Hammer did for us.
Although Fannie Lou Hamer could not biologically
birth her own children due to the forced sterilization she was made to undergo,
everyone who supports justice and equality for people of color automatically
becomes her child. And, this year, five of her children – students from various
universities across the United States – are working with the American
Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), through the Fannie Lou Hamer
Leadership Program, to encourage voter registration among black people as well
as blacks with disabilities. A recent study has shown that voter turnout surged
among people with disabilities in 2018. We want to make sure that this
continues, especially with the 2020 elections right around the corner. Having
no choice of candidate should not be an excuse not to vote. We cannot continue
to sit on the fence and expect real change to fall from heaven. More black
voters are needed. More black voters with disabilities are needed. More black
people are needed in our political offices. We cannot enjoy true freedom until
we make these happen. There is no better time than now!
Through AAPD’s REV UP Campaign, we are proud to announce our new initiative, the Fannie Lou Hamer Leadership Program. This program is designed for young (ages 18 – 30) Black disabled advocates who are committed to boosting voter registration and civic engagement across Black communities leading up to the 2020 elections. Participants will receive a $1,500 stipend and have the opportunity to create a national nonpartisan campaign that promotes voter registration and participation.
Digital Accessibility in the Age of COVID-19
By: Lilian Aluri, REV UP Intern and NYU Vote 2020 Fellow at AAPD
COVID-19 has pushed the world into a new digital era in which we are using the internet more than ever for connecting with family and friends, tracking the news, organizing for social justice, working from home, and fighting off boredom. Zoom is the new bar, classroom, and more. You name it, and we have found a way to move it online during the pandemic. A GALLUP poll indicated that nearly 7 out of every 10 employed adults in the U.S. were working at home at least part of the time this May, and many businesses expect that some remote working will continue even after the pandemic.
I’m here to say #1: digital accessibility is not only important, it is absolutely critical. Digital accessibility is about the shared human right to engage in the world we live in. #2: It’s not that difficult. Making digital information accessible takes work and requires planning ahead, but following digital accessibility is just another skill to learn. If we all can learn to navigate Zoom, we can learn how to provide captions for our events, and more.
Where to Start
Digital accessibility encompasses making virtual events, social media posts, websites, digitally shared documents, and more inclusive to people with a range of disabilities. Thankfully in 2020, we live in an era with endless resources for how to achieve digital accessibility. Below are some great resources from the disability community:
In this blog, we have put together some tips and definitions to get you started on making your digital communications accessible!
1. Social Media
Alternative text (also called image descriptions) are word descriptions of what is in an image. Alternative text (alt text) and image descriptions allow people with blindness and low vision to experience images in addition to text when they are using a screen reader—an assistive technology that reads text on a computer or phone screen aloud.
While image descriptions should be used any time an image is included in digital communications, social media makes it easy to include image descriptions. Platforms like Twitter allow you to add alt text when making a post, and on Instagram and Facebook which allow for more characters, you can also add image descriptions at the end of the main text of the post. Some tips for making effective alt text include:
Keep image descriptions to the length of a tweet (280 characters).
Focus on what is important in the image and why it was included.
Quote important text in the image word for word.
When writing, there are a few things you can do to ensure that your social media text is clear and readable:
Put hashtags and links at the end when possible so that someone using a screen reader can read the social media post without being interrupted.
2. Videos and Virtual Gatherings
Closed Captions (CC) are lines of text, often at the bottom of a video or TV screen, that not only provide a text transcription of any words said but also describe other sounds, such as background music. Closed captions help make the audio part of videos accessible to people who are hard of hearing or deaf. While platforms such as Youtube may have automatic captioning, you make sure your video captions are accurate by using a captioning service to provide captions for your videos. Live captioning for events (virtual or in person) is called CART, which stands for Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART), and there are endless companies that provide captioning and CART services. Here are a few:
If you have the time, you can also caption a video yourself for free.
When coordinating captioning for videos and live virtual events, you can help captioners and speed up their work by sending them the names of all participants, the agenda, scripts for remarks from speakers, and the headshots of speakers. Captioners usually provide a text-only link to share with participants that can make the captions easier to read by allowing the reader to:
View whole paragraphs of the transcript
Control how fast they are reading the captions
Remove the distraction of the video or visuals
In Zoom, meeting hosts can assign a captioner so that CART is available directly in the platform. Note that when using breakout rooms, you will have to coordinate multiple captioners to cover the multiple breakout rooms. The number one thing to remember is to START EARLY with all of your captioning and CART needs, and make sure you have all of your captioners hired and any videos pre-captioned at least 72 hours before the event. It takes time for captioning to be completed and reviewed for accuracy.
American Sign Language (ASL)
American Sign Language (ASL) is a language using hand and face movements that is used by about half a million people in North America, largely people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Learn more about ASL through the National Association of the Deaf. With such a large community of ASL speakers, there are countless ASL interpreters that you can hire to make your webinars and events inclusive. Here are just a few:
Just as we recommended when working with captioners, providing
information on speakers, scripts and statements, and any other event materials
in advance helps ASL interpreters prepare for events!
For smaller meetings and gatherings, whether or not you need ASL will depend on your audience. But when hosting events open to the public, including ASL is key to ensuring everyone can engage in your event. Remember, ASL is its own language! Providing only captions to an ASL-speaker is like providing only English captions to a Spanish-speaker. When incorporating music (beyond background music), there are lots of ASL interpreter groups skilled in interpreting music, including DEAFinitely Dope and Amber G. Productions.
Incorporating ASL interpreters into Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms is easy! In Zoom, encouraging participants to use the “Gallery View” and select “View Video Participants Only,” will help viewers to prioritize the ASL interpreters. When presenting a slide-deck, Zoom attendees can select “Side-by-Side” view to ensure that ASL interpreters are still visible and can even pin the videos of the interpreters to their screen. Platforms such as Streamyard also allow you to choose a layout in which an ASL interpreter’s video screen is minimized but visible next to the main video screen.
Audio descriptions in videos or presentations serve the same purpose as alt text for images. During a recorded video, audio descriptions of what is happening on screen enables people with blindness and low vision to engage more fully in media that is both visual and audial. Live visual descriptions in a zoom call might include describing one’s own appearance and video background and any visual graphics included in slide decks. Check out this example of audio descriptions during the ADA 30 Lead On Celebration this year. Disney has also committed to providing audio descriptions for many of their productions on the Disney Plus streaming platform.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Especially when it comes to planning live events, making sure that captioning and ASL interpretation are properly implemented can be difficult and any manner of things can go wrong (as with any aspect of event planning). Practicing and rehearsing your event in advance will help you prepare for what might go wrong with your accessibility technology. Also, the more events you host with accessible technology, the smoother your events will go!
3. Documents and Articles
Much of the earlier conversation about image descriptions applies to images and logos included in documents. In documents, blog posts, and any other writing, make sure that your images are described. In Google, you can right click on an image and choose “Alt Text” to create an image description. Similarly in Microsoft Word, simply right click on an image and select “Edit Alt Text” to add a description.
Document logic means how you organize your document with titles, headings, and regular paragraphs. Both Google Docs and Microsoft Word allow you to change and create “Styles,” for all titles, headings, or normal text in a document. Using this feature to identify headings versus paragraphs of text helps screen readers understand how to correctly read different parts of a document.
Earlier, we mentioned plain language when discussing Social Media. Plain language is about writing clear and concisely. Using plain language makes communications easy to understand for the general population, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and people who speak English as a second language. To learn more, check out this guide to writing in plain language from the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). For examples of plain language writing, you can also check out this COVID-19 Guide in plain language created by the Green Mountain Self-Advocates on the COVID-19 or this Guide to Contacting your Representatives in Congress by AUCD.
Many of us remember our parents or grandparents complaining about text that is too small to read or face this difficulty ourselves. More people have difficulty reading small text than you may think. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, 1 in 10 adults have trouble seeing even with glasses or contact lenses. Using a larger font helps so many people to more easily read your materials. Instead of 10 point font, consider 14 point font or larger (16 point or larger on websites).
Using images with a high contrast of very light and very dark colors can be easier for folks with low vision to view. The same tip applies to choosing font and background colors. Stick to text and background combinations that have high contrast, for example black text on a white background or white text on a black background.
A screen reader will read out all text, so replacing long
links in a document or social media post with a short description of the link
can be extremely helpful for all readers. Whether or not you are using a screen
reader, reading “learn more about describing links” is much more
helpful than reading “learn more” or reading the full
link, which I will spare you from. Check out Oregon State University’s summary of using links accessibly and
this example a screen reader audio from
Some document editing softwares can automatically check how
accessible the document is and let you know what can be improved. For example,
in Microsoft Word, you can use the Word Doc Accessibility Checker under
the “Review” tab. For example, the Accessibility Checker
will tell you if you forgot alt text for an image or have unnecessary spaces in
your document. Adobe Acrobat Pro, a PDF reader, also has an Adobe PDF Accessibility Checker.
Making websites accessible involves a combination of all of the accessibility tips and tools mentioned above. Typically, making websites accessible involves some knowledge of web design, but thankfully there are many companies and guides dedicated to making websites accessible. Here are some companies that can help you through the process of making your online presence accessible and inclusive:
The basics of accessible website technology (check out Dreamhost for more items) are:
Including alternative text for images and graphics
Incorporating captions in videos
Ensuring that users can navigate the website using the keyboard
Using large enough fonts and high contrasting colors
Avoiding tables of information except when communicating data points
5. Remote Working
COVID-19 has forced many workplaces to work remotely, increasing the need for organizations to proactively ensure that their systems and communications methods are accessible to people with a range of disabilities. For both in-person and remote working, the first step to making an inclusive workplace is asking employees what accommodations would help them be more successful, on a regular basis, and following through with requests. People often know what they need best, so asking is always a good place to start.
When it comes to making working from home accessible, ensuring digital accessibility through the methods mentioned earlier in this article is important, but not enough. Providing work schedule flexibility and offering to reimburse office furniture or any other accommodations needed are two ways to empower employees while working remotely. How many organizations have adapted to remote working has demonstrated how valuable and feasible work from home is as an accommodation. Making work from home accessible can help make more space for all employees to take care of their mental health. For more information on remote working an accessibility, check out these articles:
Making your digital presence accessible may take time, but the important thing is to start today, start with your next social media post, start with asking your employees about their accessibility needs. COVID-19 has brought so many challenges and tragedies to our world, but it has also given us an unlikely opportunity to transform the world we live in into a more inclusive and supportive world for everyone!
Notes: 1. This article is far from comprehensive in covering digital accessibility technology and tools, please let us know what resources and tips you would like to share and anything that we are missing here. Email with additional recommendations to add to this blog at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. A huge thank you to the AAPD staff for providing input and feedback for blog! For best practice on digital accessibility, watch how organizations by and for folks with disabilities center accessibility in their digital communications. Disability orgs don’t get accessibility perfect all the time, but following their example is a great start!
3. Language accessibility is another massive barrier. In the U.S., 1 in 5 people speak a language other than English at home. As you consider ensuring that your digital work is accessible, it is also important to consider how you can create translations of your work and incorporate language interpretation when possible.
4. If you’re having difficulty convincing your organization to invest in digital accessibility for inclusion and civil rights alone, it can be helpful to point out how adding alt-text and improving web accessibility can improve your Search Engine Optimization and presence online! Check out these links for more information on digital accessibility:
How The Disability Community Can Respond to COVID-19
Ensuring People with Disabilities Can Access Prescription Drugs During the Current Crisis
Many people with disabilities are at increased risk of
serious or fatal complications from COVID-19 (coronavirus). In an active
community outbreak, the safest option may be to self-isolate at home, perhaps
for weeks or longer. In order to prepare for this possibility, the CDC is
currently recommending that people at high risk stock up on necessities, including
maintenance prescription medication.
Unfortunately, many people with disabilities can’t take this advice because of
insurance restrictions. Insurers typically refuse to cover refills on 30-day
prescriptions until only three to seven days of medication remain. For certain
controlled substance prescriptions, patients may be legally unable to fill a
new prescription until the date that the previous prescription is scheduled to run
These coverage restrictions could leave many disabled people
in danger. Visiting the pharmacy can be risky for some people with chronic
illnesses in even a normal flu season. Some people with disabilities may also
face logistical challenges in getting to the pharmacy if in-home support services
become disrupted due to a local COVID-19 outbreak. While many people can use
mail order pharmacies to avoid this risk, localized outbreaks and social
distancing measures may disrupt supply chains. We cannot stake our lives on the
assumption that the availability of medications will remain stable in the
coming weeks and months. We need to be able to stock up now, as the CDC
Disrupting treatment always endangers patients, but even
more so in a pandemic. COVID-19 is expected to heavily tax the resources of the
health care system. The need for inpatient treatment will likely exceed
capacity in many communities. Even outpatient clinics are likely to have a high
number of patients seeking treatment for COVID-19 symptoms, making avoidable
visits risky for those more vulnerable to complications. Additionally, patients
whose chronic conditions are destabilized are in danger of becoming more
severely ill if they are infected with COVID-19.
Fortunately, a few insurance companies have taken measures
to protect patients. In both Massachusetts and North Carolina, Blue Cross Blue
Shield has waived early refill limits on 30-day maintenance prescriptions.
Recognizing that most of us cannot simply wait for our insurers to behave
responsibly, the Washington state insurance commissioner issued an emergency
order requiring insurers operating in the state to cover early refills. On
March 10th, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued
guidance to Medicare Part D plans reminding them of their ability to relax
restrictions on early refills and lift barriers to obtaining prescriptions from
While these emergency policies still fail to provide sufficient
protection for many people with disabilities taking prescribed controlled
substances, they offer significantly more protection than the status quo.
To further safeguard access to treatment, there are some
additional changes beyond allowing for early refills to standard insurance
policy practices that would be beneficial. These include relaxing restrictions
on prescription fills at out-of-network pharmacies and offering coverage of
non-formulary drugs if supply chain issues leave patients with no available
formulary options. Widespread adoption of such policies would go a long way
toward protecting the lives of people with disabilities in the COVID-19 crisis.
Now is the time to reach out to your state’s insurance
Commissioner to urge them to follow Washington State’s lead in requiring early
refills and to take other measures designed to ensure at-risk populations are
able to follow the CDC’s guidance. We’ve prepared a template
for advocacy organizations to use to urge their state’s insurance commissioner
to take these common-sense measures to protect those most at-risk.
While many states have already required insurers to cover
COVID-19 testing and treatment without cost-sharing, insufficient action has
been taken to ensure that people with disabilities have access to early refills
sufficient to comply with CDC guidance.
You can download our template at this link and adapt it to your organization’s needs. These measures will work best if they are undertaken before an active community outbreak in your area. Since our community includes many of those who are most at risk from COVID-19, we urge disability advocacy groups to make this an area of focus in the coming days and weeks.
If your organization is engaged in advocacy on protecting people with disabilities from COVID-19 or if you have been successful at securing action from your state government, we urge you to share details of that through this form. AAPD will be maintaining a page keeping track of advocacy efforts and policy measures to protect the disability community for the duration of the crisis.
Ari Ne’eman is a Visiting Scholar at the Lurie Institute
for Disability Policy at Brandeis and a PhD student in Health Policy at Harvard
University. He is a member of the AAPD Board of Directors.
Kit Albrecht is a Research Associate at the Association
for Autistic Community.
My name is
Daman Wandke, and I am an accessible technology consultant, national disability
advocate, and the founder and Chief Executive Officer of AbiliTrek, an accessibility consulting company. You might
ask, what led me to starting AbiliTrek?
Management Information Systems at Western Washington University. During my time
as an undergrad student, I was extremely active on campus, especially regarding
disability advocacy. Within my first week on campus, I started the first
disability-oriented club and continued to make accessibility changes as well as
spread disability awareness. However, my advocacy work did not stop on campus.
an internship through the American Association of
People with Disabilities (AAPD) at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
During my internship, I learned a lot about web accessibility such as learning
how to make PDFs Section 508 compliant. Section 508 is an amendment to the
Rehabilitation Act that requires electronic documents and communication
technology to be accessible to people with disabilities.
internship turned into a long-term virtual internship where I continued to work
remotely for the USDA from school for the next three years. I also continued to
gain career support from my AAPD mentor, Matthew McCollough who is the Director
of the DC Office of Disability Rights. During this time, I refined my skills in
making PDFs accessible. I also had the opportunity to learn about project
management and team leadership. This internship introduced me to my career.
I took the
foundation that I learned at the USDA and broadened my web accessibility skills
in my next two jobs. I worked at the Federal Housing Finance Agency
coordinating 508 compliance agency-wide and then as an Accessibility Analyst at
SSB BART Group (now Level Access), consulting large organizations on how to
make their websites and other Information Technology (IT), accessible.
I then began
on a path of entrepreneurship is where my path led. Over time, I built up a
diverse amount of experience that became my foundation and leverage for my company.
I used all of my experience to create AbiliTrek. AbiliTrek assists businesses
via a plethora of disability advocacy and awareness services, including our
Search and Review Platform, speaking engagements as well as providing IT
allows people to innovatively search and review locations based on their
personal accessibility needs, reflecting that accessibility is not “one-size-fits-all”.
We desire for our platform to indicate where your items are–and are
not–accessible to everyone as well as bring awareness to the growing
consulting, AbiliTrek provides technical and functional web testing as well as
web development to ensure access to all via assistive technology compatibility.
If websites and apps are not compatible with assistive technology then those
assistive Technologies are rendered useless.
AbiliTrek strives to create an inclusive environment so everyone has access to
Making Assistive Technology Easier to Access
December 3, 2018 | Kurt Vogel, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern
Last year, I had an internship with the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access at Georgia Tech. I worked as a Research Assistant and helped research different types of assistive technology software that would be later compiled into an online database for the public. This really helped me to see how I could incorporate my three interests of Disability Advocacy, Information Technology, and Assistive Technology.
What I realized when I was there was how much assistive technology there is out there without much of a widespread infrastructure in place. What I mean is that there is not much of an infrastructure in place for people to try the software or devices before they purchase them or before Vocational Rehabilitation assists in the requisition of the software or device.
There are Assistive Technology centers where you can go to have an assistive technology assessment and then they will loan you the equipment for a few weeks before actually having to purchase it. Oftentimes these centers are only located within large cities or educational institutions. This summer, I had the opportunity to visit the USDA Target Center, which is an assistive technology demonstration lab. Employees can receive an assistive technology assessment and try out different assistive technology software and devices in their actual office and work environment. There are staff available who are knowledgeable in the assistive technology software and devices.
This is a perfect example of what an ideal assistive technology center would look like. The assistive technology staff, the employer, and the employee (the one using the assistive technology software) are all collaborating and communicating with each other to make sure that the employee is going to have the Assistive Technology resources available to be successful in their job.
However, in many employment settings, there is not an assistive technology demonstration lab available for someone to try before they buy. For example, if there was more of an infrastructure in place, sort of like an assistive technology library, and there were people in place to work with you over the course of several weeks, then it would be more helpful. One of the reasons assistive tech is so hard to access is because there is no way to try it. If the company bought a new piece of assistive technology and the employee doesn’t know that it is going to be a good fit, there would be no guarantee that it would be the right choice. If the employee could try it first and demonstrate that it is helpful with some evidence that it actually worked well, the company might be more eager to purchase.
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a federal and state government partnership program that helps people with disabilities get the services they need to be successful during employment. Oftentimes in rural areas people do not have access to transportation to go to the assistive technology center. This is where VR helps people with disabilities purchase the assistive technology. Sometimes VR does not have adequate resources available and often purchases the assistive technology but then does not help with the execution of ensuring that the person knows how to use the technology before closing the case.
What I see as a solution is that VR could partner with local educational institutions or assistive technology centers that have the resources available to work alongside the person to make sure that the particular assistive technology is the right fit. The education institution would administer the assistive tech assessment and then tailor what equipment was loaned to them based on the assessment. Then the individual would be able to receive one-on-one training on how to use the software if they needed additional support in setting it up.
* * *
Kurt Vogel is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. He interned with the U.S. Access Board.
Technology Forum – June 2018
The June 2018 meeting of the AAPD Tech Forum was held at AT&T, where IBM gave an insightful presentation on AI and data. Here, a future was outlined, not of where computers replace humans through Artificial Intelligence, but where we work together with technology through Augmented Intelligence. Humans and computers have different skillsets and by utilizing each other’s strengths, there can be further innovation.
In 2011, IBM debuted Watson, a computer that competed and won on the show Jeopardy! Now, they are using that same technology to advance fields such as medicine with Watson Health. As a computer, Watson can read through medical journals and clinical trials, and help identify new genetic indicators of diseases and pharmaceutical options better and faster than humans can. By then providing this information to doctors and researchers, humans and computers can work together to have a better outcome for patients.
The forum also discussed the issue of underrepresentation of the disability community in the data used for programs such as AI. IBM utilizes human-centered design solutions, a process of working directly with consumers in order to leverage their experiences and perspectives. By preventing the use of biased data, AI can learn and make decisions that include the viewpoints of all. Conversely, the data the disability community provides may help create ideas and technologies that can benefit everyone, disabled or not.
This forum was an opportunity to see where AI and technology are going in the healthcare sphere, and the incredible work companies like IBM are doing.
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The AAPD Technology Forum, comprised of individuals from the disability community and tech industry, works to advance access to technology to increase the opportunities and independence of all people with disabilities. The September Technology Forum will focus on the “open internet” and telecommunications policy.