Commentary: Accessibility in Business Should Be More Than An Afterthought

Commentary written by guest writer Tyler Bachelder

Did you know that businesses are letting over $8 trillion slip right through their proverbial fingers? Me neither. But Caroline Casey, an Irish disability activist does, and she wants to show them the money. That sum is the estimated amount of disposable income possessed by approximately a billion people with disabilities worldwide. She believes that with the right insight and guidance, businesses can begin tapping that money for their own gain. But this isn’t just a naked appeal to greed. It’s also good citizenship. It starts with a consideration for disabled consumers in the boardroom. She wants companies to know that they need to do more than pay mere lip service to accessibility. To her, this is a win-win situation. Businesses cater to the needs of disabled people, and in return they get loyal customers who feel appreciated and valued, plus the wallets that come with them.

Take a look around and you can see this ethos already paying off. The go-to example that most blind people would likely jump to is Apple. Apple has, through the entirety of its design process, considered the needs of disabled people, and it’s been revolutionary for us. Their suite of accessibility tools is comprehensive. The iPhone has screen magnification, LED flash to notify deaf users of alerts, image recognition to describe photos, the ability to type in Braille on the phone, shaped buttons for color blind users, guided access to minimize distractions for users with cognitive disabilities, and so much more. And those tools are generally replicated on a Mac. Apple is something of a prestige brand. Consumers pay a premium for its products. Often, disabled people don’t have as much money individually, due to lack of inclusion in the workforce. But, limited income aside, blind people flock to Apple devices no matter the cost. Why? Because Apple cares about their needs. For a lot of us, Apple is the brand, not a brand. Imagine, for a moment, what that means for this segment of the market. Apple has it largely on lockdown.

And that leads us to Casey and her mission. She imagines a world in which companies consider accessibility at all levels of operation, from supply to design to service to the built environment. That sort of consideration can engender a lot of loyalty from a demographic that often feels underserved and neglected. It’s also a clear win for public relations. Search Google News for Apple Accessibility and you’ll witness journalists frothing over how thoughtful, how philanthropic, and how cool Apple is for doing this work. What company doesn’t want that kind of public goodwill?

Let’s also remember that accessibility can benefit everyone, not just disabled people. How many times have you taken an elevator when stairs would work? Be honest, I won’t tell. You’ve had a bear of a day at work, the commute home is a nightmare, your feet hurt, all you want is to, for a second, be at rest. So into the elevator you go, and you’re grateful right? That elevator is intended for wheelchair users, but I’ll bet what’s left of my eyesight that you’re thankful for those precious thirty seconds of stillness, aren’t you? That’s accessibility at work.

Casey wants companies to realize that the investment of time and money into accessible products and services pays dividends both financially and in the court of public opinion. Too often, due to a lack of education about what it means to be disabled or what it would take to improve the status quo, businesses neglect it altogether. If informed at all, they’re usually misinformed, mistakenly believing that these considerations would be prohibitively expensive. For instance, minor changes like high contrast colors in design, larger signage, appropriate lighting, products that feature tactile elements, websites built with screen readers in mind, digital versions of manuals, TTY phone numbers, most of these things are insignificant changes with very little cost attached. And it’s much less expensive to design while considering accessibility, rather than retrofitting something later, because often if you change one small feature, others must change to make way. I’m thinking here of buildings built before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, specifically, but the principle applies generally too.

So Casey plans to travel to Colombia and ride horseback across the country, all the while documenting her journey on social media. The #valuable campaign is meant to educate, rather than cajole. At the end of her journey, she will beseech over 500 companies to consider their lost money. Let’s hope this effort can create at least one more Apple in the world. The changes won’t happen overnight, but there is momentum. I’ll be in the elevator, waiting for the doors to open on a brighter future.

Advertisements

Commentary: On Google’s Inclusion of People With Disabilities

Yesterday (January 23) marked what would have been the 78th birthday of Ed Roberts, a pioneering disability rights activist who is often called the father of the Independent Living movement. Among other things, this movement emphasizes the need for people with disabilities to find ways of living with their disabilities, rather than being limited or defined by them. These ideas helped shape the disability rights movements in the United States and other countries.

In honor of the occasion, Google featured a doodle of Roberts giving a lecture in his wheelchair on its site all day yesterday. It is not the first time Google features a Doodle related to disabilities. During the day of the opening of the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Google featured a depiction of the different sports played by athletes with disabilities. Also in 2016, Google created a Doodle in honor of Louis Braille’s 107thbirthday.

As someone who is blind, I am thrilled at Google’s effort to include notable figures with disabilities on their site. This helps spread awareness about the different talents and contributions that people with disabilities have made throughout history. Sadly, these are not showcased as often as other historic figures in mainstream media. Doodles and similar depictions of disability-related topics can go a long way in educating the general public. This will lead to greater awareness and inclusion of people with all types of disabilities.

You can learn more about Ed Roberts and the Independent Living movement by visiting this website. Have you come across any other Google Doodles featuring disability-related people or topics? If so, please share with our readers in the comments section!

Commentary: Fashion and Inclusion Are Always A Good Trend!

New York Fashion Week is just about to end, but fashion season is far from over! Last year, we posted about how New York Fashion Week was including models with disabilities on the runway, and about a project The Lighthouse participated in to make clothing more accessible for people with visual impairments. I am happy to say that including people with disabilities in fashion continues to be a trend one year later, and clothes designers all over the world are working hard to do just that.

As the Rio Paralympics are taking place, a nearby fashion designer is working to make clothing inclusive and accessible to woman with disabilities. Christiano Krosh began designing accessible clothing while studying fashion design in college and realizing that there are no stores in Brazil where people with disabilities can buy clothing tailored to their needs. Here in the United States, Runway of Dreams founder Mindy Scheier began designing accessible children’s clothing after seeing how her son – who has a disability – struggled to put on and wear conventional clothing. This line of accessible and fashionable clothing is now sold by Tommy Hilfiger.

Truth be told, I had never given much thought to some of the struggles people with disabilities have when it comes to clothing. As someone who cannot see, I only knew I had to find ways of organizing my clothes.It wasn’t until I began studying at the University of Illinois that some of my classmates with physical disabilities told me about how they struggle to put on and fasten clothing independently. When we really stop to think about it, making clothing accessible for people with disabilities is not as hard as it might initially seem. Simple adjustments, like adding Velcro or magnets allow someone with a physical disability to dress independently. Tags with Braille or large print labels allow people with vision loss to know the color of their clothes. It all comes down to making simple and creative adjustments.

Accessible clothing does not have to be exclusively for people with disabilities. As a matter of fact, the beauty of fashion is that it can include everyone, and always makes for a great conversation among family and friends! Making clothing that is both fashionable and accessible to everyone is the right thing to do. For people with disabilities, it makes us feel more independent and confident about ourselves.

The Chicago Lighthouse will hold its annual Flair fashion show on Monday, October 17 at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago. This popular event will feature fashions from Macy’s and Runway of Dreams, among others. Models will include adults and children, some of whom are blind, visually impaired or disabled. Proceeds from the event will support children’s and teen’s programs at The Chicago Lighthouse—helping children and adolescents who may be blind, visually impaired or disabled meet developmental and educational milestones, build supportive relationships, and fully participate in their communities. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit the event page.

Sandy is a blogger on the topic of blindness and vision impairment. She covers a variety of topics intended to educate people who are sighted on what it is to live life with any level of vision loss. She herself is blind and has had no vision since she was three months old. Sandy graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in public relations. She works in the Financial Development department and CRIS Radio at The Chicago Lighthouse.

Commentary: Accessible and Inclusive Art

Last year, several events were held to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the ADA. Many of these celebrations were centered around making art and museum exhibits accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. I recently came across an article about the reVISION art exhibit, an event that took place in Indiana for the very first time. Although the exhibition was not part of the ADA celebration, its main purpose is to make art accessible and inclusive to everyone. All visitors – both blind and sighted – are allowed to touch the different art pieces. The inspiration for this exhibit came from Meredith Howell, the mother of a child with severe vision loss.

 

I was honestly skeptical when I learned about this exhibit. Previously, many well-intentioned but unsuccessful attempts have been made to include blind and visually impaired folks in art exhibitions. I have gone to art exhibits that claim to be accessible, only to find that accommodations are minimal at best. While I appreciate and enjoy reading the Braille descriptions near paintings and getting to feel parts of some of the sculptures, this doesn’t always give me the full picture. The reality is that when you have vision loss you need to have a combination of various tactile and verbal features in order to appreciate visual works of art as much as possible. I would have probably enjoyed these so-called accessible exhibits had they included detailed verbal descriptions.

 

The unique aspect about the reVISION exhibit that caught my eye (pun intended) is the way in which everyone could interact with the art pieces. It was created with different materials including yarn, clay, wood, fleece, plaster and tactile paint. In other words, people could enjoy the art by both looking and feeling it. This leads me to wonder who got the most out of the exhibit. Blind and visually impaired participants were able to appreciate the different textures, but sighted visitors got the opportunity to use their sense of touch. Unfortunately this is a sense that those with 20/20 vision take for granted and seldom use to its fullest potential! Better yet, sighted visitors were able to learn about visual impairments by putting on special goggles while they touched the art, so we could say that they got a glimpse into the lives of blind and visually impaired individuals.

 

Kudos to Howell and all participating organizations and artists for their dedication and effort in making this exhibit possible. The reVISION exhibit not only made art accessible to those with vision loss, but it also allowed the general public to better understand blindness and visual impairment. I truly hope that this and similar events will continue for many years to come. Those of us with disabilities are constantly fighting for equal access, and we will only accomplish this by spreading awareness and understanding to the general public. These efforts should be ongoing; it is not necessary for us to wait until the next ADA celebration to commit to accessibility and inclusion.

In case you missed it, check out the article here.