Discrimination at First Sight; The Reality of Government Agencies Not Being ADA Compliant

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thinking man statue in front of the U.S. Capitol representing government agencies

Our founder, Lou Fioritto, who was born blind, has often shared his experiences of being a young man expected to become independent — but faced with the challenge of inaccessible documents.

When he received financial or other important communications in the mail, for example, he paid high school students to read them aloud, rather than going to his parents and risk a lecture on his spending habits and life choices. Unlike other young adults in their 20s, Lou sacrificed his privacy and security to achieve independence.

No one should ever experience what Lou did all those years ago. However, the reality is many people who are blind, who have low vision or a reading disability are still not able to access important documents readily and without challenges.

In addition to banks, hospitals, and other types of businesses, government agencies and institutions are also mandated to provide consumers with information in accessible formats. In March 2017 the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) analyzed the accessibility of government websites and found 58% of the 300 most widely used government sites indicated significant accessibility problems.

So, what happens when equal access is not provided?

government agency administrator transferring a phone call

Individuals who are disabled are too often excluded.

When a person with blindness or a visual impairment contacts a government agency and asks for assistance, they should be met with a quick and satisfactory response. However, often people who have a disability are met with “I don’t know who can help you.” This is a barrier that is preventing a person from gaining equal access.

Government agencies need to designate an employee to coordinate and carry out responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act , 504 and 508 compliance. Then, publish the coordinator’s contact information in the notice of nondiscrimination and on the agency’s website. No one should have to chase equal access to information, goods, services or programs.

young man using personal accessible technology

Personal accessible technology is useless when agency websites are not accessible.

Even when a person with blindness, low vision or other visual disability has a personal accessibility solution such a screen reader, they still need government agencies to provide accessible websites and PDFs.

Straightforward, informative titles help users of accessible technology navigate the pages of government website to find the information they need. Wherever there is a diagram or table, replace the visual element with a text description for users with screen readers or assistive technology. All contact form fields will also need text labels and descriptions to be available by keyboard.

2 men with blindness standing with canes and having a conversation

We miss valuable opportunities to communicate much-needed information.

The “Effective Communication Rule”, under Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disability Act, makes it mandatory for public and private businesses to provide equal access to all communication. Accessible formats like braille and large print are just additional ways of presenting the same content in an accommodating method.
If there is a national emergency or FEMA forms to be filled out, it’s important for people who have a visual or reading disability to have access to the same information, warnings and resources as everyone else. When government agencies are compliant lives are saved and systems run more smoothly.

People miss out on valuable government agency resources.

If agencies do not provide accessible documents or 508 compliant websites following WCAG 2.0 AA standards, people cannot be active participants in the programs and resources these agencies offer. It is a common but inaccurate perception that every person with a disability has a family member or friend who can help them navigate inaccessible websites and complete inaccessible forms. Moreover, people with disabilities shouldn’t have to reach out to their friends or families—government agencies should empower them with accessible document options.

Accessible document formats such as 508 remediated PDFs, braille, large print, and audio keep all Americans in the loop. If we assist all people, we enable our country to reach its full potential. Removing barriers in America leads to less discrimination, more independence, and a shared value of and respect for the dignity of every person. Learn more about accessible documents

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This post was written by Clerise Phillip Samuel

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