Inaccessibility in a Time of COVID-19 Communication

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In this time of COVID-19 uncertainty, I find myself checking government websites and watching news briefings more than ever. Recently, I began receiving emails from state and national emergency services regarding how to access services and other general information. This COVID-19 communication is essential, and sadly most aspects of it are not readily accessible for people with disabilities.

Someone with a mask close up to their computer screen reading COVID 19 communication.

The Search For Section 508 and ADA Compliance

At the start of this pandemic, I’d see news briefings with many people on the screen, and occasionally there would be someone signing for those who are hearing impaired. However, lately, there is no interpreter. This got me thinking about other vital information that is potentially not making it to millions of Americans.

I asked my colleagues to check some websites and emails for ADA compliance and 508 digital compliance. The results of our research confirmed the suspicion that many Americans do not have equal access to vital COVID-19 communication and updates. The accessible framework is present for some of the sites, but the number of errors and inaccessible attachments renders them noncompliant and, in many cases, impossible to navigate.  

Can you imagine not being able to access public information?  

New reporter bringing news while news staff control sunlight and noise.

In today’s society, we expect frequent briefings and access to critical information. Imagine the uproar if the information was only provided to some Americans. I wish this were a ‘what-if’ scenario, but for millions of Americans who rely on assistive technology, screen readers, and American Sign Language interpreters, this is a reality.

I get it, COVID-19 is a pandemic, and some things are not a priority. However, disregarding accessibility is picking and choosing who receives vital information. Lives may be at risk when people cannot access data. If the ADA and 508 Compliance is part of the foundation, it does not become an afterthought.

Flatten Inaccessibility 

When there is a discrepancy in ADA and 508 accessibility, I look to the advocates. I found that the three champions for blind and visually impaired Americans are working together with other organizations to provide valuable information regarding COVID-19. The advocate groups are The American Council of the BlindThe American Federation for the Blind, and The National Federation of the Blind. The initiative is called Flatten Inaccessibility.

Flatten Inaccessibility is in the early stages. But, they are exploring how inaccessible data impacts people with visual disabilities.  

Compliant Resources on COVID-19 Communication

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has an accessible COVID-19 resource guide. NFB also shared accessible COVID-19 Statistics, a work in progress, by website developer and designer Tyler Littlefield. 

Braille Works is also providing a free resource guide in braille and large print for those with visual disabilities. Limit one per household. You need to fill out the general info form and request a braille or large print version. 

With advocacy and education, we can all work together to Flatten Inaccessibility.

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This post was written by Christine Sket

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