Revisiting the topic of services for the disabled with Infopeople instructor Marti Goddard and reviewing articles and reports on the issue recently as part of online coursework I just completed through the University of North Texas provides encouraging as well as discouraging news. Encouraging because we see progress which can be documented. Somewhat depressing because we can see how much more remains to be accomplished.
It has already been two years since Goddard, Access Services Manager for the San Francisco Public Library system, last taught the daylong “Beyond Ramps: Library Accessibility in the Real World” Infopeople workshop, and more than a decade has passed since the publication of Achieving Independence: The Challenge for the 21st Century: A Decade of Progress in Disability Policy Setting an Agenda for the Future (1996), yet both are as timely as ever, as Goddard noted during a conversation last week.
The first conclusion summarized in the executive summary to Achieving Independence, that progress in empowering people with disabilities was “threatened, compromised, and often undermined by lack of understanding and support in the Congress and among particular segments of society” from 1986 to 1996, still holds true, Goddard maintains: Congress, earlier this year, revisited the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “because they felt ADA has been eroded.” Amendments were signed into law in September 2008 to become effective January 1, 2008.
Another conclusion, that public policy “continues to send mixed messages to people with disabilities,” also remains true twelve years after the report was published, according to Goddard: “The ADA was really not prescriptive. It was written to be sure that people’s unique needs could be met. There was pushback because of the perceived cost—not the actual cost of implementation,” she explained.
The third conclusion, that “people with disabilities “remain outside the economic and social mainstream of American life” and “continue to be less employed, less educated and poorer than other Americans,” also remains true. There is, she says, a “significantly lower rate of employment for people with disabilities,” and writers including John Hockenberry in Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence have documented ways in which those with disabilities are excluded from public buildings and public transportation systems because of inadequate accessibility.
Among the great resources and reasons for hope is the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and its website, full of resources and up-to-date information. There is, for example, a report that an updated working draft of authoring tool accessibility guidelines for those involved in web design was published on November 24, 2008; comments on the guide are being accepted through January 6, 2009 on that same site. There is also an updated list of ten quick tips summarizing “key concepts of accessible Web design” on the site. A link to a page providing guidance on how to evaluate web sites for accessibility promises additional useful resources.
And for those interested in Goddard’s Infopeople workshop, it remains available on a contract basis dependent on the instructor’s availability, and course materials are available in the Infopeople past training materials archives.