Last week I was honored to attend a White House reception and ceremony to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President Obama spoke with passion and sincerity about the progress made since the signing of the ADA and some of the very significant executive orders he has made to raise expectations for people with disabilities. While I am proud of what the President has done to raise the bar for employment of and payment of fair wages to workers with disabilities, I left the White House in complete frustration after the President failed to mention anything about meaningful regulatory action that will ensure our full participation in the twenty-first century where the internet is critical to success.
Although the President mentioned access to high-speed internet in his remarks -- the internet curb cut so to speak -- he completely missed the opportunity to address the most significant access barrier facing the blind and others with disabilities. Today, we are largely excluded from the technologies that make education, work, and life easier for most other Americans simply because those technologies are designed without considering our participation. After the National Federation of the Blind has worked in good faith over the past couple of years to engage the administration to understand the urgency of taking action, all I can say is what else do we have to do to get this done?
All blind people know the frustration that we routinely experience in encountering inaccessible electronic and information technology, especially websites, apps, and other internet-based services. At best, these barriers are merely annoying -- at worst they can lead to loss of productivity, educational opportunity, or employment. The need for accessible technology in the classroom is particularly acute. If we are shut out of education, what future do we have?
While many still contend that the ADA does not apply to these inaccessible technologies, some courts have correctly ruled that there is no fundamental difference between offering a service that is covered by the ADA online or at a brick-and-mortar location. This common-sense view has also long been the position of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). In 2010, the DOJ signaled its intent to issue regulations applying the ADA to the internet. But five years later, the proposed regulations (or regs, in government jargon), although they have apparently been drafted, have not been issued. So we must still fight for access website by website, app by app, and institution by institution. An article entitled "The Internet Is a Necessity," published by Slate last week, gives further background on this issue. In addition, you can read the letter we sent along with support from other disability-run organizations to the White House on August 18 of last year.
It appears as though the draft regulations have been sitting at the Office of Management and Budget for nearly a year. We urged the White House to use the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ADA as an opportunity to finalize and release these important regulations (for reference you can read my blog from last July entitled The Next Steps on the Road to Equal Opportunity: ADA Celebration or Motivation for Action). That opportunity has now passed. If swift action is not taken, the only conclusion can be that the White House is now the obstacle to expanding access to technology--a message that is inconsistent with the vision for the future the President expressed last week. Blind people are tired of being told to wait for a mythical future where the technologies used in schools, businesses, government, and other services will be accessible to them. It is time to upload the regulations, get the job done, and do more than simply express the view that people with disabilities should be equal participants in our twenty-first century economy. The time is now to take the action that will facilitate the access that is our right as Americans who desire to participate fully in our society.
I feel confident that everyone reading this shares the understanding that lack of access to electronic and information technology is the greatest modern threat to the complete independence of blind people and our ability to live the lives we want. Let's share our frustration with the White House by taking the following actions:
- Please share my opinion piece, published on July 24 in the online edition of the influential DC newspaper The Hill, on your preferred social media networks, and add your supportive comments on The Hill's article page.
- Take a moment to tweet @WhiteHouse, @BarackObama, and @POTUS, and tell the administration to #uploadtheregs. Explain in your own words why it's important to you as a blind or disabled American or a supporter of our rights, or just share my op-ed or this post. Do the same on your Facebook account. Urge your family and friends to do it, too, using the #uploadtheregs hashtag.
P.S. Speaking of accessibility issues, articles on The Hill can be difficult to read with a screen reader because of the site's rotating ads. Blind readers might try accessing and sharing the article from your mobile device. For your reading convenience, we've also posted the op-ed on our website. If at all possible, however, please do share the above link to the article page.