I had a nightmare last night. What does this have to do with the ADA @ 30? The dream was “noir verite”—I was in a university environment and unable to use crucial websites, read documents, fill out forms. As a blind citizen these experiences of digital exclusion have been customary and continue to be so.
This morning I tried to use Submittable to endorse applications and discovered, you bet, that the platform is only conditionally accessible for the blind, though their website trumpets their commitment to disability. They’ve a long way to go. Typically the sighted put up these statements. I’ve heard it before. “Our program is “robust” when it comes to accessibility!” When you try it you discover almost everything in it doesn’t work with screen readers.
Was my dream a harbinger as in Shakespeare? No, it was reality drilling down into the tissues of my unconscious repression. Somewhere in the middle of the thing I shouted at administrators who rolled their eyes at my disclosure of inaccessible websites. The dream made them into department store mannequins. I told them to get their act together. Told them the ADA is 30.
In Digital Land accessibility is an afterthought. Universities and colleges don’t generally pay attention to the matter. Neither do the vendors. There’s a whole platoon of designers and digital CEOs who proclaim accessibility when in fact they’ve never consulted the disabled end users who need it.
In the dream I was in pain. Then I woke, went to Submittable, and discovered it wasn’t a dream at all.
The ADA @ 30 is still a work in progress. Can we say the ADA has been two steps forward, one step back? I think so. At least accessibility is possible. When blind activists fight in the courts outfits like Scribd are forced to retrofit their services so the blind can use them, even though they don’t like it.
Truth is, the disabled have to fight like hell.
Consider the collective beating the disabled are taking during the current pandemic. As Andrew Pulrang writes: “Disabled people know better than most that in a crisis, in times of confusion, fear, and deprivation, rules and norms meant to protect us can disappear like wisps of smoke.” In the stertorous and ugly national conversations about the pandemic the disabled are often depicted as a necessary sacrifice. In her article “Disabled People Are Not Simply Disposable” Liz Moore writes:
Charis Hill, a professional disabled writer, speaker and model, echoed these concerns in a recent piece they wrote: “Plans and public messaging are drafted with only healthy people in mind as the audience, as if no one listening will be ‘those in poor health’ — and if they are, well, someone else will handle that, and it’s OK if they die.”
The ADA @ 30 can’t fully protect the disabled from the underlying principles of utilitarianism, social darwinism, and the ghost of eugenics.
So I had a nightmare.