On September 27, I attended the Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD)’s 2019 Disability Summit which focused on accessibility. One of the most interesting presentations of the day was “Data on Disability and Challenges to Implementing the ADA for Municipalities in Massachusetts” given by Oce Harrison, Ed.D., Project Director of the New England ADA Center. Harrison shared the results from a regional survey that looked into how physically accessible New England actually is. The survey revealed that the ADA is not being adhered to in public establishments (not completely surprised by this) – although, I was surprised to learn that results showed that wheelchair users were the lowest population among the disability community. The information shared in this presentation and the MOD’s conference made me think that accessibility should be planned for in terms of serving the most impacted people. By “most impacted” I mean that public places should be accessible for all so that no one is left in the lurch.
In “Information Technology Access,” Sarah E. Bourne from the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security shared a detailed overview of the accessibility guidelines that web developers should follow. The extensive regulations ensure that everyone has access to information in multiple formats. This goal to provide access for all as the presenter said is “achievable with a plan to be executed in manageable stages.” Businesses big and small are encouraged to make access a cornerstone of their services to foster an inclusive environment. The PuffinInno team is endeavoring to make its flagship product, a Bluetooth device that makes personal electronics (phones, computers, etc.) as user-friendly as possible for people with varying disabilities.
In the concluding presentation, “Disability Access Award” on the Town of Rochester by Tom Hopkins, discussed how a public improvement grant funded the town’s initiative to give it an accessibility makeover. The improvements were focused around the Town Hall. The new accommodations included new ramps, widened doors with automatic switches, roomier restrooms, and larger office spaces. These now accessible spaces “encourage all of the public regardless of ability level to participate in civic affairs,” as Hopkins said. Despite the civic undertone of this presentation, the accommodations made were done according to ADA regulations. The alterations are an example to be followed by all businesses.
The MOD’s Accessibility Conference demonstrated how creating a fully accessible world is a continuous work in progress. Events like this give a glimpse of how society may make strides towards becoming one that values all of its members, yet advocacy still has a long way to go.