“The complex and interconnected crises facing humanity today, including the shocks resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other countries, a tipping point in climate change, all pose humanitarian challenges of an unprecedented nature, as well as threats to the global economy. Most often, in moments of crises, people in vulnerable situations such as persons with disabilities are the most excluded and left behind.”—United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2022
Thirty years ago, the United Nations proclaimed that an annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities would be held each December 3. This observance helps to increase awareness of disability issues as well as support for dignity and wellbeing for persons with disabilities. The day reminds us that disability rights are civil rights. The 2022 theme calls for innovative and transformative solutions for inclusion, accessibility, and equity.
Aging and Disability Services (ADS) and Seattle Human Services (HSD) address these issues in a variety of ways:
- Addressing respect and social inclusion. One of The 8 Domains of Livability defined by the World Health Organization and adopted by the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, of which the City of Seattle is a member, is respect and inclusion. Age Friendly Seattle published a Community Guide to Accessible Events and Meetings, which is available online. The initiative has made hearing and language access a priority in both live and virtual events, providing ASL interpretation upon request and both live- and auto-captioning in multiple languages whenever possible, which carry over to their event video recordings.
- Building employee skills to help meet the needs of persons with disabilities. The City of Seattle’s ADA Title II Compliance Program produced 10 interactive training modules for City staff. All ADS and HSD staff are required to take an ADA Overview (why it matters), Disability Basics, Understanding Program Access Requirements, Serving Customers with Disabilities, and Communication Strategies. Additional modules cover Communicating Effectively; Auxiliary Aids & Technology; Planning Accessible Meetings; Service Animals; Working with Grants, Contracts & Partners; and Evaluating City Policies. The training modules are only available to City of Seattle staff (click here to request more information); however, video from those training modules is available as part of the ADA 30th Anniversary Celebration on the Seattle Channel (click here). In addition, HSD has published staff guidelines and resources for serving and engaging people with disabilities. Even those of us who have worked on accessibility issues for years continue to learn.
Helping individuals and organizations in the community learn how to plan and implement accessible events. In addition to publishing a guide to help community members implement accessible events (mentioned above), ADS—along with more than a dozen City of Seattle departments, AARP, Age Friendly Seattle, Hearing Loss Association of America–Washington State, Hearing Speech & Deaf Center, Northwest Universal Design Council, Seattle Public Library, and Sight Connection—sponsored “How to Plan an Accessible Event,” a public event at Seattle City Hall in May 2019. All presenters were individuals with disabilities.
- Promoting Universal Design. Age Friendly Seattle staff and ADS planners, as needed, staff the Northwest Universal Design Council, a community-based coalition of architects, builders, real estate agents, and accessibility advocates. Adherence to the principles of Universal Design—equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use—produces good design for all ages and abilities, all the time. NWUDC has hosted numerous public events that support awareness of Universal Design principles, disability rights, accessibility, and equity.
In addition, ADS Advisory Council members and staff have long advocated for better hearing access in public spaces, made possible by hearing loops. For information about how hearing loops make a difference for people who wear hearing aids and other devices, visit hearingloop.org and the Hearing Loss Association of America—Washington State.
These strategies are not new, so it’s difficult to claim innovation; however, many people do not give much thought to accessibility unless they are personally affected. For many, our advocacy and some of the assistive technologies we use to support individuals with disabilities may seem new and innovative. Some of it can even seem like magic at first. And knowledge is transformative.
If this is new territory for you, I encourage you to learn everything you can about accessibility and resources, starting with the links above, as well as the following:
- Accessible Technology (University of Washington)
- Northwest ADA Center
- Washington Assistive Technology Act Program (WATAP)
Finally, look at some recent AgeWise articles about disability and accessibility—and look for more articles in the months to come:
- Things You May Not Know About Disability Employment (October 2022)
- The ADA and the Benefits of Assistive Technology (July 2022)
- Digital Accessibility is Vitally Important (May 2022)
- Accessibility is a Social Right (July 2021)
- 31 Years: Are We Accessible Yet? (July 2021)
- Addressing Disability and Age Discrimination: Fighting Judgment of the Outside with Compassion for the Inside (March 2021)
Contributor Irene Stewart is communications manager for the Seattle Human Services Department. She provides communications support for Aging and Disability Services and is editor of AgeWise King County.
Photo at top was taken at a Seattle Disability Commission meeting in 2017 by Irene Stewart.