Advocating for Accessibility: Technology is our Friend
One of the best things to happen in the world of aging and disability services this year is a new focus on supporting individuals with disabilities, and particularly in providing more accessibility for individuals with visual and/or hearing impairments and those for whom community mobility is a challenge.
Our Seattle-King County Area Plan states it plain as day: Currently, 23 percent of adults 18 and older live with a disability. Among residents age 60 and older, that increases to 38 percent. According to 2013 American Community Survey, which produces estimates for the U.S. Census Bureau, among U.S. residents age 65 and older, more than 41 percent have hearing difficulty and almost 19 percent have vision difficulty. That’s a lot of us who cannot hear and/or see as well as we used to, and that creates communications challenges on both a personal and community level.
Click above to learn more about hearing loops
Enter technology, which is truly our friend. Those who wear hearing aids say that hearing loop technology makes a world of difference in their ability to receive information, anywhere where there’s a PA system. Another plus is CART captioning, which supports people who are hard of hearing as well as English language learners and some individuals who have cognitive impairments. These are powerful tools to have available at meetings and events, and anywhere that people gather. Closed captioning benefits people who are deaf or hard of hearing but, as the National Council on Disability’s 2016 progress report points out, it also helps people in noisy venues such as airports, health and fitness clubs, and restaurants. And it’s not new technology—our community just hasn’t taken full advantage of it.
Click above to watch “Are Your Digital Communications Accessible?,” a presentation by UW accessible technology specialist Terrill Thompson.
Newer technology includes videoconferencing, like Skype, and other Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology. For instance, City of Seattle employees have Skype for Business, which allows them to offer a conference call number and code to anyone who may have difficulty attending a meeting in person. This is a boon to people with mobility challenges, to anyone who uses American Sign Language (ASL) who can then access the meeting via Washington Relay, to individuals who have busy schedules, and to anyone who finds it easier to participate from the comfort of their own home or office.
Our public libraries offer technology for residents who are blind and those who are deaf. Read Access for All at The Seattle Public Library (January 2016) for a reminder about accessibility software available in each branch library. The downtown Seattle library has a wide range of assistive technologies. King County Library System offers adaptive services at a number of branches.
Click above to watch the accessible travel and tourism forum presented by the Northwest Universal Design Council in August.
Accessibility laws guarantee opportunity for access
We have laws that require accessibility. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has passed its 26th birthday. This is a vital civil rights law that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in employment opportunities, purchase goods and services, and participate in state and local government programs and services. More people need to take advantage of this law and request accommodations that ensure equal access. For instance, more people who have hearing loss could request captioning at public meetings.
More recently, the Affordable Care Act improved health equity by extending non-discrimination (by extension, accessibility) to health programs and activities. Any health program or activity that receives any funding from the federal Department of Health and Human Services is required to make electronic information and new or remodeled facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities and to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services for individuals with disabilities. For more information, visit Section 1557: Ensuring Effective Communication with and Accessibility for Individuals with Disabilities.
Universal Design Council promotes access for all ages and abilities
The Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services has promoted increased accessibility via the Northwest Universal Design Council, which we helped to launch nearly a decade ago. This year’s NWUDC events have included:
- The Power of Inclusion: Universal Design in Landscape (coming up November 15)
- Accessible Travel and Tourism (August)
- Are Your Digital Communications Accessible? (April)
- Designing an Accessible Pedestrian Network for All (January)
We are also proud of Aging and Disability Services staff who, working with their web consultants, have revamped five websites—including this one—to ensure compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA, the standard currently used by the U.S. Department of Justice in reviewing ADA compliance. In addition to work in the background (coding that you cannot see that helps users navigate the site), each ADS website offers accessibility user tips and tools, accessibility policy, and a form for accessibility feedback and questions:
- AgeWise King County (this online publication)
- Aging King County (Aging and Disability Services’ main webpage)
- Community Living Connections (your “front door” to programs, services, and support)
- Environments for All (Northwest Universal Design Council)
- King County Caregiver Support Network
Aging and Disability Services staff is currently involved in developing policy, training, and tools recommendations for the City of Seattle related to accessible communications, meetings, and events.
If you missed my article in the August 2016 issue, please read Like Wi-Fi for Hearing Aids, Hearing Loops Are Needed Everywhere.
We will continue to advocate for individuals with hearing and vision loss.
There are a lot of us!
Contributor Molly Holmes is the chair of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services, which publishes AgeWise King County. Molly welcomes input from readers via e-mail (email@example.com) as well as applicants for open positions on the council. For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/advisory-council.
Click above to visit our new website!
The Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services meets monthly, except January and October, and holds periodic forums. The next Advisory Council meeting is on Friday, November 18, 2016 (12:00–2:00 p.m.) in Seattle Municipal Tower, Room 4060 (700 5th Avenue, Seattle). Meetings are open to the public. Agendas are available within a week of the meeting. For more information or to request an accommodation, contact Gigi Meinig at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-684-0652.