By Shelia Newman, MS, President
On Tuesday, August 8th, Vice President Cindy Ryan and I were panelists on “Campaign 2016 and People with Disabilities: Enabling Access and Opportunities for All,” a summit held at the Rayburn House Office Building. This special event, hosted by RespectAbility and covered by CSPAN, brought together campaign consultants, Hill staff and disability leaders. Cindy and I spoke on “Reaching All Voters by Making Electronic Communications Accessible.” You can watch our presentation on CSPAN.
One point in my address to the group was that we are seeing more interest in disability issues in this election cycle than ever before. I specifically said that some people give one candidate more credit than he deserves for the increased attention on disability. While mocking a reporter who has a disability did get attention, I attributed the increased awareness and inclusion of people with disabilities to groups like the American Association for People with Disabilities’ REVUp campaign, the Disability Visibility Project’s #CriptheVote campaign, Rooted in Rights, Disability Power and Pride, RespectAbility and many other advocates and organizations.
Maybe I was wrong. The next morning a Bloomberg Politics Poll showed more than six in 10 people say they are bothered a lot that the Republican candidate mocked a reporter’s physical disability—the highest level of displeasure among the issues challenging that candidate that were tested by the poll. But no matter who deserves the credit for the increased emphasis on the issues and challenges facing people with disabilities, I’m appreciative.
Why should candidates make their electronic messages accessible to people with disabilities?
For 35 years, my work has focused on disability issues and for far too long, I’ve seen people with disabilities overlooked in the community, in the workplace and in the outreach for votes. When I started New Editions, I built a diverse company by design, with inclusivity and accessibility at the core of who we are and what we do every day. About 20 percent of our employees are people with disabilities and because we have made accessibility a priority, they participate fully in every aspect of our company’s culture and contribute to every aspect of our company’s success.
That is why it’s so hard for me to understand why candidates, who spend so much time crafting their messages, miss reaching this large population of voters because those messages aren’t accessible. People with disabilities care about issues and vote to elect officials who share their concerns and represent their interests on education, Social Security, health insurance, childcare, equal pay, employment, housing, and transportation. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, about 15.6 million of the 35 million voting-age people with disabilities voted in 2012. Yes, 58.6 percent found a way to vote despite the inaccessibility of the polling places and the inaccessibility of the electronic information issued from the candidates.
That number --15.6 million voters, compares with the number of African-Americans who voted and is larger than the number of Hispanics who voted. It is certainly enough votes that candidates should be making the effort to reach these voters and to reach the citizens with disabilities who could not vote. And to do that, they must make accessibility a priority.
Most Americans now get their news and information on a screen, with about half of those using a mobile device. Since 2008, candidates have relied on their own websites to share information on their policies and platforms, and campaigns now use digital media to reach voters. And yet, little attention has been paid to accessibility.
Even our voter registration websites are inaccessible. In 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union found that California was the only state to have a fully accessible voter registration website. In the 2016 presidential election, neither the Democratic nominee nor the Republican nominee has an accessible website.
That means the messages in the videos on these sites that have not been captioned might not be received by one in every 20 Americans who is deaf or hard of hearing.
Other text-based messages on the site or in inaccessible word documents and PDFs might not reach up to 22.5 million Americans who are 18 or older and have vision loss or are blind.
Why would any candidate ignore a group of people large enough to make a difference in the election when it’s not that difficult to make their electronic information accessible?
Maybe they and their staffs don’t understand what electronic accessibly means. Four types of functional disabilities—visual, auditory, physical and cognitive—may impact a person’s ability to utilize the campaign information on websites, and in multimedia, electronic documentation, email, and radio.
Visual - In general, people who are blind/low vision use either screen reader software or screen magnification software to access the web. Screen readers read text aloud. Screen magnifiers do just what the name implies: make text larger. Electronic information needs to be developed in a way that allows AT users to access the information presented.
Auditory - People who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or deaf-blind won’t get information that is provided through online multimedia unless closed captioning and video transcripts are provided.
Physical - Sometimes a mouse can be difficult to use for someone who has limited use of his or her hands. Providing keyboard access is imperative for those who cannot use a mouse.
Cognitive –A good way to reach people with cognitive disabilities is to offer graphics on your web page. Simple language will allow more people to understand your message.
Candidates, people with disabilities want to receive your messages. Make them accessible and earn their votes!
Shelia Newman, President, New Editions Consulting, Inc. has over 25 years of experience in Federal government contracting. http://neweditions.net/our-team/president-and-owner .
 Lisa Schur, Meera Adya, and Douglas Kruse, Disability, Voter Turnout, and Voting Difficulties
in the 2012 Elections. July 18, 201. (This research project is part of an inter-university consortium, the Research Alliance for Accessible Voting.)
 Ross E Mitchell, “How Many Deaf People Are There in the United States? Estimates From the Survey of Income and Program Participation.” Deaf Stud. Deaf Educ. (Winter 2006) 11 (1): 112-119.doi: 10.1093/deafed/enj004First published online: September 21, 2005.
“ Facts and Figures on Adults with Vision Loss.” The American Federal for the Blind. http://www.afb.org/info/blindness-statistics/adults/facts-and-figures/235