A few months ago, I attended a webinar by Joe Devon, Founder of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). It has been 9 years since he started GAAD. You’d think businesses, schools, and even governments would have made their websites accessible. However, Mr. Devon presented some sober statistics, including 98.1% of homepages have at least one accessibility issues, less than 3% of college technology courses include accessibility principles, and only two states have mandated accessibility in K-12 online education.
I was very disappointed to hear those stats. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed 31 years ago, yet many businesses and other public entities still do not understand what accessibility really means to the 61 million Americans with disabilities. These entities also do not know what accessibility means to them. By not committing to make all aspects of their business environments accessible, they’re losing out on $21 billion in disposable income. By not practicing inclusion, they may have been defendants in one of the 3,350 accessibility cases filed in 2020, which could have tainted their public images and bank accounts.
Yet, despite those numbers, some major corporations have made strides in accessibility and inclusion over the past year. For instance, Amazon was recognized with the American Foundation for The Blind Helen Keller Award for specific assistive technologies that it provides. The giant corporation has integrated VoiceView screen reader in its Kindle e-reader. It also has added audio descriptions to hundreds of Prime videos. In addition, Amazon made its number one device, Alexa, into an assistive technology. Thanks to Alexa, persons with mobility impairments can be more independent by controlling household appliances, ensuring home safety, and placing calls through voice activation or touch screen.
CVS is another major company that is making a difference in inclusion of persons with disabilities. It has established the Abilities in Abundance program that provides training, assistant technologies, and supports them. With the help of vocational rehabilitation centers, CVS established eight mock pharmacies to train future employees with disabilities in customer service, stocking, and operating the cash register. Since 2015, CVS has hired over 7,000 employees with disabilities. “I believe our diversified workforce is the cornerstone of our business, and for CVS Health to thrive, we need different worldviews, races and ethnicities, backgrounds, abilities and ages,” said David Casey, Vice President, Workforce Strategies & Chief Diversity Officer at CVS Health. “As we move forward into the next decade of our Abilities in Abundance program and beyond, we’re continually looking at other ways to break down employment barriers that individuals with disabilities continue to face.”
Apple is also a top U.S. company that has made strides with accessibility and diversity. Apple has added accessibility features to the iPhone, including integrating third-party eye tracking capability. Eye tracking allows persons with dexterity impairments to use their eyes to operate digital technology. If they look at a button on the iPad, for instance, they activate it. Apple also has added AssistiveTouch to its Apple Watch so that users can clench their hands, pinch their fingers, or move their wrist to perform tasks on the smart watch. “At Apple, we’ve long felt that the world’s best technology should respond to everyone’s needs, and our teams work relentlessly to build accessibility into everything we make,” said Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s Senior Director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives. “With these new features, we’re pushing the boundaries of innovation with next-generation technologies that bring the fun and function of Apple technology to even more people — and we can’t wait to share them with our users.”
Apple has extended their technology innovations to Gallaudet University, where most students are deaf or hard of hearing. Every student and faculty member has an iPad Pro that integrates accessibility with education. When students attend online classes, they have an extra screen called Sidecar that allows them to use sign language adjacent to the main classroom screen. The iPad Pro also has a Bluetooth connection, where students can connect their hearing aids to access spoken content. Apple continues to help Gallaudet students even after they graduate through recruiting efforts at its Carnegie Library in Washington D.C.
AT&T, yet another giant U.S. corporation, is also adamant when it comes to accessibility and inclusion. The American Association with Persons with Disabilities (AAPD) honored AT&T with the 2021 Corporate Leadership Award, because the corporation offers assistive technologies to customers with disabilities and has been committed to disability rights in the workforce. AT&T has also participated in AAPD’s Summer Internship Program, where it provides students with disabilities internship opportunities. A person just has to look at the Accessibility section of AT&T’s website to see how it supports persons with disabilities with its products, services, and programs.
These and other companies have shown that we do matter! Given the opportunities, the technology, and support, persons with disabilities can excel at anything we do. One global nonprofit organization that will ensure these three factors will be implemented is Billion Strong. At Billion Strong (I also use “we” here since I’m its Director of Global Relations), we will connect persons with disabilities worldwide with businesses who seek our skills and talents.
Even though companies like Amazon and Apple offer opportunities for people with disabilities, many of us don’t know these avenues exist. However, Billion Strong will continue to map out these avenues. According to Dr. LaMondre Pough, CEO of Billion Strong, “In order for the global community of people with disabilities to progress, access to assistive technology, gainful employment, and full inclusion in society is essential. Billion Strong is committed to working with organizations and corporations that are engaged in the work of creating environments where people have a true sense of belonging.”
Joyful cheers of hope surround the 31st anniversary of the ADA. The corporate world finally is realizing accessibility and inclusion are essentials for success.
By Lisa Walker