In a recent blog post for the Ruderman Family Foundation, Jerry Aiken, the Executive Director of the National Inclusion Project mentions that the Americans with Disabilities Act is almost 24 years old. He points out that as a country we have done a pretty good job of moving beyond discriminating against people with disabilities, but correctly observes we still have work to do. Then Mr. Aiken asks a very good question: “If your organization is not inclusive or are not taking the steps to become inclusive, what are you waiting for?”
Over the years as I conducted accessibility and inclusion studies for companies and non-profits I would explain that increasing access to people who have disabilities improved the groups’ customer/member base thus improving their bottom line. I explained that continuing the practice of being inaccessible tended to anger people who have disabilities, their families and their friends, thus worsening that bottom line. Then I would ask a version of that all important question Mr. Aiken asked, “Do you believe you will implement some of the recommended changes?”
All too often, after hemming and hawing, the client would tell me, “Probably not many.”
“Why not?” I asked, knowing what was coming. It was going to be one of several common responses.
- “We really don’t get people with disabilities here.” Of course you don’t; why would they come here when you are not accessible? Even if you had some accessibility features, you do not advertise them. If people with disabilities cannot verify their ability to get in and conduct their business they will go elsewhere.
- “We can’t justify that kind of expense to our board/shareholders. Isn’t there a grant to help or something from the government?” Good luck finding a grant. Other than the possibility of tax benefits, the government says implementing changes is up to you. But don’t worry, many of the recommendations I make cost nothing or next to nothing. Yes, there will be some expenses for the bigger ticket items such as an improved entry door, re-striping parking spaces, improving signs, etc., but often the vast majority of fixes are cheap and easy.
- “We don’t have the time to put into this kind of improvement campaign.” What if you signed up for the three year plan? Nobody says it all needs to be done next week. Work on it a little bit now then work on more later.
- “We don’t understand what you want us to do. We don’t understand the technology or where to get it.” That’s why it is good to consult an expert. I (or any other reputable consultant) am only too happy to source the technology or whatever it is I suggest for you.
- “This is all so much! We don’t understand why we have to do it.” Ah, now comes the final whining. You have to do it because the federal government says so. You have to do it because there is a civil rights law that says so. You have to do it because discriminating against a group of people is not the right thing to do.
When you add up all these so-called reasons for not complying with the ADA you end up with a statement that can be translated roughly as “To be honest, we really don’t care about people with disabilities. They are too much trouble.”
As for your question “What are you waiting for?” This is the real answer, Mr. Aiken. Despite 24 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, despite 24 years of attempting to change our culture to one that embraces accessibility and inclusion there are still many people who do not care about people who have disabilities. To them, people who have disabilities are not worth an effort.