Today, the Americans with Disabilities Act turns 30! Just under 11 years younger than I am, and having been there for me in some capacity for the whole seventeen years I have fought and pounded for some kind of employment. Without question, this document has made things better for those of us with disabilities, and from my perspective especially for us blind and low-vision folks. But I would probably get little argument in saying that things are nowhere near where they need to be.
For starters, most of us blind individuals are not employed at all. I think the number is still something like 70%, a staggering figure that those without disabilities would never fathom. Among those of us who do work though, most are either in Ability One manufacturing facilities such as my current employer LCI, state rehabilitation agencies like the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind, or with local, state, or federal government. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those positions of course. I only wish that we had full access to the depth and breadth of the job market.
Unfortunately though, attempts to penetrate the private sector are still too often met with barriers like an unwillingness to accommodate, or even placing requirements, like usable vision and a driver’s license, in descriptions who’s essential functions would not indicate a need for them. After all, technology and apps that make it easier than ever to summon a driver even in many rural places abound, and even if these are not available I still think that the would-be employee should only need to prove that he or she has an adequate and reliable way to get from point A to point B in any position where driving is not the primary job objective to be given a chance.
The good news for those of us who are blind, and I suppose to some extent for those with any disabilities, is that the job landscape is rapidly changing. As this opinion piece on NBC points out, the ADA does not specifically mandate digital accessibility. What I believe it has done though is to make everyone, even up to large tech companies like Apple and Google more aware of its necessity. Thanks to that technology, we are finding it easier than ever to become freelancers. Remember my discussion some time ago about becoming a book reviewer and following my passion? Well I’m truly starting down that road, as I have been accepted to and am now writing reviews for a site called Reedsy Discovery. My first review, for which I had to crash through a 500-page book in a week with VoiceOver, the iPhone’s screen reader, set to a speech rate of 70%, is live! You’re supposed to be able to read it, and if you enjoyed it to leave a small tip of $1, $3, or $5. For some reason, my tip button is not yet working. Also, if you think you would like to review books for this site just go through my referral link to apply, and I’ll receive a nice kickback from the site. I’m pretty excited by this development, as if nothing else it should really allow me to build a name for myself while bolstering indie authors, a group whose careers I am always willing to promote.
So yes we with disabilities have futures that some of those who put their lives and bodies on the line for 30 years ago to get the ADA, our Civil Rights act, passed could hardly imagine. My hope though is that in the next 30 years, a much larger slice of this community will be able to partake, with the creation of policies that give us a better chance of breaking free of poverty and exploring our true potential without fear of losing whatever benefits and services we need to thrive (and that topic could be a whole post, believe me). In the meantime, Happy 30 to the ADA.