Transcript for TRACS Transportation Professionals Workshop, February 10, 2021

MARSHA SAXTON: Hello, welcome.

I’m Marsha Saxton with the World Institute
on Disability.

I’m the project director for this joint project,
TRACS, the Transportation Resiliency Accessibility

and Climate Resilience Project.

We’re now 2 1/2 years into the project.

We’ll eventually introduce all of our speakers
today, but I particularly would like to introduce

at the outset our partner with the Metropolitan
Transportation Commission, Drennen Shelton

and Shimon Israel, both from the Commission.

Again, welcome, everyone.

Also, I want to say thanks to our captioner
who is going to be providing closed captions

for the hearing-impaired participants.

And I think we’re ready to go to our first slide.


As I said, the World Institute on Disability
and Metropolitan Transportation Commission

have collaborated for at least 2 1/2 years
on this research and information gathering


We want to thank the California Department
of Transportation, CalTrans, for their funding

and their commitment to accessibility for
passengers who have disabilities.

Our theme for today’s workshop is ensuring
access is everyone’s job.

And this focuses particularly on transportation professionals.

Next slide.

Our agenda for today is welcome.

We’re doing quick introductions of our panelists
as we go through.

We’re going to briefly review TRACS outcomes
projects which will soon be posted on our

website, the World Institute on Disability.

We’re going to discuss our workshop goals.

We will briefly discuss disability basic concepts,
including universal design, and today we have

a panel of speakers and we will introduce
when we get there.

We will be very much welcoming recommendations
in this session.

And affirm our commitment to accessibility.


TRACS is 2 1/2-year research, policy analysis
and public education initiative to improve

collaboration between transportation agencies
and people with disabilities in the nine-counties

of the San Francisco Bay area, which include
Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco,

San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma.

This project is funded through the sustainable
communities focus of Caltrans SB1 grant program, and again,

Thank you to Caltrans for your commitment
to accessibility and for sponsoring this.

We have a question.

Yes, we will discuss the slides.

Our achievements, again, it will be posted
on our website on the World Institute on Disability,

with a potential to repost on other disability
agencies’ websites.

We have created a wonderful access — active
policy advisory board.

Some of you are joining us today.

We have completed our research documents and
we’ll continue to post new documents as we

can get them on our website.

We held multiple community workshops, focus
groups, interviews, events over our two years.

And these two workshops, this one today for
transportation professionals and next week

for disability community, passengers, activists
and so on, advocates, are our final workshops.

And we are completing this project at the
end of February.

DRENNEN SHELTON: Thanks to all of our participants
today in this webinar.

And to those who have participated along the
way, as we mentioned, this is our final event

focused for our colleagues who work at transportation

We have a few goals for today’s workshop.

First, we’re going to focus in on a few wide-ranging
concepts of disability inclusion and these

concepts have broad applicability and should
be meaningful to your work regardless of your

job scope.

Second, we have a few speakers who will talk
about their experience working with and through

community advisory committees, the types of
working groups or councils that we’re all

very familiar with in our work at public agencies.

And lastly, our slogan for this workshop is
“ensuring access is everyone’s job.”

So we hope to solicit commitments from you
to go beyond your regular advisory councils

and make new contacts with disability organizations
in your area.

This will help to root the concept of accessibility
in your work and will help to improve accessibility

more widely in the Bay Area transportation systems.

So before we begin, I want to set the stage
and I want to share something that I recently

heard during the Senate confirmation of Pete Buttigieg hearing
for the secretary of transportation post.

Senator Tammy Duckworth said “accessibility
must be considered at the forefront of all

policy development rather than treating it
like an afterthought or a box checking exercise.

We really need strong leadership from you.”

I want us to all hear this quote from Senator
Duckworth and pretend that she is speaking

directly to us.

So with that, I’m going to turn it back to
Marsha who will kick us off with some of those

disability awareness basics.

MARSHA SAXTON: Okay, disability awareness
basics, this is a very cursory list.

I’ll elaborate a little bit, but we’re going
to keep emphasizing that part of our commitment

to ensuring access is creating long-term active
relationships with local disability organizations.

So there’s constant interchange and re-enforcement
of inclusion, accessibility and so on.

So this is just very brief introduction to
basic concepts of disability awareness for

those who may be new to this.

The first is we may have heard all our lives,
don’t ask, don’t stare at people with disabilities.

This may seem alright, but it keeps us uninformed.

So our suggestion is, if you need information,
respectfully ask.

And if you’re just curious, don’t ask because
it is intrusive, unless you’re friends.

There’s much more to say about that and we’ll
be able to have those dialogues.

And then the fear of saying something wrong,
the wrong word, is this rude and so on, is

confusing and staying away out of these fears
is part of the discrimination.

It prevents connection and adds to the isolation.

So the suggestion here is go ahead, take a
risk, connect as human beings with respect,

with common courtesy, connection is hugely important to moving this process forward.

Another is countering the stereotype that
people with disabilities are alone, lonely,

isolated, although we are during the lockdown
as everyone, but for people you’re going to

meet out and about, transportation, in the
city, you know, in ordinary life, people with

disabilities have whole lives.

Their disabilities are not the main focus
or the hardest thing in life. Next slide.

These are some technical distinctions we make
in disability awareness and disability studies.

The medical model is the old-fashioned model
of disability that locates the problem of

disability in that individual’s body.

So this may seem like common sense because,
well, the reason they don’t have that job

is they can’t climb the stairs to the office
building or the factory or whatever, but we

contrast that old model with the social model,
which locates the problems of disability in

discriminatory attitudes and policies and
barriers in the environment.

The social model arose in the 1970s and it’s
such a useful perspective because it enables

everyone to be able to do something about
the problem rather than fixing the person’s

body by medical intervention, which may not
be appropriate or useful, or possible, the social model

encourages accessibility and awareness.

Nothing about us without us is a fun slogan in
the disability community.

It’s now used worldwide, which challenges patronizing
assumptions that other people know best.

So people with disabilities are experts in
access and accommodations and should be included

in every step of planning and implementation of policy.

So nothing about us without us.

And so now just to reference to the full population,
people with disabilities, people with hidden

or invisible disabilities, for example, people
with arthritis, hearing impairment, cancer,

this hidden disability population is the majority
of this population and are equally entitled

to accommodations with wheelchair users or
blind people.

Now, wheelchair users and blind people have
visible disabilities, and you can tell that

they may need assistance of certain kinds
of accommodation, but this is also true with

people with hidden or invisible disabilities.


Universal design is very interesting and important
to the evolution of the disability rights movement.

This is the typically called the seven qualities
of universal design.

It’s very much important, very useful in transportation.

And our goal is to fully implement these components
in transportation design and operation.

They’re pretty self-explanatory.

Equitable use means everybody or pretty much
everybody can use the facility, the vehicle, the resources.

And all seven of these are based on extensive
research, over decades, including the broadest

population of people with disabilities.

Do they include absolutely everyone?

Hopefully eventually.

Especially with new emerging technologies.

But we need to keep in mind that flexibility in
use, means there are adjustable components

to the design.

Simple and intuitive just means it makes sense
and it’s obvious.

Perceptible information may particularly refer to hearing impairment, visual impairments, make the information available

through Braille, through captioning and so on.

Tolerance for error really refers to if there’s
something unusual, there’s an accident or

emergency, and there are options, for example,
alternate exits.

Low physical effort refers to particularly
to wheelchair users and to people with deep

conditions where, you know, the ramp is not
too steep, and the level entrance is accessible

and easy to use.

Size and space for approach and use means
that there’s enough space for the capacity,

expected capacity of the facility or vehicle.

So people can move freely, the hallways are appropriately
wide and so on.



DRENNEN SHELTON: Thank you, Marsha.

We hope you will keep these concepts handy
and that you will consider them as you do

your work.

I would ask that you print them out and maybe
post them upright next to your computer screens

because it’s these concepts that will animate
the existing laws and codes that we are already


Like the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Under these codes and other laws, transportation
agencies are required to practice inclusivity

which we all do, all of our agencies conduct
public engagement, and we have citizen advisory

boards, and we take public comment.

And yet even here in the most progressive
Bay Area, transportation agencies continue

to design and implement projects and programs
that may meet the letter of the law but they’re

not accessible to people with disabilities.

We’ve all heard the angry voices and complaints
at our public meetings.

And I’ve been asked by more than a few colleagues
to explain and I’m just going to be brutally

honest in my phrasing here but I’ve been asked
to explain why people with disabilities are

so pissed off about our transportation systems.

These systems are all compliant with the ADA.

There’s nothing nefarious going on with the
transportation agencies trying to keep out

disabled people.

But for the great majority for people with
disabilities, our transportation systems simply

do not work.

And right now, we’re experiencing this unprecedented
and exciting wave of equity work.

All of our agencies are looking at how to
better design our systems and how to serve

the underserved.

And as we move forward into the future, we
need to be thinking about how to ensure that

our agencies are incorporating the disability
community more fully and that people with

disabilities play more of a role in designing
our transportation services.

Next slide, please.

So we have three presenters for you today.

Our speakers will talk about their experience
working with or through advisory boards or


And we’re going to have a Q&A session at the
completion of our three speakers.

But feel free to type questions into that
Q&A box as we go.

So first up we have Annette Williams.

Annette is the director of the accessible
services at San Francisco municipal transportation

agency and she’s been there since 1990.

Her team is responsible for accessibility
to SFMTA’s fixed route systems including trolley

and diesel bus, light rail, historic street
cars and cable car services.

Her office also manages the contract for San
Francisco paratransit and she’s also responsible

for overseeing accessible design and review
for transportation related capital projects

that includes public transit, bicycle, parking,
pedestrian access and the public right of


There’s basically nothing in San Francisco
that Annette doesn’t touch.

So Annette, thanks for being with us here today. Take it away.

Annette, are you with us?

We know you’re logged in.


Sorry about that.

I was muted.

That doesn’t work very well, does it?

Can you see me and hear me now?


I was talking away to — I guess to my house.

Thanks for having me.

My name is Annette Williams, as Drennen
said, I’m the director of accessible services

at MTA.

And what Drennen and Marsha asked me to do
was talk a little bit about kind of my on

the ground experience in working with people
with disabilities and using that input to

make the system better.

And what we as an agency have done in that area.

And I’m not saying we’ve always been successful,
but we have a really long working relationship

with people with disabilities, and I’ll talk
a little bit about some of the things that

I think have worked well.

Next slide.

As Drennen said a little bit in the introduction,
we’re unique somewhat as a transit agency

because we have all — almost all the transportation
functions under one organization.

So not only do we do fixed route and paratransit,
but we also work with the bike share program

and the scooter share program and we regulate
taxi services and design and built the bike lanes.

So it gives us no excuses in terms of how
all of these things work together and how

do you make sure the whole system is accessible
to people with disabilities.

And we’re trying to push the envelope on things
like looking at adaptive bicycles and adaptive

scooters and looking forward, working a lot
on the whole question of TNCs and Uber and

Lyft and how we ensure that those services are accessible.

Just a little bit about the public transit
system, we do 700,000 trips a day.

It’s lower now since COVID.

Hopefully we’ll be coming back as we all get vaccinated.

About 150,000 of those trips are for seniors
and people with disabilities.

And in paratransit, we have about 12,200 paratransit
customers and do 700,000 trips a year.

Next slide.

Our advisory committees have been really important
to our success.

We’ve had a paratransit coordinating council
since the late ’70s.

We recently celebrated our 40th anniversary.

And multimodal accessibility advisory committee
has been working with us since the early 1980s.

And both of these committees are very active.

We meet at least monthly.

The paratransit coordinating council has subcommittees
of the different modes of our paratransit programs.

We have a taxi subcommittee which met today.

We have a group van subcommittee and SF access,
which is more traditional ADA service subcommittee.

What I think is somewhat unique with our PCC,
maybe it’s true of others in the Bay Area,

is that we bring a lot of stakeholders together.

Not just the customers, people with disabilities
that use the service, agencies that serve

people who use the service, but also the providers
themselves, drivers and provider representatives.

So that we can really hash and talk about
things and have kind of all the players in

one place.

I think that’s been really helpful.

In terms of the multi-modal accessibility
committee, that committee advises us on all

the other SFMTAs services, predominantly muni
but bicycle lane program, parking, other MTA

services that we do.

And I just wanted to mention, I think Drennen
talked a little bit about so how do you go

beyond your advisory committee.

Some of the things that I think have been
really helpful and it’s sometimes been working

with community organizations. About a year and a half ago we had a charette with our vision zero senior

disabled working group and we brought together
engineers working on separated bike ways as

well as customers, people with disabilities
who would either use transit stops or the

bike ways or have to crossover the bike ways
if they were parking buffered bikeways.

And we sat down in groups and really looked
at the nitty-gritty and how had engineers

hear from people with disabilities.

For people with disabilities to hear what
engineers were dealing with in terms of designing

these facilities.

Next slide.

So some of the important factors that I thought
in my career I think have — have been illustrative

in terms of this working relationship, one
is that you have to build relationships and

trust with people that are advising you so
they trust the advice they’re giving you,

you’re listening, that you’re hearing them
and I’m sure there are times when I haven’t

listened, or we haven’t listened in the way
that we should.

But I think that’s so important because you’ve
got to really hear what is it that people

are having challenging with, what works and
what doesn’t work.

And then following up in terms of what changes
have you made because of that input so that

you get back to them and say, here are the
things that we’ve done that address what you

had brought up.

And that’s the part of the acting on that

Another thing that I found is really important
is the geometry.

And I’ll show you a few examples.

Is you know, it comes often down to inches
or, you know, angles, like Drennen had talked

about earlier.

And that those things are very important and
who best to get information from but the people

who are actually using it and being able to
try it out and give you feedback, oh, yeah,

this works, this doesn’t work, this works
for my particular situation when I have a

walker, this doesn’t work well with my crutches.

So that we’re getting that information from
people directly.

And then another thing I think is always important
and I think we don’t in the accessibility

world always think about this is money.

We have to have funding.

If we don’t have funding, how do we implement
the things that are important to the disability


So we need to be part of that, advisory committees
and staff need to be part of that decision

making when funding plans are drawn up.

And often we come late to that game.

So I think that that’s something where we
need to put more attention.

And then one other thing I think is important
to point out is that it’s important that in

the policy making arena that you have people
with disabilities.

Not only at the board level but at the staff
level and the more that people with disabilities

are integrated into the whole kind of, what,
hierarchy, board, staff, executive staff,

the better you’re going to be getting in terms
of having input.

So I think we’ve been fortunate to have quite
a few really active members of our board that

were and are people with disabilities and
I think that’s been really important.

So I just was going to show you a few examples.

Next slide, please.

So I don’t know how many people remember back
when we first started looking at low floor


When we first had accessible buses they were
all lift equipped.

Then with the manufacturers came up with was
a ramp that started at the door and went down

straight from the door to the street.

And in San Francisco it’s not realistic to
expect that every single time a wheelchair

user gets on or off a bus or a person with
a walker, someone else is not using the stairs

or needs that, is that they’re going to be
getting on from a curb.

Sometimes you have to get on the street.

And what we found with those lifts, by testing
them with those ramps, by testing them with

people with disabilities and our advisory
committee was that they were too steep.

If that ramp had to go down into the street,
two of your wheels would come up when you

tried to go up that ramp.

And so we worked for a long time with bus
manufactures to say, really, this doesn’t

work for all situations.

And we really need to have a longer run, meaning
that the ramp itself was longer so that the

slope didn’t have to be as steep.

And so we got a few different things.

And I think now almost all of the ramps that
you see out there do not start at the door

and go straight down.

Either they start within the vehicle already
sloping and then come out when it folds out

or they’re bifold like this one that you can
see the example.

That really came from people with disabilities
trying things out and saying, this works and

this doesn’t work.

Next — one other thing I wanted to mention.

In the paratransit world, one of the things
that we’ve done recently in terms of testing

is speed humps.

Speed humps are really important to pedestrian’s
safety because it slows the traffic on streets.

But we were very concerned about what are
the impact on people with disabilities if

they’re in a paratransit van and have to go
over that speed hump.

So we tested a number of different speed humps
with people in the vehicles and let them give

us their feedback, what worked and what didn’t.

And we’ve come up with one that has much more
gradual slope and a wider part at the top

and it’s made it much easier for people to
go over it.

And of course also you need to keep that lower
speeds, like 15 miles an hour.

Next slide, please.

So the next one is about securement areas.

Another thing that we noticed is in the original
early days almost always the securement areas

were right next to each other.

So that if one wheelchair user was already
in a securement on one side of the vehicle,

and another person came on, it was very difficult
to maneuver to get into that securement area

next to the individual that was already there.

There just wasn’t enough maneuvering room.

We decided a — and this is all based on consumer
input and our advisory committee, is we need

to stagger those securement areas.

And not only stagger them but also make them longer.

So that there is more room, not the 48 X 30
that was the minimum required but more like

55 X 30 so that there is a lot more room to
be able to turn around and to back in and

to have more flexibility.

Next slide, please.

Another thing that one of our advisory committee
members came up with is, you know, if you’re

an individual are who isn’t sighted or is
low vision, it’s very difficult to see, even

if it’s a large bus number at the front of
the bus, if you want to make a complaint or

you want to provide feedback, you want to
be able to get that bus number without having

to ask another customer.

And so one of our advisory committee members,
Jewel McGinnis, came up with the idea, why

don’t we put the bus numbers in Braille in
large raised letters, raised numbers so that

if we have all of — if we have all of our
buses with that number in the same place right

behind the driver, on that panel, people can
find it if they want to find it on their own

and not have to ask.

Next slide.

And then recently we’ve all had to do a lot
of kind of quick thinking with our response


And to the needs that people with disability have.

In San Francisco we’ve had to cut back some
of our meeting lines to reduce to the core

service so that traditionally almost every
person who lives in San Francisco has a bus

line within like four blocks.

But with the cutbacks in service to our more
core service there is much longer distances

that people had to travel.

And so what we did was implemented this program
called the essential trip card, ETC card,

which provides to any senior or person with
disability a small amount, $60 per month,

in taxi value that they can use for essential

And the reason we were able to implement that
program so quickly is all the work that people

with disabilities had helped us with to implement
the debit card within our paratransit program.

We were able to take this program that we
had done for another purpose and translate

that technology and do something very quickly.

And we were fortunate because we’ve been working
on a grant with the health department to do

a special program at a few of our underserved
health clinics in terms of transportation

barriers so we had set up a taxi program for
that and we already had kind of a registration

method using Google forms and we were able
to just quickly translate that and use that

for the ETC program and within two weeks we
had something up and running and we were able

to collect all of this data, like the disability
of the person, what trip needs they had, what

ethnic groups they come from, so that we can
see, are we really meeting the needs across

the city, are we meeting the needs of — are
we meeting needs in an equitable way.

A lot of that was because we mad done a lot
of work with our advisory committee and gotten

their feet back before.

Another thing I think is important — next
slide — is, you know, is to celebrate volunteers.

Most people who work on these advisory committees
are available to us as staff when we call

and say, what do you think about this idea,
do you have any ideas.

You know, they’re volunteers.

They’re not getting paid for this effort.

And so one of our advisory committee members
said, we already do an annual meeting in November

and we have a big luncheon and celebrate the
drivers but she said, we really need to do

something that celebrates the PCC.

So we started an annual luncheon and we usually
go to a museum or cultural event and often

get docents able to take us on an accessible
tour and we have a lunch together and we get

to build on those relationships in a personal
way and not just always working.

So this is a picture of one of our previous
luncheons at the D. Young Museum.

You can only tell because of the dimple building
in the background.

People on our PCC, not only the people with
disabilities that use our service but also

providers and drivers and there’s a lot of
relationships that have been built through that work.

I just included at the end my contact information,
e-mail is the best right now with working

from home.

So feel free if anyone has any questions that
we don’t get to today, feel free to contact


And I like this picture of San Francisco.

It’s a picture looking down Market Street,
downtown, and there’s no sales force tower yet.

So it’s an old one.

But I think it’s a nice picture of our city.

We’re fortunate because we’re a dense city
and we’re able to only really serving about

50 square miles, which is a lot easier than
a lot of the services that many of you have

in terms of meeting the needs of our dense community.

So the next slide just has a few resources
for those of you who get these slides afterwards.

You can gain access to our website and different
areas on paratransit, on the services that

we’re doing during COVID, on the ETC program.

There’s a nice video there that shows how it works. And some of our other services.

So thanks a lot for having me.

I think — I really believe a lot of our success
has been because we have worked so closely

with people in the disability community and
seniors to hear what’s important to them and,

you know, and I think it was mentioned earlier
because of universal design, if you design

things that work well for people with disabilities
and seniors, often they work better for everyone.

Like the calling out stops on the vehicles
with automated announcements, you know, all

of us now are benefiting from that, or the
overhead signs that tell you what the next

stop is.

There are so many means that have benefited
many more people than the people with disabilities

that have really advocated for them.

So thanks a lot.

I appreciate your time.

DRENNEN SHELTON: Thank you, Annette.

I want to remind our participants that we
are soliciting your questions in the Q&A box.

But up next we have Ernest Rogers.

Ernest is the chair of the Solano Paratransit
Coordinating Council and member of the Solano

Consolidated Services Agency Advisory Committee.

He has worked in a variety of initiatives
and programs focused on youth mentorship and works

with inmates at San Quentin as a sponsor in leadership
training programs and assisting individuals

who are getting ready to return home.

Ernest was born with osteogenesis imperfecta
and he is a public transit user.

Ernest, take it away.


Thank you.

Annette, you did a great job.

Thank you.

I’d like to thank everyone for having me here

I’m going to take it from a different level
because the reason why I became — I’m a volunteer.

The reason why I became a member of the Solano
County paratransit coordinating council is

because I was having transportation issues.

Being disabled, number one, let me take you

Since I’ve been disabled and I look way younger
— I was born in the ’50s and so I was raised

DRENNEN SHELTON: Ernest, Ernest —

ERNEST ROGERS: — people to do —
DRENNEN SHELTON: Ernest, we’re having trouble

with your audio.

It’s just slow.

Maybe if you turn your camera off and continue
speaking, it may come through a little bit


ERNEST ROGERS: Do what now?

DRENNEN SHELTON: I’m suggesting maybe if
you turn your camera off and continue speaking

we will be able to hear you clearer.


Well, I think we lost him.


There he is.


ERNEST ROGERS: Is that better?

DRENNEN SHELTON: Yeah, let’s give it a shot.

ERNEST ROGERS: I will cut my camera off
though because you don’t really need to be

seeing me.

Can you hear me?

ANNETTE WILLIAMS: So much better.

Maybe it was just — that may have taken care
of it.


What I’m saying is basically I’m going to
take it from a different angle.

I’m going to explain about the changes I’ve
seen in the disability world dealing with

public transportation.

I was born in the south.

I was raised in the south.

I was raised in the ’60s and ’70s.

I was raised in the ’60s and went to college
in the ’70s when there was no ADA.

When the idea of a person with a disability
was really not even to be seen basically.

Less known to be heard.

But as time has gone on and as I’ve grown
and as I’ve tried to do more for myself and

other people with disabilities stepped up,
we seem to have been able to improve the services.

So I joined the Solano County Paratransit
Council because of that.

I got caught one night late at night around
10:00, 11:00 at night away from the house

and unable to get to the house by bus.

So that’s basically where I come from.

Now, Solano County hasn’t changed much.

We’re a different county from San Francisco.

Are you guys hearing me?



We can hear you.

ERNEST ROGERS: You are, okay.

All right.

I seem to be running fast because I’m nervous.

But being caught late at night, far away from
home, blocks away from home, not feeling well

and not able, I felt like I needed to make
my voice heard so I went to a paratransit

meeting I was told about on the bus.

When I went I was able to make my input but
be it wasn’t just my input, I know that the

people there really cared so they developed

Another thing I found out through my years
of being disabled is the fact that they do

want to design stuff without our consent or
without any knowledge, foreknowledge, behind

knowledge, any kind of knowledge about what
does it take really to make — help a person

to move seamlessly throughout society or
especially mobile issues.

Now, one of the things I’ve learned to I can’t
— I lived with all types of people and one

of the people I love to work with are veterans.

But the thing I find myself hurting when I
talk to a veteran is I really don’t understand

where they come from sometimes.

But I can understand — I can feel — I can
empathize with them when they lose a limb

or when they lose their ability to move about freely.

Being always asked for people to help you
is a burden.

Number one, on you.

Number two, maybe on the people that are dealing
with you.

So that puts a burden on the people with disabilities
to want to be able to move about, want to

be able to go because sometimes you need someone
to go with you because you’re scared of what

might happen.

You might need somebody because you don’t
know if there’s going to be a hole

in the road, if there’s going to be any of
those means.

So that’s why I joined the council.

We have grown quite a bit.

We have changed a lot of things.

We have done a lot of the things that were
mentioned in the — from — by Annette with

the disability population.

Some of my suggestions were made.

I made some suggestions and I saw them — I
saw them take fruit.

And I saw how we changed.

Solano County is a little different than San

We got a bigger region and people are way
more spread out than a lot of the areas in

San Francisco.

We deal with a place called Rio Vista.

That’s way out and they have an elderly population
of people who have just became mobility-challenged.


So we have to work with them.

And we’re trying to work them into a system
where we can bring them in to where the hospitals

are and we have taken all their advice.

We even had meetings in their town so they
could come.

We try to make everything as approachable
or as reachable as possible.

So that’s the basic thing about what I do.

Another thing I found out is advocacy.

People with disability needs people that advocate
for them.

Not only because, oh, I feel — but, no, because
I really see the need.

You know, the people — we try not to ask
so much because we don’t want to seem like

a bunch of needy people but we do need certain

The only way you get it is to ask.

The Bible says you have not because you ask not.

So we begin to ask, we begin to let our voices
be heard.

And that’s how come a lot of changes have
been — are being made.

There’s another program we have in Solano
County for the elderly called Go-Go grandparent.

We hook up with a group and we have them elderly
person can get — it’s almost like Uber or

Lyft, pick them up and take them where they
got to go.

Call back and let the people know they made
it safely.

They pick them up and do the same thing.

We have initiated all kinds of stuff in Solano
County to help people with disabilities.

The paratransit — I’m going to tell you the

I don’t use paratransit only because I’m too,
I guess, how I want to say it?

Because with paratransit you have to set a

And me, I don’t necessarily live by schedules.

I do what I want to do when I want to do it.

I think that’s the best thing about living,
is the fact that you can do the thing that

you want to do when you want to do it.

That’s another reason why I joined the Solano
County paratransit authority, is because I

do appreciate the idea of being able to get
to a bus stop that’s not far from my house.

Being able to talk to them and say, hey, look,
I need a little change on the route maybe

that will help a lot of people with disability.

Being able to communicate that way.

Makes it easier for me and for my friends
who like to assist me or who like to go with

me even.

So those are the things that I wanted to express
at this meeting, is that first of all, another

thing, I would like to thank everybody because
it’s your input, it’s your passion to go out

and ask people for their input that has made
this thing a whole lot better than it used

to be.

I remember when there wasn’t a bus for a person
with disability to even get on.

Less to be a person of color to sit on the
back of the bus.

We were not even allowed a seat on the bus.

But now that has changed.

So these things are part of society.

And as —
[Audio breaking]


DRENNEN SHELTON: Yes, thank you, Ernest.

You went out there at the end but I think
we understand what you’re saying.

ERNEST ROGERS: I was basically saying if
they have any questions about how the — how

I have seen the ADA work from 1990 until now
I would be glad to help.

Still need a lot of improvement but it’s a
lot more being done.

Just ask.

I’m better at answering questions than I am
about giving stuff.




Thank you.

So I do want to remind our participants about
the Q&A box.

If you have any questions or comments, feel
free to type them in.

And then our last speaker today is Susan Rotchy.

Susan is the executive director of Independent
Living resources of Solano and contra Costa


She is a member of various advocacy committees
around the Bay Area including the Blue-Ribbon

Transit Recovery Task Force that’s helping
to guide the future of Bay Area’s transportation

systems as we adjust to our new reality under COVID.

She’s a user of public transportation and
my favorite fact about Susan is that she is

a former Ms. Wheelchair California.

She’s a real live beauty queen.

Susan, thanks for being with us today and
the floor is yours.

SUSAN ROTCHY: I’m Susan Rotchy,

and I am the executive director of Independent Living Resources.

My background is I was in a car accident 25 years ago.

And actually to be really honest, I always
thought ADA was in place until it became me, right?

Go back to school.

Figure it out, paratransit, took that for
about two years.

Had a lot of problems.

Learned to be an advocate for people with

And that is how my beginnings started 25 years ago.

You know, I’ve seen it evolve in transportation.

It has –Ernest is right, it has improved.

One of the reasons it has improved is because
consumers or clients like us with disabilities

make the change, right?

Ernest gets on a committee.

I get on a committee.

There’s very few people on those committees on transportation that actually ride transit to work or

actually go to school.

I mean, there’s a lot of people that are making
decisions about what we do and they don’t

even ride the bus.


So — and I’m sure Ernest can tell you stories
where we have been left behind.

I personally have.

And — been left behind or waiting outside
in the pouring rain for an hour for paratransit.

I mean, we can talk about some stories and
share and feeling like we are just second-class



But we have — we’ve made great strides.

We absolutely have.

But it takes a team to make great strides.

And I’m only speaking in Solano County probably
because Ernest is right, we’re always on Jim’s and Ron

and Darrel’s, you know, just on their behind
to make change, you know, and not accept — it’s

coming, it’s coming.

You know.

You have to be involved.

And because I also am the director of the
Independent Living center we have a lot of

complaints about transportation.

And I feel their pain because I know.

I’ve ridden the bus.

One summer when gas got so high I just refused
to pay the price and I decided I was going

to ride the bus every day all summer.

And the first day I rode the bus I said, I’m
never riding that Solano Express again because

it took me three hours to get to work and
it should have only taken me an hour and 15 minutes.

But the lift didn’t work. The bus driver didn’t know how to use the lift.

And we’re talking – this was five years ago, less than 5 years ago.

So when consumers call, I tell them, hey,
paratransit isn’t that reliable, let’s get

you travel trained to ride the regular bus.

But some people just can’t.

They live out in the country.

They don’t have that option.

So you know, we do — we have made great strides.

And in Solano County we have a program — as
Ernest talked about, Go-Go Grandparent.

We also have a rideshare program that several
of the nonprofits use a wheelchair accessible

van for seniors and people with disabilities.

And I do sit on various committees as well
as I am an advocate for, you know, all disabilities,

whether it’s someone that’s vision impaired
and at times some of my staff or my consumers

that are vision impaired, you know, the simplest
task could be, hey, announce the bus stop,

announce the right bus stop.

That doesn’t take any money.


It just takes education and pick up and let
us know what bus stop you are at.


So some takes money.

So you know, that’s what we always fight for.

But some does not.

And also, you know, the other thing that really
goes a long way is courteous.

Drivers, education, courteous.

You know?


And not telling a client or a passenger, hey,
the next bus is going to come in 20 minutes

or 45 minutes because my lift doesn’t work
and you didn’t check the lift before you left.

So you know, courtesy from drivers is, you
know, also — it’s how you present it.

You know, just like how we present ourselves.

The other thing I wanted to talk about really
quick is bus schedules and also because of

COVID right now, you know, feeling safe in
this environment.

You know, in how we get our transit users
back on the bus and on BART.

And that’s what the task force team, the blue
ribbon task force team is working on right now.

And hopefully that — to reassure you guys,
right now transit is taking some great precautions

to get us back on the bus.

Some of the bus schedules have been delayed.

You know, in other words, decrease because
we don’t have enough transit users.

So until we start getting more transit users
will we get a lot of the schedules back up

on track.

If you have — I don’t want to repeat a lot
of the stuff that Ernest has said because

we both live in the same county.

In Contra Costa County I do ride the bus and
I have to admit, Contra Costa County the one

thing I really like about Contra Costa County
you can ride the bus until 10:00 p.m. and

in Solano that doesn’t happen.

If you have any questions, please let me know.

ERNEST ROGERS: We’re working on it, Susan,
in Solano County.

We’re working on it.

SHIMON ISRAEL: Well, I guess now is the
time that we turn to the question-and-answer


We’ve got these great panelists.

A lot of good discussion and presentation.

And we want to open it up to folks in the
Q&A box.

Take a look.

See if there are any questions yet.

No questions yet.

Maybe as everyone is kind of getting ready
with ideas, thinking about what they might

want to ask.

To our panelists, anything, any best practices
that have not been covered yet in terms of,

you know, things about committees, about being
the most effective that you can be in meetings

or about best practices for transit vehicle
operation, anything that we have not touched on?

ERNEST ROGERS: I would like to say that
one of the best practices that we found in

Solano is the fact that we have these meetings
where we involve all of the communities.

We get to like a senior citizen center and
then we ask the people there do they have

any question or comments about public transportation
or what can we do to better it.

And that seems to work well.

If you do it in different communities and
in different locations in the communities,

it seems to make, number one, it makes it
— what do I want to say?

It makes the transit authority look like it’s
involved in the community, which it is.

And it makes it look like it’s more accessible,
which we hope it does.

And then it makes people feel more like something
is going to be done, because I can say what

I want to say and then later on I can see
it happening.

SHIMON ISRAEL: We’ve got a question from Jeff, Do you think that forming relationships with elected officials

is helpful and any tips on doing so?

SUSAN ROTCHY: I’ll answer that.

I believe that —

ERNEST ROGERS: I would like to answer that

one, too.

One of the locations that we have, I have
found it very helpful to contact public preachers

to kind of help push my age a little bit.

But not only that, it develops a relationship
with public figures.

And it does help.

It does help.

And — they do listen because now as we begin
to take more — more to voting, more to being

heard, more to being seen, it does help.


SUSAN ROTCHY: I think that consumers should
absolutely contact their state legislator.

Their assembly member, and talk to them about
how they — how we can make change because

a lot of those legislators — actually most
of the legislators, all of them, do sit on

various transportation committees.

So when you talk to their aide, the legislative
aide, they really do take your information

to heart.

I always talk to our consumers at our agency,
we do at times help them draft a letter to

the legislator.

Not just also participate in capitol action day.

And we go with a list of things that we need
in our community and these are all people

with various different disabilities.

So absolutely, contact your legislator and
contact, you know, whether it’s your nearest

Independent Living center and work with them
on advocacy and then the one thing I have

to admit even during this pandemic now, you’re
able to participate on Zoom and ask questions

because, before, it was really hard to attend
those meetings for some people with disabilities.

And so, you know, good — that’s another good

So yeah.

ANNETTE WILLIAMS: I think another thing
with policymakers is they hold the purse strings.

They often — that’s where the funding comes

The so it’s important to foster those relationships,
you know, one of the things that we worked

on in the last few years was this whole issue
of accessibility to TNCs to Uber and Lyft

and the legislator had to pass a law in order
to set up the access fund to force really

the TNCs to include accessible services as
part of their service.

And there’s money attached with that.

And I think that, you know, without having
the legislature do that it probably wouldn’t

be able to happen.

Especially because it’s regulated by the state.

SHIMON ISRAEL: Any creative approaches to recruiting new PCC members?

Do any of the PCCs offer any incentives other than paying transportation costs to attend meetings?

ANNETTE WILLIAMS: I can answer, one of the things that we do is have elections in November for — at

the annual meeting for the executive committee.

So we try to get a broader group of people
to come and there are different affinity groups.

There are people with disabilities, people
who are older adults, and then agency representatives.

Then you know, I think that makes it, you
know, they’re representing others, not just

themselves but they’re representing others.

And I think that that has had some help.

Other thing I think is to reach out to organizations
and — we had a lot of work with the — it’s

called San Francisco school district access

And they work with people with intellectual
and developmental disabilities who have finished

high school and are now doing a lot of living

And a lot of the people from that group have
gotten more involved in our advisory committee.

And they’re very, you know, very rampant transit

So sometimes it’s connecting with one person that can get you connected with others who might be interested.

Word of mouth is sometimes the way that people
— to actually get somebody to do something

new, it’s usually someone has to tell them,
you should try this out.

Or they have an experience like Ernest mentioned
that got him involved.

It’s often hearing from somebody else, you
can have a voice here, you can make a difference,

you want something to change.

That’s been my experience anyway that it’s
word of mouth that often gets people to actually

act and come to meetings and to say, oh, well,
maybe I want to be a member of that committee,


SHIMON ISRAEL: Okay, we have a couple more


There’s been a big push to provide less parking
for development projects but the amount of

disabled parking is still based on a percentage
of overall parking.

As an amputee who counts every step I wish
the percentage requirement of disabled parking

is looked at again.

This is true even at BART stations and other

ANNETTE WILLIAMS: Unfortunately we don’t
have someone here from BART.

We don’t have parking at our stations.

In San Francisco, we don’t have any parking.


There’s street parking and we work towards
— as the person was mentioning, the pro ag,

4% on the streets of accessible blue zones.

There has been a lot of work that’s gone on
in terms of disabled parking and parking reform

because we do believe sometimes spaces are
filled up all day by somebody with a placard

who, you know, then the spaces are not available
to people with disabilities who may be coming

for shorter periods of time and maybe that
person doesn’t really need it for proximity.

That’s frustrating for people with disabilities
because often then you can’t get to the front

door where you’re trying to go because all
the blue spaces have been filled since 6:00

in the morning when people came to work.

SHIMON ISRAEL: Agreed, yeah.

Susan, did you want to add something?

I thought maybe I saw a hand.

SUSAN ROTCHY: We do have a lot of consumer
complaints about the parking, not having enough.

Since these are the Baby Boomers, they’re aging.

And they’re having also difficulty walking.

There’s just not enough.

And Annette is correct, we’ve had a lot of
people complain about, you know, someone that

works in the city parks there all day and
then someone that needs to get to an appointment

in San Francisco for a medical appointment
is unable to get that parking spot because

somebody has been there because they’re working
parking all day.


ANNETTE WILLIAMS: And we had a committee,
disabled advisory committee on accessible

parking a number of years ago and
there were recommendations to charge for blue

zones because part of the reason, at least
they found in other states, that those spaces

get filled up all day is because it’s free
and you can leave it there for three days.

And so then there isn’t the turnover that’s
needed for disabled people who want to park

for short period of time or come for a number
of hours because they’re parked up.

And it’s not just blue zone, it’s all the
parking spaces because you can use a placard

in any space and not have to pay for parking.

So there is — there’s some desire to have
statewide — at least options for cities to

be able to implement that.

You know, limiting the time and potentially
charging and maybe then having like a low-income

amount for people who are lower income.

Because the reason that there was no charge
in the first place had more to do with the

ability to pay because the meters weren’t
accessible and there wasn’t an accessible

way to pay.

And what it’s morphed into is people using
it some maybe that don’t need it because they

like the convenience and the fact they don’t
have to pay.

And it just takes going to a doctor and having
your certified that you need it.

But they found in some states where it went
way down, like huge — many more spaces were

available when they started to charge for
parking because all of a sudden those people

who were parking there all day weren’t taking
advantage of that.

SHIMON ISRAEL: Good insight.

Next question, what is a good committee make
up to ensure people are trusted, respected

and heard?

Disabled riders are clearly important but
I have found that the they often can only

provide input with respect to their particular issues.

Those are important but often leave the full
committee without the entire situation.

I found that agencies that represent people
with disabilities have a more universal perspective

but don’t necessarily speak from personal
experiences. So how do we get the balance right?

Susan, do you want
to take this one?

SUSAN ROTCHY: So I think that, first of
all, we need to start placing people with

disabilities in leadership roles, right?

That’s the first thing.

And also — or putting some really doing a
survey and getting some people that are transit

rider, low income, a senior on a committee,
because I do sit on a panel, several panels,

and like I said, I’m sure Ernest and I are
the only transit users, right?

And they all have an opinion of what to say.

But never been left behind or discriminated
against because, hey, we have 40 able-bodied

passengers on the bus, there will be another
bus for you.


So we need to get people with disabilities
in leadership roles, sitting on those committees

or doing some breakout workshops or, hey,
let’s — if you’re having an in-person meeting,

get there by public transit and let’s see
how your work has really been done.


I’m going to get off my soap box.

ERNEST ROGERS: I like what Susan said.

She’s right.

She and I have been on the only two in the
room, but really?

The thing is if they’re in a leadership role,
one of the things you have to find out about

people is you’ve got to find people that are
empathetic, who look at other things, just

not only from their side but from other people’s side.

I know we have a young lady on one of our
committees, she’s disabled, rides the chair

and she only looked at it from her side.

I be trying to tell her a lot of things we
can’t change because we don’t have that right

or we don’t have that kind of change.

But we can ask, you know, be sympathetic with

And I think that’s the biggest thing.

You have to have people on the panel that’s
even — that can empathize and see from other

people’s perspectives and also surveys.

Surveys do good because a person can be six
feet in a wheelchair and a person that’s four

feet in a wheelchair, there’s a difference
right there.

You know.

So it just has to be — got to be a medium

You have to have someone that can empathize
and understand how to go between those two


A leadership role would help.

ANNETTE WILLIAMS: I think that people who
work together for a period of time with different

disabilities, they become aware of the issues
that their fellow users are dealing with.

I think also like just the citizens — with
have a citizens advisory committee that is

made up of all different types of people and
having people with disabilities on that committee

as well to be speaking from that voice, because
I think there’s not enough cross pollination

and often people who are not disabled really
don’t understand the challenges that people

with disabilities face in using public transportation.

And they needed educating.

And that’s why like you were saying, having
policymakers and those in executive positions

to have disabilities, then they’re in the
room when those things are brought up and

they can bring up their personal experience
or what they’ve learned from their work.

But I do think that people who work for a
period of time become aware of other people

with disabilities and their needs as well.

And not just their own.

Like you were saying, the empathy and the
understanding and even just, you know, knowing

the things that are important to, say, a person
who is blind or a person who is deaf, you

learn it from hearing from those people directly.


Empathy is good for sure.

We do have just one comment.

So California Commission on Disability Access
would be the place to take the parking issue


And I did want to open the Q&A to anyone else
who had a question for the panelists.

It seems like we may be at the end.

We have a bit left on the presentation.

Maybe we’ll resume there then?

Shall we?

All right.

This is actually my slide.


So these are recommendations that we wanted
to share for transportation agencies.

And we don’t presume to know what’s best.

These are some highlights that have been revealed
from our project.

2020 was very much a year of discussion about

And one of the things that kind of came to
surface is discussion of pipelines.

How do you get people into the relevant professions
that have the relevant experience?

This is something that we want to investigate
in MTC but we feel that internship programs

are a good vehicle for people to get the right
people and the right positions and to get

movement generally of people who have kind
of — that come from the disability community

into planning professions.

The next point, we want to foster relationships
with go-to organizations within your county.

The first stop will be your centers for independent
living and we’ll provide a list on the WID website

as a product of this project.

You want to have trusted relationships with
people in the community so you can just pick

up the phone and have a sounding board if
there are plans or service changes that may

impact the disability community.

It does not — not every event needs to be
a full-scale community outreach activity.

Sometimes you just want to have a little bit
of insight or perspective that can be represented

in your work.

You want to partner with community agencies
to do the outreach.

Transit agencies and MTC may not have the
best relationship or the reputation with the

public and I see that as an MTC employee.

Sometimes it can be helpful to have the local
touch, have a trusted agency which has a good

relationship with the community, who may have
more ongoing direct engagement.

And it can be good to have those folks on
retainer, so consider paying for those services.

Either one agency or a bench or group of agencies
can be helpful.

And then you want to participate in county
and regional emergency planning.

So from time to time there are tabletop exercises
for emergency actions.

You want to engage with them and practice,
practice, practice.

Be connected on the county level but also
be mindful of regional exercises as well.

Every county has a different liaison in terms
of setting these up.

For some those are sheriff’s departments,
others are health departments.

We’re going to add a list of those contact
resources also on the WID resources page that

we’re developing.

And so to the last point, you know, you want
to include disability and access into equity

frameworks and analyses.

So we have antiracist and antidiscrimination policies.

We perform equity analyses to measure dispirit
impacts of projects.

But at present we don’t — at least most of
those types of equity analyses don’t include

disability and access.

We have our own work to do in our own house
at MTC when we evaluate future projects for

regional transportation plan.

Historically disability has not been included
as one of the metrics.

Related to this, I will make a plug for MTC’s
coordinated plan, which will include some

off the shelf approaches for developing equity

And that’s still in development.

But these are in general hard to put in practice
and they’re not fully developed but continue

to engage with us.

It’s all of our responsibilities to promote
access and that’s been a theme of this presentation.

But do continue to reach out and be engaged
as we develop this together.

DRENNEN SHELTON: Thanks, Shimon.

We just about reached the end of our time
together today.

Hopefully you’ve learned something new or
that you’ve heard something that will inspire

you to expand how you include accessibility
issues in your work.

But we don’t want you to stop here.

We would like to ask for your commitment today
to establish or strengthen your relationships

with the disability community.

We want you to be the champion who voices
accessibility issues and perspectives at your work.

We want you to start by reaching out to a
member of your own agency’s advisory board

or to your local Independent Living resource
center and tell them you heard this presentation.

Tell them that you’re seeking to include their
perspectives in your work.

Go beyond that box checking exercise and look
to really incorporate the disability lens

in your work.

It’s not going to be easy.

And it’s going to feel awkward at times and
you may be afraid that you’re making a mistake

of some kind

But I want you to remember, Senator Duckworth’s
words to you that we need strong leadership

from you on this front.


And so in the coming weeks we will definitely
follow up with everyone who attended today

or who was registered.

We’re going to provide this presentation and
more resources to you.

We want to help get you started on this.

And I just want to thank everyone for your
time and attention and your commitment to

ensuring accessibility.

Thank you.

If you are having technical issues or accessibility issues on this site, email

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Transcript for Global Digital Accessibility: Why Digital Accessibility is a Must-Have for Businesses

May 20, 2021.

Global digital accessibility:  Why digital accessibility is a must have for businesses.  (Please stand by for the event to begin).

>> KAT ZIGMONT:   Thank you so much for joining us today and being here to celebrate the tenth annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day.  We have such a great program in store for you this hour.  What you’re about to see are recorded segments from our lineup of speakers.

However, towards the end of the hour, myself and several of the

Speakers will be live for a Q&A segment. So please send us your questions throughout the hour and we

Will be sure to answer them at that time.

We have captions available in Zoom as well as at this link, That I will put in the chat.  All segments will have ASL, including the videoed segment.  To get us started, we have three amazing speakers.  They are both WID board members and global experts in digital accessibility discussing accessibility as a business imperative. Our first speaker will be Neil Milliken

From Atos. After Neil, we’ll have Tali Bray from Wells Fargo, followed by Frances West from FrancesWestCo. We hope you enjoy today’s presentation – let’s get started!


>> Neil Milliken, Global Head of Inclusion, corporate social responsibility for Atos.

>> I’ve been working in the field of assistive tech and accessibility for 20 years, Atos, which is the company that I work for, is a large digital transformation company.  We have a number of activities around accessibility.  We have our group accessibility program, which is essentially our corporatewide program looking at embedding accessibility practices through procurement, through talent and hiring, looking at culture, training, partnerships, et cetera and then we have what we call our accessibility practice where the experts sit within our organization to do digital accessibility, whether that be supporting assistive technologies, doing web accessibility audits, or helping people with projects with coding and design, et cetera, plus contributing to training, skills development. We’re active members of the IAAP, signed up for the ILO GBDN, Business Disability Forum, members of the Valuable 500.  We know that accessibility and disability drives innovation.  It’s something that we have embraced as an organization, it’s written into our raison d’etre, we’re a French company, so it’s our sense of purpose.  There’s lots of benefits to being more accessible. One is our customers want it, so we are attracting more customers by being more accessible, and we’re helping them attract more customers, because we’re a business to business organization rather than a business to consumer organization.  We’re attracting nosiness on their behalf, serving businesses on their behalf. Those larger customers also come to us because they know we can do that for them. But there’s also a benefit in terms of retention, we do this for our own people too, so we’re better at retaining our staff, and better at keeping them healthy, engaged, productive, et cetera, and it means that we’re an attractive employer to work for.  It’s really as simple as that.  If you’re not inclusive, then you’re going to be less attractive as a proposition for attracting talented employees.  I think it’s really important that organizations don’t just follow standards and guidelines.  Standards and guidelines are really important, but you also need to test with real users in real life scenarios, and that means real users with real disabilities and real users of assistive technologies.  So working with organizations like WID is a really important part of the process.  Investment in accessible technology will give you a good return. Firstly, your users will like it, you’ll have more successful transactions, less abandoned transactions too, so I’m not talking about just financial transactions like abandoned shopping carts in a service orientated business.  So for example if you get accessibility right you’ll get less service calls to the service desk, so you’re reducing cost, so that’s a benefit. You’re also making stuff people like to use, when you’re thinking about accessibility you’re thinking about design and thinking about how people are going to be using this, and designing it to enable people to be successful in what you want them to do, that will do things like increase your net promoter score in marketing, and these are things that are really important to organizations, they’re going to enable you to attract more customers, they’re going to enable you to do the things that you are required to do by society.  It’s the right thing to do.  But when you do it, it also has all of these fringe benefits.  Lots of real benefits in terms of practical technology and human use cases for why you want to do accessibility.  Lots of organizations have woken up to the fact that they have a responsibility and investors in these organizations are also looking to find companies that are truly delivering on what they claim to be their corporate values.  So really need to walk the talk.

>> Tali Bray, Executive Vice President, Head of Technology Diverse Segments, Representation and Inclusion for Wells Fargo.

>> TALI BRAY:  Thank you so much for having me.  It’s really great to be here with all of you today.  I have the honor of serving on the WID Board of Directors.  Wells Fargo and WID, have a very strong partnership that spans more than two decades.  Over the years we’ve provided board members for WID, programming partnerships, technical expertise, most recently we collaborated on a machine learning project to improve economic outcomes for people with disabilities.  So there’s a strong support and engagement and recognition of the incredibly important work that WID does within Wells Fargo.  Wells Fargo and Company is a leading financial services company that has approximately 1.9 trillion in assets and proudly serves one in three U.S. households and employs close to approximately 268,000 people.  So we have the opportunity and the responsibility to effectively touch many, many lives across the United States.  We are committed to financially empowering and employing people with disabilities.  We are number one of the top 16 companies for people with disabilities 2020, National Organization on Disability report. We’re really excited to honor Global Accessibility Awareness Day and continue to advocate for equal opportunities and increased access for people with disabilities.  And so I’m really proud to share that inclusion efforts over the past five years at Wells have resulted in more than a 20 percent average increase in disability hiring and over 15,000 employees who self‑identify as people with disabilities.  More than 9,000 of our employees including people with disabilities and allies belong to Disability Connection, that’s an employee resource network at Wells Fargo, and what this really points to is that accessibility is foundational for us to work with this community externally and with the internal community.  So you hear a lot of people talk about a digital first strategy, we also have to have an accessible first strategy, and that is a huge part of what we do.  We have an in‑house Accessibility Consulting organization, it’s called IHAC, and that is a group of industry accessibility experts, and they build in accommodations from the very beginning of every project, every software development effort that we conceive of to ensure that our digital properties are available for everyone.  When accessibility is considered early and throughout design, all customers including people with disabilities can better access products and services, so this drives positive market outcomes beyond the disability community and beyond the employees that we support. Our global approach that we take within technology, we piloted a new program to hire neuro diverse employees with software engineering, automation, data science and cyber skills in the summer of 2020.  We began creating a recruitment and hiring process that is inclusive of people with disabilities, so we can tap into the potential of a very talented and underrepresented population.  Our current employees have expressed incredible pride in Wells Fargo and technology for committing to this kind of program.  So we intend to continue to expand this program based on learnings from the pilots with the goal of having one percent of all technology employees hired through the neurodiversity program by the start of 2023.

>> Frances West, founder, FrancesWestCo.  Chair of strategy and development committee for the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information Communication Technologies.

>> FRANCES WEST:  This topic with technology is definitely a global topic and of course World Institute on Disability or WID has always been a proponent and also has done a lot of work in making sure that whether it’s at the policy level or at the digital accessibility level, that the world understands the power of the technology and also the promise that it can bring along if we’re designing the accessibility into its thinking, so this is a great way of celebrating this day, especially with an organization such as WID.  Global Accessibility Awareness Day is being celebrated globally, and I actually will be giving an interview to, for example, the companies, large companies, including like Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent in China, and they are celebrating GAAD like what we are doing here.  Frankly, it has just become a calling for me to really remind all the technologists out there that, you know, technology is there to serve people, not the other way around, and if we all agree that technology is there to serve people, then it has to be all people, not just some people, and with that kind of a logic, then accessibility becomes a must do, not a nice to have.  So the design experience is very important, but a lot of designers are actually not very familiar, actually they know very little to nothing about accessibility.  We have to really help the young designer, the cool designer, the creative designer to understand accessibility, the color contrasts or the use of font sizes as a part of, in addition to the artistic expression, as part of the accessibility expression and planning those together, and that really helps to build in accessibility into the design process.  It’s actually a mindset.  Accessibility, there’s no end be point, right?  It really should be a continuous improvement, and I always say is accessibility is just like privacy and security.  You never say, okay, enough privacy, I’m done, or enough security, I’m done, right?  Then we should dedicate our time and energy to solve the problem or to improve the situation and not expecting it to be very expedient and just, you know, check the box and get it done and move on.

When it comes down to accessibility testing, that is to me the most important part, actually, of the entire accessibility discussion because in the end, it really has to meet that particular user or that particular constituent’s needs and wants.  And I would never be so kind of presumptuous to say that, for example, if I’m a sighted programmer that I can create a user experience on my website or mobile that can delight the blind person and the nuances of the blind person experience.  So to me, that is the ultimate attest of our commitment to the user experience is through user testing.

>> KAT ZIGMONT:  Great perspective.  We are so grateful for the expertise on the WID board and their wealth of experience that really helps focus our work in accessibility and universal design.  Next up, we have WID’s technology specialist, Dustin Snowadzky who will show you all an overview of accessibility guidelines, some examples, and then show you a user testing scenario on a poorly built website and a well-built website, something we experience all the time doing user testing at WID. I hope you enjoy.

>> DUSTIN SNOWADZKY:  Hi, my name is Dustin Snowadzky, and I am WID’s technology specialist.  The topic of my presentation is a brief overview of digital accessibility best practices.  Digital accessibility is important for individuals, businesses, and society.  The web is an increasingly important resource in many aspects of life, including education, employment, government, commerce, healthcare, recreation, and more.  It is essential that all digital products and services are accessible to provide equal access and equal opportunity to everyone.  Access to information and communications technologies is defined as a basic human right in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,  or the UN CRPD.  What is WCAG or W‑C‑A‑G?  The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG provides a framework for making web content more accessible.  They consist of twelve guidelines organized under four principles.  These four principles maintain that websites must be: perceivable, can this information be perceived by everyone?  Operable, can this information be accessed by everyone? Understandable, can this information be understood by everyone? And robust, is this information available to everyone?  These guidelines were created by the Worldwide Web Consortium or the WC3 which is an international organization dedicated to creating web standards.  Moving on to A, AA and AAA levels.  A or single A is viewed as the bare minimum level of requirement which all websites, apps, documents and other digital content should adhere to.  AA is viewed as the acceptable level of accessible for many online services.  AAA is the highest level of conformance and is viewed as the gold standard of level of accessibility.  Alternative text, by default, images are often voiced as simply “graphic” by a screen reader or by the file name they were uploaded as, which is almost always not useful or intuitive.  When an image is described by a screen reader, that indicates someone has added alt text to the image. Alt text should be a succinct verbal description of the image, generally alt text descriptions do not have to be more than a sentence.  Some screen readers will cut off alt text after 125 characters so it’s advisable to keep it to that character count or less.  If an image is purely decorative, like a divider, a spacer, a border, et cetera, and doesn’t add any meaning or context to be the page or the content, then it doesn’t need alt text.  The main questions you should ask yourself are, what is the purpose of this image? What message is it supposed to convey?  And what information is lost without seeing this image?  So here is alt text example number one.  A good alt text example is a middle‑aged man in a sports jacket and multicolored tie, stands in front of a railing with his hands resting in his pockets.  And a bad alt text example for this image would simply be middle‑aged man.  The first alt text example contains relevant visual information within one sentence and the second alt text example describes the subject of the image but may not give the user necessary information, depending on the context of the entire page.  There’s no need to say photo or image of because that’s inferred from the image tag in the back code.  Here is alt text example number two.  Good alt text for this image would be a ladybug crawling across a leaf.  Bad alt text for the same image would be just simply bug.jpg.  Next is minimum contrast ratio requirements.  Here are a few examples of text with almost exactly four and a half to one contrast ratio, which is the minimum.  So here we have a gray text on a white background.  Next is purple text on a white background.  Then blue text on a gray background and finally red text on a yellow background.  For many of us, some of these color combinations are not very readable, that is why four and a half to one is the minimum required by WCAG guidelines.  Large text contrast requirements.  Large text is easier to read, so the contrast requirement is reduced to 3 to 1.  WCAG guidelines defines large text that is text that is 18-point and larger or 14-point and larger if it is bold.  For example, here is a gray 18-point text on a white background.  And purple 14-point bold text on a white background.  Again, while this meets the guidelines, it may not necessarily be readable to everyone.  Evaluating accessibility.  Preliminary checks.  Even if you don’t know anything about accessibility, you can check some aspects of accessibility, which leads us into the next entry which is tools.  This includes web accessibility evaluation tools, software or online services that help determine if web content meets accessibility standards.  Evaluation and reports.  Conformance evaluation determines how well web pages or applications meet accessibility standards.  People.  Getting the right people and skills involved makes your accessibility evaluations more effective, and finally standards.  This includes conditions for writing test results and rules.  When developing websites or redesigning a website or a web application, evaluate accessibility early and throughout the process to identify problems when it is easier to address them.  There are tools that help with evaluation, however, no tool alone can determine if a site meets accessibility standards.  Knowledgeable human analysis is required to determine if a site is accessible.  User testing.  The United States Census Bureau estimates that one in five people in the United States has a disability.  Many of them opt out of using a variety of products and services simply because they were not created with their disability in mind.  User testing provides a unique opportunity for companies to better understand how people with disabilities access their products and services, learn what issues they encounter, and improve accessibility.  Why is user testing important?  First-round website and app design may not be perfect for text‑to‑speech and related software.  Reviewing, testing, and adjusting digital access is a must.  The customer knows best.  Blind and low vision individuals have valuable experience and feedback.  In most cases, far more than sighted users using specialized software.  User testing demonstrates companies’ efforts to maximize access with legal benefits.  What is a screen reader?  Screen readers are software applications that attempt to convey what can be viewed on a display to their users via nonvisual means.  In the next segment one of our usability testers, Christina, will demonstrate screen reader usage on a frustrating inaccessible website.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  My name is Christina Clift, and testing websites for WID is an awesome opportunity because often I encounter websites that are not accessible, and that often can close doors to valuable resources, programs, and services that I want to access, as well as others that might have visual disabilities, so doing the testing to learn how to teach others to do accessible websites will hopefully open doors and make for an easier experience in surfing the web.

>> DUSTIN SNOWADZKY:  Can you try to find and read the quote on this homepage?

>> JAWS SCREENREADER: Is this accessible, list of six items.  Is this accessible, skip ‑‑ accessible, same page, skip to content, navigation region end, link checkout, visited link contact us, visited current page link main, link my account, link shop list end navigation region end, button, visit page link and accessible web dot site.  Is this accessible?  Navigation region list of six items.  Link cart, checkout, contact us, visited current page link main, link my account, link shop list region and main level 56899 graphic pixels, 3608311 graphic, quote graphic, heading level two is an example of low contrast.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  This is an example of low contrast text.

>> JAWS SCREENREADER AUTOMATED VOICE: Heading level two, A quote by Lemn Sissay.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  It’s by Lemn Sissay, I’m assuming that’s the one you’re looking for?

>> DUSTIN SNOWADZKY:  So you would associate the “this as a is an example of low contrast text” with the quote because that was read immediately after the quote?

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Yeah, yeah.

>> DUSTIN SNOWADZKY:  Next, can you navigate to the store and try to buy soap?

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Same page, link to shops, links list, enter.  Page has five shop.  Shop order combo box.  Default sorting.  Wrapping to top.  Products.  Same page link.  Products.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Products.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Link checkout, visited link, visited link made, link my account, visited link shop, list end, navigation button, visited link inaccessible.  Visited link inaccessible.  Link, is this accessible?  Link checkout.  Visited link, link my account, level one shop.  Link sale.  List of 3 items.  Combo box default sorting.  Shop order.  Combo box default sort.  Enter.  Main.  Products.  Showing all three results.  Shop order.  Combo list of three heading level 2 link to sanitizer, link dollar ten, link add sanitizer, link sale, heading level 2 bath bombs.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Bath bombs, all right. 

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Sale, heading level 2 link dispenser. List end.  All rights — proudly powered by WordPress.  Products U about ton.  Shop order, to top.  Button.  Products.  Button.  Shop order combo box.  Sort by popularity.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Popularity.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Enter. Main region heading level.

>> DUSTIN SNOWADZKY:  What’s happening when you use that combo box?

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  It’s not reading them as an arrow up and down what your options are, so you’re having to go out of it and come back in to figure out what it changed to, so ‑‑

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Main region, main escape, shop order combo box, enter, main region, shop order S, skip to toolbar, address escape, skip to standard region, navigate escape, product, same page link skip button, shop order wrap to top, button, showing all shop order, combo box

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  I’m not seeing soap anywhere…

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Sort by list of heading level to link, link, link dollar seven, link end, main region.

>> DUSTIN SNOWADZKY:  It actually is dispenser.


>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Heading level to link dispenser, enter, dispenser, link 05/soap.  Heading figure end.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  I was listening to see if ‑‑

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Escape. Same page dispenser.

>> DUSTIN SNOWADZKY:  Did you hear soap anywhere?

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  I thought I did.

(Automated voice over Christina’s).

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Link button, dispenser quantity tie, box same page link, skip, dispenser, dispenser same page skip to content, navigation region list of six items, link cart, link checkout, visited link contact us, visited link main, heading level one dispenser dollar 10.00, dollar 5.0 fifty dispenser quantity, add to cart button, categorized information tab.  Link additional information, reduce zero tab, link review zero heading level two additional information table with two columns and one rows, heading level two related products list of two items, link sale, heading ‑‑

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Got it. Do you want me to add that to my cart?


>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Even though I don’t want to buy soap? (laughs)

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  List of six items, link cart.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  I was looking under the cart to see if it would show cart one item but it just says cart.

>> DUSTIN SNOWADZKY:  Right.  Is that what you typically look for if you actually added it or not?

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Yeah, I look for that number to change.  I’ll go to my cart and see.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Link cart, table land, product, price, quantity, subtotal, link remove site visited link one, visited link dispenser, dollar five dispenser quantity, dispenser quantity edit span box two.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Oh, no, there’s two, I think.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Dollar point apply coupon am.

(Beep sound).

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  It made it in there and it said something soap quick I think it was just changing the page.  But it stayed also on the same product page, so that made me wonder whether it was added or not, and typically if it stays on the same page, you click add to cart and I would think it kept and there was no audio symbol up there where it says cart one item added or whatever.

>> DUSTIN SNOWADZKY:  Go to proceed to checkout and let’s see what happens.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Heading level two cart totals, table subtotal, dollar, shipping, flat rate, dollar five.OO, shipping to MD, link change address, total, dollar ten point table link proceed to checkout, enter, proceed to checkout link, checkout, first name star page has 7 region, checkout button, first name star edit enter.  Christina.  Company name optional.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Part of it on that one is – let me see if I would have been able to find that easy

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Checkout, order received heading level one, checkout, order received heading level one, thank you, your order was ‑‑

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Yeah, it definitely didn’t sound like you were going to another page to let you know that you finished checking out.  Sometime you get a little clicking noise, sometimes it’s a little bit of a feedback within the browser, but I didn’t hear anything on this one.  It was similar to the same experience when you added it to the cart.

>> DUSTIN SNOWADZKY:  And how about the product itself?  Any issues there?

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  So the product itself, the tag of the picture, I think it is, it said 0.5 and then it said soap.  So the label of the product was dispenser but then the label of the picture was soap.  So you didn’t know whether it was a soap dispenser or just a bar of soap.  So the two didn’t connect together, like what you were looking for and what you were seeing a picture of.

>> Now, let’s take a look at what this experience would be like for our user if the website was accessible.

>> Automated voice:  Visited link accessible web dot site, list of five items, visited current page link home, visited link shop, link my account.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Home link this time, that’s great.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Heading level page one middle‑aged man in a sports jacket and multicolored tie stands in front of a railing with his hands resting in his pockets. Graphic, ladybug crawling across a leaf.  Graphic, the moon tells the sky, the sky tells the sea, and the sea tells the tide, the tide tells me.  Quote by Lemn Sissay graphic.


>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  This is example of high contrast text. Heading level two this is an example of low contrast text.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  The part about the sea, the quote that you had written in gibberish last time, it’s actually accessible this time with the pictures, cool.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Shop enter.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  I’ll use my browser link list, it’ll be the quickest.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Four region shop.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  I’ll hit S for shop and let’s see if I can find my soap.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Products.  Same page products.  Same, products.  Same page visited link accessible ‑‑ blank.  List of five link home, visited link my account, contact us, cart, list end, navigation remain heading level one shop.  Showing all three results.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Three results.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Shop order.  Combo box default sorting.  List of three link sale.  Heading level two link dollar .70, heading level two link sanitizer.  Dot link ads, visited link sale, visiting level two soap dispenser.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Aha, soap dispenser.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Products.  Level two link soap dispenser.


>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Soap dispenser heading level one, dollar ten .00, dollar 5.00, 49 in stock quantity, soap dispenser quantity, add to cart, cart.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  The great thing, it’s in stock, and it’s $10.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Soap, soap dispenser, 49 in stock, dollar 10.00, add to cart button, main region, add cart.  Cart.  Soap dispenser quantity, enter main region two.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Change that to two.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Coupon code, type a text.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Coupon code.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Apply coupon button, update cart button to activate.  Shipping, change address, link.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Change address.

>> AUTOMATED VOICE:  Proceed to checkout link, enter.  Checkout.  Checkout.  Page as checkout.  Checkout.  First name star edit, enter, Christina.  Last name Clift.  Company name option.  United States.  The – ship to a different address.  Heading level three check box not checked.  Order notes option.  Contains text.  Type of text.  Privacy policy link.  Place order button to activate.  Enter.  Checkout.  Checkout.  Page has six regions 7 headings and 23 links.  Heading level 1 order received.

>> CHRISTINA CLIFT:  Awesome.  Great.  Much more positive experience knowing that I checked out.  

>> DUSTIN SNOWADZKY:  Thank you so much for joining us, Christina, and for demonstrating screen reader usage.  Next you’ll hear from one of our clients, TracFone Wireless, who will speak about user testing as a business imperative.

>> JIM ZIMMERMAN:   Hello, my name is Jim Zimmerman, I’m a senior officer of customer care and operations, and I’ve worked for TracFone for 20 years.  My responsibility is to support the teams that provide our products and services to our customers through design, automation, customer care, and support.

>> ELIZABETH VEGA:  I’m Elizabeth Vega, I’m an Associate Vice President, U.X. design and improvements.

>> JIM ZIMMERMAN:   We actually realized that accessibility was a concern for TracFone, it started out as a compliance opportunity and then it ultimately transformed into a mission, and an alignment with a cultural transformation that our company was going through, along with leadership, our Trac values and focus on customer centricity.

>> ELIZABETH VEGA:  If you’re a company offering services digitally, services or products that involve digital experiences, you have two choices, right?  You can get dragged into this kicking and screaming, or you dive in.  And kicking and screaming, that approach, you know, we kind of tried it, it’s much more expensive and much more wearing on employees than kind of doing this more planfully and letting employees get involved upfront and learn how to do it and approach it with a solid plan in place.  That is cheaper, it is a better experience for customers, and it’s a better experience for the employees, all around.  So, I do want to emphasize how much pain we had at the beginning, right?  Like we didn’t do everything right, we faced a lot of defects, and that was really a wakeup call, we have to do something to get our hands around this.

>> JIM ZIMMERMAN:   I think the other important thing we learned through struggle is that accessibility wasn’t a single person’s responsibility in the company, it wasn’t necessarily a department’s responsibility, it was the company’s responsibility, and when we were able to push out the need and work with other organizations and basically start training everyone on how to think about accessibility design, our testing in QA department, our developers, our marketing department, what we found was we had an entire organization willing to help us get better for the right reasons and align with collaboration, education, and it really took us to a different level.

>> ELIZABETH VEGA:  And marshalling the resources to do something different, to change our approach, we really relied on the usability studies that we had done with WID and the videos showing the struggles.  You know, when you take a video and you put it in front of a team of developers and executive leaders and they see people crying trying to get a product activated, everybody kind of realizes, okay, we need to approach this differently.  And it was really tremendously useful to have the kind of impactful studies and video to share to get everybody lined up.  Even developers who thought that they knew how to code, it’s really helpful to see the different kind of struggles people have.  And now we do testing with WID once a quarter, and we still find things that we didn’t think of, so we just, that has been a really useful part of the journey for us in terms of changing the perspective and completely changing the approach, instead of throw it out there and then fix it if it doesn’t work, we had to just completely rethink how we did it.

>> JIM ZIMMERMAN:   Before, we would kind of make products and force it into the marketplace.  By working with WID and usability studies, right, what we could do is we could modify our user experiences prior to releasing them into production and have a much more successful customer engagement and deliver our services more effectively.  You can’t underemphasize how doing inclusive design and figuring out easier ways for customers to activate a cell phone, engage with your websites, better color contrasts and larger text, it helps every customer across every segment.  So it’s really made us better with our automation, it’s improved our design, and we wouldn’t necessarily be able to see that if we weren’t having the usability studies and actually sitting down with customers and getting that proper feedback, right, and really, you know, candid feedback on where the opportunities actually are for us to improve our customer engagement and channels.

>> ELIZABETH VEGA: And we do things like auditing, like automated scanning, like training, like usability to complement each other to make sure that we have a better chance of getting it right.  We even have a supplier management program now where we let potential suppliers know upfront that there are some expectations around accessibility so that we don’t bring them on board and then hit them with something that for them is sort of an expensive and last-minute need.  So really, we’re going as deeply as we can into our own processes and our suppliers’ processes so that nobody has the surprise and everybody can plan for what they need to do, because we’ve realized that planning for it means it doesn’t have to be such a big deal, right?  It’s not a big deal if you don’t have to fix something that you broke in production.  We did our accessibility summits so we invited partners to tell us what they need instead of us just guessing at what we think you need, we invited partners in for them to tell us.

>> JIM ZIMMERMAN:   Our partnership with WID has really helped TracFone and our customers through identifying opportunities, realizing potential and then ultimately delivering on solutions for real customer struggles.

>> ELIZABETH VEGA:  One of the big things WID helped us with is just in recruiting the right audiences to engage in our processes.  We didn’t necessarily know how to do that and we were sensitive to the idea that we need to test with a range of different disabilities, but we didn’t know how to go about that and WID helped us, hugely. And of course, these segments have very different needs, so people who maybe have dexterity issues have completely different needs than blind users.  We didn’t always get that at the beginning, we certainly get it now, and WID was instrumental in helping us get that and understand what was needed for each of these different segments in order for us to get better.

>> JIM ZIMMERMAN:   We really feel that designing for simplicity, inclusion is really a competitive advantage specifically in our space.  It is one way for us to stand out and deliver our services to areas of the marketplace that may be overlooked.  It’s made us better, it’s helped with our culture, it’s brought collaboration, design and testing all focused and it certainly aligns with our overall mission.  So, we see it as a business competitive advantage and along with really serving to a great purpose, which has been a really great alignment with everything TracFone and our cultural transformation over the last five years.

>> ELIZABETH VEGA:  There’s another benefit that is actually important, and that is, the kinds of things that customers need for an accessible process and a digital channel are also the kinds of things that automated monitoring software needs.  So, it’s really hard for people, for us as a company, to truly understand the success rates of things that happen in the websites, unless you have some kind of monitoring software, out there looking at it.  Exactly the kind of things we need to make something really accessible, those kinds of software need in order to operate well.  So that also helped us have better visibility into things that were not working.

>> JIM ZIMMERMAN:   It’s extremely important for us to be a low‑cost operator, and we tend to try and automate as many processes as possible in order to be much more efficient and it allows us to be innovative and focus on improving our voice experience, chat, and other innovative technologies that our competitors may not necessarily focus on.  So, it’s been a great experience overall because it allows us to be both innovative and focus on really delivering simplified and successful customer experiences.

>> ELIZABETH VEGA:  Employees who are engaged in this really feel strongly about it.  People want to do this.  And it makes them feel like, you know, they have something that’s kind of bigger than themselves that they’re contributing to that is important.

>> JIM ZIMMERMAN:   Once we realized that this isn’t just a compliance opportunity, once we get beyond the compliance part we actually realized that it is a great engagement opportunity, it is a great growth engine for ourselves and it’s a great motivator of our employee base.  So when you tie all those things together, it was extremely, it’s been a great experience and we look forward to it in the future.

>> KAT ZIGMONT:  Thank you all for sticking with us.  We hope you enjoyed hearing from our panelists.  And we’ve collected a couple questions that we are going to field with our panelists right now.  Oh, I am so sorry, let’s make sure, where is our ASL?  There you are.  There you go.  All right.

So, our first question today was from Sarah, and she asked, is there a way to test your own website to see if it’s as bad as the simulation that we showed?  And I’m actually going to ask Dustin to chime in first on that.  But Tali and Frances, feel free to answer any questions that come up.  Thank you for being here.

>> DUSTIN SNOWADZKY:  Hi.  Thank you so much, Kat.  Thank you so much for the question, Sarah.  It’s a great first question.

So my answer is, there are a lot of automated evaluation tools that exist online for checking websites.  We would typically recommend some of the more established checkers like Wave or the Acc Dev tools by DQ, however, with that said, no tool alone can determine if a site meets accessibility standards, knowledgeable human evaluation is required to determine if a site is accessible.  For example, checkers can tell you when alt text is missing or added to a photo but can’t tell you if that alt text is usable or if it’s written in a way that people can understand and that covers the visual information.

>> KAT ZIGMONT:  That is absolutely a great answer.  Awesome.  I have a couple questions here geared at business, and we have Elizabeth, Frances and Tali.  So I’m going to ask this one.  Why don’t businesses do usability testing right away?  It’s a hard question to answer, isn’t it?  I think Elizabeth spoke to this a little bit in her segment, and my answer to this question is, you know, I think that we don’t educate our programmers or executives about this issue well enough so I think there’s a little bit of you don’t know what you don’t know to that question.

>> Tali Bray:  Would you like us to weigh in?

>> KAT ZIGMONT:  Yes, please do.

>> Tali Bray:  Great.  Hi, I’m Tali Bray.  She/hers.  I’m from Wells Fargo.  I think you heard from me earlier.  You know, what I would share is that often I think an organization, certainly in large organizations, supporting sort of diverse needs can often be viewed as something that is taken after a product is designed and developed, either because, I think to your comment, diverse needs aren’t understood and/or there are, I will say, erroneous cost considerations.  But what we do know is that when accessibility is not considered at the forefront, it will actually have the opposite impact with significant ‑‑ from a cost perspective and from a product performance perspective with significant increases in expense with rework.  And so ultimately you are creating a less effective product that is more expensive and you’ve certainly delivered a less accessible experience.  I mean, we know that up to 25 percent of the U.S. population has some form of disability ranging from common challenges like color blindness to low vision or more complex challenges with mobility and complete vision loss, and ensuring that our customers can, regardless of what their abilities are, can interact and engage with us for financial services is critical for independence and creates loyalty, and good customer experience is beneficial for all of our customers.  So that is what we are sort of ‑‑ why we are sort of making a very concerted effort internally and pivoting that willing to deliver for accessible experiences at the start of product design, product development and including sort of test-driven development practices around accessibility through the product life cycle is extremely valuable not only for the disability community, but for all of our customers.  And ultimately ends up developing and delivering a more cost‑effective and more accessible product.

>> Frances West:  Hi, this is Frances.  And I was also in the earlier video, and I would like to add to the comment that Tali just made.  I think there’s also a maturity kind of factor at play here.  If you look at the kind of technology evolution, what we call the B2B business, the back end business actually has been in play for a few decades now.  So for companies like the company like financial services, like a bank, they actually pay a lot more attention, for example, to testing methodologies and all that.  And I think in the last ten, fifteen years, you see the emergence of what we call the consumer-based technology, right?  So a lot of our user experience on the iPhone, and that industry came up very quickly, and then the whole kind of mindset is, okay, let’s just get the product out quickly, so we went from very kind of sudden development life cycle to these agile development, you know, fast, you know, quick sprint and here and there.  So I think what happened is sure, you can get a product out quickly but then you’re not testing, for example, you’re not building some of the discipline in there.  I think for a while it was okay because people are very enthusiastic about oh, let me get my hands on this new app, new next shiny object, but then over time, I think very quickly people realize when you just go for the speed and the efficiency, I mean, the speed, actually just on the speed, you actually compromise the experience potentially of a segment of the population, so I think as a technology, especially what I call the human facing or human experience apps and applications, more thought has to come into play, and that’s when the diversity of a tester, remediators or designers or developers have to come into play.  So I’m hoping that, I’m hopeful that with just the user experience themselves and also the social media recognition and also promotion of the equity and equality, then the technology company will actually will learn faster and quicker that this is actually a necessary step that one cannot just, you know, shortchange it.

>> KAT ZIGMONT:  Thank you so much.  Great answers.  I really appreciate it.  We have another question from Victoria.  I’m a sole proprietor with not a lot of money to spend on my website, but I want to be accessible.  Where do you recommend a tiny company like mine start?  Well, I’m serious here, you should contact me at WID,  We customize services for everybody.  We can make sure that we meet your budget needs because ultimately our goal is to make sure companies have accessible websites, and we will work with you to do just an internal review or a very small testing for not a lot of money to make sure that your site is accessible.  Absolutely.  And I have one more question here, and I think this is also to business.  Can you tell us a little bit more about how the work you do uniquely prepares your company to implement accessibility?  Do any of our speakers have a response for this one?  Go ahead, Elizabeth.  Yes, absolutely.  You are muted.

>> ELIZABETH VEGA:  In my area we have UX design under our umbrella, and we have done a lot of work to get training for the designers.  I think Frances pointed out that a lot of designers are not very knowledgeable about accessibility so one of the first things we did was make sure that everybody on that team went through training and understood what are the basic techniques for making digital properties accessible.  We also trained the developers and what we also found was really very important was training the testers, because that was a step that we kept missing or that we weren’t doing right and even though we were working at it, we were still getting defects had production because we didn’t have a testing team that really understood how to use the technology and to test effectively with it.

>> KAT ZIGMONT: Absolutely, great answer. I agree training is really important.  Go ahead, Tali.

>> TALI BRAY:  Certainly everybody on this call appreciates that what I would say for us, ensuring that our customers, right, all of our customers can successfully manage banking online is a really core objective.  So we have really integrated the idea of accessibility, as I sort of mentioned earlier, into our product design.  So we have an accessibility team that is part of our digital strategy and platform and innovation organization that’s the center of execution, and that organization is really responsible for driving accessible experiences, providing specialized accessibility consultation, leading like sprint‑level accessibility validation during the agile life cycle and supporting evolving governance and regulatory changes.  I think to Frances’ earlier comment, you know, we are a very large organization, and we are a mature organization, so we have the capability to sort of dedicate this focus and it’s even an evolution for us but we’re recognizing that we need to integrate accessibility within the overall program life cycle at the front end, so as our developers, as our test engineers, as our product designers are thinking about product, it’s integrated from the beginning.  So we’re developing and launching to the latest accessibility standards and then additionally, we perform comprehensive accessibility testing of all of our digital properties, you know, using some of the tools that were discussed here. And I would also say that for large companies that work with a lot of software vendors, we have to work with those software vendors to ensure that they are adhering to the same level of accessibility that we are, and that’s also a big challenge, right?  Because we have legal agreements with these software vendors.  They may be looking at different levels of accessibility, and so that’s another area of focus for us.

>> Frances West:  Can I just give a plug to Wells Fargo?  I don’t know Tali if you know this or not, but I actually hosted a three‑day session of Wells Fargo executives back in 2015, they came to Austin, Texas, the IBM design headquarters, and that was like the beginning of the design thinking, design methodology.  So we structured a three‑day all the way from using the IBM design thinking how we implement that into the IBM portfolio and share with the Wells Fargo team including some of the new tooling because I think one of the questions that came up, how do I make things, you know, accessible if I have a small budget.  Believe it or not, a large company like IBM and Wells Fargo, we too have a lot of budget pressure, and if you think about it as worldwide development, we have like 200,000 developers, how do you train them.  You cannot train them without some tooling.  I still remember one of my members, one of my employees said to me, you know, tools, not rules.  We talked about WCAG 2.0, all these rules.  Tools not rules.  I say okay, and we actually share with them.  A lot of IBM’s automated tooling for testing and remediation with accessibility is actually open source.  But anyway, just going back to the point that it is one thing, I love to hear, you know, TracFone, you guys talked about, it really is a cultural transformation.  One else you get it, it’s almost like religion, I don’t know whether I should say religion, it could be politically correct or incorrect, but once you believe, you see everything differently.  And then you have to be patient, you know.  You cannot be ‑‑ there’s no end on accessibility.  It’s just always the beginning.  So have patience but accumulate your knowledge.  Like the journey at Wells Fargo, like I said, I can think back, I still have that presentation from 2015, so Tali, maybe one of those days we can look at that.  Yeah.

>> KAT ZIGMONT:  Thank you so much.  I’m recognizing that we’re at the top of the hour.  Thank all of you for joining us today and for your thoughtful questions, and we’re so glad to share our expertise in disability accessibility, and we hope that you will make a plan for how your business can become more accessible for people with disabilities.  If you’re interested in working with WID to evaluate the accessibility and create an effective solution, please reach out to me,  And the if you would like to support WID’s work, please make a donation on our website, also pasted in the chat for you.  Thank you so much, and I hope everyone has an amazing Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

>> ELIZABEH VEGA:   Thank you for hosting, Kat.

>> TALI BRAY:   Thank you, Kat.  Bye‑bye.

(The event concluded at 5:01 p.m. EST)

* * * This text, document, or file is based on live transcription.  Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), captioning, and/or live transcription are provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.  This text, document, or file is not to be distributed or used in any way that may violate copyright law. * * *

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WID Webinar – Global Digital Accessibility: Why Digital Accessibility is a Must-Have for Businesses

GAAD 2021 event graphic, all text repeated in body of post.

The World Institute on Disability proudly celebrated the 10th anniversary of Global Accessibility Awareness Day! Our accessibility experts, and usability testing clients joined us for a free webinar to discuss how businesses can become accessible for people with disabilities. They highlighted why accessibility matters to your business revenue, litigation risk, customer experience, and brand. This one hour webinar was concluded with a live Q&A session with our access experts.

Held on: Thursday, May 20, 2021

Captions in English and ASL provided.

Event recording:

Link to transcript for Global Digital Accessibility: Why Digital Accessibility is a Must-Have for Businesses


This event included remarks from the following speakers:

Kat Zigmont, headshot

Kat Zigmont

Senior Director of Operations and Deputy Director

World Institute on Disability

Dustin Snowadzky headshot.

Dustin Snowadzky

Technology Specialist

World Institute on Disability

Christina Clift, a Black woman with shoulder length dark brown hair and oval framed glasses.

Christina Clift

Consumer Advocate

Memphis Center for Independent Living

WID Usability Tester

Elizabeth Vega headshot. An adult woman with light skin, long silver and brown hair, and rectangular glasses.

Elizabeth Vega

Assistant Vice President of UX Design and Improvements

TracFone Wireless

Jim Zimmerman headshot; adult man with light skin and silver hair.

Jim Zimmerman

Senior Officer, Customer Care & Operations

TracFone Wireless

Tali Bray, headshot. An adult woman with light skin and shoulder length brown hair .

Tali Bray

Executive Vice President, Head of Technology Diverse Segments, Representation and Inclusion

Wells Fargo

WID Board Member

Frances West headshot. An Asian adult woman with chin length black hair.

Frances West

Founder, FrancesWestCo

Chair of Strategy & Development Committee, The Global Initiative for Inclusive Information Communication Technologies (G3ict)

WID Board Member

Neil Milliken, headshot. A white adult man with short brown hair.

Neil Milliken

Global Head of Inclusion, Corporate Social Responsibility


WID Board Member

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Meet the Panelists: Experiences of Black Disabled People During & After Disasters: A Global Conversation

Meet the Moderator, Guest Speaker and Panelists for GADRA’s Experiences of Black Disabled People During & After Disasters: A Global Conversation event, on Thursday, February 18, 2021.

This free webinar will be one hour long, and will begin at 12 PM EST/5 PM UTC. Captions in English and International Sign will be provided.

Link to register to attend Experiences of Black Disabled People During & After Disasters: A Global Conversation

Andraéa is the founder and president of LaVant Consulting, Inc. (LCI), a social impact communications firm that offers cutting-edge corporate development and content  marketing for brands and nonprofits. LCI’s specialty is helping brands “speak disability  with confidence.”

As a communications consultant and inclusion specialist, Andraéa has over a decade of experience working with programs that support youth and adults with disabilities and other underserved populations. She currently serves as  the impact producer for Netflix’s feature-length documentary, Crip Camp, where she is charged with leading the campaign’s efforts to promote understanding of disability as a  social justice issue and build across lines of difference.

Graphic with photo of Curtis, an African-American/Black male with black beard. He is wearing a dark blue jacket, light blue shirt, and striped white, yellow, blue and black neck-tie. A flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia is in the background. Beside the photo of Curtis is a quote from him reading: ““Prioritizing marginalized people and integrating equity into all aspects of disaster response is urgently needed as we continue to face more frequent and devastating disasters across the globe. I am excited to participate in this upcoming session to discuss the experiences of Black people with disabilities during COVID-19 and other disasters.”

Curtis has homeland security and emergency management experience at the federal, state, and local levels. He currently serves as the State Coordinator (Director) of Emergency Management at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM).

In 2018, he co-founded the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management (I-DIEM) a non-profit organization dedicated to diversify the field of emergency management and promote the application of equitable practices to improve disaster outcomes and build community resilience for the most vulnerable communities. Curtis is recognized as a Certified Emergency Manager by the International Association of Emergency Managers. He serves on the Equitable Climate Resilience Advisory Panel for the Institute for Building Technology and Safety (IBTS) and FEMA’s Mitigation Framework Leadership Group.

We are excited to announce Leroy F. Moore Jr. as one of our Black disabled panelists for GADRA’s ‘Experiences of Black Disabled People During & After Disasters: A Global Conversation’ event which will take place on February 18!

Leroy F. Moore Jr., founder of Krip-Hop Nation has been a key member of Poor Magazine since the 1990’s. Moore’s work with Poor Magazine began with his column “Illin-N-Chillin.” He went on to become a founding member of Poor Magazine’s Homefulness and Decolonize Academy. Moore is also one of the founding members of National Black Disability and activist whose work centers around police brutality against people with disabilities. His cultural work includes the documentary film, “Where Is Hope: Police Brutality Against People with Disabilities,” spoken-word CDs, poetry books and children’s book, “Black Disabled Art History 101.”

Image ID: Graphic of Yusuf, a brown man with black hair, wearing glasses and native Nigerian attire known as a qubè and kaftan. He is smiling and looking to his left. Beside him is a quote from him reading: “This is a timely conversation to ‘Build Back Better.’ I hope to discuss what is done, or could be done, to cushion the effects of inflation of imported items during COVID-19 such as food and medical supplies His Twitter username is: m_dyks069. His Instagram username is m_dyks069. His Facebook page can be found at”

Yusuf is a high school literature teacher in Nigeria and Project Coordinator at the Special Needs Initiative for Growth, located in Northern Nigeria.

“Literature is a field that suits me so well, because it draws from social, economic and political events from across history and geography,” he says.

Yusuf says. literature affords him the avenue to excel in understanding the world and explaining it to his students.

Yusuf started to get more involved with advocacy in 2019, during his year of national service, when he joined a Community Development Service group for Sustainable Development Goals.

Graphic with image of Vivienne Isebor, a Black woman with afro hair held by a headband with mixed colored prints smiles looking downward. She is wearing wooden earrings with the Ghanian Adinkra symbol - Mmere Dane, an orange Igbo traditional necklace and an orange sleeveless top. Beside her is a quote reading: “Black people in the West and specifically in Britain are failed by many systems, including healthcare and social support services. This is evident in the overrepresenation within mental health services and high rates of risk with COVID-19. When considering intersectionality, Black people with disabilities are even more at risk and have therefore been forced to survive through community.”

Since being diagnosed with ADHD in her early 20’s and living with mental health difficulties, Vivienne has run awareness sessions and advocated on platforms such as BBC, Mental Health Today and Mind. Isebor is a Trainee Clinical Associate in Psychology, currently studying part-time at UCL and working with individuals with Complex Emotion Needs in East London. She is also a founder of ADHD Babes – the first support group for Black Women and Black Non-binary people with ADHD, where she is the Director of Community Outreach and Wellbeing.

She says ADHD Babes is an example of the community coming together to fill gaps that services create through systematic racism and neglect. ADHD Babes focuses on Black women and Black non-binary people due to the combined challenges they face through the many parts of their living experience including: race, gender (including being gender non-confirming), disability and class.

“When we consider how difficult it is for women with ADHD to get support it is of great concern how marginalised Black women will be within the very same system. Creating this space has been a saving grace for me as an individual and a member of the community. We show up for ourselves each time to offer a safety away from the world that has shown us time and time again we do not matter. We are changing that narrative for ourselves and redefining what it means to be Black with ADHD,” Isebor says.

Graphic with photo of Kaman Kelly Wasup, a Black man with a tropical green button down shirt, long beard, and sunglasses standing in front of a white background. Beside Kaman is a quote reading, “As a Black person and as a person with disability, visual impairment, l observed that Covid 19 news was just a story in the media in Papua New Guinea until the government imposed the shutdown. The delay in getting the news digested into everyone’s mind for awareness and preparedness was as a result of our multicultural practices and systems which made it difficult to process the vital information and news.”

Kaman is the Treasurer at PNG Assembly of Disabled Persons and Chairman at PNG Blind Union in Papua New Guinea. Kaman has facilitated systematic advocacy trainings on disability inclusion since 2018. During Kaman’s trainings, people with disabilities gather to partake in formal and informal advocacy activities. Kaman also runs focus group discussions regarding topics such as utilizing mainstream media for advocacy.

“As a black person and as a person with disability, visual impairment, l observed that Covid 19 news was just a story in the media in Papua New Guinea until the government imposed the shutdown. The delay in getting the news digested into everyone’s mind for awareness and preparedness was as a result of our multicultural practices and systems which made it difficult to process the vital information and news,” Kaman says.

Graphic with photo of Anita, a Black woman with long locs, wearing a maroon turtleneck sweater. Beside the photo is a quote from her reading: “I'm excited to share my experiences as a Black disabled person in the emergency preparedness arena. Blacks and disabled are often left behind in disasters. We must make sure that this ends in our country!”

As a Black Disabled Lesbian, Anita has dealt with racisim, sexism, ableism, and homophobia – sometimes combinations of these. She has used her experience of discrimination and her unique intersectional perspective to promote understanding among different groups of disenfranchised people and increase social justice among those fighting for social justice.

Anita began working as Not Dead Yet’s Director of Minority Outreach in January 2017. She has met with national and state policy makers and written persuasively about opposition to a public policy of assisted suicide from the perspective of communities of color who experience disparities in access to healthcare.

From 2004-2006, she worked at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) in Washington, DC, as the DC Metro Disability Vote Organizer. Anita also worked as Systems Advocate for the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester, NY, from 2006-2010.

Anita also serves on the National Disability Leadership Alliance’s Steering Committee, as well as it’s Racism Taskforce, and co-Chaired the Intersectional Justice Committee for ADAPT.

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COVID Blog: How Indian Disability Non-profits are Evolving to Face the Challenges of COVID-19

By Arundhati Nath

From global containment failures to the improper development of disaster-resistant systems, COVID-19 has severely affected the economic, social, educational, and healthcare requirements of all individuals, especially those with disabilities. In India, where people with disabilities have traditionally faced adversity because of inaccessibility and stigmatization, this reality is clear. 

When the pandemic hit, funding for non-profit organizations that support people with disabilities diminished. Businesses ceased donating to accommodate for their decreased profits, and any other available contributions shifted to the government’s COVID-19 relief fund, exacerbating the societal effects of the virus and inhibiting the already limited aid that organizations could provide. 

“In April, when I called up a company that had promised to fund us earlier, they had expressed concern that they wouldn’t be able to donate… During the pandemic, as funding has been hit, we had to reduce staff members and are unable to take up any new activities because there is a constraint on available budgets” says Ramya Miryala, Director, Deaf Enabled Foundation, Hyderabad. 

Puducherry-based 25-year-old Satish Kumar is a deaf small business owner with a speech disability. With four family members who are dependent on him, he has felt the direct impact of the pandemic and the reduction of assistance. “Since the lockdown started, we are using the basic essentials very carefully in smaller quantities so that we don’t waste much on it,” Satish says.

Satish and individuals like him are sacrificing and re-adjusting to the new reality of support to protect their families’ wellbeing with self-determination, but millions of Indians with disabilities still do not have their essential needs met, exposing the weaknesses of the pre-COVID support system that identified people with disabilities as just targets of charity.

People with disabilities like Satish are resilient and capable of helping themselves with the proper training, accommodations, and resources. Fortunately, non-profit organizations are beginning to take notice and adapt to a model of support that chooses to empower individuals with disabilities instead of solely depending on the contribution of others. Ramya Miryala’s organization, Deaf Enabled Foundation, is “an organization of the Deaf, for the Deaf, and by the Deaf”, and has noticed that these services are in even higher demand since the onset of the pandemic. “We have seen a surge in deaf people signing up for our free employment-led, skill development online workshops, and we are helping them as best as we can,” says Miryala.

Some empowerment-focused non-profit organizations, like the Delhi-based SCORE Foundation and the NCPEDP, are aiding people with disabilities through dedicated telephone help lines, which provide critical information and answer any questions that someone may have during the current crisis. These organizations are also conducting webinars and online events that teach people how to handle the emotional toll of the pandemic while living with a disability in India. However, the effects of COVID-19 extend beyond the lives of adults with disabilities and require non-profit organizations to also find innovative solutions for providing students with disabilities access to online learning.

With educational institutions closed due to the spread of the virus, accessibility to online education has been a problem for a multitude of children with disabilities. Many parents cannot afford essential technology like laptops, mobile phones or accessible software. Even for those who can, it has not been easy: numerous educational platforms are inaccessible, teachers are inadequately trained, and people fail to understand students’ accessibility needs. 

To counter the challenges posed by online learning and reinforce a sense of empowerment, some non-profit organizations have been conducting accessible online classes, art activities, and recreational sessions, creating an inclusive education and some fun during the pandemic.

There is little doubt that the pandemic has made life challenging for everyone, depleted resources, and generated untold uncertainty. Yet, it has revealed the vulnerabilities in the former system – calling for fundamental change in how we help those with disabilities. As non-profit organizations continue to work hard, evolve, and find new ways to assist adults and children with disabilities, we must embrace a resilient perspective on disability that demands equity and asserts the capabilities and dignity of every human being. 

Links to sources mentioned & references, in order of appearance:

Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES). PM CARES website

National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP). NCPEDP website

The Hindu. “Online classes make learning curve steeper for children with disabilities”, by K.C. Deepika. July 8, 2020.

Indian Express. “Many students with disabilities struggling with e-education, NGOs call for more accessible approach”, by PTI. June 21, 2020.

Efforts For Good. “Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States”. April 19, 2020.

The Quint. “India’s COVID Crisis: Why Govt Should’ve Worked With Civil Society”, by Dr. Priyadarshini Singh. September 1, 2020.

CRISIL Foundation. “Pandemic could devour bulk of CSR kitty this year”. June 9, 2020.

IndiaSpend. “PM CARES Received At Least $1.27 Bn In Donations–Enough To Fund Over 21.5 Mn COVID-19 Tests”, by Anoo Bhuyan, Prachi Salve. May 20, 2020.

FirstPost. “COVID-19 impact is massive, but other social causes need CSR funding too, say NGOs”. August 5, 2020.

About the author

Author photo of Arundhati Nath, an Indian woman with shoulder length black hair. She is wearing a bright patterned top.

Arundhati Nath is a full-time, visually impaired freelance journalist and children’s author from Guwahati in Northeast India. She writes about disability and human rights, development, women’s issues, healthcare, culture, the environment, wildlife and conservation. She has been published in The Guardian, BBC News, CSMonitor, Aljazeera English, BBC Wildlife, South China Morning Post, Reader’s Digest and several others. 

Arundhati can be reached at and her work can be viewed online at her website,

Would you like to write a blog post about your COVID-19 experiences as a person with a disability or a disability-led organization? Submit a blog pitch via this form.

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Global Young Leaders with Disabilities Provide Recommendations on Disaster Inclusion Work in Call-to-Action

Screenshot of zoom meeting with performer Jennifer Msumba singing and playing guitar, while an International Sign interpreter, Carol Aquiline, signs alongside her. Caption reads: See it's time to write a new song.

In recognition of the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), the Global Alliance for Disaster Resource Acceleration (GADRA) is proud to release an open captioned recording of Global Disability + Disasters Panel: A Conversation with Young Leaders. Hosted by the World Institute on Disability (WID) and moderated by Priya Penner of The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies (The Partnership), the November 19, 2020 online event featured four young leaders with disabilities addressing critical policy and program perspectives regarding their inclusion work in four different countries. 

The 90-minute online event started with Jennifer Msumba, the award winning filmmaker and musician, delivering her debut performance of RISE UP, an youth anthem she created specifically for GADRA. The song reframed the debate and set the stage for the panelists’ call to action, including these words:

see it’s time to write a new song 

broken and weak? Yeah, you were wrong

we’re taking our place and we’re standing strong

Rise up!

After her performance, Jennifer explained her song is meant to be strong, defiant and have strength which was a perfect transition to the event’s panelists, listed below.  

  • Sabrina Epstein, Student Researcher and Communications Intern, The Johns Hopkins Disability Health Research Center, Senior, Johns Hopkins University, United States.  Learn more about Sabrina’s work at: Find Sabrina on Twitter: @SabrinaTessEp  
  • Minerva Green, Sophomore, Student Government Association, The University of The Bahamas, The Bahamas. Learn more about Minerva’s work at:   
  • Borbála Ivicsics, International Communications Manager, FreeKey, Hungary.  Learn more about Bori’s work with FreeKey at: Bori is on Twitter at: @ivicsicsbori 
  • Faith Njahîra, Independent Consultant and Co-Founder, Muscular Dystrophy Society Kenya. Faith is on Twitter at: @faywangari

As a moderated panel, speakers addressed how their work and lives have been impacted by COVID-19, reviewed their innovative work and how it intersects with the global pandemic and disaster resilience, and then provided the following recommendations as a call-to-action moving forward. 

  • Educate young leaders on how to prepare for disasters, behave during disasters and how to best access assistance and help after the disasters;
  • Identify how to access resources to support disaster preparedness and recovery;
  • Ensure personal assistance services are widely available, with safety protocols for all parties supported through training and funding;
  • Establish guidance to ensure no lapse in healthcare for people with disabilities;
  • Commit to disaster briefings and emergency announcements include sign language interpreters;
  • Design accessible technology resources and other accommodations for youth and young adults with disabilities in educational settings, including from homes;
  • Provide flexibility in funding to empower people with disabilities to resource their own needs (shifting resources from transportation to distance-based technology when and if the change is warranted);
  • Incorporate Disability Justice in our work, recognizing intersectionality and centering Black, Brown, Indigenous and queer disabled people who are the true experts in disability justice work;
  • Include more people with disabilities at decision points so we are no longer excluded;
  • Acknowledge that mentees may be more knowledgeable than mentors (as elders) and allow young people to shine;
  • Understand that young people have different viewpoints and we ask for you to embrace our approaches and techniques; 
  • Accept that when we point out issues, we are not working against you but rather pointing out that there are ways that we can all do things better;
  • Recruit youth and young adults with disabilities involved in your work.

These 13 recommendations and themes create a road map/resource list for us all.  However, the words of wisdom from these four global young leaders is best received directly by them through the recording! On the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Team GADRA offers the Young Leaders Conversation recording and recommends sharing these stories from Sabrina, Minerva, Bori, and Faith in your organizations and communications channels.  

The panel was made possible with the support of GADRA’s Executive Committee Members and Founder’s Circle. Appropriately, the event included supportive remarks from three key supporters:

  • Tali Bray, CIO, Enterprise Services & Portfolio Management, Wells Fargo (WID Board of Directors);
  • Elaine Katz, Senior Vice President for Grants and Communication, Kessler Foundation (GADRA Founder’s Circle Member);
  • Isabel Hodge, Executive Director for the United States International Council on Disabilities (GADRA Founders Circle Member) and Vice President of Disabled Peoples’ International North America Caribbean.

Event from the United Nations: Action Toward a Disability-Inclusive, Accessible and Sustainable Post-COVID-19 World

December 4, 2020 11 AM to 12:45 PM EST

The event will include representatives of Member States, UN offices, organizations of persons with disabilities, civil society, and the private sector. It will emphasize the importance of disability-inclusive responses to COVID-19 and take stock of progress in “building back better,” including addressing the global policy framework on disability-inclusive development newly adopted by the General Assembly Third Committee this past November. 

Link to learn more about the UN’s IDPD event

Links to learn more about GADRA

Learn more about GADRA, including how to join us, by selecting the linked image:

Banner with text: Global Alliance for Disaster Resource Acceleration. Global Alliance logo - 6 arrows wrapping up and around an abstract globe shape, each arrow a different color - red, orange, purple, blue, green, and gray. Background: large matching arrows stretch from the bottom left to the top right of the frame over a pale blue background.

To learn more about the Global Disability and Disaster Town Hall meetings, including video recordings,  transcripts, and polling results from previous sessions, visit the Global Disability and Disaster Town Hall page and COVID-19 page on WID’s website via the linked images below:

Text: Global Disability + Disaster Town Hall Meetings. Collage of ears, speech bubbles, hands signing, and a hand using a communication board.
Banner text: COVID-19. Icon of N-95 mask with tiny WID globe on the filter, and two oversized coronavirus molecules. Background photo of an enlarged illustration of COVID molecules with magenta tint.

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Banner with text: COVID Blog: My Disability-Led Workplace Handled COVID-19 Better Than My School and Hospitals by listening to young disabled people. Icon of speech bubble with WID globe. Background photo of a hand typing on a laptop computer and author photo with a magenta tint. Author photo of Issy Orosz, a young white disabled person with short brown and lavender hair. They are wearing a plaid blazer, black turtleneck sweater, and round glasses.

COVID Blog: My Disability-Led Workplace Handled COVID-19 Better Than My School and Hospitals By Listening to Young Disabled People

by Issy Orosz

As a disabled and queer young person, I wear several “hats” including: a final year high school student, a worker in the disability sector, and someone who has had multiple long-term hospital stays. During the pandemic, my collection of “hats” has filled my life with complexity, confusion, and intensity.  

COVID-19 made my life as a disabled person challenging. Before the pandemic, I relied on consistent supports to maintain my health and wellbeing, however, lockdowns demolished these resources and routines – almost overnight. 

In my last year of highschool, amidst COVID-19 and a failed governmental response, all my classes chaotically shifted online with limited flexibility and capacity for personal differences. This uprooted the foundation that I needed whenever my mental and physical health began to collapse. Instead of focusing on academic success, I was forced to accommodate an already inaccessible education system by lowering expectations of myself. 

These changes severely impacted my mental and physical health. Out of necessity, I sought psychiatric help. Again,even in crisis, after I found a doctor and was admitted to the hospital, I was required to accept and accommodate an antiquated medical system, where I was frequently misgendered, invalidated, and triggered. While I am grateful to have access to a place that guaranteed 24/7 food, safety, and support, I did not completely receive the help that I needed, and I was required to be admitted again, three months after my initial month-long hospital stay.  

Now, as I write this, in the third week of my second hospital stay, I am proud that I know that I am not well enough to leave yet. Yes, it is even more isolating being in a hospital during COVID-19, but I am not better. I am not well. Nevertheless, I am working on it, in arguably the hardest time to work on it, which, for me, is enough.

Despite the adversity faced in the education and medical systems, I have been immensely privileged to be employed as a lived-experience workshop facilitator in a youth disability advocacy service. In fact, I have even had the opportunity to take on extra hours to focus on a pandemic response project. 

Unlike in other areas of my life, the people that I work with are also disabled young people. This has meant that in response to the pandemic, equipped with the understanding and voices of disabled young people, my workplace has been extremely supportive, granting me the opportunity to successfully transition to remote working. Furthermore, when my capacity to work was altered, the organization accommodated and validated my needs.  

The failure of other institutions to meet my needs is apparent and frustrating, especially when juxtaposed to my employer.  

I am abundantly aware of the rarity of a situation as positive as mine in the context of work. Most work environments are just as inaccessible as other institutions. Yet, why should they be? By providing me with the resources and assistance that I needed, I was able to protect my health, contribute meaningfully to my work and the world around me, and succeed. If we provide disabled people the accommodations that suit our individual needs in all aspects of life, we can level the playing field and give us the opportunity to display and reach our potential.    

This period has been the hardest of my life. I have been the most unwell and unstable as ever while being ignored and put at risk by all except my employer.

I genuinely cannot tell you what next week will look like – let alone the end of 2020 and beyond. The nature of being disabled, especially during a time as extreme and unforgiving as this pandemic, is that we are underrepresented and asked to accept broken systems. I have seen that to its fullest extent. However, I will do as much as I can to make it through next week, the rest of 2020, and whatever exists past then. The disability community is strong, and with their support and strength, we can make our voices heard and create a more flexible, accommodating, and kind world, post COVID-19.

About the author

Photo of Issy Orosz, a young white disabled person with short brown and lavender hair. They are wearing a plaid blazer, black turtleneck sweater, and round glasses.

Issy (they/them) is a 17 year old queer and disabled person. They live in Naarm (or so called Melbourne, Australia). They work in the disability and youth space and frequently present and write about disability, education, queerness, social justice, and intersectionality, all from their lived experience. You can find them on social media @issyhay. Their website is

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Banner with text: COVID Blog: Chines Women with Disabilities in COVID-19. Icon of speech bubble with WID globe. Background photo of a hand typing on a laptop computer and author photo with a magenta tint. Author photo of LuanJiao Aggie Hu, a Chinese woman with a disability. She is smiling, and wearing a beautiful cheongsam with pink trim.

COVID Blog: Chinese Women with Disabilities in COVID-19

by Luanjiao Aggie Hu

Disabled women account for one fifth of global population and over half among all people with disabilities worldwide. Global literature has often documented disabled women’s multiple disadvantages based on gender, disability, and oftentimes poverty status. Disabled women are considered a multiply marginalized population, in that their marginalization occurs based on gender, disability, and the specific experiences of women with disabilities. They often have less educational attainments, lower employment rates, less access to healthcare services, etc. Limited research on Chinese disabled women has further revealed the multitude of challenges they face. 

In China, Covid-19 surfaced in media in January, peaked in February, and seemingly came to an end in March. For months, Chinese people were under strict lock-down policies. News reported the surge of domestic violence against women during this time. How did Chinese disabled women fare in the pandemic? A Beijing-based organization – Beijing Enabled Sister Center realized the urgency and coordinated the distribution of sanitary pads and diapers for women with disabilities in need among other assistances. The organization also encouraged disabled women to share their experiences and stories during lockdown. As a Chinese disabled woman studying abroad, I contributed a piece detailing my own experience and perspective during Covid-19. As a researcher with disability, I took interest in the stories and studied the narratives from around 30 disabled women who were of diverse geographic locations, socioeconomic statuses and disability categories. In addition, I examined news on gender and disability in Covid-19 and talked to disabled women leaders to learn about the changes in their lives. Summarizing different ways in which disabled women were impacted, I realized that the women’s voices revealed more than what the literature documented.

To start, the narratives showed difficulties disabled women experienced in the crisis. At the threat of the pandemic, disabled women expressed their higher risk of infection and mortality. While navigating in a quarantined version of daily environments, vision or mobility impaired women found themselves at higher risk of getting infected due to assistive devices touching contaminated surfaces or use-of-touch in daily lives. Concerned about their underlying conditions and immunocompromised physiological statuses, disabled women voiced that they would not survive if infected. Some women had to cancel or delay their doctor’s appointments and/or personal assistant’s home visits in fear of increased exposure and possible infection. 

Second, disabled women faced challenges accessing information, supplies, food, transportation, and healthcare services during quarantine. When the pandemic hit, rarely any news channels in China provided sign language interpretation or closed captioning. In Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak, the deaf and hard-of-hearing community lagged behind in obtaining COVID-related information; therefore, they experienced the lag in the purchase of necessary supplies to prepare for the quarantine. 

Video screenshot of a deaf Chinese woman signing over news b-roll.
Image of a video screenshot showing a sign language interpreter and teacher in China. She is deaf and also a social media influencer. She was the first person in China to make Covid-19 information videos in sign language to reach deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. Her videos were shared by government official accounts and reached millions of people.

Due to lockdown policies and shortages of goods, some disabled women mentioned about running low on diapers and feminine hygienic items and feared for bedsores and other complications. Women with mobility impairments who lived alone found themselves in a dilemma when they tried to shop online in bulk. The items they purchased online could not be delivered to their homes due to strict quarantine measures: gatekeepers of apartment complexes and neighborhoods prohibited any entry of external visitors including delivery personnel. In one narrative by a disabled woman who resided in a rural village, she expressed worry about food shortages. 

A deaf woman bundled up in a heavy coat, knit hat, disposable gloves, and a face mask pulling boxes of supplies using a small 2-wheeled dolly. She is giving a thumbs up to the camera.
Image of a deaf woman transporting supplies for distribution to local deaf communities in Wuhan, Hubei Province, the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak

Women also shared their negative experiences with accessing healthcare services during Covid-19. A woman in Taiwan found herself in an inaccessible hospital when she needed testing. She ended up staying in her wheelchair for the night with no accessible restroom to use.

A Taiwanese woman reclining in her electric wheelchair inside a makeshift hospital room inside of a tent. Her jacket is draped over her legs like a blanket.
Image of a wheelchair user woman in Taiwan; she documented her experience quarantining in an inaccessible hospital to raise awareness about disability-inclusive treatment in Covid-19

Another major impact disabled women mentioned was economic, with income and job losses. Women experienced financial pressure as neither they nor their families could work for months. Some women in personnel roles were faced with either salary cuts or threats of losing their jobs. There were also women who were fired without any compensatory packages during Covid-19. Faced with cancellation of programs and funding, some disabled women organizational leaders had to reduce their own salaries to sustain their organizations. 

Despite the difficulties, I have especially observed great agencies and multiple roles disabled women exhibited in their natural settings (see images). In the narratives, women were caretakers, business owners, frontline essential workers, community organizers, volunteers, among many other roles. Disabled women took care of their elderly family members and young children during the quarantine. Many women stayed home and continued to work remotely. For example, disabled women customer service workers volunteered to support the huge demand at the surge of online shopping during Covid-19. Many disabled women joined a volunteer-based disability support network to assist with individual case support, creation of accessible information, and coordination of donations for local communities. Some disabled women shared how they had been ‘stay-at-home experts’ prior to Covid-19 due to inaccessible work environments, and they were able to provide counseling support to other people who were now forced to shelter at home and struggle with mental health during quarantine.

A disabled woman of East Asian descent sitting next to a child coloring and writing with crayons.
Image of a disabled woman who owns a home-based tutoring business. She was forced to drop out of school due to lack of reasonable accommodations during her formal schooling years but had taught herself through non-formal continuing education. She was the caretaker for her two children at home while working as an online tutor to support her students during quarantine.

In my contact with disability activists and advocates in China, I realized that many of them were so swamped with working in the local communities that they often lacked the time, energy, or sometimes the tools to engage in documentation and research. In addition, with increasing visibility on gender and disability respectively, there has not been much research shared on the intersection of gender and disability. It is with this understanding that I took interest in conducting the research on Chinese disabled women throughout this pandemic. 

It is my hope that we see and acknowledge the personal agency disabled women have exerted, and the crucial roles they played in their homes and communities during Covid-19. The pandemic highlighted and exacerbated many existing challenges disabled women face in their lives. It is crucial that we work to remove the systemic barriers that multiply across intersections of marginalization, putting women with disabilities in doubly or triply disadvantaged situations. Additionally, it is imperative that disability-inclusive responses be put in place at times of emergencies and crises. Only through commitments and actions of inclusion and equity, can we ensure dignity and prosperity for all. 

Links to articles and images mentioned, in order of appearance:

Le Yirong-Disabled Sisters Story Group. “Women with Disabilities in the Epidemic: Epidemic Calendar of Overseas Education Doctors”, by Hu Luanjiao. May 13, 2020.

Le Yirong-Disabled Sisters Story Group.“Disabled women under the epidemic: I am from Wuhan, I am a deaf woman”, by Doudou Jun. February 25, 2020.

Le Yirong-Disabled Sisters Story Group. “Disabled women under the epidemic: Sign language broadcasts epidemic prevention news is so hard-core”, by DUDU. March 22, 2020.

Central News Agency. “The handicapped will be tested and isolated and sleep in a wheelchair, forced to dig in a hospital bed and become a nightmare”, by Chen Weiting. May 17, 2020.

Le Yirong-Disabled Sisters Story Group. “Disabled women under the epidemic: a different winter vacation”, by Shi Xuejiao. May 16, 2020.

About the author

Author photo of LuanJiao Aggie Hu, a Chinese woman with a disability. She is smiling, and wearing a beautiful cheongsam with pink trim.

LuanJiao Aggie Hu is a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, with a focus on disability studies, gender studies, and education for people with disabilities. She identifies as a person with disability, a feminist, and an activist scholar. 

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Banner with text: COVID Blog: This Precious Thing - Kindness, Rights, and New Zealand's COVID Response. Icon of speech bubble with WID globe. Background photo of a hand typing on a laptop computer and author photo with a magenta tint. Author photo of a smiling Henrietta Bollinger, a white disabled person with short dark hair. Photo by Rona Aitken.

COVID Blog: This Precious Thing – Kindness, Rights, and New Zealand’s COVID Response

by Henrietta Bollinger

Mere days before New Zealand’s lockdown was announced, a journalist interviewed my flatmates and I about our concerns in the face of a pandemic.  She had done a lot of reporting on disabled community issues, so we trusted her. We glanced sidelong at each other, laughing into the phone on our kitchen table when she asked what we enjoyed doing.  I want readers to see you as people, you know?

Erin, Stace and I are all disabled community advocates.  Even our ginger cat Wilson is developing an international Twitter following of disabled and/or queer people we intersect with – invested in his mood, health, and hot takes. Our dinner table conversations can move almost imperceptibly from asking, Hey, how was your day?, to analyzing the relevant articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

The day we were interviewed, the fear had just become palpable to me – particularly among my disabled friends. We worried about everything from access to food to how the health system would cope.  I worried about getting the support I need twice a day. We had started stocking up on PPE – a good move given that none was supplied to us until a week before lockdown ended. 

Our flat has been together for about a year now. We have a home that actually meets our needs – something we don’t take for granted. There is nothing like the Americans with Disabilities Act to regulate housing accessibility here. The housing crisis is acute – we rage while watching news items about disabled kids living in garages.  My flatmates tell me they’re never moving out.

Stace Robertson, Etta Bollinger, and Erin Gough, at their Wellington flat with Wilson the cat.

Living here involves a lot of laughter– in recognition of each other, of living daily with the absurdity of ableism and hetero/cis-normativity. We’re a support network for each other. Like many households, we wouldn’t escape the lockdown without putting some pressure on this precious thing, but for me, it was still the best place to be for weathering this unknown. 

The wider word felt heavier than the small one under my roof.  Solidarity can also feel like heartbreak. I cried over Facebook posts about the Welsh surgery that wrote to disabled patients asking them not to call Emergency Services, implying this would be more considerate of others. I felt sick reading about a wave of Covid cases in a New York home for disabled people. I stayed up late writing a letter to the British Minister for Disabilities but lost the nerve to send it. I turned my attention to my own situation. 

Our Government came to power positioning itself as a compassionate administration. I am grateful for this. I am relieved about the prioritization of people over economy that has characterized the response. Many people are emphasizing that during this time, choosing kindness is essential. Kindness in the context of the pandemic is most simply understood as helping people more vulnerable than yourself.  

All the same – the rhetoric of kindness is hardly instantly reassuring to disabled people. Kindness towards us is so often linked to charity and paternalism. It positions us as dependent upon the whims of the non-disabled world to both determine, and grant us our basic needs. I told our interviewer that New Zealand’s response couldn’t simply be about kindness, it had to be about rights. 

 The lawsuit, Borrowdale v Director-General of Health, questions the legality of our lockdown, claiming that although the order was necessary, it violates the rights of freedom of movement and assembly, which are guaranteed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights. The case has since made it to the High Court, but it feels to me largely like a disruptive, academic exercise. These are far from  the rights that my friends and I are worried about right now.

A friend had called me with a shrug of resignation in her voice. She said, “If our medical system goes the way Italy’s has, I just won’t be prioritized.” I didn’t try to comfort her. Perhaps she was being a realist. Kindness is not always enough to keep us alive.

Having to often depend on the kindness of others generally places disabled people outside the non-disabled world’s frame of reference for who and what is essential. Disabled people are essential workers, parents, or otherwise part of the unseen economy that will get us through.  The concept of ‘the bubble’ – the central analogy our Government uses to describe how people should limit or expand their social contact – was first proposed by a disabled academic, Dr Tristram Ingham.

Understanding the potential power of disabled people has not made me feel safe, though. Going into lockdown I had simultaneous feelings of vulnerability and responsibility. Navigating my responsibility to my support workers as an employer was not new. In the shifting legal landscape of the pandemic response, the limitations of the system left me alone at critical moments. I didn’t know if I would have a full support team over lockdown, or adequate protections for them if they did work. 

My flatmates helped me move through this uncertainty. From my team of three, two support workers continued coming into our home. They became my contact points for everything: making food, picking up extra shopping, visiting my room when a cold cut me off from the rest of the house, providing most of my physical touch, albeit through latex. 

How was your lockdown? is too quickly becoming a ubiquitous nicety, one that suggests that this crisis has passed. Outside Auckland – where case numbers are higher – we are experiencing reprieve, easily forgetting how fragile things are, while many  disabled people continue to fear the deadly repercussions of relaxing safety measures. I struggle keep my reply personal. The people around me understood my rights, and they were kind. I respond, Well, I was lucky

Links to articles and sites referenced, in order of appearance:

NZ Herald; ‘All I want to do right now is hide’: What it’s like living in deadly fear of coronavirus, by Kirsty Johnston. March 21, 2020.

The Guardian; Welsh surgery apologises over ‘do not resuscitate’ instruction, by Mattha Busby. March 31, 2020.

The New York Times; ‘It’s Hit Our Front Door’: Homes for the Disabled See a Surge of COVID-19, by Danny Hakim. April 17, 2020.

The Spinoff; Unlawful, but necessary and reasonable: making sense of the High Court ruling on the lockdown, by Andrew Geddis. August 20, 2020.

Stuff; Dr Tristram Ingham, the brains behind the COVID-19 ‘bubble’, by Josephine Franks. July 18, 2020.

About the author

Author photo of a smiling Henrietta Bollinger, a white disabled person with short dark hair. Photo by Rona Aitken.

Henrietta (Etta) Bollinger is a writer and disability rights advocate. Etta has had poems appear in Starling, Mimicry and Scum magazines and plays staged  in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. Etta lives with two other advocates and their sympathetic cat. Etta is currently writing a first book about life as a disabled person.

Would you like to write a blog post about your COVID-19 experiences as a person with a disability or a disability-led organization? Submit a blog pitch via this form.

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Banner with text: COVID Blog: US Disability Benefits Applicants in 'Abyssful' Purgatory. Icon of speech bubble with WID globe. Background photo of a hand typing on a laptop computer and author photo with a magenta tint. Author photo of Danielle McCann, smiling and turning back with her back to the camera.

Getting COVID-tested while Blind: Self-Advocacy (& A lot of phone calls)

By Danielle McCann

When I found out that I’d been exposed to COVID-19, I was worried, but once I started trying to get tested, I was floored by the responses I got back. Either I was endlessly on hold, only to have my call disconnected, or I was continuously directed to inaccessible websites to check appointment availability. I finally found that a national chain had drive-up locations in my area, so I thought I’d call to let them know that I’m blind and would be walking through for my appointment. This is where it all changed.

The first person I spoke to simply told me to go elsewhere because they didn’t serve blind people. I immediately went to social media and tagged the chain in posts expressing my shock at being dismissed like that. 

While my posts garnered a call from the regional manager, it proved fruitless. Every time he said that walking through a drive through was a safety concern, I countered with “sir, with all due respect, it’s up to me to decide what my health and safety priorities and concerns are.” He suggested a rideshare; I asked if it was fair to potentially expose a driver, and what about the cost of that trip? I could have covered the ride but not everyone can afford that expense. He mentioned that it was against their safety policy for the company to allow me to walk through a line of vehicles. I asked about changing the policy. He said that there would be a walk-up location available within the next few months, but I refused to wait that long – in a couple months of waiting, I could expose so many people, or face health complications from the virus going undiagnosed and unaddressed. He finally called me back three days later and said that he could “probably” make an exception for me; I declined because that wouldn’t fix the root issue, the systemic allowances that enabled the company to not accommodate my disability, and to think it was okay to do that. During our third conversation, he said that he understood my frustration. I simply said “No, you don’t. Because at the end of the day, you can drive up and get tested with ease while I, and everyone else who doesn’t have access to a vehicle, cannot.” He promised a future call back that has yet to happen.

While I am comfortable advocating for myself in all types of situations, this was something new. I’d dealt with barriers in school, with my guide dog, at work, and in other instances. However, up till now, I’d been fortunate in only having to gently explain my needs in a health care setting to have a positive outcome. The brushoffs coupled with the constantly changing rules of COVID-related interactions were uncharted territory; my successful navigation of which could literally could mean life or death for me and countless others.  

Self advocacy tips

I used these strategies to get what I needed.

1.     Stay calm. 

As emotional as you might feel, approach the situation calmly and with patience. It is so important to advocate with a level head so you can provide helpful information and lay out your concerns clearly. I was angry and frustrated, but yelling wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere, so I stayed calm and explained my situation as many times as were necessary.

2. It is ALWAYS the right time to advocate. 

I’ll say it again: It is ALWAYS the right time to advocate. Throughout my search for a testing site, I was brushed off more than once. It seemed like at every turn, the people I talked to were dismissive of my urgency to get tested because I needed accommodations. I made sure to explain why the process that works for most doesn’t work for us all. I hit dead ends a majority of the time, but I didn’t let them turn me away without trying to make them understand why accessibility matters.

3. Make a Plan B in case your first plan falls through or is indefinitely delayed.

While I was going back-and-forth with the chain pharmacy, I continued my research into other facilities. Thankfully, I was able to make an appointment which was several days out with a hospital so I knew that if I didn’t get anywhere with Plan A, I would have a backup solution. While booking this appointment, I noted that I would need a walk-up accommodation because I’m blind and asked that they call me if I needed to follow a different protocol than what was listed online.

4. Then make a Plan C, Plan D, Plan E… 

In addition to the appointment at the hospital (which is not within walking distance) I got a couple of offers from friends/family who felt comfortable enough to drive me through the line. I told them I’d let them know if I needed them but kept on searching for another way. Also, in the back of my mind, was the rideshare option.

5.     Speak honestly about your needs. 

If you need electronic versions of registration forms, a sighted guide, interpreter, or other accommodations, let them know and keep reminding them. In addition to making them aware of my needs while registering, I reminded them when they called to confirm my appointment. As we all know, in hectic times, miscommunications can happen.

In the end, I got my test using the best combination of resources that worked for me. Thankfully, it was negative, and though it wasn’t a smooth experience, it was a good reminder for me to keep educating others and using my voice to speak up for equal access. Life is not one-size-fits-all, and until there is space for everyone, we, as a proud disabled community, need to keep pushing for it no matter how long it takes. 

About the author:

Author photo of Danielle McCann, a blind Latinx adult, smiling as she turns back towards the camera, a yellow sweater hanging off of her finger.

Danielle McCann is a proud blind Latinx living in the suburbs of Milwaukee with her husband and their three dogs. When she’s not working as a customer service manager, she is crocheting, teaching crochet, creating content for her social media platforms that is crochet-related, or buying yarn for more crocheting. Follow her on Instagram at @DMadeCrochet or on her YouTube channel, DMade Crochet

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