Saturday, July 28, 2012

Disability Discrimination: A Story in Three Parts: Part 3

Part 3: The End? OR A Beginning?

Yesterday, I was chatting with another individual who has a disability and recommended that she put her previously denied request for a basic reasonable accommodation into writing so as to begin a "paper trail" that would hopefully end in a positive resolution.

"Why bother?" she lamented. "They don't care."

I guess I'm an optimist. I find that most folks who discriminate are not uncaring. They're just ignorant... "clueless" is my colloquial terminology... no one has helped them understand how the ADA works or why equality is important.

I suggested to my friend that she try to connect with the "boss" in her situation, to move up the chain of responsibility to find someone who recognized that not only is non-discrimination a moral and legal issue of civil rights, it's also a very significant business issue . When an organization denies access for a person merely because that person has a disability, it's a business loss.

The company won't get MY money, and I'll tell others about my experience and they won't get the money of all the people in my circles either. My articulation of my experiences on my blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, among my colleagues, in my organization, etc. are the very, very powerful "word of mouth" marketing that most companies want to maximize and to focus on the positives of their company's work.

Plus, with nearly 20% of the US population having a disability, and with the normal ability-changes of our "baby-boomer" generation, what company would WANT to consciously exclude the millions of customers from their potential customer base??

For me, and for TechSoup, it took nearly 10 months of sometimes tedious, often detailed, always professionally polite interaction via email before I finally got a glimmer of hope. In fact, the morning I received the email from TechSoup saying they were "checking out" providing captioning for an upcoming webinar for which I'd (again) registered was the SAME day I'd begun to draft a plan for moving formally toward filing a complaint.

I decided to wait. I'd given TechSoup ten months to figure this out. (Okay, okay, we all know that the ADA was actually passed in 1990... so... that's actually 22 YEARS and 10 months... and, I agree with you- ignorance of the law is no excuse....)

But, I had just invested heavily in trying to help TechSoup change its way of thinking and acting. I'd (probably naively; I have been told such!) kept hoping that they'd change their policies or procedures so that other deaf folks, and other folks with disabilities, would not have to struggle with the same discrimination I did. So, now, I had a HINT of a POSSIBLE CHANGE, so I elected to see it through.

And, I'm glad I did. Apparently, the prior ten months of teaching, helping, updating, suggesting, explaining, persuading, cajoling, hoping, and, yes, praying for justice had somehow created change. TechSoup had moved from "We don't have to, we won't, and we can't afford" to "We're in dialogue with our webinar provider" and "We're going to do a trial run to see how this can work."

Although they weren't ready to roll on live captioning for the webinar I needed on May 22, their Webinar Coordinator initiated a rapid production of a transcript AND forwarded it to me within days (instead of the usual weeks) so that I had the information relatively soon after my peers did.

And, in that same email, she suggested I take a look at their registration page for online registration for upcoming webinars because now, for the very first time, TechSoup had a way for individuals with disabilities to indicate a need for an ADA accommodation right on line, right as they register.

There it was in black and white: with 72 hours notice, TechSoup would set up a reasonable accommodation so that a person with a disability could participate as an equal!!

I registered online, received an email confirmation for my ADA request within hours, and received the login information via email for the live captioning for the webinar about 24 hours prior.

Yep- a success story!

On June 14, 2012, I logged into a TechSoup webinar with my colleagues and participated as an equal.

Not only did I learn several key new skills at the webinar, but I noticed that TechSoup was able to very quickly post the full transcript (received automatically from the live captioning service) so that all TechSoup members could benefit.

Yes, 10 months... well, 22 years and 10 months... is a very long time to work, and to wait, for equality. And, I will admit, my "teach before tort" philosophy was stretched about as far as it could go on this one. But, I was happy to follow up with the attorneys and say "Let's close the TechSoup case for this one. They decided to do the right thing."

My hope remains the same: that TechSoup can be a role model for other organizations and can incorporate equality and accessibility in ALL its services, not just its webinars.

Will they?

We will see.

And, of course, I invite you, too, to check out TechSoup and benefit from its high quality services. Let me know (email above, or post a comment below) how that goes. I'll do the same as I consider if other TechSoup services will be beneficial for my work in the nonprofit sector.

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