For the Love of Accessibility & Inclusion

Do what you love. Love what you do.

It’s February!  Valentine’s Day is here and love is in the air!  You know what I love?  I love. Love. LOVE! talking about accessibility, universal design and inclusion!  I’m an accessibility-geek.  But like the saying goes….Do what you love!  Love what you do!  I love that I have been able to talk to so many of you already in 2016!  When we launched  Accessibility Management News, we said we wanted to hear from you.  Oh!  Did we hear from you!  LOTS of you!  Many of you are working on amazing projects that we look forward to sharing with others in the coming months.  Some of you had questions about best practices in accessibility management and how they could be applied in your organization.  Some of you sweet tarts have even “retired” or “semi-retired” but are still volunteering your time and talent to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.  And some of you are frustrated.

Being an accessibility coordinator takes commitment to the shared value of inclusion for people with disabilities.  But it is really hard to love what you do on days when you are frustrated, on days when you feel the people you are working with do not have the same shared value of inclusion.  Whether you are the landscape architect, planner, or community engagement coordinator, it is really difficult to push for accessibility improvements or even universal design when senior leadership doesn’t support it.  You’re in a meeting.  You recommend transition planning priorities or a policy modification.  They get pushed to a back burner or completely brushed off the table.  Some 25 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and almost 50 years since the Architectural Barriers Act and Rehabilitation Act, the biggest barrier is still ATTITUDE.

The arguments against accessibility are predictable.  The ADA and ABA are unfunded mandates.  We have leaking roofs and buildings in need of safety repairs that affect far more people.  There is no money for accessibility.  It seems like a lot of money to pay for such a small percent of the population.  We can’t change that policy, it isn’t fair to normal people.  There are a dozen different laws we are in non-compliance with already, this is simply a calculated risk we take.  We don’t have people with disabilities who use our programs or facilities anyway.  [Fill in your favorite excuses here.]

Truth be told, no one goes to school to be an accessibility coordinator.   When a five-year-old is asked “what do you want to be when you go up?”  Accessibility coordinator doesn’t exactly top the list.  Another truth….nowhere in the job description does it read “acrobat of office politics,” “persuader of inclusion,” or “converter for accessibility non-believers.”  Dale Carnegie doesn’t have a book “How to Win Friends and Influence People to Thinking Accessibility is a Good Thing.”  Stephen Covey doesn’t have a book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Accessibility Coordinators.”  [Although we think both titles would make for good reading.]  The last truth [just like my mom always professes], no one said this job was going to be easy.

But, deep in our hearts we know it is the right thing to do.

We have seen firsthand how accessibility, or the lack thereof, has a direct impact on the experiences of individuals, families and groups participating in our programs, services and facilities.

We have a passion for inclusion of people with disabilities because we see the benefits it brings to building healthy communities.

The challenge…..creating opportunities for our organization, co-workers and senior leadership alike, to see the benefits of inclusion and nurturing the shared value to create change.

Reality is there will be days when every accessibility coordinator is going to want to bang their head against the wall.  Believe me, I have had my share.  We need to draw on other professionals in the field as supporters, advisers and, most importantly, mentors.  Some of our friend call them “accessibility cheerleaders.”  They are the people doing the work too, who encourage you, confirm you are on the right track, wipe your brow and send you right back onto the field.  We all need a good coach and few cheerleaders.

So here’s your homework for February.  In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, spread the love and be the love.  First, find someone in your organization that you believe shares the value of inclusion.  Meet for coffee and talk about how you can work together to create change in your organization.  Next, find a fellow accessibility coordinator somewhere else in the United States.  Don’t know any?  Have no fear.  Send me an e-mail and I will hook you up.  Having someone outside of your organization and region will give you the opportunity to widen your network and learn from others in our field.  Find a cheerleader.  Be a cheerleader.  [*Note – as much as I LOVE the folks at DOJ and the Access Board, you are not allowed to use them for this part of the homework.  They get hundreds of calls each week and can’t be all things to all people.  Give them a break.]  This month’s homework requires you to leave your comfort zone and meet someone new.  Who knows what you might learn from one another!