Advice for People with Disabilities Running for Office [Guest Post]

Woman in a wheelchair uses a laptop computer at a desk.

This post comes from Ed Carter. Ed has been living on wheels for most of his life. A retired financial planner, he offers financial guidance for people with disabilities and their families. However, for this post he wanted to share some advice for disabled folks who are planning to run for public office or other leadership roles. Much of this advice is also good for anyone starting a new venture, such as running a business. Check out his website at:

www.ablefutures.org

Here is what he says

Advice for How to Run for Office
for People with Disabilities

When people decide to run for political office, many don’t realize just how much work is involved in the process. Every step of the way involves careful planning, and if you’re not ready to embrace the challenge, you’ll find yourself struggling to keep your head above water.

Several years ago, a friend of mine with a hearing impairment decided to run for her homeowners association board. While this wasn’t a high-profile political office by any stretch of the imagination, it did require her to get involved with the local community and develop her portfolio that explained why she was such a good fit. And due to her hearing impairment, she needed to work that much harder. I helped her out whenever I could, including talking to neighbors and developing her pitch to the board. Although she ultimately decided not to pursue a spot on her HOA board, the experience helped boost her overall self-confidence.

As you can imagine, running a successful election campaign — even if it’s for a spot on the town council or neighborhood association — is a big undertaking, and regardless of your background, you’ll need a strong team of individuals to help you get elected. For people with disabilities, your team can help navigate any access challenges that may arise.

The Essentials

When you’ve decided you want to run for office, there are some key steps you’ll need to take before you announce to the world that you’re a candidate.

Get organized and build your website and social media profiles before you tell the world about your campaign. You’ll want a slick website that clearly states your campaign platform, sponsorship options, and personal history. Although my friend didn’t create a webpage for her homeowners association campaign, she did keep her social media profiles — including taking great photos and posting them on Instagram — to spread the word.

If you don’t have experience building a website or have a disability that may prevent you from doing it yourself, consider hiring a professional website designer who can do it for you. One of the best places to find freelance web designers is through various online job boards, where you can find dozens of designers available for hire.

Assemble your list of potential supporters by reaching out to friends, families, and coworkers, and sort through your stacks of business cards to collect names and email addresses. Announcing your candidacy will be a big day for your campaign, and you want to ensure you have a solid list of potential financial sponsors from the get-go.

Your Dream Team

It’s impossible to win an election without a strong team of people around you, so consider who you may need to help you with the campaign. This, of course, will look different depending on the office you’re running for. The more high-profile office you pursue, the more people you’ll need in your corner to help you build a pathway to success. My friend obviously didn’t need a team of professionals to help her, but she did enlist the help of friends and family along the way, especially when she needed to verbally communicate her ideas to others.

Every major political campaign requires a financial director who can help set fundraising goals and manage the day-to-day costs of the campaign. This person should also be setting up fundraising events and managing multiple platforms for sponsorship, whether it’s through crowdfunding websites or social media fundraising campaigns.

The campaign manager will be the brains of your operation, taking both a big-picture approach to handling the campaign agenda while also handling daily challenges and needs. This person should also work to help you navigate the campaign as a person with a disability, such as ensuring that event venues and campaign documents are accessible for you.

Consider also hiring a media and communications manager who can take care of all press events, media requests, and daily content creation for your campaign. This person should be able to help develop campaign literature and ideally help you write speeches for events. The communications manager will also serve as a spokesperson for the campaign, so ensure they are appropriate for drafting and delivering statements on your behalf.

Know Your Electorate

One key element of a successful campaign is being knowledgeable about your electorate. Before and during your campaign, connect with your community in every possible way, whether it’s through street cleanups or open houses where you can learn about issues that face voters.

As a person with disabilities representing a minority group of voters, you’ll have the unique ability to promote voter registration for others who have disabilities. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, voter registration has been historically difficult for disabled people. Your role as a candidate with a disability can highlight and help dismantle those barriers to voter registration, at the same time gaining supporters within the disabled community.

Research voter history in your area, and be sure to know exactly how many votes you’ll need to win your campaign. This information will help form your campaign plan, hone in on strategies that will help you connect with potential voters, and set goals for pledges of support.

Whether you’re running for a homeowners association board or striving for something bigger, the same rules apply: You need to prepare a campaign, gather a team, and start putting your message out there. Although you may have a disability that limits you in one way or another, you still have just as much chance of reaching your goals as anyone else!

As you begin the process of launching your campaign, be sure you have a strong team of supporters and workers around you to help. Build your online presence with the help of freelance web designers, and be sure you get out into the community and meet voters. Your campaign is bound to help raise the visibility of people with disabilities in your community, which will help you highlight issues and gain support — regardless of the office you’re seeking!

A Podcast on Disability Rights, Leadership, and the ADA [Repost]

“And I never learned about the ADA, and I never learned about the disability rights movement. I only learned and got involved—until my senior year in college, when I had a blind professor, and he really kind of helped me, and kind of introduced me to the disability rights world. But, that’s ridiculous. Like, I—you know, it’s ridiculous that you have to be college-educated to learn about this information and it’s, you know—as a disability rights movement, as people that are a part of, kind of, creating change, I feel like that’s a big failure that we have done.”

Check out this bonus episode of the Disability Visibility Podcast and an interview with my friend and colleague, Conchita Hernandez Legorreta! Maria (Conchita) Hernandez Legorreta was born in Mexico and grew up in California. She advocates for the rights of blind children and their parents in the public-school setting in the United States and abroad through a lens of intersectionality focusing on social justice. Conchita received her Bachelor’s degree from Saint Mary’s College of California, majoring in International Studies, Spanish, and History. She then went on to Louisiana Tech University where she received her Master’s in Teaching with a focus on teaching blind students. As well, Conchita earned a master’s certificate in working with Deaf-Blind students from Northern Illinois University. She is currently a Doctoral student at George Washington University pursuing a degree in Special Education. On this podcast, Conchita talks about disability rights, leadership, and intersectionality.

Click here for the podcast and transcript

The 2020 National Federation of the Blind Convention: Tune In Today!

The 80th convention of the National Federation of the Blind is now underway! This year, for the first time, I am participating in the entire convention from my living room, along with more than 7,000 other attendees from around the world.

Today, July 17, we will have a special treat. At approximately 2:30 p.m. Eastern, NFB President Mark Riccobono will be speaking live with U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi!

Tune in to this and other live sessions today and tomorrow to learn about new developments in blindness-related technology, education and employment initiatives, and other happenings of the organized blind in the United States!

For full details on the many ways to stream the convention live, just go to:

The NFB convention webpage

From Forced Compliance to Mutual Respect: Examining Policing and Special Education

CW: police brutality, abuse, forced compliance.

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“I was a cop for 30 years, about half of that working Custody. Excluding those under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it was my experience that if you treat people like people the majority will act reasonably, and if they don’t you can change your approach. However if you treat people like animals they will more often than not act like animals.” Anonymized Facebook comment.

“We can no longer be spectators. We MUST be a voice for children. We can do better. Compliance should never be the goal. We need to bring the humanity back into our classrooms.” Greg Santucci, Occupational Therapist

George Floyd lost his life over a $20 bill. Rayshard Brooks lost his life because he fell asleep in the car at a Wendy’s drive-through. Elijah McClain lost his life because someone thought he looked “sketchy” as he was walking home.

Three Black men who all died at the hands of police because they didn’t immediately comply with arrest.

I read these stories, and then I read about what happens to disabled children in American schools, and I see many disturbing parallels.

Each year, thousands of children are legally subjected to physical restraints, or secluded in locked spaces separate from their peers. Many of these kids are disabled. Restraints and seclusion can inflict severe emotional and physical trauma, and can lead to injury or death.

Some people justify police brutality by saying the cops had no choice, the victims were resisting arrest. And people justify restraint and seclusion in the same way. The educators had no choice, they say, because the child had become an immediate threat to themselves or others.

But it is important to note that we only see the ending of the story. We miss the series of escalations and counter-escalations that lead to a police officer wrestling a man to the ground, or the events leading up to a teacher restraining a student. But sometimes we get glimpses of the beginning or the middle of the story. And the theme that often stands out to me is how a person in authority chooses to react to a relatively harmless initial act of noncompliance.

This week, I read about two harrowing incidents involving disabled children. In the first instance, a little girl did not want to join her class in the daily “morning meeting.” When she refused to “do the weather” as expected for this classroom activity, an educator tried to physically force her, then taunted her by repeating “Do the weather. Do the weather. Do the weather” (as if at a séance) until she finally, tearfully complied. In the second instance, a little boy did not want to transition from outdoor playground time to indoor occupational therapy. So, the educator threatened to cover his eyes with a hat unless he agreed to come in from the playground, repeatedly asking, “Do you want the hat? Do you want the hat?” until he broke down and went inside. In both incidents, the educators justified their bullying behavior by appealing to principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). They insisted that they could not “reward” noncompliance. In fact, in the place where the hat incident occurred, many of the staff carried hats with them and habitually used the “hat trick” to frighten children into complying with demands.

In both cases, there was an obvious peaceful solution. The little girl could have gone outside on a walk to learn about the weather. The little boy could have had his occupational therapy session out on the playground. Both solutions would have respected the needs communicated by the children, and met the pedagogical goals of the adults, with much less hassle for all. But instead, these educators made a conscious choice to assert their power above all else. Both students complied eventually. But what could have happened if they didn’t comply? It gives me chills to think about it.

In the discussion I saw on Facebook about these incidents, some people argued that these educators were just bad apples. The principles of ABA are sound, they said. And this is similar to discussions of police brutality and racism. Some folks say there are just some racist cops who need to be removed or retrained.

I disagree. I don’t think we can address pervasive, deadly issues like these just by retraining. We need to consider the ideological flaws in both the policing and the special-education systems that allow these incidents to occur.

In my mind, there are two main ideological flaws that must be addressed. The first is the “law and order” idea that compliance must be prioritized over respect for persons. The second is a series of biases that cause people in authority to see certain groups of people as requiring authoritarian control. It is the biased belief that Blacks are dangerous and that any resistance on their part must be criminally motivated. And it is the biased belief that neurodivergent children are noncompliant on purpose and that their behavior must be shaped with methods that resemble dog training. We need to address the dehumanizing prejudices that cause situations to become escalated in the first place.

What could have happened if the cops listened when George Floyd said he couldn’t breathe? When Rayshard Brooks asked to walk over to his sister’s house and rest there until he was able to safely drive home? Or when Elijah McClain said words that ring true to many of us disabled folk: “I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry….I don’t do any fighting.”

What if the cops had made time and space to listen, like the occupational therapist who agreed to do his session outside, no problem.

I don’t have the magic solutions here. These are deep systemic problems that cannot possibly be resolved in a blog post. But I would urge all of us to consider the values and the prejudices we hold in our interactions with others, especially interactions where we hold authority. Because most adults will hold authority of some kind in at least one of our important relationships. I would challenge all of us to make an extra effort to humanize and respect the individuals who are our subordinates. Because I am of the firm belief that respect must be given before it can be received. This fact has revealed itself to me time and time again, in my professional and personal life, and in my attempts to analyze current events from a social-psychological lens. Perhaps if we can all keep this simple concept of mutual respect in mind, we can collectively foster a culture where everyone’s full humanity is celebrated.

Five Accessibility Problems Plaguing Websites [Guest Post]

The following guest post comes from Reina Grosvalet. Reina is a Web accessibility compliance specialist and the owner of Waldorf PC. This article is a little on the technical side, but I think it might offer a good overview of common issues to consider when building websites to ensure they are accessible to all visitors. You can check out Reina’s LinkedIn profile here:

Five Accessibility Problems Plaguing Websites

In our modern age, technology is everything. Because of this, most businesses are now conducting transactions online for added ease and convenience for customers and companies alike. With just a few clicks of a button, we can have groceries and food delivered to our homes, and we can purchase any goods or services that we want or need. These modern conveniences are not easy for everyone to enjoy, especially individuals with disabilities. Accessibility barriers can make even the simplest tasks laborious and frustrating. Sometimes, tasks can even be impossible to complete. If you want to make inclusion your mission and ensure that you reach the largest customer audience possible, it will be advantageous for you to work hard to avoid these top five web accessibility problems.

  1. Lack of Labeling

One most common problem as it concerns accessibility is lack of labeling. What this means is that links, form fields and buttons do not have programmatic text that provides a proper description of these elements. This presents a significant problem because those using screen readers will not know what to input into form fields, and they will not know the function that unlabeled buttons and links will serve. Individuals using Voice dictation software to compensate for a motor impairment will also not be able to interact with webpages where there  are unlabeled form fields, buttons and links because the voice dictation software will not be able to make sense of these elements. In order to avoid this particular accessibility problem, it is essential that programmatic levels are associated with all form fields, buttons and links. Additionally, visual labels need to be positioned to the right of each form field so users with low vision will know which of these elements they are interacting with as well as where to input specific information

2. Images without Descriptions

Another accessibility problem that is frequently encountered are images that do not have descriptive text associated with them which will enable blind and low vision users to understand what these images are. Without descriptive text, blind and low vision users can miss out on the meaning of content , which may cause significant difficulty with making an informed decision. Since pictures enhance the written content on a webpage and help to tell part of the story, text descriptions need to be added to these pictures so that blind and low vision users will have full access to the same content. Descriptions can be added by providing a brief but concise explanation of images inside of the alt tag.

3. Keyboard Accessibility

Another common accessibility problem that is often encountered is lack of keyboard accessibility. What this means is that elements are programmed so that they can only be interacted with by using a mouse and not a keyboard. When keyboard accessibility is lacking, screen reader users and users with motor impairments cannot interact with these elements. What this means for these user groups is that they are automatically excluded from procuring your goods or services. To make sure this accessibility problem is not present on your website, it is critical to ensure that all elements are keyboard accessible. Whatever users can accomplish with a mouse, they must also be able to accomplish by using the keyboard.

4. Animation that cannot be turned off

While animation can sometimes enhance content on webpages by making it more appealing to viewers, it will also cause problems when there is no way to turn it off. Animation can interfere with how scream reader users navigate webpages because it could cause content to automatically scroll, randomly throwing these users in different places. Animated content that cannot be stopped will also cause problems for users who have seizures. Content that blinks at certain speeds has been known to cause seizures to occur. If you want to use animation on your webpages, make sure there is a control in place so that animation can be turned off easily. Position that control at the top of the page so users won’t have to search extensively for it.

5. Improper Semantic Structure

Finally, improper semantic structure is also a problem commonly found on websites. Rather than headings being tagged as actual headings, bold print is used instead. This is problematic because screen readers cannot decipher which print is bold and which is not. Lists are also either nonexistent or improperly structured. Sometimes, heading tags are used to make text stand out for emphasis. When one or all of these problems are present, this interferes with screen reader users ability to navigate pages. To ensure that screen reader users can navigate webpages without trouble, use actual heading tags for headings. Also, make sure to structure headings in the proper hierarchical order. The title of your page should be tagged using in h1 tag. Your section titles must be given h2 tags. Subsection titles must be given h3 tags, and so on. If you need to provide emphasis to various portions of content, do not use heading tags. Use CSS for styling instead. When a list is present, the list must be tagged properly. If the list has nested elements, they must also be nested properly. Furthermore, if there are paragraphs present on the page, they must be properly tagged as paragraphs.

Conclusion

Avoiding these five most common accessibility problems is a great start to ensuring that your website is inclusive to all audiences. To ensure that your website is fully accessible, it is vital that you learn all you can about accessibility. You must also hire disabled individuals to test your webpages to ensure they can actually be used in interacted with by individuals with disabilities.