Marti Goddard: Reviewing the State of Services for the Disabled

Revisiting the topic of services for the disabled with San Francisco Public Library Access Services Manager Marti Goddard and reviewing articles and reports on the issue more than a year ago as part of online coursework I was completing through the University of North Texas provided encouraging as well as discouraging news which remains true today. Encouraging because we see progress which can be documented. Somewhat depressing because we can see how much more remains to be accomplished.

Goddard, at that time, had been two years past teaching a daylong “Beyond Ramps: Library Accessibility in the Real World” Infopeople workshop, and more than a decade had passed since the publication of Achieving Independence: The Challenge for the 21st Century: A Decade of Progress in Disability Policy Setting an Agenda for the Future (1996), yet both remain as timely as ever, as I was reminded while spending time with her at the 2010 American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Washington, D.C. last month.

The first conclusion summarized in the executive summary to Achieving Independence, that progress in empowering people with disabilities was “threatened, compromised, and often undermined by lack of understanding and support in the Congress and among particular segments of society” from 1986 to 1996, still holds true, Goddard maintained during our earlier conversation more than a year ago: Congress had revisited the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “because they felt ADA has been eroded.” Amendments were signed into law in September 2008 to become effective January 1, 2009.

Another conclusion, that public policy “continues to send mixed messages to people with disabilities,” also remains true more than a decade after the report was published, Goddard said: “The ADA was really not prescriptive. It was written to be sure that people’s unique needs could be met. There was pushback because of the perceived cost—not the actual cost of implementation,” she explained.

The third conclusion, that “people with disabilities “remain outside the economic and social mainstream of American life” and “continue to be less employed, less educated and poorer than other Americans,” also remains accurate. There is, she reported, a “significantly lower rate of employment for people with disabilities,” and writers including John Hockenberry in Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence have documented ways in which those with disabilities are excluded from public buildings and public transportation systems because of inadequate accessibility.

Among the great resources and reasons for hope is the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and its website, full of resources and up-to-date information. There is, for example, a report that an updated working draft of authoring tool accessibility guidelines for those involved in web design was published this month; comments on the guide are being accepted through August 9, 2010 on that same site. There is also a list of ten quick tips summarizing key concepts of accessible Web design on the site. A link to a page providing guidance on how to evaluate web sites for accessibility promises additional useful resources.

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.

Next: Patrick Timony, Marti Goddard, and Using Technology to Assist Those with Disabilities

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