The Voter Demographic Still in the Digital Dark: People with Disabilities
July 30, 2019
Tonight, the second 2020 Democratic Debate kicks off in Detroit, MI, where presidential hopefuls will square off on major issues and how they plan to address them. On the heels of the 29th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there’s one issue we haven’t heard much about from the candidates: the rights of the disabled. A civil rights law, the ADA was designed to ensure people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else. It prohibits discrimination in all areas of public life. Or does it?
In an age where the buzzwords diversity and inclusion may be seemingly more “mainstream” and provide the basis for new corporate titles, millions of people remain shut out online and often forgotten. Pop stars, schools, art galleries, restaurants, hotels and airlines are being sued because their websites cannot be easily navigated by the disabled, including the blind and visually impaired. Last year, the number of website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court nearly tripled, with the highest numbers in New York and Florida.
While American technology continues to improve our way of life, it turns out we’re behind the times when it comes to website accessibility. Whether it’s for shopping, entertainment, education, employment or the political process, as a culture, we’re digitally dependent. Yet despite that shift, too many websites aren’t built to support the needs of the blind and visually impaired, though they easily could be.
Our client, the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and its IT team (most of whom are blind) examined the website accessibility of all the presidential candidates before the first Democratic Debate. The Miami Lighthouse uncovered a startling oversight: not one presidential candidate, including the two Republicans running, had a website that is fully accessible to the blind and visually impaired or in compliance with the ADA.
It’s especially remarkable given that approximately 12 million people 40 years and over in the U.S. are blind or visually impaired. That is a lot of lost votes. According to a new study from Rutgers, the population that surpassed all other minority populations in voter turnout for the 2018 midterms elections was people with disabilities, and the study predicts it will be an even more powerful voting bloc in the 2020 election. If people with disabilities could vote at the same rate as people without disabilities, there would have been an additional 2.35 million ballots cast in the 2018 midterms.
Since the 2019 ADA Compliance Meter from the Miami Lighthouse was released, the presidential campaigns of Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang have updated their websites. Booker, Warren and Yang have added accessibility statements. Even a local congressional candidate reached out for counsel. Advocacy groups rallied behind The Miami Lighthouse.
While the candidates are crafting their closing statements for this week’s debates, they shouldn’t forget their website accessibility statements for the millions of voters who want to know what they stand for. Just because the candidates cannot see the problem, it does not mean it’s not there.