How much of your life in 2020 depended on the Internet? And if something didn’t depend on the Internet, it often required reliable transportation. Now, imagine the whole world shuts down, and you have some mountain-sized barriers to both using the web and getting around town.
In this episode I interview Everette Bacon, an assistive technology specialist with Utah's Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Sachin Pavithran, the current executive director of the US Access Board. I hope you’ll listen to the end, because Sachin really threw me a plot twist.
Like everyone else, blind people used websites and apps to grocery shop during the pandemic. But not all of those sites and apps were accessible--and picking those groceries up was also difficult without a car. These limitations also meant fewer shopping choices and fewer delivery slots.
Some other topics: education for blind children over Zoom (the hands-on aspect disappeared during lockdown), COVID testing (much of it drive-through, which was a problem for people with disabilities who don't drive), plus COVID vaccination sign-ups, vaccination cards and other things officials and company leaders probably didn't think about when they made their COVID policies.
Many of these barriers saw at least some improvement over two years. In fact, when the whole world started telecommuting, the barriers to working from home were suddenly gone. It’s a privilege some had been asking for, for years: a way to go to work without the commute. Of course, you usually need accessible websites for that, as well as accessible digital documents. And those things are possible. But what about the barriers of transportation? Of access ramps and all those features that make it possible for people with disabilities to interact with their communities?
Pavithran cautions that people with disabilities shouldn't give up the fight for built, accessible spaces. The Americans with Disabilities Act made accessibility a requirement, and people with disabilities who had been invisible for most of history were able to join their communities to at least some degree. If they work and shop and do everything online, will they go back underground?
"There is a consequence that could pop up," he said. "Not right now, but maybe five years, 10 years from now, if that becomes the norm."
WebAIM offers accessibility training. Full disclosure: like UATP, WebAIM is part of the Institute for Disability Research, Policy & Practice.
WebAIM's WAVE tool allows users to scan any webpage for accessibility issues. While many accessibility features cannot be detected by an automated scan, WAVE can help users get a feel for whether the page's developer was keeping accessibility in mind.
This news report is one of many showing the difficulties people with disabilities had signing up for vaccines nationwide.
Welcome to Accessible Times, the UATP podcast. We talk about the technology that helps people be independent and how it changes lives. I'm JoLynne Lyon. This podcast grew out of a print piece for Utah State University magazine that will go live in June. Even with a longer magazine piece, I wasn't able to use as much some interviews as I would have liked. I'm using them here. Here's the premise: We all saw our lives change drastically in 2020, and 2021. But people without disabilities had certain work-arounds available that many people with disabilities did not have. Think about it, how much of your life in 2020 depended on the internet. And if something didn't depend on the internet, I bet it required reliable transportation. Now imagine the whole world shuts down and you have some mountain-sized barriers to both using the web and getting around town. In this episode, I invite two guests who have been on this podcast before. I hope you'll listen to the end, because our last guest really threw me a plot twist. But we'll start with Everette Bacon, an assistive technology specialists with the Utah State Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Salt Lake City, If you could talk to me a little bit about what it was like using the web before COVID. And then what happened after the big rush?Everette Bacon:
Well, I mean, before COVID, you know, we were, blind people were kind of just doing what they they normally would do, they would use the web for the same things that everybody else uses it for. Zoom, I know zoom existed, but we weren't using zoom in any way, shape, or form. We didn't even have a Zoom account, we were still kind of doing our in person meetings. But we we would find out information off the web, use it in our jobs use it in schools, but it wasn't, it wasn't like the way it is now, you know what happened during the pandemic. And now, in the in the situation we're in. For instance, you could do online grocery shopping, but it was kind of a, it was kind of more of a novelty thing. It wasn't like something out of necessity that people were doing. So it was, you know, very different that way. And so there were apps before the pandemic that were apps that you could do grocery shopping with, but not all the grocery stores were linked up with them. So and same with like,JoLynne Lyon:
So did the apps work for you, and were you able to use them?Everette Bacon:
It depends, you know, like there's an app called S hipped and it worked. It's very accessible. But you know, the different apps, some of those were not accessible. And then like Whole Foods was just coming into, you know, Amazon Prime, Amazon owns them. And so that's somewhat accessible, and you can kind of do it, but it definitely gets cumbersome, it's a little easier to go in with a list and just go with somebody, or even have a store attendant when you arrive at the grocery store. And with your list and go and find the items that's a little quicker to where, you know, doing it online, you had to learn how to search for items, how to find what you want, what the prices were, and then ordering them.JoLynne Lyon:
We interrupt this interview for a brief introduction to web accessibility. The important thing to know is that it happens by design, not by accident. If you're over 50, you've probably already noticed that small or low contrast print can be a problem. Some web users can't use a mouse so they rely on the tab function to navigate through a page. And inaccessible design can make that a lot harder to do. Then there's screen reader technology. People who have trouble reading print on a computer may use the screen reader. And in the hands of a practice user, it sounds something like this. [very fast electronic speech] But screen readers also have trouble with inaccessible design. For example, if an online form doesn't have embedded form labels, the user won't know whether that blank is for the first name or the last name or what. Okay, back to theEverette Bacon:
And then I guess I'm kind of going into what interview. happened during the pandemic, but during the pandemic, for the first few weeks, it was real problematic because everything was being made to be online. They had a lockdown for everywhere except grocery stores basically, but grocery stores were limiting when people could come in and how, and there were no employees so you couldn't get an attendant to get around the grocery store, so you had to pretty much go to online ordering, and then they wanted to deliver it to you outside the grocery store. W ell, you need a car for that. And blind people don't have cars, you know, unless they're working with a sighted person or something, a lot of blind people just take public transportation to go to the grocery store, or live by one that they can walk to and walk home from, and that they weren't allowing that.JoLynne Lyon:
So they weren't allowing the public transportation?Everette Bacon:
They weren't allowing, the public transportation was was very limited. So after once the pandemic hit, it became extremely limited. There were very few bus lines going anywhere, Traxx was limited as well. And, and people were scared to get on public transportation, you know, that is there was a lot of fear. So blind people were kind of forced to do this online ordering thing. And one of the things that we learned is that you had to get a spot for the online order, if you could figure out how to do it, and you could get it to work, you had to get a spot, they only had so many spots for an online order. So if you didn't get that spot, you were just out of luck, you had to wait till the next day. And you know, if you needed something immediately, that's really problematic. So so that was that was hard, because he couldn't just get in the car and go get it like like everybody else can. And then finally, they the grocery stores decided to do, like one or two hours before they opened up, let's say at 10am, from eight to 10, they would open up for seniors only, like or even like maybe the first hour they were open 10 to 11, it would be for like seniors only. So that way seniors could come in because seniors are not really many seniors aren't very good at the apps and technology and stuff. So they would come in, they could come in and go grocery shopping then. Well, when we found out that they were going to do this for seniors, we asked him well, why not disabled people to or so that we're blind people can come in and do the shopping at that time? And we got told no. Well, no, it's only for seniors. Yeah, we did. We got told no. Walmart said yes. And they were allowing it. It was just, I think they were just unprepared and unequipped. You know, and just didn't realize and didn't think about it at first, you know, so that so they told us No, at first and then they rescinded and say, Oh, yes, you could do that. So but it was a shock at first that they said no. So.JoLynne Lyon:
So I'm wondering, I'm sorry to interrupt you, because I really do want you to ramble, but were you just like eating oatmeal for a while, or?Everette Bacon:
Well, I was fortunate because, you know, I'm married to a sighted person. So we were able to, to get our groceries, you know, normally but I did know of some people that blind individuals in Salt Lake City especially, and some of the rural areas that were in a desperate situation and that were living off of whatever they had. And we, we even here at DSPVI, we offered to help people get their groceries. So like if they told us they had a pickup or an order at a certain grocery store, we had drivers here that would go and take the state vehicle, get the groceries and bring it to their home for them. Because as long as you know, they, they took care of it on the app and put the order through. So we did our best to try to help people around the Wasatch Front, but I really always worried about blind people outside in rural areas, because they really had to rely on good Samaritans and people being around to help them because it was such a, you know, the lockdown was really scary for a while. So the next thing that happened is we started, everyone wanted to do testing, right to test to see if you're, if you're sick, or if you were sick, you needed to get tested. Well. Most of the testing centers were drive-through testing centers. I remember speaking with the mayor's office here in Salt Lake City, I know, other blind individuals spoke with their local leaders in whatever city or county they were in. The Salt Lake City came around and said, Yeah, this this problem because you can't just get in the car and go to the drive through testing center and get tested. They actually worked it out where sometimes they would bring a testing kit to you at your home. But that took negotiating, that took like us advocating for that, it wasn't just thought of, you know. We were the we were the afterthought.JoLynne Lyon:
Another question I have with this like to get them to come to your house, Ddid you sign up online or did you have to make a phone call?Everette Bacon:
We had a phone call. We had a phone call and you had a call and call and get transferred and transferred, and then you'd finally get to somebody. And online, the city's websites, were very, were very minimal in their accessibility. I did a, I did a test with Sheri Newton for the Disability Law Center where we pulled up different county announcements that they had online for testing centers, or where to get vaccinations once the vaccinations started to roll out. And we found that majority of the sites were only partially accessible, you could get some information, but you couldn't sign up online. That form was not usable with a screen reader. So it was just, it was just partially accessible, you had to find the phone number, and you had to call and get your Yeah, so yeah. You know, another question that comes up is, as I appointment that way. There was just no other way around it, and to wait on, you know, on hold forever and try trying to get through. So it was definitely a, definitely a challenge. And the vaccinations. Again, you had to go and you had to get these things scheduled, which you couldn't do it online. So you had to call and get your appointments scheduled that way. And then you had to get to that appointment. Again, some of those were drive through some of the clinics were like, well, they would come to you but you had to sit in your car, well, I can't do that I can't just take an Uber and have the Uber driver sit, you know, I'm having to keep my tab running, it would just wouldn't, wasn't feasible. So blind people had to really push to try to find friends, family, people that could help. And the ones that weren't, I believe they were underserved or not served at all. That's really, really frustrating. Then you think about the lockdown for kids. So you know, schools were were shut down and or not. They were locked down as well. If the kids were at home, well, you had all of the classes going into this virtual, and Zoom is a wonderful thing. And I really appreciate zoom, we're using it now. And it was a great way to communicate for us blind individuals. But teaching blind children is very hands on. It's not, it's not something that does well in the virtual. Some parts of it can I mean, obviously, some of the more auditory type of teaching can do well in this in the virtual, but there's a lot of hands on learning. And, yeah, and then and also you're relying on parents and children to have technology, you know, to to have the understanding and have good technology. Well, that's, lower income blind individuals. They're kind of like in a lot of other low income situations where they just don't have a lot of great technology. So there was a situation when a friend, a friend of mine, she's a blind mother, and she has four children. And she had to get the lessons from the school that her kids were attending. And I get this frantic call from her because she was like, the school told her that she can't come pick up the lessons. Unless she is in a vehicle. She had, she lived down the street, her kids and her lived in walking distance to the school and she's blind. Her husband works all day. So she and her husband was still working. He was not working from home. So she was the one who had to take care of getting the schooling information for her kids. And the school told her you cannot get your materials for your kids unless you're in a vehicle. And so she called me frantic. She didn't know what to do. She was like I, I need help. And so we had to find, eventually, we found somebody that could help. But I remember trying to call even reported this to the special education department. And so we had to end up reporting that because schools, you know, that was one instance, we heard that where it was happening, but we didn't know where it was happening all over the place. You know, were other parents dealing with this kind of thing? hear you talk about this. So many of these work arounds sound pretty time consuming? Like did you like it was a time suck? For you? Definitely. Definitely. Yeah. I mean, shopping with an app or doing other things with an app is definitely, it can be done. And I can do it. But yeah, I've got I've got to put up put aside a good hour to do that shopping. So I equate it to if I was doing public transportation to the store shopping and coming back home. It'd be about the same time-suck. But at least you know, in that situation, that hands on experience is a little different than just sitting in trying to do it on a computer or the phone but it works. I mean, it's gotten it's gotten better. It's just, it's an interesting thing. Yeah, but you're definitely, you're definitely dealing with a lot of a lot of time that you got to put aside for to help with families, and then helping with kids learning online in virtual formats and all of that kind of stuff.JoLynne Lyon:
So that was during, and probably when you were trying to get your vaccination, you know, you had that moment in time that you were trying to sign up for the vaccination. Do you know if that got better?Everette Bacon:
So I do believe it's gotten better. I have done, I've done a booster and I was able to, I still had to call, I still wasn't able to utilize their app. And you know, is interesting. You had to go there, and you have to fill out a form to get your vaccine. Well, if you don't go with a sighted person, there's nobody there. They're busy, there's not that many people there, there's nobody there to help you fill out that form. And they require this, you know, print form to be filled out. And they had no other no way to do it online ahead of time, you could bring it to you. So you know, I had to arrange to make sure I was there with the sighted person to get the form filled out. And, you know, that was the last time I did my booster, which was in December. So yeah, I mean, they haven't really gotten better. They had time, but they really haven't gotten that much better. So I think I'm supposed to, I can get my fourth one, if I decide to do it, I probably will, in May. So because that'd be about five months, since December. So that's probably when I'll do it. And we'll see what happens.JoLynne Lyon:
So that's one example of of how things did or did not improve. I'm wondering if you saw any improvement, you know, in other parts of your online life.Everette Bacon:
So the grocery shopping apps have gotten better. They've, they've really gotten more accessible. And they have they've built in features now where you, you can quickly find items that you've gotten in the past. So, so that's made grocery shopping a lot more tolerable, using an app. And now the delivery, deliveries seem to be pretty readily available as well, where they weren't during the pandemic, when it when it was really bad. Now, it seems to be where you can get your groceries delivered. And it doesn't even cost extra in most cases. So that that's been a godsend, you know, for a lot of blind individuals to have, be able to order their groceries and have them delivered. That's really awesome. And so, so that to say that's an improvement.JoLynne Lyon:
Yeah. Yeah, one of the things that was interesting is, when we got our vaccine, we got these cards, you know, that prove that we're vaccinated. And Salt Lake, Utah really didn't do this as much. But I did travel once I had to go to Canada, this past December with my wife, because my wife's mother actually contracted COVID, and actually passed away from it. And we had to go to Canada, and spend some time there. And they required that you show the card everywhere. You know, no matter where you're going, you have to show that card. And you know, it's just a print card. It's not like, nothing distinguishing about it, I had no idea what side I'm facing. And it's a print card. And I could take a picture of it again, but the picture is inaccessible, because it's just a picture. So I don't know what it says or anything. So I really felt kind of frustrated on that front, because they didn't think about what what can be accessible for people with disabilities. I mean, I'm print disabled, but there's a lot of people with disabilities that may not be able to, have the ability to pull the card out of a wallet and show it and yet, if you didn't, you were denied service. And I know this was in Canada, but I know that happened in Los Angeles and New York and some of the other bigger cities as well, where you had to show that vaccination proof to be able to do business there. And so that was frustrating. I was trying to think also something else that that we dealt with. That was a was a challenge. Well, it's It's slipped my mind. Oh, masks! Mask wearing. So for people who are deaf blind, there are a lot of folks that with partial vision, and especially people who are totally deaf and have vision mask wearing was a real challenge because a lot of them read lips, and you couldn't read lips anymore with mask wearing and so that really became a very big, they finally came up with these clear masks. But I got reports from deafblind individuals that it that sometimes they can see, but it still very much affected their ability to read lips the way they were doing it before. So, so that was real problem. And also for us blind individuals, we listen to people. And you know, communication is very big with with us audible communication. Well, everyone would talking in masks, everyone's muffled. And so that that was definitely problematic and things we had to learn how to deal with and overcome that we never had before. And here's what Uber and Lyft did it first, when the mask mandate started to become more prominent, Uber and Lyft jumped on board and, and they were requiring us to take a picture of ourselves before each trip that showed a picture of us with the mask on. Well, I've learned how to take a picture with with the phone. But I, as a blind individual, I have no idea if I got it perfect. You know, I've gotten better. And you know, but, but that was problematic, because if you didn't do it just right in the picture didn't come out clean. When you sent it into Uber, you got denied your ride. So, yeah, so that was definitely a problem. You know, we, we had to we were dealing with there with the mask where now they fixed it. They don't have that anymore, but but it was definitely problematic.JoLynne Lyon:
Yeah, this is I knew it was going to be an interesting conversation, but I heard some things I wasn't expecting.Everette Bacon:
Here's something now, now that government, you know, the President of the United States, he puts this executive order in place, we can get, you know, free tests, right?JoLynne Lyon:
Uh huh.Everette Bacon:
Well, guess what, these tests are completely inaccessible. They didn't think about accessible tests at all, for people who are blind or print disabled, or may have some other disabilities where they, they they need an accessible test. And this test is completely inaccessible. You have to be able to read it. It's like a color picture that tells you if you're positive or not. And, you know, and again, so Yeah, completely inaccessible And the thing is, there are accessible tests out there, there is a company that has a little device, and you can put the little strip in and it will audibly read to you, whether you tested positive or negative. And so those do exist. But But the government didn't even think about that, you know, and we had to tell them about it. We had to, like, you know, bring this to their attention. And they're still talking about getting us accessible tests, but they haven't done it yet.JoLynne Lyon:
How many months has it been?Everette Bacon:
Yeah, oh, yeah. Yeah, exactly. And, you know, by the time they finally do will be over.JoLynne Lyon:
And now, here's a message from the Utah Assistive Technology Program.Dan O'Crowley, Logan UATP Coordinator:
Utahns! Do you know you need an assistive technology device, but you're not sure which one is right for you? There are lending libraries that allow you to try before you buy. The Utah Assistive Technology Program ha s demonstration and loan libraries in Logan, and the Uintah Basin. Also, the Utah Center for Assistive Technology, The Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, have libraries too. Y our local independent living center can also help you out. For more information, visit our resources page on the Utah Assistive Technology Program website.JoLynne Lyon:
We're back and for the last few minutes, we'll hear from Sachin Pavithran, the current Executive Director of the US Access Board in Washington, DC. He experienced a lot of the same things Everett did during the pandemic, but he acknowledged one silver lining a lot of people with disabilitiesfound:
the barriers to working from home were suddenly gone. It's a privilege some had been asking for, for years: A way to work without the commute. Of course, you usually need accessible websites for that. And those things are possible. But what about the barriers of the built world?Sachin Pavithran:
Now one of the biggest challenges that people with disabilities have always had is a barrier to transportation to go from point A to point B, so unemployment, when you talk about unemployment for people with disabilities, transportation was always one of the key components that people talked about and COVID kind of made that obstacle kind of disappear because everyone was virtual. But would that there's a new challenge coming up where there's a segment of the population that likes the virtual piece who, you know, even in the disability community, but my worry is if people with disabilities keep opting to do the virtual component as a way to deal with the transportation barrier, we don't want to go to a place where it was like 30-plus years ago, where accessiblity becomes an option for physical access, where, well, if it's a person with disabilities, let's just make them remote workers.JoLynne Lyon:
Oh, I see what you're saying. So that would be their only option.Sachin Pavithran:
And then they wouldn't have the physical option.Sachin Pavithran:
Exactly. So you know, so we need to be careful about this whole virtual space conversation, that it's not a substitute to address the issue. And also in the before the ADEA people with disabilities, we're not as visible in the community. And we don't want creating all these virtual spaces become go back to where we were before where you don't see people with disabilities around much becauseJoLynne Lyon:
Yeah, and you forget. Yeah, that's an aspect I had not thought of. That's really interesting.Sachin Pavithran:
And that, there's a segment of the disability community tha's pushing really hard for everything virtual. And there is a consequence that could pop up. Not right now, or maybe five years, 10 years from now, if that becomes the norm.JoLynne Lyon:
Yeah. And I can see people being dismissive of it. Well, you can always work from home, you know, why do we need to? Yeah, yeah.Sachin Pavithran:
Because it's it's a easy solution out of sight out of mind, you don't need to worry about... John. Who's ... whatever.JoLynne Lyon:
Yeah. Well, I appreciate it. And that is, yeah, that's a new thought. I'll be chewing on that for a while. Thank you for listening to accessible times. The UATP podcast, brought to you by the Utah Assistive Technology Program. We are part of the Institute for Disability Research, Policy and Practice at Utah State University.