A 3-Phase Approach to More Inclusive Communities

We have a group of friends we like to go out to eat with on a regular basis. The group consists of five or so couples and one person in each couple uses a wheelchair. We struggle to find a restaurant that can accommodate our group as we need lots of floor space. Sometimes tables are placed so close together, it’s hard to maneuver. We also look for an easily accessible entrance from parking that’s close by, and need to make sure the bathroom has accessible features. … When we find places that are really functional, we go back and tell others!

Sarah

Background

56.7 million Americans have a disability. One in every three households includes someone who has a disability. Those individuals and families often struggle to find places in their community where they can successfully shop, eat, and participate in community life. When they find somewhere that provides a good experience, they go back and recommend it to friends.

Why are recommendations important? Because repeatedly being stopped by barriers is frustrating and wasteful. It can also be embarrassing and upsetting. Many people with disabilities want to know they can be successful ahead of time.

Removing barriers can be expensive, but often costs nothing. Check out the restaurant restrooms below. The restrooms and built surroundings are wheelchair accessible (the expensive part), but the extra space is filled with chairs, boxes, and other objects that prevent entry by a wheelchair user. Small businesses and community organizations can easily identify and remove this type of common barrier with expertise and assistance.

Yet, few small organizations can afford to hire accessibility expertise to identify barriers in their web sites, facilities, and business practices. Business owners and leaders can’t improve without this knowledge.

The result? Everyone loses.  Individuals with disabilities can’t participate fully and smaller organizations can’t leverage this minority’s 200 billion dollars of discretionary spending. 

Approach

As a 501(c)3 charity, Accessible Community’s goal is to:

  1. Bring together accessibility professionals, volunteers, organizations, and individuals with disabilities to identify accessibility challenges and fix them.
  2. Help individuals with disabilities locate organizations and communities where they can successfully eat, shop, and participate in community life.

Accessible Community is approaching this challenge in 3 phases which will take 2-5 years to complete, depending on funding and volunteer levels.

Phase 1: Evaluation and Solutions (2019)

Phase 1 will provide information and tools to help small businesses and organizations evaluate and improve their accessibility.  These tools include a web based assessment tool that provides novices with step-by-step guidance to evaluate the accessibility of buildings, websites, kiosks, and business practices. 

This tool will be the TurboTax of accessibility. It will be simple enough for a non-expert to use but will include enough information to train users as they learn and develop expertise. In addition, we are creating a Chrome plugin that will use the assessment tool to guide people through the web evaluation process.  These tools create an accessibility report based on the responses to the assessment tools which can be presented to the web master and building owner to help leaders make improvements. Let us know if you would like to participate in the Beta Pilot.

We are also creating a searchable databases of solutions and success that can help others learn from examples. To get started, we are photographing accessibility successes and attempts to improve accessibility in the community and tagging them #accessiblecommunity. Do you see some accessibility success in your community? Add to the collection!

Finally for each community we work in, we are building a searchable database to will help connect small businesses and community organizations who are looking for assistance resolving accessibility issues with individuals and organizations who can help. This database will only be available through a log-in at accessiblecommunity.org.

Phase 2: Community

Phase 2 will bring together people with disabilities into an online community (much like Angie’s list) where they can rate an organization’s accessibility and share their experiences.  This information can then be used to refine the assessment tool and add to the knowledge repository. Accessible Community is committed to individual privacy so we are working to build a secure system and data policies to ensure no personal data is shared outside of the charity.

Phase 3: Visibility

Phase 3 will provide data about community accessibility to smart cities and search engines to increase visibility of accessibility successes and encourage others to participate. Smart Cities should benefit the disability community but a recent article in the Atlantic, A Smart City is an Accessible City, highlights this can only work with accurate data. Crowdsourcing has been used to collect data but the activities often fail to involve people with disabilities and the resulting data is often incomplete or incorrect. 

By this phase, Accessible Community will have gathered information from business owners and people with disabilities and can use that information to verify accuracy. The resulting data can then be leveraged by smart cities, web applications, and researchers to further improve community accessibility.  This additional visibility and use will hopefully create a feedback cycle where businesses are encouraged to evaluate and improve their accessibility because competitors and neighbors have done so.

Conclusion

Accessible Community plans to change the world through collaboration and community. It combines existing standards, techniques and technology in new ways to affect change starting at the business level and working up to a national level. Check out accessiblecommunity.org to learn more and get involved.

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