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ADA, Digital Accessibility, and Improving Culture

Interview with a State Employee about the ADA Anniversary

7/28/2020 9:00:00 AM

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Digital Accessibility Law, image of map of Minnesota with pointer on it.

July 2020 is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). People in Minnesota are more aware of digital accessibility since the passing of the State of Minnesota Digital Accessibility Law 10 years ago. While the Office of Accessibility gets many questions about the differences between the ADA and Minnesota’s law, both reinforce the rights of people with disabilities and provide a pathway for inclusion. 

The ADA Anniversary website – updated for our 2020 world with social media and other important digital accessibility reminders– states that the ADA "prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including:  

  • jobs,
  • schools,
  • transportation, and
  • all public and private places that are open to the general public." 

This month we spoke with Ken Rodgers, Disability Programs Coordinator/ADA Title I for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). Ken worked as a cardiac registered nurse before losing his sight to a rare retinal disease. We talked about his office’s work, and the link between the ADA and the need for digital accessibility. Ken's office has several divisions, including:

  • diversity and inclusion training,
  • affirmative action work that monitors the hiring process for the agency, and the
  • discrimination investigation unit.

Ken said, "everyone in the office is well educated and well-versed in document accessibility." They produce numerous documents for their agency, such as the Affirmative Action Plan.

"Nothing goes out, or is published, unless it is fully accessible. Our staff were early adopters of digital accessibility. Our entire office took classes together."

Ken feels that more people now understand the need for digital accessibility. His office used to be the singular content for answering questions about digital accessibility for MnDOT staff. But times have changed. "We are at a point that everyone should know these skills, and we should all be doing our work with an eye towards accessibility. We generally have success at doing that, so it is easier to have that expectation of others."

Ken shared that as others understood more about digital accessibility, it changed more than just documents. At one point the department was considering which copier/scanner to buy. He adds that his “coworkers were the ones that identified that I would not be able to use it, that it wasn’t accessible.”

Ken reminds people about Minnesota’s digital accessibility law when he encounters barriers. But the law is not enough to change behaviors by itself. “We need people with significant disabilities in every office, so we can make fundamental change. That awareness of the need for digital accessibility can be built by people learning, but it is enhanced with a person. It is what makes me such an advocate for increasing the number of people in our workforce, to become a more responsive workforce.”

The ADA provides tools to hire more people with disabilities. The accessibility law helps make the workplace functional for them.

Ken's Recommendations for Improving Your Team's Digital Accessibility Culture

Train and Work With Your Staff on Accessibility

  • Ken’s staff who create documents for publication work closely with him. 
  • They took training as a team. 
  • "Accessibility is definitely up front” in Ken’s office.

Hire People with Disabilities

"I honestly think the reason why my office is different is because I am a constant reminder of why it is important that what we produce is accessible. I am a person that requires accessibility. If every office has someone who relies on a different way of accessing electronic content, and they interact with that individual every day, that awareness is going to affect how they do their work."

2020 is also the 10th Anniversary of Minnesota’s Digital Accessibility Law!

Not only is 2020 the 30th anniversary of the ADA, but it is the 10th anniversary of Minnesota’s Digital Accessibility and Usability Law. The Office of Accessibility will be sharing more about the anniversary in the next few months.

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