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Megan Amrich headshot

A Look at Disability Accessibility and Inclusion in 2021 and Beyond

By Megan Amrich
disability accessibility

There are many subjects that would be best left behind in 2021, never to be mentioned again. Then there are those stories that are just starting to garner more widespread attention, those that will continue to gain traction and inspire meaningful action in 2022 and beyond. Disability accessibility is among these ongoing stories.

Here are three stories on disability accessibility that not only had TriplePundit writers talking in 2021, but that also will hopefully continue to see improvement in 2022 and years to come.

Accurate, inclusive media representation

The phrase “Nothing about us without us” is commonly used by the disabled community when discussing media representation. It means that the best people to share stories of disabled life are, in fact, disabled people themselves. Disabled creators shared their unique perspectives and voices throughout 2021 across a host of platforms: social media, books, podcasts, TV, movies, advertising and more.

In May, for example, Netflix released the second season of Special, a scripted series following twenty-something Ryan, a gay man with cerebral palsy looking to find independence and romance in L.A.  As 3p’s executive editor, Leon Kaye, wrote about the TV series:

“Ryan is telling his own story, as the series is based on the experiences of Ryan O’Connell, a disability activist and LGBTQ advocate. He plays a fictionalized version of himself in the series, while also writing for and producing it….  And therein lies the gift of Special: It’s told in Ryan’s own words.”

In April 2021, beverage brand Lifewtr partnered with writer, producer and actor Issa Rae to launch Life Unseen, an initiative to better understand and recognize creators from underrepresented communities in the arts – including the disability community.  Twenty artists had their artwork featured on Lifewtr bottles sold in stores nationwide. In addition, five creators won mentorship opportunities with Rae, and grants of $10,000 each.

Rae spoke about the importance of this project in an interview with Trevor Noah:

“I know what it’s like to be in those early stages, and be like, ‘If someone just sees my work, if just that one person believing you has a platform, then that could change the game for me,’” she said. “We’re trying to create the pipelines.”

Adaptive clothing for children

In 2021, JCPenney became the latest national retailer to release its own line of adaptive clothing for disabled and neurodiverse children.

What is adaptive clothing? It is clothing that takes into account the wearer’s unique mobility, sensory, physical and accessibility needs.

Clothing in the JCPenney line, Thereabouts, includes many of the features commonly found in adaptive clothing: Larger openings, simpler fasteners, abdominal access, extended sizes, flat seams, tag-free labels and pants designed for wheelchair sitting.

Five years ago, adaptive children’s clothing was only available to those who could sew or hire a tailor. Premade items were sometimes available online, but the prices were often too high for families already struggling to afford their children’s therapies and medical bills. When major retailers like Target, Kohl’s, and JCPenney entered the adaptive clothing market, they were able to bring down the prices tremendously.

As I noted in my July article about adaptive clothing, “Today, my son’s clothes look just like his peers’, with bright colors and patterns and fun characters and all. The only difference is his pant legs have Velcro to accommodate his leg braces, and his shirts have special holes for his feeding tube to thread through.”

Digital inclusion and disability accessibility

Think of how many everyday activities have shifted online in recent years: banking, shopping, education, religious services, job interviews, doctor appointments and more. For the more than 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide, utilizing these services through technology can range from challenging to downright impossible.

Perkins School for the Blind defines digital accessibility as “how usable a website, app or other digital experience is by all possible users, regardless of their ability or disability.” Accessible technology doesn’t depend on a user’s vision, hearing, motor, or processing skills. It’s a spectrum of usability, rather than a definite “yes” or “no” rating.

“COVID-19 has made the lack of accessibility a more visible problem, but it hasn’t solved it,” Michael Hingson, chief vision officer for digital accessibility company AccessiBe, said in an interview with 3p’s Amy Brown.  “I think we’re going to see more of an outcry that accessibility isn’t built into the websites, apps and the products we’ve come to depend on.”

Businesses often view digital accessibility as a matter of compliance with legislation such as the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Simply put: Make sure your website meets the minimum accessibility guidelines, or risk getting sued or fined. This limited view overlooks the opportunities accessible design can offer, though.

“Focusing on web and content accessibility improves brand perception, facilitates social inclusivity, and builds a better experience for all users,” said Mark Fries, AVP of web strategy and development at enterprise software company BMC, in Amy Brown’s aforementioned 3p article. “By making accessibility something we build in from the beginning of a project, we are able to focus our efforts on the things that will be most meaningful to the most people and ultimately make the greatest impact.”

Image credit via SportEngland.org

Megan Amrich headshot

Megan is a writer and editor interested in sharing stories of positive change and resilience. She is the author of Show Up and Bring Coffee, a book highlighting how to support friends who are parents of disabled children. You can follow her at JoyfulBraveAwesome.com.

Read more stories by Megan Amrich