MLB Has Significant Social Responsibility Opportunity to Promote True Accessibility for Disabled, Blind in Particular
As a person who is blind and who has loved sports since I was 10 years old, I always knew that my ability to participate in such events would be limited. That did not mean I could not find joy in sports in my own way. Adapted games like beep baseball were fun and I would also play my own modified version of the sport with a friend one on one. He would get his turns at bat against me as a pitcher, I’d take mine some times against him, sometimes using a technique where I threw the ball with one hand in the air, then took a swing with one or two hands holding the bat, while the friend was in the field of play. Similar slight modifications were made in my other favorite one on one sport, basketball. Nothing is more thrilling than hitting a long jump shot from beyond the 3 point line, even when you can’t see the goal, because you here the swish as the ball goes nothing but net.
Accessibility to other items in life has proven to be a bit more of a challenge in our ever increasing digital world. My first employer was a cable and internet service provider after college, where I worked in the call center and then took a promotion to an account coordinator position. But then one day the systems were upgraded and suddenly our database that was used for everything from managing billing and technical systems, to scheduling trouble tickets and the like became inaccessible. Weeks later I was out of a job and while they said it was a budget cut, I knew the reason, but in a state with no union laws, it would be my word against their word. Over the years since that first bitter pill in 2002, I had several interviews that ended up not working out because of software issues. Fidelity Investments literally wanted to hire me in 2006 but they said we can’t make you an offer because we don’t know if you can do the job. Translation, they knew I could not do the job only because of their half ass designed software that was used by their organization. If they doubted my ability to work for them, I would not have received the offer to work and gone through the software testing phase in the first place.
IN March 2007 seeking a new direction, I was accepted to grad school, where I began working on my master’s in education, a focus in student affairs. I wrote the guy at Fidelity and said that I was going back to grad school and that they could take their job somewhere else. I told them that they should be happy I was going to the classroom, for my other option was to consider a court room instead.
Since finishing my masters, getting employment has been somewhat easier, but today massive inaccessibility still exists. Many companies, nonprofit organizations and government agencies use many computer software programs to operate on a daily basis, no matter the job title or rank, an employee has to use these many systems. Often, at least one or more of these computing systems has some or total inaccessibility and thus workers are denied employment. A case was recently allowed to proceed last year when a county in Maryland lost in court, after it claimed it would be too cost prohibitive to upgrade its new system to make it accessible, even though the same system replaced outdated yet accessible technology that was much more expensive to maintain and operate. Often though, these choices are made based on pure dollars with no forethought that a person needing a different way of accessing the system would come along.
Even in higher education it is a huge problem, with a variety of systems in place today on college campuses where I work, that are somewhat if not entirely lacking accessibility.
While government guidelines exist that say how a building must be designed to meet ADA requirements in terms of physical mobility for those using wheel chairs, walkers and other devices, and while rules exist laying out how interior signage is displayed so that the blind can read it for instance, the rules don’t exist for exterior signage and technology. So when walking around a campus with many buildings, the blind person cannot walk up to the door and literally get a feel for what building he or she is entering. Similarly at stadiums and arenas, no signage is available in Braille that says what section a fan is entering and no Braille is on the small metal plates that are fixed to stadium seats, indicating the location in the stadium that the fan is sitting in. I found this to be true at every game of my 30 ballpark, 30 day tour in 2012. As for technology, many of today’s websites present major accessibility hurtles for the blind user like me, many desktop applications for sale to the general public lack this as well. Only the Apple products with onboard Voiceover technology are largely accessible, but even here a lot of the third party apps have issues.
Some examples of in inaccessible web content include, the use of CAPTCHA with no audio (The boxes that want you to enter the letters and numbers displayed in an image to prove you are a real person). Many buttons on flash oriented features have no labeled button that tells the screen reader what you are about to press, as all buttons on the player just show as button, button, button, rather than stop, play, rewind, Etc. many sites have links that say click here, rather than the name of what they actually represent and so you have to guess as to what the click here references. Then there are those sites that present a list of options but none are accessible to the screen reader because they have not been designed as a button or link that the screen reader can actually focus on. The key to all this, blind people will not now, nor will they ever in the future use a mouse. So web and application designers must use an approach that allows for the use of other input methods, including voice response and keyboards.
So why is your baseball blogger writing about this very non-baseball topic. It is because Major League Baseball is in a unique position with a very important responsibility. MLB through its diversity and inclusion programs has an opportunity to display to the world the best practices when it comes to all aspects of accessibility. This means it could hire someone who is blind or has a related disability as an accessibility expert, to make sure the league is fully accessible to all its customers both virtually on its websites and literally in the ballparks. Further, this puts MLB in a position to be a leader in the business community and brings a very public voice and recognized brand that could lobby for Federal legislation that strengthens ADA technology guidelines and provides more opportunities for the blind in the work place. Have you ever tried to buy a new TV or other device and set it up as a blind person? Good luck.
Why does all this matter? We have a social responsibility and a moral obligation to do the right thing. We cannot be the most free nation in the world if we do not remove barriers that limit the right of certain citizens to work. Furthermore, we reduce the demand on the government, as many blind people who currently live on social security disability checks would now have a real job with real income and it would allow for a greater contribution for all too the greater good of our society. Finally, it allows MLB to bridge the gap that exists between the blind and sited worlds, teaching the blind that yes we must live and operate in a sited world, while teaching the sited that it is in the best interest of everyone to solve these major problems that truly do limit opportunity for this small population of often overlooked American citizens.