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Involve the local disability community in program efforts

Involve the local disability community in program efforts


Edited by Hardik Bhatt, Chief Information Officer, Department of Innovation and Technology;  Karen Tamley, Commissioner, Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, City of Chicago. Contributors: Danielle DuMerer and Matthew Guilford, Department of Innovation & Technology; Laurie Dittman and Joseph Russo, Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, City of Chicago

It is critical that people with disabilities and disability rights advocates from the local community play a role in developing and implementing government accessible technology initiatives. Early in the development of accessible technology initiatives, local governments should convene an informal group of local stakeholders to provide guidance. It is important that this group reflect the diverse cultures and types of disabilities found in the community, allowing them to address the broad range of technology needs they have. If this is done, local stakeholders help ensure that standards and tools implemented elsewhere will be appropriate, and may recommend alterations if necessary. While it is important to allow vendors to have input, local governments should prevent their influence on advisory groups.

Advisory groups should be consulted regularly to ensure that standards and tools remain state-of-the-art and that issues that may have been missed in audits or testing are brought to the attention of local government entities. Advisory group participants may also play an important role in communicating a municipality's progress back to the disability community. Perhaps most importantly, advisory group meetings may provide a forum for local government technologists and managers to directly-and often poignantly-interact with the residents who utilize their services.

Aside from advisory committees, local governments should expand their dialogues with local or regional disability advocates to include technology issues. Advocacy organizations help technology developers to more easily recruit people with disabilities to serve as testers. More importantly, these relationships create an environment of trust and responsiveness over the long term, with residents having a clear conduit for bringing issues that deeply impact their lives to the attention of public servants.