I have been venting a lot lately, but this is another important rant.
The number of companies that work in the accessibility space and hire few to no people with disabilities is staggering and shameful. If a company won’t hire people with disabilities it doesn’t care about people with disabilities or accessibility.
One of the most important aspects of disability equity is the idea that nothing about us should happen without us. Yet, almost all of the companies in the accessibility industry either hire no people with disabilities or they subject someone with a disability to a tokenized role with no actual authority or management responsibility. Never mind final say over what constitutes accessibility to them.
In my job, I have met with several companies interested in getting paid to make things more accessible. I have never been at one of these meetings with another person with an obvious disability. In other words, I have never been at a meeting with a company that wanted to tell my employer how to be more accessible that bothered to employ people with disabilities in any kind of a meaningful position.
At these meetings, I’m forced to largely bite my tongue as people without disabilities tell me what I should accept as being accessible to me. In every instance–I really mean every instance–I have not seen work product from a company that didn’t have accessibility and usability issues. Yet, they have all tried to tell me how they could provide accessibility.
Many of these companies sell tools that will tell you whether your website violates the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Every one of the automated tools I have tested has had accessibility issues. So, the makers of these tools are happy telling other entities how their content is inaccessible while creating inaccessible things too.
The saddest part of this is how other businesses and government agencies interested enough in accessibility to consider hiring one of these ableist, oppressive, patronizing companies doesn’t have a person with a disability on staff with the ability and authority to call these companies on their bad work and even worse employment practices.
I have seen examples where entities have paid one of these companies hundreds of dollars to supposedly make something accessible and the words run together because the company didn’t care enough to edit the scanned document. In no reality would an entity publish a document with bunches of words running together, loads of spelling mistakes, and content that doesn’t read well or isn’t usable. Yet, entities pay these companies tons of money to provide people with disabilities content that is actually that terrible.
If you are interested in becoming more accessible to and inclusive of people with disabilities, you must embrace nothing about us without us. Hire us to represent your accessibility work. Use your purchasing power to insist so-called accessibility companies hire native users of assistive technologies to test their work. During the RFP and/or interview process ask them how many people with disabilities they employ. Ask them why they don’t hire people with disabilities to represent their work and ensure its quality. Ask them if a person with a disability is in management. Even better, hire your own qualified people with disabilities and empower them to do the work correctly and represent your company to the disability community.
The accessibility industry, for the most part, is a joke more interested in profits than accessibility. If it’s not with us, it’s without us. If it’s without us, it’s not inclusive of us and it’s unlikely to be accessible to us.