How’s your Wednesday going? This is going to be one of my longer posts, but it is one I think you should read. I mean…Other than work, it’s not like you don’t have any time on your hands right now or anything. Right? Ha. 😉 What are you doing to keep yourself busy or to relax (whatever works for you.) during this quarantine? Staying home, I hope. Let’s talk. Tell me what you guys are up to.
I have been following my Governor’s briefings since they began. Do any of you follow your Governor’s briefings? Before I get into everything, I first want to publicly thank Governor Raimondo, her executive assistant, the data team and Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. Thank you to the data team for working so hard to make sure that accessibility is included in your work for the state. Thanks to the Governor and Dr. Nicole for acknowledging receiving feedback. Earlier this month Dr. Nicole announced during one of the briefings that she received feedback from the visually impaired community that not everyone can see the information on the data dashboard screen. She went on to explain that they launched a phone line with up-to-date recordings of the visual information on slides shown during briefings. During another briefing, the Governor was asked about offering information to people in other languages. She said she received feedback from the “Seeing Impaired” community (I think it’s so funny she calls it that) and they have made adjustments, so they could do more for people speaking different languages. It’s great to see thought going into various communities.
I noticed that the Governor and Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, were announcing information on television such as new cases etc. Even though it is terrible that people have this virus, I thought making these announcements was a positive thing because without realizing it, blind people were not an afterthought for once. The afterthought mentality happens frequently, but we need to also speak about those working hard to make sure disabled people are not continuing to be left out of the conversation. If you are doing your part to make sure that disabled people aren’t left out, thank you.
One day earlier this month I noticed the governor and Dr. Nicole stopped announcing this information because they launched a visual data dashboard which would display the information they were previously announcing on slides during briefings. I understood that these conferences are packed with information; therefore, I could see why it might benefit them having a little less on their plate. I also knew that as a blind woman who has seen the afterthought mentality all too often, if I did not speak out about this, we would find ourselves with yet another politician who doesn’t care about the blindness community. This might seem way too harsh for the sighted folks reading this, but any blind person will tell you it’s true. While we have some good ones, it’s hard to find many who publicly advocate for this particular community.
When the briefing ended, I reached out to my good friend, Helene, to see who she knew who could connect me with the Governor. Helene knows more people than anyone I know, other than my friends, Gloria and Billy. If anyone can fill a room, it’s Helene. We go quite a while without talking, so I honestly wasn’t sure if I would hear from her. I knew that if she didn’t get back to me that I would find another way. Thankfully, she put me in touch with the Governor’s executive assistant, who has been great about corresponding with me. I thought I would share my questions, concerns and some of the responses I received below. I know a few very literal people, so if any of you following me are anything like the ones I know, if you want to know why I said, “recent,” in my note, send me a comment and I’ll explain what I mean. Depending on your comfort level with reading, this post is already long enough for some people.
Dear Governor Raimondo:
My name is Miranda Oakley and I am a recent URI graduate. I hope this finds you well during this crazy time. I have been a longtime supporter of yours and think you are doing an excellent job for our state. I am writing to you with hopes you may be able to answer a few questions I have regarding your daily press briefings.
During a time when blind people are being left out of the conversation surrounding the coronavirus and its frequently evolving data, I have always considered myself lucky as a young blind woman because your briefings have always been easy for me to follow. I noticed that recently you have made a visual shift in delivering daily and important data. I understand this makes it easier for you because right now you have an especially full plate. While this visual data dashboard is a convenient, quick way for the sighted population to receive necessary information, what are you and your team doing to make sure the blindness population in Rhode Island is not an afterthought?
As a young woman, I have the skills to use specialized technology that allows me to use the internet. While nothing is perfect, looking through the dashboard I noticed that it is not completely accessible with screen reading software. I can do some guess work to try and make sense of the information, but what are you doing about older folks who are blind who may not be able to use this specific technology, now that you will not be discussing as much in your briefings on television? I bring this to your attention because as time progresses, you and your team may decide to add to, or change the visual information displayed on the data dashboard on tv screens and online.
Thank you so much for your time and for working so hard to make Rhode Island the best it can be.
Raimondo’s executive assistant wrote back and said, “Miranda,
Thank you for reaching out and raising these questions. I will share your message with the Governor, our Communications Office, RIDOH, and the team behind the data dashboard.” She sent me another email explaining that they launched two phone lines with the visual information on the dashboard recorded for anyone who cannot access it. I’ll include those numbers here in case someone you know might need them. The line in English is 401-222-8280 and the Spanish line is 401-222-2385. I thanked her and let them know I think the media should include these numbers in their tv and written coverage. Yesterday I sent an email wanting to know what they were doing to make sure the data dashboard was accessible to blind people online. While I could read part of it, I noticed images weren’t described and as I mentioned in my original email, you needed to do some guess work to put everything together. I had ideas about what could be done about this, but I wanted to give them a chance to come through. I went back to the site yesterday to test it and found it much more accessible. Now you can find text that tells you about the information you’re about to read. It’s so wonderful to see people actually making changes so quickly. Again, I wanted to see what they had to say, so I asked for some follow up information. So many times, as advocates we hear sighted people say they weren’t aware of issues needing to be changed. I believe that’s true sometimes. Sometimes we need to give sighted people a chance to see what they bring to the table without us constantly always giving suggestions. She sent me the following. “Miranda,
Per my contact, the team added Alt Text to the graphics to make them more machine readable. Was that helpful at all?
They also offered to establish direct contact with you to work out a better plan. Let me know if you would be open to that!”
I let her know that these are great changes and I would be happy to help in any way I can. It’s great when someone you have supported for so long is paying attention to all communities and has a team working to actually get things done. I’ve seen a lot of blind people in particular (yes, I know, sighted people get down about this too,) really down about this whole situation. There are terrible things about this for sure, but I hope this encourages people with disabilities to keep advocating. You’ll eventually find people who listen. Eventually you’ll find people who help put change into action.
Thanks for sticking with me and reading all this! Is there anything I’m not blogging about that I should be? Let’s connect! Find me on Twitter at mirandaloakley or leave me a comment on my site. If you find me on Facebook at Miranda Oakley, please let me know who you are and how you found me. Thanks.
My best to you,