I have been employed and I have been unemployed. I have been a recipient of food stamps and I have lived in section 8 housing. I have collected social security disability payments. In general I can say that at the age of 52 I know a little bit about working and not working while negotiating the daily demands of having a disability. In this way I am a brother of millions. People with disabilities remain underemployed in the United States and the difficulties associated with acquiring reasonable workplace accommodations are still too numerous to document.
I teach at a major American public university and while the campus is largely accessible for students and staff with disabilities it is still often difficult to access many essential programs and services without a lot of squeeky wheeling. Even as I write, The Ohio State University is operating an on-line "course management" system that is inaccessible for people who use assistive software to navigate computer based domains. The university adopted the programming for this course management system even though the administrators and staff in the Information Technology sector were fully aware that the program was inaccessible. They were reassured by the company that sold them the programming that there would be accessibility changes for the system somewhere down the road.
I think that one of the most significant obstacles for employees with disabilities is represented by the example of Ohio State's Information Technology "snafu" with course management software. The major problem for pwds is a cultural matter rather than being merely a question of accessibility or design. The IT people at OSU assumed that accessibility for course management software was essentially someone else's problem. The thinking that underlies the decision to adopt inaccessible web based teaching software rests on the assertion that the inaccessibility of the system will be taken care of later and by someone who isn't currently in the room.
Because this is a cultural problem I must in turn become a singular and noisy individual. The famed anthropologist Victor Turner describes such figures as being "liminal people" since, in effect, such men and women are always standing on the threshold of the culture: neither completely "in" nor entirely "out". In the best ritual definition, such people are shamanic or they are oracles. In the worst sense, these figures are stigmatized for their differences and for speaking up.
I wish I felt more like a shaman at Ohio State but most days when the subject of teaching with assistive technology is under discussion I feel more like Oedipus than "the oracle".
Will Ohio State resolve their inaccessibility problems with course management systems? I think they will. But I hasten to add that I've been teaching at OSU for 7 years and I still can't put my courses online.
I don't like being a liminal person. I thought the ADA was going to take care of this. The issue is that society must change not only the laws that govern civil rights but it must also change local cultural attitudes about inclusion.