Alternative Forms of Communication and the Minneapolis Government

People with the disability of blindness/poor sight and those that may be deaf/hard of hearing use alternative forms of communication. Some of the alternative forms of communication include: Large print, American Sign Language, closed-captioning, audio-description, and technology based voice adaptive and/or print adaptive machines, etc. As technology advances, we are able to offer more and more alternative forms of communicating for those who may need it. Being able to communicate effectively with others is a vital part of our human experience and learning.

With the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the American with Disabilities Act, one would hope that people with disabilities would not continue to be treated as an afterthought. Yet, this seems to be the case from Minneapolis City Government/leadership and elected officials. As a volunteer representative on the Advisory Council for Persons with Disabilities and the Civil Rights Commission for the City of Minneapolis, I am troubled by the city’s actions towards persons with disabilities.

The city had an ethics video produced for all city employees and volunteer representatives of the city to view. The video was not originally produced with closed-captioning or audio-description. The video was presented to the disability committee in its inappropriate format with the expectation we view it. We refused to view the video because we have people on our committee that use alternative forms of communicating. The city claimed it did not have any employees that used alternative forms of communication so they did not have to produce the video with these alternatives as it would have been cost prohibitive and there was not a request for the alternative format.

The city’s position is that people with disabilities that require alternative forms of communication have to notify the City in advance so proper arrangements can be made. There are two basic problems with this position: (1) The city constantly communicates with us daily on hundreds of issues. How are we to know in advance what they want to tell us and when?; and, (2) Any communication that needs to be re-done to accommodate people with disabilities is going to be more expensive. If City Government/leadership and elected officials were more diverse, aware of, and accepting of persons with disabilities, the cost issue would not be an issue.

I personally met with almost every City Council member, a representative from the Mayor’s office, and officials in CPED (Community Planning and Economic Development) and had to basically threaten them with a lawsuit based on the ADA and the Civil Rights Act before someone, such as the Communications Director at CPED, would take responsibility for the error and correct it

We live in a capitalist society where “Supply and Demand” reigns supreme. If city government, companies, organizations, and others used and requested alternative forms of communication as a normal part of everyday communication, instead of as an afterthought that’s too late, believe me, the paradigm shift in supply and demand would happen. With the increased demand for alternative forms of communication, the number of companies offering the service would increase, causing more competition, resulting in reduced cost and improved service to persons with disabilities and the community. If the City has no employees that are deaf/hard of hearing or blind/limited in vision, I beg the question as to why not? Could it be that City Government is not a welcoming or inclusive environment for persons with disabilities to work? What do you think?

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