Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired is an organization that focuses on helping people who are blind live independently. Since June, the Florida-based organization has been monitoring the websites for presidential candidates, specifically looking for how compliant they are with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. With Nevada’s caucus right around the corner, KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck spoke with CEO Virginia Jacko about how the candidates scored and how this affects voters.
Starbuck: Your organization released data about the ADA compliancy of the current presidential candidates' websites. What are some key takeaways and highlights from that data?
Jacko: Well, when they were here in June for the first debate, while I am totally blind, I wanted to get information. I went to every candidate's website and every candidate's website was not accessible. Then we created a compliance meter (opens in a new tab) with the 10 parameters that one would look for in order to have an accessible website. In January (opens in a new tab), we took another look and we've updated [the ADA compliance meter] over four different months since June (opens in a new tab) because five of the candidates' information technology (IT) people got in touch. We provided them consultation in terms of what they needed to do to be in compliance with the ADA. I'm proud to say that every candidate has made some improvement.
Starbuck: Can you go over those 10 parameters for the criteria?
Jacko: So let me give you some examples. When the candidates were here in Miami, needless to say, it's a very large Spanish speaking population. They installed a widget on every one of their websites so that voters could get information either in Spanish or in English. That same widget in technology, for increasing the size of the font [and] changing the color contrast, could have been on those websites. Then in addition to that, is for them to have on their homepage and on all the other pages: an accessibility statement that the campaign was committed to website accessibility, and if the user was having any trouble, it [includes] the phone number and the email address of a live contact that could help them. Another is when you have a logo or a link and it's only a picture, we visually impaired people are using screen reading software. That software is looking for text, so if it's just a picture, it's going to say graphic and then you're shut out. In essence, it’s a barrier, just like steps for a wheelchair user.
Starbuck: If these websites aren't ADA compliant, who does this affect the most?
Jacko: There's 12 million visually impaired people [over the age of 40 (opens in a new tab)] out there. They're voters and they're donors. So, if they're not able to access the website, they're shut out from good policy information. The candidates are possibly shut out from having the contact information of these people and having them as donors.
Starbuck: What are some concrete changes candidates can do like right now?
Jacko: It's not that difficult to make these changes. Most of all, it's about knowledge and a willingness to invest a little bit of money to make the website changes. But we're not talking about, you know, an extremely expensive revamping. It's about just being in compliance with the ADA. Businesses need to be in compliance. There's a lot of lawsuits right now out there. I'm not an advocate of lawsuits. I'm an advocate of helping people.
Starbuck: Why did you decide to do this kind of work?
Jacko: I was a very successful executive at Purdue University. I rose to the top of the business office organization and I was struggling a little bit with my eyesight. When I went to the eye doctor and I was diagnosed [with] a degenerative eye disease that probably would lead to total blindness, I called my mother. She was a nurse, a very pragmatic person. My mother says, "Well, then I'll just pray that you do big things for the blind." I said, "Mom, I don't even know any blind people. What are you talking about?" She said, "I'm going to pray, and I believe that you will turn this around, and you will help a lot of people." So I found my passion through my disability.
To find the ADA compliance meter for each of the presidential candidate websites, please visit miamilighthouse.org (opens in a new tab).
Lucia Starbuck is a senior at the Reynolds School of Journalism (opens in a new tab).
KUNR is working toward increasing our website’s accessibility. If you experience any issues accessing our content, please call our office line at (775) 682-6300 (calls KUNR's office phone line).