My ADA Story: A Deafblind Lawyer Dismantling Digital Barriers

My ADA Story: A Deafblind Lawyer Dismantling Digital Barriers

The President shared a moving story of how, in the years before Congress passed the ADA, his father-in-law — who had multiple sclerosis — would sometimes hold himself back because he didn’t want his disability to inconvenience others. With that story, President Obama reminded Americans that “We’ve got to tear down barriers externally, but we also have to tear down barriers internally.”

As someone who has struggled against attitudinal barriers, I loved hearing our President encourage the world to view access for people with disabilities as a civil and human right.

As a deafblind student, I witnessed advocates using the ADA to change social attitudes. The National Federation of the Blind regularly referenced the ADA when explaining to technology developers why designing access for people with disabilities is a necessity and not some optional cherry atop the Silicon Valley sundaes. I heard how the National Association of the Deaf used the ADA to increase closed-captioning online, and how Disability Rights Advocates used the ADA to compel Target’s tech team to make their website accessible to blind Americans.

Impressed by the success of the advocates, I felt inspired to join them. Back then, and even now, I encountered so many barriers in the digital world. Not because of my disability, but because of attitudes among tech developers that trivialize access for people with disabilities.

When I entered Harvard Law School, I encountered a serious question: How would a deafblind student succeed? I remember the first time I presented my communication system to a real-live lawyer. I felt many of the insecurities probably experienced by President Obama’s father-in-law. Would the lawyer think I was somehow inconveniencing her or slowing her down?

Knowing the power of confidence, I hid my insecurities and put on a smile: “Would you mind typing on this keyboard since I can’t hear you? I’ll be able to read what you type on this braille display.” To my surprise, she started typing.

I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I would survive law school.

Not only does the ADA make it possible for people with disabilities to obtain a world-class education, but it also empowers us to overcome our own insecurities in pursuit of our dreams. Two years after law school, through my work at Disability Rights Advocates, I helped achieve a legal victory in National Federation of the Blind v. Scribd, the second decision to hold that the ADA applies to e-commerce.

Read more: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/07/27/my-ada-story-deafblind-lawyer-dismantling-digital-barriers

Camilla Wood

UK based Legal Aid Lawyer

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