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HREI announces formation of Regional Accessibility Committee

| May 19, 2023 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — The Human Rights Education Institute has formed a regional accessibility committee comprising local nonprofit, business and government leaders.

“When we consciously make an effort to remove obstacles for individuals with disabilities, we strengthen our entire community,” Jeanette Laster, HREI executive director, said in a news release. “Everyone gets the same chances and access as anybody else, the same opportunities to experience life, enabling everyone to have access to everything. Accessibility represents a goal for all of us to reach.”

Committee goals include identifying current disability and inclusion resources; auditing services, tools and plans to open opportunities for more accessible space and environments; funding shortfalls to help pay for solutions to discovered barriers and more disability and inclusion awareness; and opportunities and training at community and professional levels.

HREI announced the move Thursday, which was the 12th Global Accessibility Awareness Day, meant to raise awareness about digital access and inclusion and the more than 1 billion people with disabilities/impairments.

“Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, accessibility is a protected human right and is essential to countering ableism and ensuring all people, regardless of disability or other identity, can live independently,” said Whitney Pfeifer, HREI board president. “Accessibility doesn’t just benefit persons with disabilities, but has universal implications about how we think about and design society that ensures all people can participate fully in all aspects of life on an equal basis with others.”

Federal laws also support disability advocacy and digital access and inclusion. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794 d) mandates federal agencies make electronic and information technologies accessible to everyone — employees or members of the public.

The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1980, requiring the fair and equal treatment of people with disabilities. In 2010, the Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) ensures that legislation written in the 80s and 90s is updated to accommodate 21st century technology.

Common disabilities solutions and needs include alternate text descriptions and keyboard versus mouse for visually impaired interaction and captioning for hearing impaired. Individuals with motor-skill disabilities may need adaptive hardware to navigate systems and platforms. Learning disabilities often need plain language with decluttered screens and workstations.

Marcee Hartzell, executive director of TESH, said accessibility is essential to inclusion, to equity and to a better community. Global Accessibility Awareness Day is about making a more inclusive community for everyone, no matter a person's range of ability or disability, she said.

“Accessibility is for everybody; disabled, differently abled, neuro-divergent, the ordinarily average, even the superhuman heroes,” Hartzell said. “It goes beyond simply removing the limitations on access and makes things easier for everyone.