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Technology Considerations for People with Disabilities During COVID-19

Case Study Last Reviewed: July 17, 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, disability stakeholder organizations and local jurisdictions created phone lines for individuals with disabilities to request grocery or general assistance. Crowdsourced mobile applications can assist individuals with disabilities while they are grocery shopping and cannot ask for in-person assistance due to social distancing guidelines.

The following is a list of key findings and considerations for jurisdictions and communities regarding ongoing COVID-19 pandemic operations across the country. These are best practices for consideration and do not constitute or should not be considered as guidance in any way.

This document contains references and links to non-federal resources and organizations. This information is meant solely for informational purposes and is not intended to be an endorsement of any non-federal entity by FEMA, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or the U.S. government.

Areas for Improvement

  • In efforts to adhere to stay home orders, many individuals are shopping online to buy essential goods. People with disabilities may experience challenges navigating websites given that many eCommerce sites are not fully accessible.
    • Mitigating Action: Businesses should refer to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Best Practices Toolkit to learn how existing website content aligns with accessibility regulations. Consider implementing website architecture that follows ADA guidelines.
    • Mitigating Action: Websites and online resources should be accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal agencies to make information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Non-federal agencies can also work to achieve 508 compliance (Source: FEMA Interview, 2020).

Potential Best Practices

  • In response to issues experienced by people with disabilities when accessing the internet, such as insufficient resources, Idaho disability stakeholder organizations created phone lines for people with disabilities in rural areas without internet access to call and request for food or assistance.
  • Colorado created an accessible Adobe Connect dashboard. Adobe Connect is a digital platform that allows for remote training, web conferencing, presenting, and collaborating. People with accessibility needs may find information on optimizing the Adobe Connect experience here and here (Source: FEMA Interview, 2020).
  • Although mobile applications may not be accessible to all people with disabilities, crowdsourced assistance mobile applications allow people who are blind or have low vision to shop without the help of store employees to identify products and read labels. Some smartphone apps can also read printed text aloud to identify products.
  • State, local, tribal, and territorial governments should ensure websites with emergency-related information are accessible to people with disabilities, by using captioned videos and alternative tags for images to increase readability by those who use screen readers and other assistive technologies. See the Department of Justice’s guidance on technical assistance on accessible technology.