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Technology is a lifesaver for many during the pandemic. For people with disabilities, it's been a challenge

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Viscardi Center
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From left: New Viscardi Center President Dr. Chris Rosa is welcomed by students and the Center's facility dog Sunny.

In some ways, the pandemic has made life easier for people with disabilities. They have been able to work from home while using their own assistive technology.

But according to the man in charge of technology at The Viscardi Center in New York, his clients remain frustrated by continued challenges, like trying to sign up for COVID vaccines online, getting to those appointments and getting a fair shot during virtual job interviews.

The Viscardi Center is a network of non-profit organizations that provide employment and education services to children and adults.

Viscardi’s Mike Caprara says of his clients, “They rely on assistive technologies that will read back the website, word for word — verbatim — and it allows them to navigate the website using keyboard navigation if they have motor disabilities or impairments. So, there is a lot of frustration out there with these COVID websites that are not made accessible for people with disabilities.”

Kroger settlement under ADA

One vaccine website now made easier will be Kroger’s.

On Friday the Justice Department settled with the Cincinnati-based grocery store under ADA to “eliminate barriers preventing people with certain disabilities from getting information about COVID-19 vaccinations and booking their vaccination appointments online.

A government news release says “The COVID-19 Vaccine Registration Portal for Kroger-branded stores was not accessible to people with certain disabilities, including those who use screen reader software.”

Kroger was told it must regularly test the pages of the website and quickly fix any problems.

The Viscardi Center’s Caprara says transportation to vaccine sites is also an issue. People with disabilities still must get to vaccine and testing locations and scheduling trips online is also of concern.

What about getting hired?

Companies are conducting first- and second-round interviews virtually in many cases, according to Viscardi’s Kim Brussell. “And it’s so important to make sure that those platforms are accessible because as you are interviewing individuals, you don’t know if they have a disability or not or need an accommodation to conduct an interview that shows all the skills that they can bring to the role.”

Once hired, Caprara says employees with disabilities need software like Slack and Microsoft Teams, where fellow workers can share documents and videos. He says closed captioning is essential for PowerPoint presentations.

Josh Basile, a quadriplegic attorney and community relations manager told CNBC, “It’s incredible what you can do with the right technology or the right accommodations. It’s created an even playing field in many ways. It allows you the opportunity to contribute at the highest level.”

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.