Emily Shuman has always had an affinity for working with people with disabilities.
As media coordinator for the Rocky Mountain ADA Center, an organization that provides information and resources on the Americans with Disabilities Act, she helps individuals and businesses in a six-state region understand and comply with the law.
Shuman, 30, is a Colorado Springs native. She graduated from Cheyenne Mountain High School, attended Pikes Peak Community College and earned a bachelor of science in business administration with an emphasis in IT management from Western Governors University, an online school that enabled her to continue working and raising her daughter, now 11 years old.
Her first job at age 19 was providing home care services for children and adults with disabilities through Special Kids/Special Families. She later became supervisor of the organization’s adult residential program.
In 2013, she joined the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, where she served as a workforce development specialist and headed a volunteer services program.
Shuman was laid off from the Workforce Center in 2017 due to budget cuts and worked briefly for The Gazette. Then she was contacted about an opening at the ADA Center by Director Dana Barton, whom she had met through the Workforce Center.
She interviewed, was hired and joined the ADA Center in April 2018.
Shuman noted that July 26 is the 29th anniversary of the ADA’s implementation. She hopes that will be the occasion for businesses and individuals to recommit to its principles.
“The ADA is the first civil rights law for people with disabilities to have access to life in public spaces — to services and programs of your state and local government, to businesses, to retail, to organizations and nonprofits,” she said. “It’s not about providing extra benefits or giving people with disabilities an extra advantage. It’s just about elevating them to an equal starting place so that they have the same opportunities as everyone else.”
Tell us what you do at Rocky Mountain ADA Center.
I do all of the marketing and communications work. I’m typically going to be the first person you talk to when you come to the ADA Center, whether that’s because you call in or you contact us via the web page or social media. I do technical assistance, and I answer questions about the ADA. I do media interviews, and I help produce our ‘Sign of the Day’ videos for our account on Instagram, which is called Rocky Mountain Daily Signs. Every day there’s a new sign for people trying to learn sign language or teach their kids or just have something extra fun to look at during the day.
Let’s talk about what Rocky Mountain ADA Center does.
The Rocky Mountain ADA Center is one of 10 federally funded ADA centers across the country. We serve Colorado, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The services we provide are technical assistance, so answers to questions people have about what their rights are under the ADA, what their responsibilities are under the ADA. Do I have to allow service animals in my business? Do I have to have an accessible restroom? Or how many accessible parking spaces do I need? Or how do I talk to my employer about getting a reasonable accommodation? Those are all typical questions.
We have several free online trainings on our website, covering basic ADA topics and frequently asked questions. We also can do customized training for businesses, if they want something more specific to their industry, or a mix of several topics.
And then we provide materials that we sell in our shop. We have pocket guides that cover different ADA topics. Most of them have some related sign language signs. So if you’re in law enforcement, we have a law enforcement pocket guide that helps officers communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. We also sell a service animal poster for businesses that want to welcome service animals but also want to have a quick reference when they need to explain to someone, ‘This is not a service animal. Here are the regulations around service animals, therefore, I find that I can exclude this animal, based on these regulations.’ I definitely would recommend people check that out at ShopRockyMountainADA.org.
And then, because we’re funded by one of the federal research institutions, a certain portion of our funding is required to go towards research. We’ve done research on drive-by lawsuits, which is definitely a hot topic. [Drive-by lawsuits are actions filed by people who drive around looking for ADA violations such as a lack of accessible parking spaces.] We’ve done research on whether vacation rental properties are covered by the ADA.
Yes, with limited exceptions. We’d recommend people go check out the research on our website if they want to see the full rundown.
Let’s talk about accessible websites and social media. That’s been in the news lately.
Accessible websites are kind of the next wave of drive-by lawsuits. We’re calling them search-by lawsuits. Basically a plaintiff will go on a website, see that it’s not accessible to somebody who’s blind or low vision when using a screen reader, and then sue the owner of that website. Typically, it’s an effort to extort them, … so not only is it exploiting the business, but it’s also not making anything more accessible because there’s no follow-up or follow-through.
The Department of Justice has made it very clear that websites are to be accessible and that they are covered under Titles II and III of the ADA. But there’s not been any guidance issued as far as what does that look like.
So businesses are kind of in a tough spot because they know they have to be accessible; otherwise they’re opened up to liability, these predatory lawsuits or action via the Department of Justice, but they don’t have any really good guidance. … There was some advance notice of proposed rulemaking, but then the current administration put a hold on all of that. But the onus is still on businesses to make sure that their websites are accessible [to people who have low vision or hearing and those who use assistive technologies]. And when it comes to accessible social media, that’s kind of a whole new area that nobody’s really talking about, but I think it’s on the horizon as far as things that people will be taken to court for, because you could argue that social media is an extension of your website, or a service that your business provides.
What do you tell people when they ask you about website compliance?
There is a standard called the Website Accessibility Content Guidelines. These are regulations that are in place because of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which is a different law that applies to federal agencies. They’re not specifically attached to the ADA, but we recommend that people use those guidelines for accessible websites.
Our instructional designer here is really good about checking websites and doing the testing. So if people have a question about their website, we’re happy to have him look at it and give them some recommendations.
Is this going to be mandatory for everyone? Or is it just certain businesses that will need to do this?
It depends. Title II entities, which are state and local government entities, this is definitely a requirement for them. … It’s fair to say they are required for Title III entities, which are places of public accommodation. What we would advise a business is, you don’t want to wait to get sued. The smart thing to do would just be to make accessibility a priority and make a good-faith effort for your website to be accessible to everyone. And it’s a smart business move to because you’re going to get more business that way. We know that globally, people with disabilities have about $400 billion of disposable income.
What other aspects of the ADA should businesses be cognizant of?
Well, there’s one major misconception about the ADA. A lot of people are under the impression that if their building was built before 1990, when the law was signed, that it’s grandfathered in and they don’t have to comply. Standards for accessible design were released in 1991, and there were new standards that came out in 2010. You don’t have to start updating things to meet the 2010 standards if you did meet those 1991 standards, so you have that safe harbor. However, once you start remodeling or updating your facilities, you have to come up to the 2010 standards.
What advice would you give to other young professionals?
I would just like to emphasize the importance of finding good mentors — people that you think are successful, that you look up to — and get to know them. I would also recommend that people just don’t underestimate the value of working hard and giving 110 percent, and going above and beyond. Even when you think that that’s going unnoticed, you’ll find that when you’re putting yourself out there for an opportunity, those things have been noticed and they’ve worked to your credit.