Section 508 Compliance: Stifle Your Groan and Remember Why

Aug 09

If you have worked on a government project since 1998, you have probably heard someone say “508 compliance.” If you’re experience is similar to mine, that utterance was probably followed by a groan.

A picture of a blind man listening to a screen reader

It’s true, sometimes taking the extra time to make a material compliant with Section 508 guidelines can feel like an undue burden—especially when you’ve very likely already labored over the development of that material in so many other ways.  But I think this feeling comes only when we allow ourselves to forget why the government requires us make things 508 compliant in the first place.

For those not familiar with Section 508 Compliance—and for those who have heard the term but never an explanation—let me give you a quick background. In 1998, Congress amended the U.S. Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. This means that federal agencies cannot buy, develop, maintain, or use electronic or information technology that is inaccessible to people with disabilities.  So basically, Section 508 requires that we, as professionals who create materials on behalf of government clients, make sure that these materials can be accessed and understood by people who have visual, hearing, cognitive, and/or motor disabilities.

I’m certain no one reading this blog is so callous as to begrudge a disabled person access to information. But I’d be willing to bet that few non-disabled readers truly understand what it might be like to try to access information when you have a disability. Be honest. Have you ever tried to access a website without the use of a mouse? Have you ever listened to a PDF reader “read” a document? So, let’s do a little experiment so that we can all gain some small amount of empathy.

Imagine for moment that you have a motor disability that prevents you from using a mouse.  Go ahead. Put your mouse aside. Now, using only your keyboard, I want you to navigate from this web page to your favorite website and click on a link that is about half way down that page. I’ll give you a hint: you need to use the tab key to move from link to link. When you’re done, don’t forget to come back and finish reading. Okay. Ready, set, go!

A picture of a baby in a car seat typing on a keyboard

Welcome back! How’d it go? For those of you who are lucky enough to have a favorite website that is Section 508 compliant, you probably noticed that it took quite a while to get to the link you wanted. But at least you could get there. For those who have a favorite website that isn’t fully compliant, you might not have been able to get to your link at all.  And this is just one possible issue that might be encountered by someone living with a disability when trying to access information.

So the next time you hear someone say, “We need to make sure this is 508 compliant,” stifle that groan and remember:

  • More than 1 million Americans are legally blind, nearly 3 million are color blind, and more than 11 million have visual conditions that are not corrected by glasses.
  • About 28 million Americans are deaf or hearing impaired.
  • Almost 33% of adults have at least one basic actions difficulty or complex activity limitation.
  • Almost 14 million people over age 5 have difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.

And know that of these millions of people living with disabilities, it is very likely that someone will greatly appreciate the work you did to make your information accessible.

Leveling the Playing Field?

Jul 31

2012 USA Olympic Team, Opening Ceremony

As millions of us tuned into the Olympic’s Opening Ceremony we saw for the first time, the United States sending more women than men. During the games, 269 women will wear the red, white, and blue; while only 261 men are part of the U.S. delegation. Athletes like Shawn Johnson, Kerri Walsh Jennings, and Gabby Douglas are just as much of household names as Ryan Lochte, Justin Gatlin, and Anthony Davis. Is this a result of Title IX?

Forty years ago, young girls were only able to dream of playing collegiate and professional sports with the same opportunities as their male counterparts. In 1972, President Nixon signed into law what we know today as Title IX, making it illegal to discriminate against participation, education, or financial assistance based on sex. Its impact extends off the sports fields as well, into the classroom and education programs.

The effects of this are evident wherever you look – from the iconic image of Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt after scoring the winning goal in the 1999 World Cup, to ESPN broadcasting the NCAA women’s basketball selection show in primetime, women’s sports have come a long way from Billie Jean King battling Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes.

Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt after scoring the winning goal in the 1999 World Cup

A 2006 study revealed the number of women in college sports has increased more than 450% since Title IX was passed. But have we gone too far? Have women’s successes lead to us ignoring men?

Around the country, men’s collegiate sports programs are being cut an alarming rate. Princeton and Syracuse cut the wrestling programs, Boston University does not have official football team, and Colgate‘s baseball team has been defunded as well. Nearby, the University of Maryland recently cut its men’s track teams (indoor and outdoor track, cross-country) while my alma matter James Madison University dropped a host of sports in 2007 including men’s  archery, indoor and outdoor track, cross-country, gymnastics, swimming, and wrestling. UCLA cut its men’s swimming and diving program, which produced 16 Olympic Gold Medalists, and dropped its men’s gymnastics team after it comprised half of the gold medal winning 1984 Olympic squad, the last U.S. men’s team to win gold. The list goes on.

Wrestling has seen the brunt of the cuts as 355 college teams (22,000 roster positions) have been eliminated in the past decade. Cross country, indoor track, golf, tennis, rowing, outdoor track and swimming have been the other’s most affected – all Olympic sports. This potentially doesn’t bode well for our future on the world’s biggest athletic stage.

Men playing Olympic sports, across the country are losing the opportunity to go to college on an athletic scholarship because of “having to level the playing field.” According to Title IX, the number of athletic scholarships has to be equal for men and women so what’s happening to all the high school wrestlers and track runners who cannot afford college without assistance? If these athletes cannot play college sports, what happens to their future Olympic dreams?

Are we doing exactly what we promised not to do with Title IX? While attempting to encourage women and provide them with ample opportunities, have we deemphasized our support for everyone else? Were we short-sighted in our thinking? What implications will this have for future Olympics, future American athletics, and our overall global positioning?

Can I Quote You on That?

Jul 27

A recent article in the Texas Observer brought up the question that I hear a lot in my media trainings: will reporters share their story pre-publication with me? If you’re talking to  the Texas Observer, the answer is an emphatic “no.” If you’re talking to The Washington Post, the answer is “maybe” – an answer that so galls the Texas Observer that they wrote about it.

Some background:  reporters see themselves almost akin to umpires; they call ‘em as they see ‘em. Good journalists take the responsibility seriously and work hard to get it right – the first time. They also work very hard to get people to speak openly and freely.  Most reporters worry that  if they let a source – the people they are interviewing – review an article before it’s published, the source will see what others are saying and decide he or she needs to be more circumspect. Hence the open and free conversation the reporter was seeking becomes restrained and cautious and the source might demand unwarranted changes that will affect the tone and tenor of the story.  Fact checking is different. Facts are either right or wrong, how a person comes across in a quote is up for a lot of interpretation. That is why most reporters pride themselves on being good interpreters: of politics, of science, of business, and learn to stand by what they heard.

Back to the current discussion: so a Post reporter visited the University of Texas and interviewed a bunch of administrators about their testing policy. He then wrote his story and sent it to the people there and told them, “everything here is negotiable” – before The Post published it – on the front page no less. According to public emails acquired by the Texas Observer, the school did change the original copy to softened their criticism of the current tests being used.

The Texas Observer saw this as an abrogation of a reporter’s duty to get it right the first time and to “call ‘em as he sees ‘em.” Surprisingly, The Post wrote their own article about the Texas Observer piece and headlined it with: “Should a reporter’s source get a preview of the story?” The Post stands by the article saying it still had comments in it that criticized testing. But the article admits that even though The Post allows reporters to “fact check” stories particularly in complex science stories, “it is not our policy (The Post’s) to routinely read stories or parts of stories to sources or to share copy with outsiders…”

One of our clients recently worked with The Wall Street Journal on a complicated science story and was amazed at how much they got to see of the article before the story was published. This, however, is an exception to the rule. In general, don’t expect reporters to share their article with you before they go to print. Most reporters won’t do it, and those who will do it, will be excoriated by their colleagues.

The Post advanced the story after I posted this. Their ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, didn’t like what happened and was appalled with the quote from the reporter (now that’s a switch) indicating, “everything’s negotiable” to his source.  He said it was “time for some backbone,” and that “because of the changes in technology (i.e. the Internet) and relentless financial pressures, the press is weaker that it has been in many years. We look over our shoulders too much, we bow to the wises of officialdom too often, we yield too readily to ideologues.”

He seems to see it as “old school” vs. “new school” journalism. If that’s the case, my clients might be reviewing a lot more copy in the future. This gives a new dimension to the cliche, “can I quote you on that?”

The First Social Media Olympic Games … Or Not?

Jul 26

The First Social Media Olympic Games … Or Not?

As the opening ceremonies begin tomorrow, so too will the idea that athletes are no longer just idolized sports stars, they are creating content that is being shared around the world.  Some 10,000 competing athletes from 200 countries will be using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, among other social media to share information, photos, and commentary about events as they happen.

An Olympic Story…from a Public Health Point of View

Jul 19

With about one week remaining until the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, media outlets across the world have been and will continue to cover the trials, athletes, uniforms, performers, and much more. But, from a public health and social marketing perspective, there’s another type of story that we need to ensure gets out there – a story about staying healthy when traveling to London. Massive gatherings, particularly ones of THIS size, call for major health preparedness plans to be in place. During the Olympic Games, visitors to London are estimated to increase by approximately 325,000 each day! With the immense influx of visitors, local residents, spectators, officials, and athletes, need to take the proper precautions while attending the Games, but also when they’re returning home. Flu pandemics in the past have caused massive public health issues, such as the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak after WWI that killed up to 40 million people or the Swine Flu outbreak during 2009-2010, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affected between 43 and 89 million people in the United States. To make matters worse, according to a recent Maplecroft study, the UK is already at “extreme risk” for an influenza pandemic because of its popularity as a key travel center, the highly populated and densely packed cities, and a very mobile population. Check out their map below to see what other countries are at risk.

Map of the world showing each country's risk for an influenza outbreak

Luckily, public health agencies and organizations throughout the world and in London in particular are on it! According to the Health Protection Agency (HPA), they are “working closely with partners in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to ensure the health of those attending and participating is protected.” So, if you’re going to the Olympics and want to stay healthy, here are a few tips from HPA and CDC:

  • Make sure you (and anyone traveling with you) are up-to-date on their vaccinations, particularly the measles vaccine.
  • Watch what you bring home! If you’re not vaccinated when traveling abroad and contract measles, you could bring it back to the States.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • If you become sick with a stomach bug or flu-like illness, don’t spread it! And, just to be safe, stay home.
  • To prevent heatstroke, wear sun block and a hat.
  • Drink a lot of water, but make sure it’s safe by ensuring the cap is sealed (with bottled water) or obtaining it from an “authorized water point.”

If you’re heading to the 2012 Olympics, remember those simple tips and, most importantly, have fun and go team USA!

Recipe for Change: Wrap Up of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior’s (SNEB) Annual Conference

Jul 17

The Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) recently held its 2012 Annual Conference in Washington, DC, July 14-16.

SNEB is a community of professionals involved in nutrition education and health promotion from across the world. Members join from academia, government agencies, cooperative extension, communications and public relations firms, the food industry, voluntary and service organizations, and other educational nutrition and health organizations.

“Energy from Synergy” was the theme of this years’ conference, which highlighted innovative nutrition and behavior research, as well as new consumer-focused education materials.

One of the conference’s popular sessions was a screening of the new documentary “Cafeteria Man.” The film tells a compelling story of one Baltimore, MD, school district working to overhaul a dysfunctional and unhealthy nutritional system feeding over 83,000 students each year.

The film chronicles Tony Gareci, a food services director for the city’s public schools, and his quest to reform the system.  A trained chef from New Orleans, LA, Gareci, envisions a transformed food system including school gardens providing fresh produce, meals designed by students, and more nutritional education in the classroom.

The documentary serves as a nice analogy to this year’s SNEB conference.  SNEB is working to educate consumers, healthcare providers, and government agencies about the importance of nutrition and behavior change to reinforce healthy eating around the country.  Changing the way Americans view food and nutrition in schools through education is a central message carried through the ‘Cafeteria Man’ and echoed by the film’s Gareci, who says: “We need a recipe for change.”

Courage and Creativity in Social Marketing: Learning from the life of Lyn Lusi

Jul 09

I was deeply moved by the Economist’s obituary of Lyn Lusi. I had not heard of her or of her work running the hospital, HEAL Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I did not know both George Clooney and Hilary Clinton are among her admirers. I did not know that she was responsible for ensuring the treatment of thousands of women with genital fistula and returning these women not only healed but capable, to families that would have otherwise abandoned them.

I am in awe of her courage, dedication and tremendous heart.  Most of us will never achieve what she has, but we can certainly do what we can, and learn from her.

Reading about her life and work made me want to be a better social marketer, and here are but two of the many thoughts I have not been able to put to rest:

  • Lusi’s work was desperately needed but in many ways unwelcome. Genital fistula is frankly, a horrific condition, both physically and socially, and efforts to address it are challenged by severe political and cultural barriers. I think we need to be reminded that very often social marketing work is at its core, unwelcome. It’s easy for us, and our clients to assume that communities want to change, that our messages will be embraced. It’s very hard to hear they don’t and won’t, and even harder to find the alternative approach.
  • Lusi’s work was comprehensive. Lusi employed women in the community to welcome patients and taught patients valuable skills. If she only advertised that her hospital would treat fistula it surely would been less complicated, more prudent—and also less effective. Social marketers often make the mistake of attacking the problem from only one angle (often the communications angle). Working at Ogilvy, I’m proud to say we strive for comprehensive approaches. However, clients can be afraid to go out of their comfort zone, and it’s easy to let that restrict creativity.

Lyn Lusi was a French language teacher from England who faced fistula in Africa, challenging and working around enormous barriers and her own humble self-perceptions. We can (and should) be braver and more creative in our own way for our clients.

I hope you’ll take the time to read about Lyn Lusi. What might you do more of, or differently (professionally, or personally) after learning about her work?

Social Media in Disaster Preparedness and Response

Jul 05

If you’ve ever doubted how wired and connected we’ve become, take a look at the faces of people around you as a flight attendant announces that all portable devices must be turned off prior to takeoff.  It’s a scurry to check e-mail or Facebook just one last time.   And as that plane touches down, it’s a similar response—a mass reach for the mobile device to see what may have transpired while we were unplugged for the last 90 minutes.

We communicate online.  For many people, the first they will learn or hear of an important news event or incident is through their computer or mobile device.

Those in the emergency preparedness and response community—from elected officials and non-profits to the media and the military—are realizing that social media has the power to transform the way emergency communications and operations are managed before, during and after the event.

On June 26th, I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion at Ogilvy Washington—along with partners Defense Daily and Northrop Grumman—on the Expanding Use of Social Media in Disaster Preparedness and Response.  Our panel included Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Suzy DeFrancis (Chief Public Affairs Officer at the American Red Cross), Jason Samenow (Chief Meteorologist and Founder of the Washington Post’s “Capital Weather Gang”), and Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello (Director, Navy Newsdesk, U.S. Navy).

Each of these individuals brought a very unique perspective of what it means to communicate online in the face of an unfolding emergency or disaster response scenario.  They were extremely frank in sharing what worked well, where they need to improve, and how they are learning to weave social media into their organizations’ operations.

I invite you to watch the highlights video from the event below.

A big pill to swallow? FDA approves new diet pill

Jun 29

This week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first new prescription diet pill in 13 years, providing a new option for the roughly one-third of American adults considered obese. This approval was covered widely due not only to the opportunity that it provides for some people trying to lose weight to bridge the gap between using diet and exercise to lose weight or using surgery, but also because of the rocky history of diet pills and the potential pitfalls of relying on a pill to achieve a more healthful lifestyle.

With over 1/3 of the American population overweight or obese, is this new diet pill the silver bullet? Or will it still come down to a matter of behavior modification to address this epidemic? With diet pills coming soon to a store or doctor’s office near you, is there still a role for social marketing in preventing overweight and obesity?

For me the answer is overwhelmingly yes. There is no one answer to changing an individual’s behavior to better their health, and ultimately reduce the incidence of overweight and obesity. While a diet pill may aid in weight loss, ultimately it still comes down to an individual’s choice to eat better and get more exercise – the old adage that it’s all about calories in and calories out still applies. So in fact, in some ways, we’re all working in partnership, whether it be the manufacturers making a diet pill or those of us working to affect positive behavior change to prevent overweight and obesity as a public health imperative.

Tackling obesity isn’t just about any one thing or one approach. It’s about changing perceptions and attitudes about health. And for that, it’s all hands on deck!

It Takes Two to Treat

Jun 22

When was the last time you openly questioned your doctor’s advice?

Think about it. When was the last time your doctor prescribed a treatment, and you said, “Well, I don’t think that’s best for me. Let’s talk about what other options are available”?  If you’ve never said those words, you’re not alone.

As a society, we put a lot of emphasis on personal responsibility for maintaining health and preventing disease: eat healthy foods, exercise, get screened for cancer. But what happens when we get sick? Suddenly, it seems that expectation for personal responsibility evaporates. Instead, we look to our doctor to provide the answers—to tell us what we should do, which treatment is best, and how it will affect us.

A recent study published in Health Affairs found that most patients felt they couldn’t talk to their doctors about treatment options—they were worried about angering or upsetting them, and some even worried that they would receive worse care if they questioned their health care provider.  As a post on the New York Times’ Well Blog put it:

The participants responded that they felt limited, almost trapped into certain ways of speaking with their doctors. They said they wanted to collaborate in decisions about their care but felt they couldn’t because doctors often acted authoritarian, rather than authoritative.

Image Credit: hang_in_there, Flickr

I can understand those patients in the study. I too have sat on that exam table, ready to ask questions and get advice—and then promptly clammed up when the doctor finished her rushed exam and looked up.  It’s not an environment that invites engagement; and the hurried nature of most medical appointments makes it hard to get a word in.

I’m not saying that doctors aren’t the experts—they are.  But we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t speak up about our treatment preferences—never asking if there may be a more effective treatment, or one with fewer side effects or a lower cost, never challenging our doctors to see us as individuals.  When we rely solely on our doctors’ opinions, we run the risk of getting care that doesn’t address our individual needs.

In public health, our campaigns often urge people to “talk to your doctor” about various disease or treatments. But, perhaps it’s time for us to focus not only on starting the conversation, but empowering patients to participate in meaningful, two-way conversations with their doctors—helping patients believe that they have the right (and the responsibility) to ask questions, assert their opinions, and challenge themselves and their doctors to a higher standard of care.