News, Views, and Information about Disability

Disability News, Views, Information, and Literature

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Proposed Laws Require Workplace Accommodations for Pregnant Women

would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women, such as allowing them to sit periodically even if they normally stand all day, or let them carry a water bottle, even if company policy prohibits it.
The second bill, LD 777 would permit employees who are breastfeeding to file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission if their employer doesn't provide a suitable space for them to express milk. Employers already are required to provide a clean, private place for nursing mothers to express milk; making failure to do so a human rights violation would be new.

These bills have the support of the ACLU, women's groups, and pro-life groups, but others find the use of "reasonable accommodation" language problematic, saying that these bills would put pregnancy in the same legal class as disability:
James Erwin, an attorney [for] insurance company Unum, opposed [LD 830], say[s], “Requiring employers to accommodate the effects of ordinary pregnancies as if they were disabilities, when the law says they are not, adds an unnecessary and duplicative protection that will create confusion and, most certainly, litigation.”
Read the article, "Pair of bills would require allowances for new mothers in the workplace."

Medical Marijuana Patients Protest in Maine

Ability Maine's Mike Reynolds covers the patient protests in Hallowell and Augusta of the state's failure to warn patients that the medical marijuana dispensary, The Wellness Connection of Maine, was under investigation for tainted by mold and pesticide.

According to Reynolds' article
The state's month-long investigation of the WCM, which has four dispensaries in Maine, revealed more than 20 violations of regulations regarding the cultivation of medical marijuana. Most of the violations involved the use of pesticides and fungicides to kill mold on the plants. During the course of the investigation, the state allowed patients to continue to purchase the tainted product.
To read the complete story, read "Patients Protest State's Handling of Medical Marijuana Investigation" at Ability Maine.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cover Maine Now! Supporting Health Care, Economic Vitality, and Jobs in Maine

A coalition of dozens of health, civil rights, labor, and other organizations have come together to support the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Maine. Proponents say this step will stimulate $350 million in economic activity and create 3,100 jobs in Maine, as well as providing health care coverage to up to 69,500 Mainers who are currently uninsured.

In an email to a disability group in Maine, Jennifer Lunden explained what's at stake and how Mainers can get involved:
A new coalition of concerned businesses called Cover Maine Now! has been working to bring new federal funds to Maine to provide healthcare coverage to tens of thousands of uninsured Mainers. My agency, the Center for Creative Healing, is a member of this important coalition fighting for health justice.

You can help us out by signing this new petition which will go to your state legislators. Accepting these federal funds will save lives and save money. It's a win/win! 
I am so appreciative of your help last year fighting devastating cuts to MaineCare. This is an opportunity to not only restore funding, but to increase it. Thank you for taking action!
The petition, which can be signed and sent from the Cover Maine Now! website, is short and simple. It says
Maine Legislature: Save lives and save money by covering more Mainers!  
Accepting the federal dollars that have already been set aside to cover Maine’s uninsured will benefit all Maine people and boost Maine’s economy.
  • More Mainers will have health insurance. 
  • Health care costs will go down. 
  • More lives will be saved and people will be healthier. 
  • Maine’s economy will grow.
I call on you to accept the federal funds set aside for Maine to provide health coverage to more than 69,500 Mainers and save taxpayer dollars by fully expanding MaineCare.
To learn more about this bill intended to bring more money into the state for health care and healthcare-related jobs, visit Cover Maine Now! You'll find fact sheets, media releases, and the petition mentioned above, and other information.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Worldwide Lyme Disease Awareness Protest

Lyme disease activists from around the world are coordinating a day of activism to bring attention to Lyme disease on May 10 and 11, 2013. Activists list six goals for the protests:

According to the website worldwide patients are raising awareness and protesting to highlight the need for:
1. Recognition that Lyme disease/borreliosis, and other tick-borne infections, such as Babesia, Bartonella, Rickettsia, Ehrlichia, are serious, and sometimes fatal illnesses.  
2. Awareness of the fact that the transmission of tick-borne pathogens, such as borrelia, babesia, rickettsia, via blood transfusion is of global concern. 
3. Agreement that Lyme disease/borreliosis should be listed as a notifiable infection. Notifiable status will aid in ensuring that the incidence and spread of this disease are monitored, a necessary precursor to determining the human suffering and socioeconomic impact of the disease. 
4. Education of the healthcare sector regarding the accurate diagnosis of Lyme, which in some cases may be limited to clinical presentation due to limitations of serological testing. 
* Education should ensure all doctors are familiar with the CDC caution pertaining to criteria for blood tests for Lyme: “This surveillance case definition was developed for national reporting of Lyme disease; it is NOT appropriate for clinical diagnosis. . . Surveillance case definitions are created for the purpose of standardization, not patient care.” * Education that Lyme should be included as a differential diagnosis when considering other illnesses that are also reliant on subjective clinical presentation, or have no known cause. This includes, but is not limited to: Motor Neurone Disease (MND) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) ; Multiple Sclerosis ; Alzheimer’s; Parkinson’s disease; Sarcoidosis. 
5. Education of the healthcare sector regarding affordable and effective treatment of both acute and chronic Lyme and other tick-borne infections. This includes the need to update the outdated treatment guidelines of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and to take into account the treatment methods of other Societies such as: The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) and the German Borreliosis Society (Deutsche Borreliose-Gesellschaft : DBG) 
6. Funding for research into tick-borne diseases. Including: Funding for medical research into accurate Lyme testing and treatment ; Funding for research into vectors and reservoir hosts to determine what diseases they may carry and transmit. 
In Maine, the protest will take place on May 11 at Monument Square, Portland. Angela Rice is coordinating the Lyme disease protest in Maine. Participants are encouraged to hand out brochures and tick kits, hang lime green ribbons, sign petitions, and to take part in a letter-writing campaign.

More information about how Mainers can get involved is available at the protest website or on the Facebook planning page. Lyme activists and allies from other states or countries outside the US can find out what's happening in their area at the worldwide Lyme disease awareness protest website, as well.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Traumatic Brain Injury Leads to Surprising Partnership between Two Portland Rabbis

An article in today's Jewish Daily Forward tells the tale of Rabbi Alice Goldfinger and Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld, a Reform and an Orthodox rabbi in the Portland Maine area. Goldfinger lives with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) which she sustained in 2009. The TBI ended Goldfinger's career as she knew it as the rabbi of a Reform congregation. However, Herzfeld reached across the denominational and gender divide to invite Goldfinger to lead services at his Modern Orthodox synagogue.

Both rabbis were interviewed for the article:
“It’s irregular and out of my comfort zone,” [Herzfeld] said, looking at Goldfinger. “But it was important to let her know that I was with her in her struggle to be strong and… that I was going out of my comfort zone —” 
“And that’s when he said, ‘One of us had to be uncomfortable; why should it have to be me?” Goldfinger interrupted, referring to a quote she included in her moving nomination of Herzfeld for the Forward’s America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis series, which appeared in March. 
“I tried to imagine what it would be like for me to be a female Reform rabbi. I thought, what if I were her and she was me? I would want him to ask me to lead services,” said Herzfeld, 34, who joined Shaarey Tphiloh, Maine’s oldest synagogue, five years ago. 
“Women’s issues in Orthodox Judaism are controversial,” he said bluntly, “but it was important to do this for her — for our synagogue to know that we have a rabbi coming and we will respect her, and realize that she continues to be a religious leader even if she doesn’t have the position of rabbi of a large synagogue.”
Read the rest of the article.

Not Dead Yet Reports on NEJM Article and Poll on Assisted Suicide

The disability rights organization, Not Dead Yet, just as posted on their blog that a recent New England Journal of Medicine article presented the pros and cons of assisted suicide. What is perhaps most interesting is that the NEJM website is conducting a poll. If you would like to weigh in on whether or not you support assisted suicide you can vote here on the right side of the page.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Maine Human Rights Commission Sides with Guide Dog Partner

The Portland Press Herald reported on February 25 that a Presque Isle diner accompanied by his guide dog was discriminated against at an Augusta restaurant. According to the article, "Ruling Backs Humiliated Blind Diner":
Bruce Archer . . . was seated apart from the rest of the diners . . . and "each time I went up to the buffet and everywhere I walked, there was a woman with a bucket on wheels following right behind me, mopping." . . .
Read more about the case and see a picture of Archer, along with his attorney and his Golden Retriever Seeing Eye dog, Flash, in the Portland Press Herald article.

Web Resources for Mainers with Disabilities

Here are two websites on applying for disability that provide some of the same basic info, but with other little extras: How to File for Disability in Maine is a WikiHow that takes you step-by-step through the process of applying for Social Security disability. Filing for Disability in Maine seems to be part of a law company's site and includes some interesting and relevant statistics and dollar amounts, such as this one:
Chart with three columns, "Stage of Application/Appeal Process," "Maine Approval Rate," and "National Approval Rate." For "Initial Claim," Maine's approval rate is 29.8%, the national approval rate is 32.1%. On Reconsideration the Maine rate is 11.6%, the national rate is 11.3%. For ALJ hearing, the Maine rate is 73.2%, the national is 58.3%. The hearing wait time in Maine is 371 days and national wait time is 349 days.

Maine's CareerCenter System provides information on several topics related to disability and employment. These include a Disability Resource Library, information on Maine's Disability Employment Initiative (DEI), the Ticket to Work program, the Flexible Employment Fund, information on reasonable accommodations and access, and more. has a page on Disability Resources for Residents. Topics include accessible recreation opportunities, benefits programs, employment and education resources, state programs, behavioral health, independent living, rights and advocacy, and technology and communication.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Disability Rights Center of Maine. DRC always has a lot going on, and now is no exception. At the DRC website you can learn about Homeward Bound, Maine's "Money follows the person" demonstration project, Disability Awareness Day, self-advocacy partnerships and more.

Audio & Slam Poetry comes to Breath & Shadow, Disability Literary Journal

The latest issue of Breath & Shadow, the journal of disability culture and literature published by Ability Maine, is up now. Editor Chris Kuell included this note to subscribers of the journal:
April is National Poetry Month, and as part of the celebration Breath & Shadow is launching a new initiative. Beginning now, poets are invited to submit audio/video clips of their performance pieces (in addition to the text) if they wish. It’s not mandatory, but we hope that adding this new dimension will help open up the world of poetry to more of our readers. Visit our guidelines page for details.
With the increasing popularity of poetry performances on youtube or other media, and with slam poetry continuing to hold an important place in the poetry world, Breath & Shadow hopes this openness to accessible multimedia approaches to poetry will be exciting to readers and poets alike.

And just to kick things off, here are a couple of poetry performances from youtube:

[If you're reading this post in an email, watch these two videos from Special Poetry Slam here: Life in Drag and Ice Skating.]

Monday, April 8, 2013

Short Stories and Essays in Breath & Shadow Vol. 10 No. 2

Alex Duvall's essay, "Tourette," mixes together the history of the diagnosis and his own personal history with OCD and  Tourette. He speaks to his disability as if addressing a person or a demon,  and uses a poetic style including metaphor and simile. Read the essay, "Tourette."

W.R. Hilary's "One More Needle in the Haystack" is a piece of short-short fiction that totally engaged me with its hypnotic language -- short, concise bursts of repeated words, sounds, and themes that have a different flavor every time they land.
Why are you always in the hallway, standing in that blue plaid coat with your face pressed against the dirty glass of the door so that they can all see you while the teacher speaks? Throw that damn coat away and wear the one she gave you. I don’t care that it smells like her. Wear it for your own sake.
Read "One More Needle in the Haystack."

Misti Shupe's memoir, "My Hair Dresser Stole my Mojo," tells the story of how a single haircut changed the author's life. While many children and adults with disabilities are abused because they're perceived as easier victims by their perpetrators, Shupe's diabetes actually protected her from further abuse. However, the lessons of putting on a perfect facade from her childhood live on in the adult Shupe's life until a rash decision to cut off her hair brings her face-to-face with who and what she really wants to be, a thrilling transformation to witness for Shupe's family, her readers, and Shupe, herself. Read "My Hair Dresser Stole my Mojo."

In "The Jungle," William Ward's short short, the narrator has a simple disagreement in the checkout line at the store that goes very wrong.
“This is not the jungle,” I reminded myself. “Not the jungle.”

So I did what the counselor taught me. I folded my hands palm to palm at my chest, bowed slightly, and said “Namaste.” But he must have caught my mental subtext that said, “You are one sorry asshole.”
Read "The Jungle."

Robert Kingett's essay, "Into a Memory," is a lovely piece of memoir, rich in sensory detail. Kingett reveals how hearing William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" takes him back into his childhood and how this poem offered him comfort and escape while the chaos of domestic violence raged around him:
After listening to the first line, I was transported to a memory that I did not even know I had: It is late at night, and I am six. I remember feeling the Braille calendar poised in my lap, my finger tracing the soft indentations of the moons among the days. A sound erupts from the living room and I look up, my ears picking up every shift of the air just a few rooms from me.
Read "Into a Memory."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Disability Poetry in Breath & Shadow Vol 10, No 2

by Sharon Wachsler

What poetry will you find in the Spring 2013 issue of Breath & Shadow, a journal of disability literature and culture?

Ani Keaton's "Withdrawal" uses a spare economy of words to connect the reader intimately to the speaker's embodied experience:
My back, a twig,
I know each rib intimately
Its size, shape and placement
Read Ani Keaton's poetry.

Jennifer Ruth Jackson's "Again" is a short poem that packs a lot of power. I love it. An excerpt:
Defibrillator paddles bouncingMy body to lifeEach nerve on endRising up to meet you
It starts out seemingly focused on the body's dys/functions but builds toward another force, leaping into its arms at the end. 

Read Jennifer Ruth Jackson's poetry.

The next poetry selection in this issue is "Three Tankas" by Sergio OrtizLike haiku, tankas are best experienced directly on the page, and also I don't want to spoil the ending, so I won't be excerpting any right here. You can learn more about tankas here.

And you can read Sergio Ortiz's tankas here.

"Elegy for James Eagan Holmes" is offered by high school student, Jordan Jamison. Lines like these really connected me to me to time and place in this poem:
Do you remember that little taco shop called Rodrigo’s near the 7-Eleven, the place that never gave credit and the dusty old TV played Telemundo all day? Did you eat there, did your mother ever pick up carne asada and burritos and chips there on Fridays for you, and would you smile? 
Read Jodan Jamison's poem.

"Travels of Lip Balm" by Shawn Jacobson tells the story of a man's day-to-day life as witnessed by a tube of lip balm that keeps ending up in the laundry. It's a poem full of circles and cycles.
The drier door opens and I fall outafter traveling the drum. . . .He picks me up, his daughter will want this.He returns to folding clothes.
Read "Travels of Lip Balm."

The Spring Issue of Breath & Shadow, the Disability Literary Journal, Is Up!

This is 10th year of publication for Breath & Shadow and this spring issue shows it's still going strong, with poetry, essays, and fiction by diverse writers with disabilities. It features poetry by Ani Keaten, Jennifer Ruth Jackson, Sergio Ortiz, and Jordan Jamison, nonfiction by A.K. DuvallMisti Shupe, and Robert Kingett, and fiction by W.R. Hilary and William Ward.

Read the Spring 2013 issue of Breath & Shadow!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Environmental Health Strategy Center Aims to Protect Maine Families from Toxic Chemicals

The Environmental Health Strategy Center is working on several initiatives right now to protect children and adults from toxic chemicals in everyday products and is seeking citizen action to help get the message across to state lawmakers. The two bills of greatest urgency are LD 902 and LD 1181. Both concern a chemical called BPA, which scientists have linked to breast cancer and a higher incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and liver abnormalities in adults as well as brain and hormone development problems in fetuses and young children. A new study also shows a strong connection between BPA levels and childhood asthma.

According to EHSC:
LD 902 would phase out BPA from infant and baby food packaging – a proposal that Maine moms brought to the State by gathering over 800 signatures last year. (Take action on LD 902 here.)
LD 1181, "An Act to Further Protect Pregnant Women and Children from Toxic Chemicals," will identify which products contain the 49 worst chemicals associated with cancer other illnesses, and take action to get those chemicals out of household products that Maine children encounter every day. The bill would also remove a loophole currently blocking protection from BPA in food packaging for kids and adults.   (Take action on the Healthy Kids Bill here.)
Attending a public hearing is also a big boost to these efforts, whether speaking or just helping to "pack the room and demonstrate solidarity."

The BPA hearing on LD 902 is on Wednesday, April 10, at 1 p.m. The Safer Products hearing on LD 1181 is on Thursday, April 11, at 1 p.m. (RSVP here.)

April 11 is also Safer Products Healthy Kids Day, starting at 8:00 a.m. at the Maine State House and continuing through the public hearing that afternoon. "Nothing is more effective for moving lawmakers into action than face-to-face conversations with constituents who really care about getting toxic chemicals away from our kids," says EHSC.

Find out more about getting involved at, including a clean technology event, Plants to Products: Maine’s Bio-based Products Forum, co-orga2nized with the Sustainable Bioplastics Council of Maine. The forum is Thursday, October 17, 2013, at the University of Maine, Orono.
SBCoM Logo 

Maine's Largest Medical Marijuana Dispensary Under Investigation

Mike Reynolds reports for Ability Maine:

In mid-March, a tip from an employee led to a state investigation that has resulted in the Wellness Connection of Maine (WCM), which runs four of Maine's eight dispensaries, continuing operations under a consent decree for twenty violations of state rules which govern the production, cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana. State sanctioned dispensaries were created with the passage of the 2009 voter referendum, which expanded Maine's existing medical marijuana law, passed in 1999.

Read the complete article: State's Largest Medical Marijuana Dispensary violated major rules, endangering patients, angering staff

Maine Lawmakers Meet about New Anti-Restraint Law

Now up at Ability Maine, an article by Mike Reynolds on the complex issue of Maine's new law that prohibits teachers from physically restraining students. Legislators met and heard differing perspectives from teachers, disability rights advocates, parents, and various organizations. Read the complete article: New Law Attempts to Clarify Schools' Restraint Guidelines.

Portland Walkathon to Raise Awareness for MCS/EI

This information courtesy of the Southern Maine MCS Support Group.

Walkathon Across America - A National Event to Raise Awareness of Environmental Illness

On Sunday, May 5th, there will be a Walkathon held in Portland, Maine to raise awareness for Environmental Illness (also known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity). The event will begin at 1:00 PM at the Green Building Supply store at 111 Fox Street with a brief introduction followed by a walk down to and around Back Cove. The walk is approximately 4 miles.

This event is happening in many states all across America. The charge for the event is $25 and the money raised will go to the Jennifer Parker Foundation, an organization dedicated to educating people about environmental illness and the health risks associated with chemical- and fragrance-based products. Their goal is to use the money earned to build safe housing for people with this illness.

For more information about the walkathon, to sign up, or to get involved, please contact local organizer Carrie Young at (You may also sign up online at the Jennifer Parker Foundation's website, just be sure to select Portland, Maine.)

Registration is $25 per person (children under 14 are free). Registration includes a t-shirt, water, and a snack. Please come fragrance-free!

Don't "Let It Snow." How Auto-Plays Can Disable Visitors to Your Website

Recently a friend of mine visited a blog she often visits. What she didn't know was that the blogger had added a fun, temporary new feature to her blog. When my friend visited the blog, it triggered a seizure.

There are many different kinds of seizures, and every person experiences them differently, but some common aspects of seizures include inability to think, exhaustion, loss of bodily control, memory loss (during or around the seizure), and severe headache. Regardless of the specifics, having an electrical storm in your brain is not fun.

The seizure trigger in my friend's case was WordPress's "Let It Snow" feature, which is a feature that causes little white dots to float continuously down the screen soon after someone opens the blog. There seem to be two reasons people have this feature on their blog:

  • Some versions of WordPress (the ones you pay for), do this automatically in December. If a blog owner doesn't want their site to snow, they have to opt out. Some don't eve know what it is or why it's happening or how to turn it off. I think this is a terrible system, and it should be an opt in. Accessibility wonks at WordPress are working on changing this to an opt-out option.
  • Some blog owners choose this feature because they find it fun and they assume their visitors will, too. They may find it festive and hope to spread some holiday cheer among their readers.
Notice that neither group includes people who are trying to harm or prevent access to people with disabilities. Nonetheless, people can unintentionally or unknowingly cause distress or make their sites inaccessible.

Screenshot of a google search for auto-plays snow and fog when you search for "let it snow."

Auto-Plays Interfere with Access for Many People

The problem is larger than snow. And it doesn't just affect people who are susceptible to seizures. Auto-plays -- any sound or movement that starts up automatically when someone opens an email or webpage -- can interfere with internet usage for many, many people.

Examples of auto-plays:
  • A music player that starts up automatically when someone visits your business site or .ning personal page
  • A video that starts playing when a visitor opens a news article
  • Animated GIFs (short clips of moving pictures or drawings) that you include in your comment at an online magazine
  • Graemlins or smileys that bounce, flash, or change facial expressions in emails or on bulletin boards
Examples of disabilities that are affected by auto-plays (not a comprehensive list:
  • Blindness, low vision, or other visual issues
  • Migraines and seizures (the first and fourth most common neurological disorders, respectively)
  • Sensory processing issues and various of other neurological issues
  • PTSD, panic attacks, and other conditions that cause a heightened startle responses
Recently, I tried to do some education on this topic in the comments section of a magazine where a video was on auto-play in an accompanying article. Some of the responses to my comment let me know that many people don't understand how and why auto-play  can be an issue for so many people. So, here are some details that I hope will answer lots of questions. (If I don't address your question, please comment!)

Screenshot with paragraph of text above a video player with an animated series of blobs in rainbow order, which are arcing up toward the screen. The smallest blob is orange and near the bottom of the screen, as if it's far away, with red, purple, blue, and green each successively bigger and appearing closer.
This is the video that started unexpectedly while I was reading a Jezebel article. Others commented on how startling it was.
Q: If someone has one of these problems, why don't they just leave the page or turn off the video or music when it starts up?

A: Sometimes this is an option for people and sometimes it isn't. In some cases, as soon as the computer screen flashes or the sounds start up, the computer user has a problem. My friend's seizure was triggered before she could exit the page. The same can be true for migraines; I have had migraines triggered by music playing, by the WordPress snow, and by other moving or flashing things. Once the migraine or seizure starts, you're stuck with it, regardless of what windows you close.

Some people (including me) may also experience sensory overload -- causing disorientation, trouble thinking, or even panic -- as soon as music comes on or a video plays or smileys bounce across the screen. This confusion and overwhelm can interfere with my ability to find the "off" button for the player or the tab to close the window or even the volume control for the computer. On more than one occasion -- and I've heard this from others, too -- I have had to hit my computer's power button just to escape the sensory overload because I couldn't figure out how else to make it stop. For people whose symptoms are severe when they unexpectedly encounter an auto-play, navigating the web can feel like a minefield.

Q: If the problems are so severe, couldn't you prevent them by keeping your sound shut off or avoiding sites where videos play and things like that?

A: Some people keep their sound shut off, but this isn't workable for everyone. I'll go into more detail about that in my answer to the next question.

Avoidance of problematic pages isn't always effective because you don't always know where you will run into these issues. For example, I subscribe to several blogs that I enjoy, and most of the time they present no access issues for me. However, every year, suddenly, some of them are snowing. I like to be able to read these blogs -- some of them are written by friends -- so I don't want to just stop subscribing to them. And it's also not a workable solution for me to not read any blogs from Thanksgiving through New Year's because I have a lousy sense of time and impaired memory. It is always a surprise to me when I open a blog that is normally fine and it suddenly starts snowing.

The other reason for not just avoiding sites that have these features (even if that was possible) is that, as is probably true for you (since you're online), the internet is very important to me. In my case, the internet is my primary source of information, friendship, entertainment, communication, and work, and losing access to this is difficult. In particular, I've found that certain illness-specific communities (such as chronic illness forums on .ning and many illness boards) are very heavy on the bouncing smileys and auto-play music. When my neurological symptoms were particularly bad and I couldn't tolerate unexpected sounds and movement, I stopped using them. Sadly, these were also my main sources of emotional support and medical tips for the very diseases that were causing these symptoms.

Relatedly, I like having my sound on for the same reason many people do: There are sounds my computer makes that I want to hear -- sounds which I have enabled, in some cases. For example, when a new email arrives, or I get a private message or a relay call, my computer goes "Bing!" so I know to check messages or email. I also like to intentionally watch videos or listen to radio programs that interest me. I could theoretically turn my volume off and on all day long every time I opened a new page or tab on the internet, but that would be a real energy drain and pain in the butt, and also, I do sometimes try to do that, and there is one substantial drawback: because one of my neurologic issues is impaired memory, I often forget that I've turned my volume off. Then I miss message notifications, can't understand why the volume isn't working on a video, etc.

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka from the movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He's wearing a bright purple velvet suit jacket and a flowered pink and purple vest, an enormous brown bow-tie and top hat, leaning his head on his hand and grinning maniacally. Above his head in white capital letters, it says, Your website auto-plays music? On the bottom of the picture, in even larger white capital letters it says, I can't wait to hear the entire song.

And then there are people for whom, if they turned off the sound, their computer would be unusable: screen reader (or text reader) users,* which includes many legally blind and virtually all totally blind computer users. Screen readers use audio output** (a computer "voice") to tell the user what's displayed on the screen, including the content (such as an article) and the navigation (such as links, headers, applications, descriptions, etc.). If you're using a screen reader and suddenly music or a TV clip starts playing loudly at the same time, it interferes with your ability to read and can also make it difficult to navigate away from the page causing the interference! This is another example where "just turning off the music/video" is not a viable solution, because you might not be able to navigate to the "pause" button to turn it off.

While we're on the subject of visual disabilities -- just because someone is blind, it does not mean they won't be affected by visual auto-plays as well as sound auto-play. There are a lot of kinds of blindness, and not everyone who is blind is totally blind. For example, my friend whose seizure was triggered by the snow auto-play is blind and uses a screen reader, but she has enough vision for her brain to undergo an electrical storm when it registers the flashes and movements on the screen.

Q: But a lot of people really LIKE music, videos, bouncing and flashing things, "Let It Snow," etc.!

A: Yes, and I wouldn't want to deprive people of that enjoyment, either! That's why I think the best solution -- one that can work for everyone, I believe -- is to make such features contingent on the user activating them. In other words, if you have a visual art website and you think it will heighten visitors' enjoyment to hear music that accentuates certain aspects of the art, set up your music player so that they can hit "play" IF they want to hear the music. If your article is about a funny video, use one of the many video players that allow people to hit "play" when they want to see the video. I see no reason why WordPress can't add a widget that says, "Let it snow!" so that blog visitors who want "snow" while they read can activate the snow. Etcetera.

This is really, in my opinion, about consideration and consensuality. Just as websites with explicit sexual content have a warning screen or put "NSFW" ("not safe for work") in post titles, and posts detailing violent or dehumanizing events include a trigger warning, it is only reasonable and kind to allow all users, whether disabled or not, to choose whether or not to have music blare, graphics bounce, or people shout from a video screen.

Three Simple Steps You Can Take to Make the Web More Accessible

  1. When you set up your blog, website, magazine, or personal page on a forum, don't use any auto-plays. If you want videos or music to play, great -- just make it optional. If you already have auto-plays set up, remove or alter them so that visitors to your site have choice. 
  2. When you visit a website, blog, or forum that uses auto-plays, ask the people who own or run the website to remove or alter them so that video or audio features can be used consensually. I think it's most effective if you explain why they're a problem for you or others and give examples. I also think such requests go over better if you make an effort to be courteous. 
  3. Share this post! Lots of people have no idea that auto-plays can be problematic for others, often including friends and loved ones. I am certain that many people would opt not to use them if they knew there were accessible alternatives.

 P.S. If you want to learn more about creating accessible sites, here's an article from Bitch magazine about five easy steps to increase access, and here's a more comprehensive article I wrote that includes reference to colors, flashing images, sound, etc.

 *Screen readers may also be used by people with print disabilities such as learning disabilities.
**Some screen reader users, which includes some Deafblind people, might use a Braille output instead of or alternating with an audio output.