Meet NYC’s First Digital Accessibility Coordinator

Born in Egypt and raised in NYC, I’m a classic New Yorker. The only difference about me is that I drag a 58’ inch black cane across the streets and sidewalks of NYC. That’s because I was born with a progressive eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. As a child I could see fairly well, but by the time I was 19 I was blind.

Walei Sabry, the City’s Digital Accessibility Coordinator

Once I started my new life as a blind person, I discovered that I had an abundance of tools and assistive technologies to help me access information. I use a screen reader called JAWS to email, browse the web, and type. Because of this technology I was able to stay connected to my family and friends, and complete an undergraduate degree as well as a master’s degree in disability studies.

Today, I am NYC’s first Digital Accessibility Coordinator, responsible for making the City’s digital products work for people with disabilities.

NYC government uses websites, electronic documents, social media, videos, and apps to connect with New Yorkers. To make sure that we’re serving everyone in our city, we need to make sure that all of these projects, all of these formats, can be used by all.

In New York City, almost a million people identify as having a disability. The City of New York recognizes the role that digital accessibility plays in learning about and applying for city services. That’s why the City Council and the Mayor passed Local Law 26 in 2016. The law mandates that city websites adopt and comply with existing accessibility standards such as WCAG 2.0.

To move the City towards this goal, I work closely with other city agencies, especially the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, to review the accessibility of City websites and apps. This requires a few tactics: manually testing webpages by myself and using automated tools, making sure that the City’s templates are accessible, and crafting language for RFPs, so that vendors know what our standards are from the outset.

By making NYC’s digital products accessible, we’ll not only help government reach a wider demographic, we’ll make our services better for everyone. Many innovations that were created for people with disabilities have been adopted by the mainstream. A great example is voice dictation. In the coming months, I will share my experiences as I work for digital inclusion of people with disabilities.

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