R&D notes

Disability rights: just a campaign slogan?

Jonathan Robert Pool

Do candidates respect disability rights, or only advocate them?


On Day One, I will introduce legislation to repeal the Americans with Disabilities Act.

That is a campaign pledge you have probably never heard. On the contrary, candidates for public office often claim that, if elected, they will work to expand the rights of people with disabilities.

That’s what they say. Do they act accordingly?

An example

Six candidates are actively seeking to represent the 12th Congressional District of New York (the middle of Manhattan) in the U.S. House of Representatives. Four of the six are on the record (on their campaign or official websites) advocating more rights and benefits for people with disabilities, to wit:

Turning ideas into action

Candidates have a superb opportunity to demonstrate practical respect for people with disabilities by making their own campaign websites disability-friendly. Candidates do, after all, control their websites, so, if their websites discriminate against people with disabilities, candidates cannot shift the blame or claim lack of authority.

The standards for making websites usable by people with disabilities are well established. They overlap largely with the standards for high-quality web design and implementation. The term that describes any digital content that conforms to these standards is accessible.


On 3 July 2022, I ran a batch of automated accessibility tests on the campaign website home pages of the six House candidates in New York’s 12th District.

My procedure generated a score for each page. The lower the score, the better. A score of 0 would indicate that a page passed all the tests.

All the pages failed some tests, with the worst score about three times the best score.

In the table below:

Accessibility scores of web pages
PageScore (lower is better)
Suraj Patel for Congress436
Jerry Nadler for Congress460
Vladimy Joseph for Congress489
Ashmi for Congress 2022668
Carolyn Maloney for Congress1163
Michael Zumbluskas for Congress1288

How did they fail?

Here are a few of the hundreds of accessibility problems that these tests discovered:


Do candidates who advocate expansion of disability rights respect those rights in practice more than other candidates? If their websites are an indicator, not much, if at all. Vladimy Joseph says nothing about disability rights, but his score is twice as good as Carolyn Maloney, who declares strong support for the disability community. Advocacy does not necessarily translate into conduct.

As shown by these tests and inspection of the pages, all the candidates have campaign websites with accessibility problems. People with some disabilities will be hampered in navigating and using these sites. And, as some of the examples illustrate, accessibility problems can make websites more difficult for all, not only those with disabilities.

These defects could have been avoided—and could still be repaired—with competent website design and coding, following current technical standards.

But how bad is a score of 436, or a score of 1288? A perfect score of 0 is difficult to get, because even warnings of likely problems add small amounts to a score. So, here are some comparisons with U.S. government website home pages:

Well, then, according to this measure, all of these candidates are doing much better than the House they are trying to join, almost all are doing better than the Supreme Court, and half of them are doing better than the President. Even so, other websites show that the candidates can all make their websites substantially more disability-friendly—if they care.

A disclaimer: I cannot claim that these tests are a perfect measure of accessibility, but they mostly come from software that is widely used for accessibility testing (see the reports for details). The scores represent a mixture of other specialists’ and my own estimates of impact on use, especially by people with disabilities.