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Dana Marlowe: Ensuring Online Accessibility For All

RespectAbility Board Member Dana Marlowe and RespectAbility Fellow Eric Ascher smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Dana Marlowe and RespectAbility Fellow Eric Ascher

Rockville, Maryland, April 12 – “Nine years ago this week.”

For Dana Marlowe and her staff at Accessibility Partners, those five words are cause for celebration. Over the past nine years, Accessibility Partners has advised clients big and small, in the government and in the private sector. The Kennedy Center, the U.S. Department of Labor, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Dell, Intel and LinkedIn all have turned to her team for advice on how to make their websites and software accessible to the one-in-five Americans with a disability.

Marlowe walked into the RespectAbility conference room and gave our National Leadership Fellows an overview of the work she does every day. She manages a team of engineers who audit websites and IT products and point companies in the right direction, showing them what is working well and what needs to be fixed to ensure that visitors with disabilities can access the content.

Marlowe does not just believe in making life on the web easier for people with disabilities. She also believes in hiring people with disabilities to work for her. 85 percent of the employees at Accessibility Partners have a disability. This impressive number is a direct result of Marlowe’s belief that having skilled people with disabilities come with her to meetings goes a long way toward reducing stigmas while also personifying the need for accessibility.

Marlowe might not be a software engineer herself but she is skilled at managing engineers. She has employees all over the United States and clients all over the world. She instituted a telework policy that gives her employees plenty of flexibility because she knows that happy workers produce better results.

One of our Fellows asked Marlowe about how her work has changed over the past nine years. She said that despite the dramatic changes in technology – smartphones were just starting to take off back in 2009 – many of the same problems persist. The most common problem that her audits uncover is still a lack of alternative text, which describes images. Without alternative text, images are not accessible to visitors who are visually impaired and are using a screen reader that reads the content. Alternative text is easy to add in using modern content management systems and makes a huge difference for visitors who need it.

According to Marlowe, the biggest barrier standing in the way of full inclusivity is attitude. Clients often are afraid of the unknown or afraid of spending any extra money. To be clear, these fears are mostly baseless. Marlowe pointed out that a company’s website is like a welcome mat, inviting visitors in. It is important that companies welcome all visitors, including those who need accommodations.

On top of her full-time job running Accessibility Partners, Marlowe also has a second full-time job running “Support the Girls,” a nonprofit which collects bras and feminine hygiene products to donate to women in need. The organization has collected more than 350,000 bras and 1.2 million tampons and menstrual pads for more than 350 homeless shelters nationwide. Marlowe’s talk at RespectAbility focused primarily on Accessibility Partners, but she did mention that she often will get interview and soundbite requests based on her work for “Support The Girls.”

Marlowe has proven that hard work can pay off and make a difference in the world. We at RespectAbility are proud to have her as a board member and a friend. You can learn more about Accessibility Partners at http://www.AccessibilityPartners.com/ and Support The Girls at http://ISupportTheGirls.org/.

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RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. This spring, 14 Fellows had the opportunity to learn from a variety of guest speakers. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Meet the Author

Eric Ascher
Eric Ascher

Eric Ascher is the Communications Associate for RespectAbility. He is responsible for supporting RespectAbility’s Communications Director in developing and implementing advocacy efforts and communications of various types. Ascher manages RespectAbility’s social media channels, website and emails; organizes and develops webinars; and supervises Communications Fellows.

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