Sue Ammeter, Blind Disability Rights Champion, Dies at 69

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This is a post about Sue Ammeter.  Sue was a blind activist from Washington State who died on April 7, 2018.  Sue had a long career that included work as a disability rights trainer after the ADA passed.  She was also a hearing officer for her state’s human rights commission. Sue was active in many volunteer organizations. One was the American Council of the Blind.  Another one was the National Braille Press. Sue helped with Structured Negotiation legal advocacy. After she got cancer, she worked on negotiations with the American Cancer Society.  As a result, they now offer health information in formats blind people could read. Sue also worked on Structured Negotiation with Walmart about talking prescription labels.  Sue Ammeter was a Mariner’s baseball fan. Shed helped with the Major Legal Baseball digital access negotiations. 

Sue Ammeter

The list of Sue Ammeter’s advocacy roles could fill this post.  Board member (and often officer) of the American Council of the Blind, the Washington State Council of the Blind, the National Braille Press, Library Patron’s Advisory Council of her local Braille and Talking Book Library.  These are just some of the organizations Sue Ammeter volunteered with on top of her paid work.

Organizations that will miss the talent, commitment, and unstoppable advocacy of the Washington state resident who died on April 7, 2018.

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An Advocate’s Career

In college, Sue had wanted to be physical therapist. But like many of her generation, she wasn’t allowed into the program because she was blind.  Sue switched her major to  social welfare and had a full and meaningful thirty-three year career in that field.

In 1975 Sue Ammeter was first person with a disability to work for the Washington  State Human Rights Commission. The only non-lawyer on that agency’s hearing tribunal, the first decision she participated in was overturned on the grounds that a blind person not qualified to be a fact finder.  Not one to accept a civil rights injustice, Sue appealed that ruling and got it overturned.

Once the ADA became law in the early 1990’s, Sue became the manager of a state-wide ADA training project that trained 6000 state employees on ADA and the new civil rights. law. Sue loved the advocacy, and she loved her work.  “Most of my work life was a blast,”  she told me  when I interviewed her for my book in 2014.

I was interviewing Sue Ammeter because on top of the advocacy, on top of the paid employment, Sue was one of the blind activists around the United States who has made the success of Structured Negotiation possible.

American Cancer Society Structured Negotiation

In my book, Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits, I write about how Sue Ammeter was the activist behind our Structured Negotiation with the American Cancer Society (ACS):

When Sue Ammeter was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, she had been active in the blind community for almost 40 years. A fluent braille reader, Ammeter was hungry for information about treatment options. Yet she could not get a single page of braille from the ACS, even though the organization offered information in many languages. Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits, p. 23

Sue was active in the American Council of the Blind’s Health Access Committee when she first brought the issue of blind people’s need for accessible cancer information to our attention. Linda Dardarian and I wrote an opening Structured Negotiation letter to the American Cancer Society emphasizing Sue’s experiences.

The initiative was a success.  Without the need for a lawsuit, and with help from the ACB, Sue,  and other blind people impacted by cancer,  the American Cancer Society (ACS) committed to making their website more accessible and offering print information in braille, large print, and audio formats.

The collaboration that began with Sue Ammeter’s efforts continued after that first agreement was signed. In 2012 the ACS announced it would make more documents available in braille and audio formats, two methods Sue and countless other blind people used to read.

This Structured Negotiation success would not have happened without Sue Ammeter’s persistence, commitment, and strategic advocacy. Kim Charlson, president of the American Council of the Blind, agrees:

The American Cancer Society agreement was an important milestone in the blind community’s continuing quest for independent access to health information. There is no doubt that Sue Ammeter was instrumental in helping the country’s largest provider of cancer information reach that milestone.ACB President Kim Charlson

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More Structured Negotiation Efforts Benefit from Sue Ammeter’s Help

The accessible cancer information initiative was not the only Structured Negotiation that Sue Ammeter participated in. Looking back over my emails after she died, I marveled at her commitment to so many cases. Whether her role was as large as it was in the cancer access case, or smaller as it was in others, Sue Ammeter always had time to answer a question, make a referral, or generally lend support.

In 2008 she and I emailed about Bank of America Talking ATMs in Washington State. Linda Dardarian and I were at the tail end of monitoring the bank’s expansive Structured Negotiation commitment to install Talking ATMs at every ATM location in the United States.

That same year Sue and I emailed about our negotiation with the nation’s three credit reporting agencies that led to free accessible credit reports for blind people across the country. A year later she helped out with the Weight Watchers accessible information negotiation.

For 2010 I found emails from Sue in connection with the historic Structured Negotiation with Walmart that led the company to become the first in the United States to provide talking prescription labels to blind pharmacy customers.

And throughout our Structured Negotiation with Major League Baseball (MLB), Sue was always quick to respond with helpful information about her beloved Seattle Mariners. She was one of many blind baseball fans whose efforts helped convert MLB from a potential adversary to a champion of digital accessibility across all its channels and with all its teams.

In Structured Negotiation and her other advocacy work, Sue Ammeter had all the qualities that make activists succeed. As my colleague Linda Dardarian wrote me when I told her I was writing this piece

Sue’s advocacy was persistent and effective not through dogmatism or aggressiveness, but through honesty, frankness, and humor. Sue connected with our negotiating partners in a real, human, down-to-earth and natural way that brought out the best in them, as well.Linda Dardarian, civil rights lawyer

The world is a better, more accessible place thanks to Sue Ammeter’s work. I will miss her.