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Did the San Diego County Water Authority Perpetuate Ableism?

As a strong advocate for open meetings with in-person attendance, I stumbled upon the San Diego County Water Authority (a compendium of various water agencies operating under the state's County Water Authority Act) after discovering a handful of homestretch holdouts (including the Sweetwater Authority water district, as well as the City of Del Mar), were still not open for any in-person attendance in the Fall of 2022.

And while other entities that continued with all virtual meetings at least offered video, we public participants for the SDCWA only got to hear the meeting via an audio feed, while watching a placeholder picture of a drop of water.

Even more problematic -- there were no subtitles, ASL interpreter, or transcription of the meeting. If you couldn't hear, you were essentially unable to participate if you decided to join at the last minute (the SDCWA agenda stated that if modifications or accommodations were required, for the attendee to give pre-notice to SDCWA's general counsel with at least 24 hours notice.)

So during the one lone meeting they opened to in-person attendance (November 17, 2022), imagine my surprise to find that the roomful of board members and staff saw video feeds of remote participants via a Teams live-feed, while those at home got -- drip, drip drip -- a still picture of a drop of water.

Here is my public comment (minute mark 3:05'ish to 6:30'ish) bringing the shortcomings to their attention. Imagine my even greater surprise when, a month later at the virtual-only meeting December 15, 2022, they still had not rectified the situation (despite having their own YouTube channel for marketing, PR, outreach, and PSAs.) So I again addressed the lack of accessibility and transparency during public comments at that meeting, as well (minute mark 5:15-7:46.) [NOTE: the imprecise timer also perpetuates ableism for those with kinetic motor-skills impairment]

With the advent of AB 2449 and new hybrid teleconferencing laws, the upcoming meetings are all slated to be held in the Board Room for in-person attendance. This does NOT, however, negate the lack of accessibility that occurred throughout 2022.

Far too frequently I find that many governing entities TALK about equity and inclusion, but in reality, fall far, far short of stated aspirational goals that are in name only.

I heartily encourage the SDCWA to make their New Year's resolution to 'up their accessibility game', and to stream their meetings in video format.


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