Basic Disability Concepts

My first CPACC study session involved me reading through Deque’s “Basic Disability Concepts” section. I completed that in less than an hour, and took that extra time I had to start reviewing IAAP’s CPACC Body of Knowledge Word document. Within that document, I didn’t see an equivalent of the overview that I went through on Deque, but that wasn’t surprising since it was basically a perspective check before wading into the rest of the material. Though it was a short section, I still found several bits interesting, if not eye-opening.

Our diverse abilities

I think we all have some preconception of what a disability looks like. However, there’s often more to it than our own limited perspective. Did you know that 20% (1/5) of people have some form of disability, whether permanent or temporary? Alaska statistics seem to support that number wholeheartedly with 21.9% of Alaskans over 18 years of age who have a disability [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].

In that vein, we may ask, “Are there really that many blind folks or people in wheelchairs?” However, some disabilities are not so obvious to us. We may not realize that there are people in close proximity who are deaf, have a reading disorder, experience seizures, or are colorblind. They are not wearing a sign or shouting to be noticed for their disability, if they even identify as having a disability.

Why would users of the web be any different? When creating content and experiences for the web, we should be considerate of people with:

Accessibility matters

Once we understand that a not-so-insignificant number of people have a disability and that those categorized disabilities vary in form and spectrum, we can better understand why accessibility matters. Our next step is to not make assumptions and meet people where they are. Did you know that less than 10% of blind Americans can read braille? This was one of the more surprising statistics I read, so naturally I went down the rabbit hole of searching for a 2009 National Federation for the Blind online report that offered that statistic. (I was unsuccessful.) However, this statistic is a good example of why we can’t make assumptions about people, if we want to be part of the solution to enable people with disabilities to independently make choices and take action.

Assistive technologies

As a web designer and developer, I should understand that there are many different types of assistive technologies (AT) to help people with disabilities independently access the content my website has to offer. Sometimes one AT can be used by several disability groups, even ones you wouldn’t expect. See any AT that you use to make accessing content easier for you?

Assistive Technology Disability
screen readers
  • blindness
  • low vision
  • cognitive disabilities
refreshable Braille display
  • blindness
screen enlargers (magnification, zoom)
  • low vision
color overlays
  • color blindness
  • cognitive disabilities
captions
  • deafness
transcripts
  • deafness
head wand
  • motor/mobility disabilities
mouth stick
  • motor/mobility disabilities
alternative keyboards
  • motor/mobility disabilities
eye gaze tracking
  • motor/mobility disabilities
voice activation
  • motor/mobility disabilities
augmentative communication aids
  • cognitive disabilities

By the way, AT takes on many forms and does many things, but AT can also be misunderstood.

  • AT isn’t restricted to people with disabilities. It is available to everyone. People who don’t have low vision can benefit from glasses. Parents pushing strollers can benefit from elevators.
  • AT isn’t magical. It can’t overcome barriers that were created from the start. If a website isn’t built with accessibility in mind, it’s not going to become magically accessible when a screen reader is turned on or an “accessible” overlay tool is lobbed on.

The Digital Accessibility Revolution

It’s important to recognize that the web isn’t the problem, but rather an important part of the solution to empower people with disabilities. Consider these situations:

  • a blind person wants to independently access the latest news, or
  • someone with a mobility impairment prefers to shop online because it’s easier than taking a trip to a brick and mortar mall

The idea about us designers and developers creating a problem was impactful enough for me to post on Twitter:

Perspective check

In conclusion of this brief overview of my coursework, it’s all about readjusting and widening our perspective when we offer a service to people. Without that perspective check, we can’t possibly absorb additional information about other people around us and the challenges they face on a daily basis. Without understanding, there is no meaningful advocacy and no motive for a culture of inclusion. And with that, your business or organization is left with a narrowed mission and weaker service because only some people are allowed at the table. Even Mother Nature knows that diversity makes the ecosystem stronger.

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