May 18th, this Thursday, is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a day in which we advocate for products and content to be “accessible” or rather to meet certain accessibility standards. On Thursday, it will be important to take up that fight. It is an important one. But, I also want to take the time to ask, what role do WE as professionals have in accessibility?
In the world of blindness and low vision, accessibility is a hot topic, as it should be. But, we talk as if accessibility is a feature. One that a product or piece of content either has, or does not have. We casually label websites, or apps as being either accessible or inaccessible.
On the surface, there might seem to be nothing wrong with this, but I’d like to offer a different perspective.
To me, as a teacher, and as a content creator, I see this as only part of the story. A video may be deemed accessible to a Deaf user if it has captions, but what if that user struggles to read in the traditional way?
The point? We need to redefine what accessibility is, and for our students with visual impairments in an online world there has never been a better time to talk about accessibility not as a feature, but as a relationship between the content and the user. Now that relationship has more than just one part, it has three.
Part 1: The Content
The actual website, app or product. This is usually the only piece of accessibility we talk about. It is important that content creators do create materials that are accessible to many people, but the question to ask is, Is a piece of content that meets accessibility standards accessible to everyone? My answer, “No”. That is an impossible request. Why? Because accessibility is an individual experience. There is certainly no stairwell in the world that is accessible to a typically developing one-year-old human, just like there is no website in the world that is accessible to someone without internet access. Accessibility depends on more than just the content.
Part 2: The Tool
Have you ever tried putting a nail into a wall with your bare hands? I cannot say that I have had the pleasure. It is a simple fact that accessibility depends also on the quality and nature of the tools you are using. For example, if you were struggling to access an excel spreadsheet on your iPhone, would you throw up your hands and declare Microsoft Excel to be an utterly inaccessible program that nobody should ever use? No, you would simply concede that a computer is probably a better tool for the job.
In the field of blindness, when we encounter an inaccessible situation before deeming the content inaccessible, we might begin to ask ourselves, is it the content, or is it the tool? Some tools are just not meant for some tasks. That is a fact of life.
Part 3 – The User
Accessibility is individual experience. Hypothetically, If you did not know how to use a computer,then every single website (no matter how many accessibility standards they meet) will be inaccessible.. To you. Accessibility not only depends on the content, and the tool being used to access that content, but it also depends on the skills of the user.
In our field we (myself included) often throw up our hands in defeat as we exclaim “Ugh this website or app or product is inaccessible!” And you know what? Sometimes, we are right, the content is inaccessible, but if we say that without first considering if our learners are using the right tools and if they have the right skills to access this particular website or app or product, then we are doomed to spending our entire careers complaining about things we cannot control rather than finding the solution.
On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I encourage you to take on the fight of advocating for accessibility standards. That first part is an important part of creating accessible relationships. But, I also encourage you to reflect on the other two parts. What can we as professionals do to ensure that our learners not only have accessible content, but also have access to the tools AND the instruction they need to access that accessible content.
Without all three parts.. Accessibility will just be a talking point and a hashtag.
We’d love to hear what you think! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us your perspective on accessibility. We’d love to hear from you!