More Thinking on Accessibility

Jeff’s follow-on to his previous post is another must-read. And doubly-thanks for the shout out, Jeff, that’s always appreciated.

I have something else to add to this, and it’s part of the discussion that I don’t see defined well, and, the back of my head being the meandering/simmering kind, this took a skosh more time to finish, but it was another epiphanal moments for me:

When working to make something accessible, you have the core audience, the first marginal audience, second marginal, third marginal, etc., ad nauseum. However, those units most likely follow a half-life scale, getting below 10% by the 4th marginal, but never actually reaching zero. Very ‘radial gradient’ if you can visualize it.

Alas the world doesn’t work this way, and what works this member of the core isn’t what she’s used to because her child is deaf. Or his wife is blind. And so core people deliberately choose different ways in, to both share in the emotional side of life, granted, but to also try something new. Don’t think it’s happened? You’ve probably done it yourself by activating the built-in reader for a web-page to hear your structure, I have. (It wasn’t bad, just felt like I was on hold a lot.)

I can think of no site-design situation where I’ve sat down and heard anyone say “let’s define this in terms of the 5 senses.” (Insert your own lame ‘stink’ or ‘del.icio.us’ joke here.)

I could be wrong on this, but I just can’t imagine a group saying “our primary goal is to grant access to Group-Y” if only because, for example, having a site for the blind that is inaccessible to the deaf would raise too many hackles, and cut away the core of humanity. I would be very surprised if even the American Society for the Blind, or for the Deaf, think about how their sites are going to be used for the disability, but instead think about how it’s going to be used by ability.

Subtle? Yes. Too subtle? Just wait, there’s more!

You can’t plan for everyone who will reach your site, the potential audience is billions of people. You can plan for groups, but you’ll never know Person X. (unless your name is Dave, apparently, and then Ye Shall Be Known And Smote!. And that’s a good thing, too.

Why on earth would I think it’s a good thing to not know who is at your site? Because accessibility isn’t just about the ways we’ve delivered equal-access to members those of our society who need it. After all, that’s past-tense, in most ways. But we need to keep being creative, keep analyzing the problem, keep pushing the envelope and thinking up new ways. We need to keep learning to help others in our every day lives, keep building new tools and developing new ideas, because each one of those ideas is a building block for another, and another, and, again, ad nauseum. No one should get upset at altruism, but that’s not why it’s important. Society’s growth and continued semblance of well-being are at stake.

While the overall goal of accessibility is to grant everyone access, each person only needs one way. Once it’s found, it’s nirvana, but who finds it the first try? No one. And who stays with that tool for more than a few years? I don’t, and I don’t know anyone who does, either.

Usually because we found a better way, or designed one ourselves.

The devolution of this much-needed discussion to a flame-war is so sad. I don’t want to have to care for someone else’s disability, I want to create for their ability. I don’t want to think in terms of “these can and those can’t” when, by being creative and having a moment to think instead of hearing all the whining over and over about all the sad things in everyone else’s life and I should be grateful and… and … and I am. And if you’ll give me a moment, I may be able to find a common situation so ‘these’ and ‘those’ can all use ‘this’.

Personally I’m falling behind on my surfing as I’m eye-ball deep in django syntax (MODELS, and URLS, and VIEWS! OH MY!) that I’ve not been out on the rest of the web all day. Perhaps I’ll use another access tool and just dump the text into the vocalizer and let the sultry digital tones of the descendants of Maxx Headroom tell you about the day. Or just crank out some BT.