In the world we live in, technology is a driving force in getting everything done. From making purchases to paying bills, from completing classroom assignments to applying for jobs, from taking care of banking to other financial affairs, all of this is done online. But imagine for a second that you are someone who is disabled. What if the sites required to complete these tasks don’t work for you? Unfortunately, this is a situation all too often faced by people with disabilities.
Before we go any further, one might ask, “So how does an individual with a disability access the web anyway?” As mentioned above, someone who is blind might use a screen reader, or if they have some usable vision they might use a screen enlargement program.
Screen readers are pieces of software that turn what is on the screen into spoken text or in some cases into refreshable Braille using an attachment called a Braille display. Examples of screen readers include Narrator, JAWS, and NVDA for PC, Voice Over for Mac, and Chromevox for Chrome Book. Not only are screen readers available on computers, but many cell phones have this functionality as well. iPhones utilize Voice Over while Android phones use Talkback.
A screen enlargement program does exactly what the name suggests; enlarges what is on the screen so someone with usable vision can read it. Often times, these programs also include options to change color schemes that allow text to be more easily read. Examples of this include ZoomText for Windows, Zoom on Mac, and Magnifier on both Chromebook and PC. And much like in the case of a screen reader, screen magnification is also possible on the cell phone. Zoom is available on an iPhone and Magnifier is available on Android devices.
Many times, accessibility is an afterthought or never thought of at all. This is a mistake. Given all of the things we do using technology, it is crucial that everyone is able to use all resources, many of which are online. If a site is not accessible, this excludes a part of the population. For example, if a site looks good but lacks labels that can be read by a screen reader, individuals who are blind cannot use it.
Now, let’s say this is a site to apply for jobs, or perhaps a site required for completing a college assignment. If accessibility was not considered, people who are blind cannot apply for jobs on the site. Someone who is taking classes cannot independently complete their assignment because the site does not work for them.
When a site is not accessible not only does it exclude individuals with disabilities, but it puts them at a disadvantage. Is it fair to require the person who cannot use an inaccessible airline site to have to pay the extra $20 fee for buying their tickets over the phone? How about the person who can’t get out to go shopping, yet the local delivery for groceries site is not usable to them?
With the growing use of mobile technology, not only is it important for a desktop site to be accessible, but apps and/or mobile sites must be considered, as many people are using tablets and mobile devices to take care of their online business these days as well.
If accessibility is considered, many of the barriers to inclusion can be eliminated. If educational platforms consider accessibility, students with disabilities can complete assignments along with their peers. When shopping sites are accessible, it allows more independence for someone with a disability to get the things they need. If job sites are made accessible, people with disabilities the same chance to apply for employment as everyone else.
Although accessibility of websites cannot always completely remove the barriers that put people with disabilities at a disadvantage, it can help to level the playing field. Simple things like labeling buttons, making better color choices, etc. can go a long way to make better and more accessible sites that can include everyone. When all are included, it makes for more diversity, more ideas, and just an overall better perspective for us all, never mind allows everyone to feel that they are a contributing and productive part of society.
Guest writer, Mendi Evans is an assistive technology specialist at Bosma Enterprises. Bosma Enterprises is a nonprofit organization that’s been helping Hoosiers with blindness and visual impairment for more than 100 years. Mendi’s job has many duties, but the key ones are keeping up to date with adaptive technology, researching new solutions to help the organization serve its population, and writing content for the web.