Disabilities, Accessibility

Andrew Pulrang in his apulrang.diary weblog writes very eloquently about a recent “This American Life” program about the mentally retarded and his reactions to the show (follow the link above to his site and his writing). One passage in particular stands out for me:

"What makes this worse is that the professionals charged with helping you, and even your parents, are likely to be hesitant to talk straight with you about your disability. They use euphamisms like “differently abled” or “exceptional” and act all nice, but they won’t let you make decisions, don’t really listen to what you think, and treat others better than they treat you … even though you can’t really tell why. You ask about it, but they hem and haw, change the subject, or else just hug you and call you “special” again. Either that, or they pull out a clipboard and make careful notes about your evey move, mood, and statement. I suppose eventually you get the idea that you were born different, that you need help with things that others don’t, but still, it’s got to be confusing, especially when talking plainly about it seems to be such a taboo."

I remember hearing a report on All Things Considered one night (and if I weren’t so lazy right now I’d actually link to it in their archives. Maybe later) in which a group of minorities and one man in a wheelchair were discussing political correctness. The man in the wheelchair put it best (I’m paraphrasing here) when he said that using terms like “physically challenged” and “differently abled” are not there to make him feel better, but for the speaker to somehow feel better about talking about him.

Since last May I’ve been doing a lot of work with making websites compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In other words, making websites accessible. I’ve learned two key things:

  1. It is fiendishly easy to make a website fully accessible without sacrificing design, style, quality; and without adding any significant effort.
  2. Most websites are not accessible and the authors of those sites have little interest in making them accessible.

Where is the problem? My guess is that there is little pressure to change and and the number of people who take the time to complain are few and far between.

And, look at me, the raggedcastle.com version of this weblog is accessible. I have worked to make it compliant with both Section 508 and with the WCAG 1.0 from W3C (again, too lazy to link tonight). But the radio version of this site uses a default template which is loaded with graphics in a table layout and is likely highly annoying if not outright inaccessible. One of these days I plan on fixing this but it’s low on my list. So, essentially, I’m being part of the problem. And I’m aware of the problem! So, you can see why the majority of web designers aren’t doing this if people like me who know and care haven’t gotten their act together.

I started writing this intending to go in a very different direction than where I ended up. I hate it when my brain takes me on a ride like that! 🙂