Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Accessibility Changes Lives

  • Accessibility Changes Lives

Apple's universal access symbolThis is the first post in a series about assistive technology. I want to show you why accessibility, adaptive technology, assistive technology, and other disability-friendly practices matter. Really matter.

Accessibility changes lives.

I don’t mean “changes lives” like buying a new house might change your life … accessibility changes lives so completely it’s almost impossible to imagine if you haven’t been there.

I am completely bedridden with my disability; I can’t sit up enough to use a wheelchair, so I spend 24 hours a day lying in a hospital bed set up in my living room. I can’t hold up a book or magazine long enough to read. I can’t open the curtains during the day because my eyes are too sensitive to light. I can’t paint or draw because I don’t have the stamina and strength. I can’t listen to music for more than 5 minutes or so, because of the sensory overload. Pretty much all that I can do is passive activities: listen to talk radio and audio book CDs, watch a little TV, talk to people on the phone.

The 20 inch Apple Cinema Display mounted over my bed.If it wasn’t for my accessible computer setup, that would be my entire life. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure that life would be worth living.

With my accessible computer setup I can do almost anything I can imagine. I’ve used it to compose and play music. I browse and shop on the internet. I run support groups via mailing lists. I advocate for myself and others. I take care of all my finances and banking. I meet new friends who have then become RL friends who visit my physically. And, of course, I have created and maintain this blog and several others. My life is interesting and productive, and full of things I can’t wait to do.

I think we need more information around showing people with disabilities using technology, so able-bodied people can get a glimpse of how much this really changes lives.

I’m going to make a series of posts about it - this is just the beginning. This series won’t be specific to people using technology on Mac computers or Apple products. For just this one series, I’m going to include everything I can my hands on that shows the effects of accessible, partially accessible, and inaccessible technology, including showing and discussing how difficult it is for us to work around inaccessibility.

For a start, I want you to go and read about why closed captioning makes a big difference to online video. Go read it now, and then come back.

Now imagine that 99.9% of all the videos on the internet are like that for you; that they make no sense without the captions. That’s one thing that happens to people who’ve lost most or all of their hearing, and those who have an auditory processing disorder or disability such as aphasia.