Explaining Accessibility


By MATP Staff Member M. Catherine McAdam

No, this is not a technical article, maybe more of a rant.  As a person who is Blind I was immediately captured by the power of the web. Imagine shopping, banking or going to the library without worrying about transportation.   Wait, a library, to do research, and have immediate access to information? Amazing!

Maybe the word “access”, linked with accessibility is part of the problem.  It’s not as simple as the promise of accessing, getting something.  I think it’s a struggle in part because what we “see” on the web is only possible with a lot of coding and development by folks who make the process look simple and magical.

The easiest example of how this works, or doesn’t work is when someone uses their copier to create a scanned PDF file, a picture that they send to all of us to announce an exciting event.  In many cases this is truly just a picture – a picture of words, not text that as with any other photo I cannot “see”.  And, because it is a picture, people who are blind, have low vision and/or learning differences or mobility issues can’t manipulate this kind of file. This is a very small example of the complexity of accessible information, just one, I hope communicates why it’s so frustrating.

So even more complex is what is seen, “and equally heard” from a web page.  Unlabeled graphics, repeated links that say “read this” or “click here” and unlabeled buttons or forms cause all kinds of issues in using a web site successfully.  Again the underlying, unseen coding is the issue so most people just don’t understand why I have a problem.

The scary thing is that even for many IT folks and web developers the words access and accessibility seem interchangeable.

If I’ve caught your attention and you want to learn more start here:

  • A PDF checker (you don’t have to be an IT professional to use this!) PDF Accessibility Checker (PAC) 1.3, English (ZIP, 583 KB)
  • The University of Washington gives us Accessible University 2.0, fictional pages to teach web accessibility
  • A well-thought-out playlist of accessibility-related videos

What is your biggest frustration in explaining accessibility?

This entry was posted in Accessible Formats, Blind/Low Vision, Cognitive, Universal Design, Web Accessibility and tagged Access, Learning Disability, Print Disability on by .

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