Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

(See the end of this page for subscribing via email, RSS, browsing articles by subject, blog archive, APH resources, writing for Fred's Head, and disclaimers.)

Search

Loading...

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Growing Disability Divide, Is Anyone Listening?

by Donna J. Jodhan

What exactly is the disability divide and why am I so up in arms these days about this? The disability divide refers to the gap between what is available on the Internet to the mainstream person and what can be accessed by those with disabilities. To those stakeholders and others who are closely familiar with this topic, this comes as no shocker nor shaker and the best that we can hope for now is to work extra hard to convince website owners and content developers to change their approach and attitude. To put things in more perspective, the disability divide is made up of three distinct components; Information, websites, and technology and these three components need to be addressed individually.

Information: As more and more information becomes available on the Internet, it is important that a way is found for persons with disabilities to keep up with this information.

Websites: As the number of websites continue to multiply at an exorbitant rate, it is vital for special needs Canadians to be able to access as many of these as they can.

Technology: With the ever increasing growth and evolution of technology, stakeholders need to find a way for persons with disabilities to keep in step.

Who are the persons most affected by the growing disability divide? The print disabled, generally those who are blind and visually impaired, the hard of hearing, and those with learning, cognitive, and physical disabilities. Added to this large group are those whose first language is neither English nor French and those who are technically shy or those who did not grow up in the age of technology. In short, aging baby boomers and seniors.

We might as well start first with the Federal government. We need to convince our government that they must take steps to make their websites more accessible to special needs Canadians as a whole and in so doing they will help to start bridging the disability divide. If they can do this then they will be setting a precedent for others to follow. In addition to this, we need to convince our government to take decisive action to make information more accessible in alternate formats. Any information that can be accessed by the mainstream Canadian should or must also be made accessible to special needs Canadians. We need to work with all levels of government as well as with companies and organizations to develop ways for technology to be made more available to those with disabilities. So often, financial barriers play a huge role in making technology inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

It simply will not be enough for us as a community to say that the government must do this and must do that because it is our right to have all of this made accessible to us. No! It may go a long way if we can point out the benefits to helping to bridge the disability divide. Benefits such as: If the disability divide is dealt with affirmatively then not only special needs Canadians benefit; those who are financially disabled also benefit. The technically shy, baby boomers and seniors who did not grow up in the age of technology, and those whose first language is neither English nor French. As Canada grows older and becomes home to more and more immigrants, it would be very important for all levels of government to be able to deal with these two additional challenges as they can be seen as being directly related to the ramifications of the disability divide.

Attacking the disability divide head-on can help to solve many other challenges and it is my hope that someone out there in authority is listening. The disability divide is not going to go away and will only become more serious if all stakeholders do not start working together soon to come up with concrete action.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan, an accessibility and special needs business consultant wishing you a terrific day. If you'd like to learn more about me, then you can visit some of my blog spots at:
Donna Jodhan! Advocating accessibility for all: http://www.donnajodhan.blogspot.com
Weekly Saturday postings on issues of accessibility: http://www.sterlingcreations.ca/blog/blog.html
blogs on various issues and answers to consumers concerns: http://www.sterlingcreations.com/businessdesk.htm

A Response to the Disability Divide

by Aman Singer

I am always interested in reading anyone's views on what ought to be done so that people with disabilities can use information technologies in the best way. I have no doubt that the use of computers and the internet is very good indeed for people without disabilities. It has undoubtedly enabled them to access information more easily and at less cost in time, sometimes makes their work easier, and can bring them closer to family and friends who happen to be far away. All that, though, is as a drop in the ocean to what information technology, rightly applied, can do for a person who is blind or deaf. It is a great shame and waste that many disabled people find it difficult to fund, learn, and use the resources that can be so helpful.

Though I am, as I said, always interested in what can be done to allow more people to get a hold of this technology and use it at its best, I was disappointed that Ms. Jodhan, in her lucid article on the subject, seemed to leave people with disabilities, and what they ought to do, out of the accounting. She tells us that there is a gap between what the mainstream person can access on the internet and what a person with a disability, one who lacks understanding of a country's language, or one who is not technical can access. I would respectfully agree. She also demands that people engage in advocacy so that information is made accessible by governments and other information providers. Again, I would agree. Where I would differ from Ms. Jodhan's view is in leaving people with disabilities themselves out of her article. The inaccessibility of material is not something which is only, perhaps not even primarily, due to the information being truly inaccessible. Much of the inaccessibility of information is due to the fact that users themselves are not knowledgeable about their tools.

Being blind and having impaired hearing myself, I will speak to the tools available for these groups. I have often heard people say that a site on the internet is not accessible to a screen reader and also heard that other people are accessing the site without trouble. The problem lies more in the use of the screen reader than in the site. Again, I have seen many people argue that a certain appliance or device is not usable by a blind person. With the right techniques, however, the device becomes fairly simple to use, at least as to some of its functions, and there are few devices which are completely unusable. GSM mobile phones have often been almost inaudible to me using hearing aids, yet there are bluetooth and wired loops which, if used, will make these phones easily usable.

Yes, there is plenty of inaccessible information and technology out there. Yes, advocacy needs to be done. However, people with disabilities, people who don't know a language, or people who are not technical have a part to play, and I would argue that it is the most important part, in their own use of technology. It is not an escape hatch to say that a blind or deaf person should not need to be more technical than his sighted friend to use the same web site or device, that the site or device should accommodate the blind or deaf person just as much as it does for the sighted and hearing one. Living as a blind or deaf person is bound to be more difficult than living as a sighted and hearing person. Yes, we have the right to be accommodated, but we also have the duty, as a simple matter of prudence if as nothing else, to work towards the accommodations we are given. We who are behind the wall of inaccessibility need not only to shout and wait for people to dig their way under the wall. We'll get further, get there more quickly, and get there more often if we use the digging implements available to us to help with their tunnel. Ms. Jodhan's article needs, I would respectfully suggest, not only to ask whether anyone in authority is listening, but whether we who are denied access are using the unprecedented tools available to us in the best way. I do not say that this is easy. Manuals are technical documents. Training is often expensive and self-training is often arduous. Research is often difficult. Things are hard to understand. In this, technology is no different from anything else in the life of a disabled person or one who doesn't know a specific language. However, the alternative, simply focusing on attempting to bring accommodations in the environment to us, is almost bound to fail.

To summarize, Ms. Jodhan says:

Information: As more and more information becomes available on the Internet, it is important that a way is found for persons with disabilities to keep up with this information.

Websites: As the number of websites continue to multiply at an exorbitant rate, it is vital for special needs Canadians to be able to access as many of these as they can.

Technology: With the ever increasing growth and evolution of technology, stakeholders need to find a way for persons with disabilities to keep in step.

I would say:

Information: As more and more information becomes available on the Internet, it is important that people with disabilities, in cooperation with developers, government, and the public, find a way to keep up with this information.

Websites: As the number of websites continue to multiply at an exorbitant rate, it is vital for special needs Canadians to cooperate with site developers to find ways of accessing as many of these as people with special needs want to.

Technology: With the ever increasing growth and evolution of technology, persons with disabilities, in cooperation with everyone else, need to find a way for disabled users to use the technologies which are available.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan, an accessibility and special needs business consultant wishing you a terrific day. If you'd like to learn more about me, then you can visit some of my blog spots at:
Donna Jodhan! Advocating accessibility for all: http://www.donnajodhan.blogspot.com
Weekly Saturday postings on issues of accessibility: http://www.sterlingcreations.ca/blog/blog.html
blogs on various issues and answers to consumers concerns: http://www.sterlingcreations.com/businessdesk.htm

1 comment:

Hearing Aid said...

Glad to see this information.its very useful for everyone.thanks for sharing this post.
Hearing Aid

Subscribe to receive posts via email

* indicates required

Browse Articles by Subject

Follow us on Twitter

Archives

Write for us

Your input and support in the evolution of Fred's Head are invaluable! Contact us about contributing original writing or for suggestions for updating existing articles. Email us at fredshead@aph.org.

Disclaimers

The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) makes every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained in the Fred's Head articles; however, APH makes no warranty, guarantee, or promise, expressed or implied, concerning the content or accuracy of the information provided in Fred's Head. APH does not endorse any technique, product, device, service, organization, or other information presented in Fred's Head, other than products and services directly offered by APH.



The products produced by the American Printing House for the Blind are instructional/teaching materials and are intended to be used by trained professionals, parents, and other adults with children who are blind and visually impaired. These materials are not intended as toys for use by children in unstructured play or in an unsupervised environment.





The information and techniques contained in Fred's Head are provided without legal consideration (free-of-charge) and are not warranted by APH to be safe or effective. All users of this service assume the risk of any injury or damage that may result from the use of the information provided.





Information in Fred's Head is not intended as a substitute for professional advice or treatment. Consult your physician before utilizing information regarding your health that may be presented on this site. Consult other professionals as appropriate for legal, financial, and related advice.





Fred's Head articles may contain links to other websites. APH is not responsible for the content of these sites.





Fred's Head articles created by APH staff are (C) copyright American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. You must request permission from APH to reprint these articles. Email fredshead@aph.org to request permission.





Any submissions to Fred's Head should be free of copyright restrictions and should be the intellectual property of the submitter. By submitting information to Fred's Head, you are granting APH permission to publish this information.





Fair Use Notice: This website may contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright holder(s). This site is operated on the assumption that using this information constitutes 'fair use' of said copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law.





Opinions appearing in Fred's Head records are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Printing House for the Blind.