We Still Need to Convince People About Accessibility


I just read a blog post about the benefits of an accessible site. Despite working in accessibility for the past 15 years, sometimes I still get surprised that we even need to have the conversation about accessibility being necessary and the right thing to do–particularly in government where we’re required to comply with Section 508.

During these years, I’ve been fortunate to work with many folks who understand why accessibility is important, but there have been a few people along the way whom I’ve wanted to strangle teach and motivate.

Motivation and taking a walk in someone else’s shoes are both effective keys to helping people understand accessibility. WebAIM, the accessibility experts and consultancy at Utah State University, have a fabulous diagram that illustrates those keys.

They specifically mention inspiring people to create accessible works. While I know that the term “inspire” causes eyerolls and heartburn in some people (see the late Stella Young’s Ted Talk about “disability inspiration pron”), it’s still true that seeing how people with disabilities are able to do the mundane, everyday things that “abled” people do creates a powerful impact and impression.

You can try a few exercises, in that vein:

  • Try to use your app, site, software like people with various disabilities do. Unplug your mouse and try to navigate, using only your keyboard, through a website.
  • Or use your imagination: Imagine going to apply for your Social Security benefits, a passport, or filing your taxes online. But suppose you’re told that you can’t do these things. You might feel angry and disappointed. How are you supposed to do these ordinary tasks that every American citizen is entitled to do? Yet, people with disabilities are denied the ability to do similar things when they encounter inaccessible works.

Some of the reasons people give for not complying with accessibility laws are cost, time, and difficulty. To paraphrase a colleague: Why does cost, time, or difficulty justify denying access to people? In the long run, limiting access isn’t cost-effective since providing an accommodation can be costly.

Perhaps you can imagine yourself in these situations or share these thoughts with a colleague. When it comes down to it, people with disabilities want to live ordinary lives…just like everyone else.

How can you support accessibility in your work? Share your thoughts!

Angela Hooker is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Beth Schill

Interesting article – thank you for pointing this out. I think another thing to consider is that in our connected age we take for granted using the internet to do many things. I recently experienced a disability where I could not look at a computer or phone screen at all for a number of weeks. I was completely dependent on others to help me communicate and do many activities (i.e. paying bills, requesting customer service, even finding phone numbers to call).

I wonder if in our push to go all online that we may not be missing out on an opportunity to help those who cannot, for a number of reasons, use the internet and computers in ways we take for granted?

Angela Hooker

Thanks for commenting, Beth!

The interesting thing is that for some people with disabilities, the web opens many doors for them, especially those people who are unable to get to government services in person.

But you’re quite right–we do take using the net for granted and often assume that everyone has access, the ability, or even the desire to be online. We have to remember that and to think of alternate ways of reaching everyone.