Disabled by Technology?

When presenting accessibility issues to the “normally enabled”, I think it helps to present scenarios when anyone could need the same accommodation as provided for “disabled” users.

For example…if you are on Adobe Connect and the audio is acting weird, you would really appreciate live captioning. I know I did when I attended an accessibility seminar over Adobe Connect. The audio was out for quite a while, but ironically they had included captioning for the hearing impaired audience, so I was set!

That was the seminar that mentioned that lots of students used captions when available – because of forgotten headphones, bad initial recording or they had a roommate sleeping in the next bunk.

This week I realized we had a new tech “disability” called the iPhone. The iPhone is great, but there’s no denying that the screen real estate is much smaller than standard monitor. You have to zoom and move around the page a lot …unless the site is designed to accomodate the iPhone.

Believe it or not the iPhone screen very closely mimics what a low vision user on 500% zoom is experiencing. Jakob Nielsen just conformed this in a recent Alertbox article on the Mobile Web. An interface designed to work for low vision users will probably be optimized for the iPhone.

It’s possible to find tech scenarios for all sorts of “real” disabilities :

  • Requiring color-coding to be supplemented with shape helps if you only have a black and white printer.
  • ALT text for graphics is great when the graphic is slow to download…or missing.
  • Designing alternate to pop-up windows can help users who use pop-up blockers.

Accessibility can seem like a huge effort to accommodate only a small number of people, but when you realize that many “accommodations” can actually benefit many people beyond the target audience, it begins to seem much more reasonable.

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