I am taking some serious flack from some in the blind community, mostly staunch members of the National Federation of the Blind, for my frank, hard-hitting, insistent, passionate approach to advocating for greater accessibility. I am being characterized as an emotional, “loose canon” who goes “over the top” on issues that aren’t as important as some other concerns in the blind community. Not at all surprising, I take great exception to their assessment of my efforts.
Whenever something is inaccessible to us due to our blindness, we are being locked out, excluded from participating in the associated activity or taking advantage of the opportunity that is being made inaccessible. It is just that simple. To the extent that we are willing to accept that loss of opportunity, we allow inaccessibility to go unchallenged. Due to limited energy, finances, time and other resources, we may prioritize, deciding that some issues are more important than others. Inaccessibility results in curtailment of our ability to participate in society. Though it is hard to swallow, this is an indisputable fact. Employment and educational opportunities are lost on a regular basis due to the inaccessibility of one or more pieces of technology. We may even find that, one day in the near future, we are unable to independently perform basic daily living tasks such as cooking dinner or washing clothes due to the inaccessibility of digital home appliances. Our entertainment options are also being more frequently abridged due to inaccessible consumer electronics.
Given the currently declining state of affairs with respect to our ability to gain access to the electronic world around us, why would I not be emotional about the need for accessibility? If I lose my job due to inaccessible computer software, that’s personal! If I am presented with information in print without any accessible alternative, that’s personal! If I can no longer cook my dinner in the evening after a long day at work, that’s personal! If I’m not able to buy a nice stereo system, television or other neat piece of electronic equipment that I can effectively use without need of sight, that’s personal! Finally, if I am unable to sign on to a web site due to one more graphical security verification system (CAPTCHA, Turing test) due to its inherent inaccessibility and lack of an accessible alternative, that’s personal too! Inaccessibility is personal, at least for those of us who feel very strongly about the need for accessibility and reasonable accomodations. When I encounter an unmitigated issue of inaccessibility that is harming me in some way, I feel angry. I am being locked out. If the inaccessible company or organization has been made aware of their inaccessibility but continues to avoid the issue, then I am being blatantly discriminated against in the worst possible manner! My adrenalin starts to pump andI can feel my blood pressure rising! There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I am allowed to have these feelings and even to express them to others inside and outside the blind community in a reasonable, even insistent, manner.
I am a “loose canon” going “over the top” when I absolutely refuse to just sit down, politely accept that we don’t live in an ideal world and just “use a reader” to make my own accessibility. I am not at all against making our own independent accessibility. In fact, since we are our own best experts on accessibility, all such efforts should be driven by participation from the blind community. When we’re able to make our own accessibility, that’s wonderful! We should certainly do it, avoiding requests for accomodations we don’t truly need. On the other hand, in most cases, we must insist that the mainstream electronics and technology industry meet us halfway in our efforts to insure our ability to access electronics and information technology products and services. We must all, blind and sighted alike, do our best when it comes to accessibility. The lives of the blind depend on it!
With passion comes motivation. Once motivated, we innovate and drive ourselves forward! That’s how it works for all movements. What would have happened if Rosa Parks simply got up and politely moved to the back of the bus like a good little black woman? Similarly, we must always insure that we are not pushed aside or thrown away when it comes to accessibility! It is just this simple, boys and girls. Anyone have anything to say about it?