Thinking About Accessibility
By Will Pearson
[Editor’s Note: Will sent me the following in an email. I thought it interesting enough to put up as a blog post. Other than a few grammatical repairs I handled, this post is entirely by the soon to be Doctor Pearson.]
I've been doing some thinking following on from the discussions around whether commercial or open source AT is better. One thought that I came up with
is quite interesting. If you set the goal to be the situation where someone can just pick something up and use it without anyone having to do any work
to enable that person to use that thing then we're kind of going about things the wrong way at the moment. The way we think about accessibility is wrong,
the way we achieve accessibility is wrong, and largely the people who are responsible for accessibility are doing the wrong things to achieve it.
You can think of commercial AT vendors and accessibility consultancies as consumers of accessibility problems. They take accessibility problems and turn
them into cash for themselves. They do this by providing solutions to those accessibility problems; either solutions to end users in the case of AT vendors
or solutions to people who produce things in the case of accessibility consultancies. So, both AT vendors and accessibility consultancies need accessibility
problems to exist in order to make money and stay in business.
I think this need for accessibility problems to exist has led to us thinking about accessibility in the wrong way. Accessibility is seen as making a particular
product or feature accessible; I think this is a fundamental mistake but one that suits the AT vendors and accessibility consultancies quite well.
If problems are only solved within a particular context, say
a particular software package, then they can go and solve the same problem across multiple contexts making money each time they solve that problem.
The alternative to a contextual way of thinking is a context independent one. Instead of solving a problem in a particular context, say a particular software
package, you create a generalisable solution that solves the problem regardless of use case. This general solution can then be used to solve all
instances of that problem instead of just solving that problem within a specific area. This is better for the users but worse for AT vendors and accessibility
Consultancies as it gives them less opportunities to make money.
This need for a context independent solution means that the solution needs to be placed in something that spans different contexts. It can't be placed
in a particular piece of software as that's just a single context and instead needs to be placed in assistive technologies that operate across different
pieces of software. So, I believe that asking application and web developers to make things accessible is wrong and that we should instead be asking AT
Vendors to make things accessible using generalisable solutions if we want to have the most things accessible.
While I agree with Will’s statements, I also believe that the generic solutions he proposes may be the “Holy Grail” of screen reading. So many applications out there require some bit diddling to get them to speak properly but, unlike Will, I’m not too strong in artificial intelligence or notions like synthesized vision so I’ll defer to his expertise on this matter.
When I get the chance, I’ll write full length pieces about two newly introduced technologies to the world of people with vision impairment. The first is the User Centric Licensing scheme available in the recent releases of MSS and MSP from Code Factory. I would like all software vendors to move to such a solution. Second, the Victor Reader Stream from Humanware is really fricking cool.
Will’s note came as an html email, I did a Select All, Copy and pasted it into Word. For no reason apparent to me, after pasting the text, a whole lot of hard line breaks showed up in Word making its grammar checker think that it had a lot of sentence fragments and letters that it thought should be capitalized. Does anyone know how to keep this from happening in the future as I hate fixing such one line at a time in an editor.
Finally, if you, like me, use a lot of batteries (in my case, Olympus DS 50, my Sony 4 track cassette player and a few other odds and ends, the new Duracell rechargeable are not just better for the environment, they charge really quickly and, if you have two sets you should enjoy thousands of hours of use before they fade away. As mine still work without having been replaced, I cannot speak to their life cycle but the fast recharges and long use periods make them really nice.