Accessibility Ups And Downs

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, hash tagged #GAAD on Twitter. In so saying, we first attempt to get a handle on what “Accessibility” actually means.
I am in agreement with one of the panelists on the Serotalk Podcast that there really is no overarching definition of accessibility. It relates to the ability of an individual to interact with his or her environment in such a way that productivity is made easier. I would perhaps say that, if one views it as a sort of social construct, it is the opposite of disability. That is to say accessibility means that one is able to mitigate the limitations typically experienced as a result of a medical condition through the use of technology or the removal of physical and societal barriers.
When blind folks hear the term Accessibility, we most often think of ensuring that a website or app works well with our screen-reader of choice and/or in our browser of choice. This means not only being able to launch the site, but also to move around, make purchases, and interact with its content.
One of the more exciting developments in this area has certainly been the rise of the smartphone. Currently, the most prominent of these among our population is the iPhone, with its easy-to-use VoiceOver program. Some sighted individuals don’t realize it, but if you have an iOS device of any kind you can easily activate and play with VoiceOver yourself by simply clicking the home button three times in rapid succession. To deactivate it, just press that same button three times quickly again. When this is on, you’ll need to tap each icon twice in order to cause it to launch, but it’s pretty easy. As the founders of this day encourage everyone to try out some of these techniques to learn a little about our experiences, such as going mouseless and using keyboard commands, I’d encourage you to give VoiceOver a shot.
One of the most exciting recent developments in the iOS world is that Amazon has finally made its Kindle app usable with VoiceOver. This has been a long time in coming, and still I am pleased that yet another mainstream company has taken the time to dip its toes in the accessibility waters as well. They’ve actually done a pretty good job with it, at least in my opinion. I snagged a title from their site, admittedly a free one so that I could sample how things would work, and was able to read it with intuitive gestures that anyone who uses iOS with VoiceOver would quickly figure out. And they allow for more flexibility in book navigation, use of information contained therein, and the like. It’s a great start, and I salute you.
I have also found that iOS can come in handy when one is unable to get sites to work on a Windows PC. I had been trying to purchase Microsoft Office 2013 from their site, and whenever I entered my debit card information the page would refresh about halfway through putting the numbers in. I guess there are legitimate reasons for creating pages that do this, but I was still relieved that when I launched Safari on the iPhone I was able to enter all of my information without being removed from the proper edit fields.
There has been a lot of progress made with regards to access to technology for those with varying needs, but an area that remains a thorn in my side, as it has for at least seven years, is Captcha. You know what I’m talking about. The characters that, I’ve heard, are even a challenge for sighted people to interpret in many cases that must often be entered to complete sign-up for sites, obtain tickets, and other things.
There are specialized Captcha-solving programs for individuals who are blind or otherwise have real difficulty interpreting what’s on the screen, but my issue with those is I can’t get them to work very well on my machine. The programs are no longer actively updated, and much of the help information is no longer available to instruct one on how to use them anyway.
And audio captcha? Well, you may as well be listening to Chinese. I have a hearing problem, but again even people with normal hearing say that in most cases they can’t really understand what is being said.
“Accessibility” as we know it is such a vast topic that it is impossible for me to thoroughly cover every angle of it. What about for persons in wheelchairs: being able to get apartments that they can enter with relative ease. There is a real shortage of such units, sadly. And captioning for individuals who are deaf, so that they can enjoy TV programs like everyone else. I’m sure that some of these topics are covered in greater detail by other #GAAD participants, and invite you to go and check them out.

2 Responses to Accessibility Ups And Downs

  1. I am happy to see this new site. I wondered what happened until I caught the VisionAware blog with you. Good thoughts on accessibility. Also, I was pleased that VoiceOver can work now with the Kindle app. Those captchas are a drag though.

    • Thanks for reading, I really do appreciate that. I’d thought of posting a link on the old blog when I moved over here, but was afraid even doing that would result in a lot of unwanted comments coming this way. I’m glad you managed to find me again. I’m enjoying your blog as well.

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