accessibility across mediums

Guest post by Steve Grobschmidt of

I’ve gotten a lot of mileage telling this accessibility-related story from a past job: I was in a meeting about incorporating CAPTCHA (those ridiculous riddles you’re forced to solve when filling out a web form so that the system knows you’re a real person) into all the web sites the company developed.

I was fresh into my accessibility days back then, but knew enough to caution that whatever flavor of CAPTCHA we used, it should have accessibility considerations like audio equivalents to the garbled codes.

One of the lead technical people scoffed and said, “Yeah, because blind people use the Web.” Yes, he was dead serious. To make things worse, a project manager in the room started pantomiming a blind person, giggling at himself in the process. Yes, he was an idiot.

Fast-forward a few years to when I started researching video game accessibility. I was reading an article about how many of the color palettes in the game Bioshock 2 posed significant problems for color blind gamers.

In one comment, someone bemoaned disabled people thinking “the rest of the world should cater to them.” Another gamer pointed out that there’s just some things that people with disabilities should accept they can’t do.

What’s lost in those narrow-minded rants is that people with disabilities don’t limit themselves to just “the things that only disabled people do.” Think about the hobbies you are passionate about. If you were suddenly to lose your sight, or hearing, or motor skills, you wouldn’t immediately lose your love for those activities.

Of course a person who can’t use their arms isn’t going to experience a video game the exact same way someone with full motor skills will. Listening to a movie isn’t the exact same experience as watching and listening to it.

But time and time again, creators of great user experiences find ways to open doors for the widest spectrum of people possible.

Web sites that are coded cleanly and organized, use color responsibly, have consistent navigation and concise, clear content can be fully enjoyable and useful to those with or without disabilities. The clean code and nav help screen reading devices correctly parlay the pages to blind users. The attention to color reduces obstacles for the color blind. People with cognitive disabilities have a much better shot understanding content that isn’t a convoluted mess.

Similarly, video games that have things like sub-titles, support for assistive controllers and devices, settings to brighten/darken the visuals, and mindful color contrasts at least open up avenues for disabled gamers to play, all without “watering down” the experience for everyone else. Don’t believe me? Check out this guy:

Apple and Microsoft consistently bolster the accessibility capabilities of their operating systems with each release. Amazon just announced enhancements to its Kindle iPhone app (and eventually for Kindles themselves) to make it easier for blind readers to enjoy their favorite literature through that medium.

The bottom line is that it’s much easier to make sweeping statements like, “Disabled people don’t use my product” than to take the extra time to figure out ways to enable them to get a rich user experience visiting your web site, using your application, or playing your game.

23. May 2013 by Michael Seidel
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