Bring disability access to websites

Listen to this post: 

When you think of disability access, you might think of those two parking spaces nearest a building’s entrance and an entry into the building that doesn’t have stairs. Look at Jason DaSilva’s short film, “The Long Wait.”

And look at this new subway station.

Entrance to the Smith-9th Street subway station for lines F and G. A short set of stairs leads up to doors with yellow "caution" tape. Stairs have bright yellow paint between them. [A $32 million renovation actually added more stairs. Photo credit Tien Mao/Gothamist]

During the planning phase, it seems no one spoke up for the federal rights of people who cannot use stairs (or people with baby strollers). If the planners had proposed a guard on 24-hour duty who told people of certain races that they could not use the station, it would have been thrown out. And yet, they passed through and funded a station design that acts as a guard on 24-hour duty telling people with mobility impairments and others who do not use stairs that they cannot ever enter the area. While the existing structure and high cost prevented adding an accessible elevator, it certainly did not play into them adding more stairs at more entrances instead of adding even one new ramp.

Some people claim all this disability access stuff is a bunch of disabled people complaining that we don’t get extras. Nope. We’re demanding the basics: access into a subway station, access into our workplace, knowing an accessible bathroom is available to maintain basic comfort and dignity. Have a look at how blogger Building Radical Accessible Communities tries to add pictures of kittens to arguments against accessibility in a post from April 24, 2013 called “isn’t everything cuter when you say it with kittens?“. It doesn’t work. Arguments against accessibility are still awful even with kittens.

So far I have only been talking about a couple pieces of physical space access. If you have read this blog much, you know my big thing is about bringing folks with non-apparent disabilities into the advocacy and activism. Now look back at the Building Radical Accessible Communities post. Look at the bottom. There’s an image description. Why would anyone need that? That description is for folks who go to that blog who use a screen reader. The blogger could say “Aw, I bet blind people don’t even read my blog.” Well, you can bet they don’t if there are no image descriptions or there are long, winding URLs that take up two lines listed everywhere. I have begun putting in something called “Alt text,” which is supposed to work with screen readers. I’m slow to get to all the images, but I am getting them. I also use here a larger font than typical for a blog.

Why do we do this?

  1. It is ableist to ignore disability access and say you are too tired or don’t have the money or don’t see why it matters since you’re very respectful to disabled people. It is ableist to say “I bet no one who checks out my blog needs that so I’ll skip it.” Imagine for a split second you are in a community that people say this about, unless you already are in that community. Then, look at the kitten pictures again for a laugh.

  2. It is the law. Check out Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. In a nutshell: equipment and technology have to be accessible. That’s the law. But no one enforces it, so why bother? Bother because it’s the law. And skipping it is ableist (see #1 above).

My blog is not yet fully accessible. I’m still working on it. I have audio recordings of every post, am getting the Alt text in here page by page, and have added other features some users might never notice. I have heard that perhaps Alt text is not the best route. I welcome some comments below and suggestions if Alt text is a bad idea.

But you know what is going to be fully accessible (sort of)? My new website. I’ll post here when it’s live. Right now, it’s a hodge podge of things and a mess. But it will be fully 508 compliant soon. Some folks have called it disability friendly. I don’t even know what that means. Seems to be a sugar-coated way to avoid talking about inaccessibility. So we’re talking about it now.

Here’s my big concern, though. My site can be fully 508 compliant and still be totally inaccessible to a lot of people in my community who cannot use or understand language well. They would do better to have pictures and images up to guide them from page to page of the site. But I was told that adding a lot of pictures means writing more Alt text in a way that makes the experience for blind and visually impaired users too cumbersome. Amazing. I have seen this disparity with the 1986 Air Carriers Access Act, which has given me accommodations on airlines sometimes. In other times, airlines use the fact that brain injury is not specifically listed in that federal law to outright deny me accommodations. I have been told that I need a wheelchair, guide dog, or oxygen to receive the accommodations I ask for. Hmm. Interesting take on that law.

If you have managed to get to the end of this post, thank you. Please email me  or leave a comment with access suggestions for this blog and for my new website.