Accessibility awareness has improved substantially in recent years—in fact, it wasn’t long ago that many people with disabilities could not use the internet without many barriers. And while this improvement in accessibility awareness has been very positive, there is still a long way to go.
Many organizations began their focus on accessibility simply for the sole reason of being compliant with the law—but did not take into consideration the human experience behind their accessibility-inclusive efforts. As such, there are many accessibility tools scattered throughout the world of technology that miss the mark entirely.
After all, accessibility shouldn’t be about legal issues; it should always be about real people and their unique experiences.
To combat the challenges mentioned above and hurdles, we believe it’s important to showcase the real human experiences of people with disabilities, how they navigate the world through modern technology, and what good VS bad interaction means to them.
What is Assistive Technology (AT)?
Before we jump into real-life stories, I want to distinguish what Assistive technology, or AT, is.
AT is “any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system designed to increase, maintain, or improve the functionality of persons with disabilities.”
Additionally, AT can be low-tech, like basic communication boards, or high-tech, like special computers. Wheelchairs, walkers, and braces can all be AT, too.
Digital accessibility challenges of a user with physical impairment
This month we are highlighting one of Allyant’s very own: Sam. Sam’s story and the hurdles that Sam faces with Cerebral Palsy (CP) when navigating technology. CP is a disorder that affects a person’s motor control and ability to move and maintain balance and posture.
As a person with a disability, Sam has used various AT devices. He relies on AT for both professional and personal purposes. Without these devices, Sam would likely have a lower quality of life.
Sam’s daily experience with technology is not unlike many others. For the most part, his assistive technology choices work incredibly well for him, enabling him to access the same things everyone else does. However, there are occasions where AT is limited, leaving Sam frustrated.
This is the human factor that so many people never think of—an otherwise typical digital, document, or print experience being very different (and potentially frustrating) for many people.
Sam requires both software and low-tech AT, similar to what we listed above, and requires the use of a power wheelchair—the AT device that is most essential to his daily life. Without his power wheelchair, he could not get around independently. He would have to rely on someone whenever he wanted to go somewhere.
In college, Sam used AudioNote––a voice recording app for iOS, Android, and desktop, and Kurzweil 3000. Because it is often difficult for Sam to write due to affected motor control, he used AudioNote to record lectures (with permission from the teacher). This app also allows you to type notes, which it converts to and plays via audio.
Due to difficulties reading large amounts of text at a time, Sam also utilized Kurzweil 3000, a software program that he used to listen to scanned versions of his textbooks while he followed along visually.
He also uses an Xbox Adaptive Controller to play video games in his free time. The Xbox Adaptive Controller has two large buttons that he presses with my right hand (which I can’t use as well as his left hand). The Adaptive Controller can be used with a regular video game controller.
Without the options listed above, many people would experience difficulties and frustration while attending college, living independently, or simply getting together to play Xbox with friends.
Of course, the idea behind this article is not to outright solve particular challenges that people may have.
The actual reasoning of these articles is to remind companies that not every experience is the same. Ensuring equitable access to information and making experiences simple and seamless for anyone, regardless of the situation, is something that all organizations must strive for—and it starts by understanding the human element.