girl typing on a computer

We always talk about accessibility in the field of visual impairments and blindness. We talk as if it is something that we either have or we do not have. We talk about websites, apps, or stairwells as being either accessible or inaccessible.

On the surface, there might seem to be nothing wrong with this, but I’d like to offer a different perspective.

To me, as a teacher, and content creator, I see this as only part of the story. A stairwell can be accessible for someone who is blind but inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair, and even further, a ramp can be accessible to someone in a power wheelchair, but not someone in a wheelchair without power.

I think we need to redefine what accessibility is, and for our students with visual impairments in an online world there has never been a better time to talk about not just one, but the three parts of accessibility.

Part 1: The Content

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The actual website, app, or stairwell. This is usually the only piece of accessibility we talk about. It is important that content creators do create materials that are accessible to many people, but the question to ask is, Is a piece of content that meets accessibility standards accessible to everyone? My answer, “No” that is an impossible request. Why? Because accessibility is an individual experience. There is certainly no stairwell in the world that is accessible to a typically developing one-year-old human, just like there is no website in the world that is accessible to someone without internet access. Accessibility depends on more than just the content.

Part 2: The Tool

Have you ever tried putting a nail into a wall with your bare hands? I cannot say that I have had the pleasure. It is a simple fact, that accessibility depends also on the quality and nature of the tools you are using. For example, if you were struggling to access an excel spreadsheet on your iPhone, would you throw up your hands and declare Microsoft Excel to be an utterly inaccessible program that nobody should ever use? No, you would simply concede that a computer is probably a better tool for the job.

In the field of blindness, when we encounter an inaccessible situation before deeming the content inaccessible, we might begin to ask ourselves, is it the content, or is it the tool? Some tools are just not meant for the job. That is a fact of life.

Part 3 - The User

Accessibility is individual experience. Hypothetically, If you did not know how to use a computer,then every single website (no matter how many accessibility standards they meet) will be inaccessible.. To you. Accessibility does not only depend on the content, and it does not only depend on the tool being used to access that content, but it also depends on the skills of the user.

In our field we (myself included) often throw up our hands in defeat as we exclaim “Ugh this website (or app or stairwell) is inaccessible!” And you know what? Sometimes, we are right, the content is inaccessible, but if we say that without first considering if our learners are using the right tools and if they have the right skills to access this particular website or app or stairwell, then we are doomed to spending our entire careers complaining about things we cannot control rather than finding the solution.

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