How Web Accessibility Impacts My Life with Low Vision

For the last few days, I haven't left my dorm very much. But during that time, I have been able to do the following:

  • Read a virtual library book on George Boole from my college library
  • Order dinner with an application on my phone
  • Talk to friends and professors from all over the country on video chat
  • Find information I need to complete my data science homework.

It's easy to say that none of this would be possible without the internet, but as someone with low vision and a neurological condition, the truth is that none of this would be possible without web accessibility and assistive technology. To imagine an online world that is inaccessible to me and millions of others is a terrifying thought, and one that could become reality in the future.

Background

This week, the US Supreme Court will be hearing the Domino's Pizza case on web accessibility to determine if it should be heard in the court. In this case, Domino's is arguing that web accessibility is not something worth investing in, and that they simply cannot afford to make their website accessible. Other major businesses have also had similar lawsuits and insisted that as wonderful as it would be to have an accessible website, it isn't possible. Previous courts that have heard this case have ruled that accessibility applies to both online and offline locations, and Domino's has now appealed this to the highest court. The fundamental question at the center of this case is if a lack of web accessibility is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, or if the ADA should only apply to physical businesses and locations.

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Interesting statistics

Visual Impairment/Disability

  • According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, over 253 million people have some form of blindness, low vision, or other visual impairment that causes sight loss.
  • Over 7.6 million live in the United States, according to the National Federation for the Blind. These numbers are expected to grow over time due to several factors, including the aging population, improved diagnostic methods, and improvements in reporting data.
  • Outside of sight loss, the Center for Disease Control estimates 1 in 4 US adults have some type of disability
  • A large amount of these disabilities can benefit from assistive technology and accessibility features including being able to access a website with a keyboard or alternative input device, captioning, and no rapidly flickering lights, among other things.

WebAIM

  • Recently, the WebAIM Screen Reader User Survey showed that over 50% of respondents were from the United States, where a large amount of these accessibility lawsuits have been filed.
  • Over 75% of the respondents worldwide were over the age of 20 and had different disabilities including blindness, low vision, and cognitive/motor issues.
  • 70% of the respondents exclusively rely on screen readers for information on their screen.
  • About 59% of respondents hold full or part time employment

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How I use web accessibility

In the examples I mentioned before, I used several web accessibility services to be able to access information I needed:

  • The virtual library book on George Boole was in an accessible format so that I could read it with magnification on my desktop computer.
  • The application on my phone that I used to order dinner can be used with a screen reader that reads all text information out loud- and the application had been designed with screen reader users in mind so that it was painless to order food.
  • I used the VoiceOver screen reader on my iPad to open FaceTime and call into classes or office hours so I wouldn't have to walk across campus in a lightning storm.
  • The voice assistant on my phone was able to call my friends so that I wouldn't have to strain my eyes looking at phone numbers.
  • I used screen magnification and additional accessibility related apps to read information for my data science homework and stay up to date with my classes.

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What these tasks would look like without web accessibility

It's great to see how much web accessibility and assistive technology has helped me with being able to access the internet. Here's what these tasks would be like without these accessibility features:

  • I would have had to track down a large print copy of the George Boole book, if one exists, or have someone read me a physical copy of the book, which would take hours
  • Without the screen reader or proper large font scaling, I would have had to call on a family member or friend to bring me food, which would decrease my independence and the likelihood that I would get what I wanted
  • I would have had to walk across my college campus in dangerous weather for a less than fifteen minute meeting with my professor
  • I would have experienced social isolation from not being able to see my friends as planned, and sat in my room alone
  • There's a strong chance I wouldn't be a data science major, or even a college student, if I did not have access to the same materials that other students can easily use so that I could complete my coursework

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Why web accessibility matters to me

I jokingly tell people sometimes that I would be a completely different person if it weren't for access to assistive technology and accessibility tools, and it is true to some degree. Thanks to assistive technology and accessibility, I can do the following tasks:

  • Receive an education and read whatever books I need or want
  • Independently do tasks for myself instead of relying on others
  • Go to college and earn a degree in a highly in-demand field
  • Have friends and a social life even when I cannot leave my bed
  • Learn skills that will help me get a job and pay taxes, as well as put me in a position to help others achieve the same

I greatly value my independence and recognize my privilege in being able to do these tasks. The main reason I can achieve these things that would have been difficult in the past is because more companies are investing in web accessibility. Not only that, many companies are working to include disabled people when designing new products or redesigning existing ones, instead of dismissing them as a small part of the population that has no influence.

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But isn't it expensive?

I recognize that taking an accessible product and making it accessible can be difficult. However, in a lot of these cases, the money that goes towards dealing with lawsuits could instead go towards making products and businesses accessible from the start. For those companies that might not know where to begin, I highly recommend that they seek out disabled talent and pay them to help bring their websites up to compliance, as well as pay disabled people to test websites before they go live. This can help companies avoid the most common accessibility issues and future issues that may arise. Another benefit is that having an accessible website means that everyone will be able to use it, which can lead to increased business over time.

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What I hope will happen

I hope that the US Supreme Court will uphold Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act and extend ADA accommodations to require web accessibility for people with disabilities, not just physical accessibility. I experience a large portion of the world through the internet and technology, and while not every website I go on is perfect, I don't want businesses to discriminate against disabled people by having an inaccessible web presence.

Final thoughts

Accessibility matters everywhere, whether it is in the home, at school or work, in the environment we live in, or on the internet that so many people depend on. The future is accessible, and I hope more people recognize that- including the US Supreme Court.

Reposted on Paths to Technology with Veroniiiica's permission

Read more about: Assistive Technology