Part of the reason I was interested in entering the field of web and electronic accessibility was the believe that my years of experience using computers and the internet while living with a motor skill-related disability could be put to use for the benefit of others. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned I didn’t have the right kind of disability–at least, not the kind of accessibility auditors were typically looking for.
When assessing the accessibility of electronic file formats, we at WeCo prefer to categorize results “according to the device, not the disability.” The reason for this is two-fold: it allows us to answer client’s concerns directly (“Can this site be accessed by someone who uses a screen reader?”), and it discourages the all-too-common practice of defining an individual solely by his or her disability. An unintended consequence of this approach, however, is that people may become “defined,” instead, by their assistive devices. And if you don’t use any such devices, as is my case, you may feel lost in the crowd of more “typical” disabled users. If living with a disability teaches anything, it should be that there is no such thing as “typical.”
Living with a disability that largely limits me to the use of my left hand, I have been aware of the ways in which my ability to use technology can be frustratingly limited–all the way back to trying to play Nintendo with my figures stretched across the gamepad as a child. Growing up, I wasn’t all that aware of assistive devices that could ease my interactions with technology; if I faced a problem–like holding down a series of command keys–I had to figure out the solution on my own. Later, as I was introduced to such devices, I was often impatient with their utility: in the time I could learn the (then limited) use of speech-to text, I was already typing one-handed.
Today, I still prefer to find my own solutions to my challenges with technology; however, I have become more open to forms of assistance (and, perhaps, a bit more patient). In place of hardware devices, I focus on software solutions to my accessibility needs. I was quick to take advantage of mobile technology where operating a device with one hand, either because it is small enough to fit in the hand or because it is held by the other, is becoming the norm. I regularly make use of built-in features, such as predictive text correction and keyboard shortcuts, as well as a number of productivity applications. Unlike most people who use such apps, my goal isn’t to be faster at my work than the person next to me, but merely to keep pace with him. Using a number of email sorting, reminder, and to do list apps I’m able to quickly work through all the information I receive on a daily basis so that I can spend the time where it is most required, such as typing up reports. To save time where I can even here, I often develop templates for work I do often, considerably reducing the amount of typing for any given project.
What happens when your assistive device is no assistive device? You find solutions where others may not look and learn to make do. StickyKeys may have replaced the need to contort my hands at the keyboard, but I can still beat Mario with one hand behind my back.