At WeCo, all of our consultants live with disabilities. We love sitting down and talking with them about what it means to live with a disability in today’s electronic world. Jeff and Lynn were happy to share some of their frustrations about finding information online.
Jeff has a B.S. in business administration with a minor in psychology and works in various types of customer service positions. He is one of the original WeCo CTCs and offers extensive expertise and insight into how the visually impaired navigate the web.
Question: What are some of the biggest challenges you run into when surfing the web?
Jeff: For me, I guess, some of the biggest challenges are websites not having buttons or pictures labeled. One of the ways that I move around the screen is by hitting the letter B and it will jump me from button to button if there are buttons on the web page. But if they’re not labeled correctly, it doesn’t really say what I landed on. Another way that we move around the screen is by headers. Oftentimes headers aren’t identified on websites. These are things that happen a lot, and we look for these when we evaluate websites for WeCo.
Question: How has the internet’s inaccessibility affected your life?
Jeff: Sometimes I just give up because the information I’m looking for is too hard to find. If I’m searching for something and I get to a website that appears that it might have the right information, the website might be formatted incorrectly so I can’t actually get the information, and then sometimes I just give up and close it.
Jeff’s experience with the internet as a person living with a visual impairment is very similar to those stories we hear from others who live with the similar disabilities. We hear a lot about how frustrating it can be just to make simple purchases or filling out basic forms. Jeff’s frustration could be avoided if website developers employed some very basic techniques from the minute they start to work on a website, such as labeling headers and buttons.
Looking for another perspective, we talked to Lynn. Lynn has an undergrad in history and received a JD in law school. Her background in law provides a passion for helping companies right the wrongs they didn’t know they were committing. Although her disability only mildly affects her internet use, Lynn understands the impact that an inaccessible website can have on the freedom of information that people thrive on. On top of her work with WeCo, Lynn is also a volunteer city planner serving as an environmental lobbyist.
Question: What is your experience browsing the internet with your disability?
Lynn: Well, I don’t have visual disabilities, so I don’t have that kind of problem personally. My disability is mobility and health. But I know that I always have to increase the font size at minimum. Some websites don’t account for that. They have popups which don’t allow scrolling, if I have my font size up. So that’s one of those things that I’ve learned. Even with such a mild issue, I can’t read the website because it’s too small. Even that can pose problems.
Question: If there was one website you could help make accessible, which one would it be?
Lynn: I think any of the news sites. If people are interested in news, that’s where they would go. And I think making any of them accessible would be a good thing.
Lynn and Jeff don’t just understand what internet inaccessibility means, they live it every day. As the world has become more virtual and connected, those living with disabilities has remained very unconnected. Even though people can now access so much more from the comfort of their own homes, this information remains inaccessible to the 56.7 million people living with disabilities in America today. This is why WeCo was founded and why our mission is to right this wrong. Lynn said it best when we asked her what working for WeCo means to her personally.
Lynn: It means I’m contributing to righting a whole bunch of wrongs that people didn’t know they were making. Most corporations have never thought about accessibility. Now they’re learning about it, and we’re helping them make better websites. I hope that by doing a good job testing it inspires confidence in our clients. And they will continue to refer us to other businesses and use us again in their own business. This is also an opportunity to have a job even though I am disabled. There are a whole lot of places that aren’t interested in hiring disabled folks.