An overview of the presentation delivered to Open Source North, May 24, 2023 by Lynn Wehrman, WeCo President/Founder.
Complete presentation found here: https://youtu.be/cSHXN7ot-Rk
When we look back over history and examine the laws and societal norms that have emerged, it’s not difficult to understand the digital exclusion people with disabilities are encountering today. In fact, the persistence in which the digital accessibility industry seeks to exclude such users, matches closely the attitudes toward disability that most of us left behind long ago.
UX and the Abled User
Traditional user experience (UX) for software and websites has always included usability testing done by humans. Whether UX testing professionals, teams of professionals, or focus groups of end users. When digital accessibility arrived on the scene as a potentially profitable market, the idea of consulting and testing with users with disabilities was nowhere to be seen. Instead, we witness the evolution of an accessibility industry that insists that our experience could only be determined and dictated by automation. Accessibility dashboards, overlays and widgets.
To understand why this has never been really questioned, and why it shows no significant change of change, we must look at our history, laws and societal treatment of those of us who live with disabilities.
Disability Attitudes in History
Attitudes toward people with disabilities have been identified historically through a “model” timeline, like the one shown below. The model identifies three primary approaches towards disability that has been prevalent in our society throughout history.
In the 1500’s, people with disabilities were seen as “flawed” or “cursed.” People with disabilities were viewed more from the standpoint of needing charity, rather than having rights.
The “Medical Model” emerged in the 1970’s the Disability Rights Movement begins to gain traction. The disabilities we live with were seen as a medical problem to be “fixed” or “overcome.” While this model places less emphasis on blame of the person with a disability, it places the attention on our disabilities as a problem to be solved, rather than us as people having value.
In the 1980’s the “Societal” or “Social” model of disability takes shape. Those of us with disabilities claim it as part of our identity, and not something that needs to be hidden.
From the 1990’s to today, many of us with disabilities see ourselves as “more than our disability.” We see ourselves as equals to our abled counterparts. We simply do things differently.
Ancient Attitudes and Digital Exclusion
Our attitudes towards digital accessibility, and the inclusion of users with disabilities, are stuck somewhere between the 1500’s and 1970’s.
Like the “Moral Model” of the 1500’s users with disabilities are seen as “less than” other users, Less in need of our time, effort and money. We find ways to get by with the least amount possible to reach accessibility, because these users are, in our determination, less in need of a robust, quality digital experience.
How we approach digital accessibility as a practice is akin to the Medical Model in which the experiences of users with disabilities are problems to be fixed, or even “remedied.” We speak in terms of check lists and criteria, instead of speaking about the user themselves.
As the industry rolls towards reaching $606 Billion in the year 2027, very few of us who live with disabilities are even engaged in the industry, giving us little voice in our own digital inclusion.
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.”
Read more about disability inclusion
Short articles WeCo has written so you can learn more about disability inclusion:
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