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Kill Accessibility - Another Response

May 29, 2010
I read with great interest a recent post by Gary Barber on his Blog entitled Kill Accessibility. Its the sort of nicely provocative Blog piece that appeals to me - and unusually for me with my ongoing attention defict, I read it all the way to the end.

Gary's piece makes the point that most developers don't really care about accessibility, and moreover pay lip service if they acknowledge the fact at all. He puts this down to the fact that few if any developers are AT users themselves.

This is the truth - but anyone with the ability to think 5 minutes ahead, will realise that this is not always likely to be the case. There are two types of people in this world, the "Disabled" and the "not disabled - yet" Ive been arguing for some time that the best motivation to think about access and accessibility is pure self interest. I have a healthy selfishness gene, verging on the sociopathic perhaps, but I know that I am now getting closer to 50 years old and in 10 years time I want to still be doing stuff online and unless I have good AT and good access that wont happen. (Notice we spoke of two aspects to access there - two sides of the same coin of course)

But perhaps the issues actually go wider, did we take a wrong turn somewhere along the line when the Access community became the access (and accessibility) industry. I have been aware of many examples over the years when  the driver for activity within the field is not impact but an ongoing search for profit or funding. I make no distinction here between the Not for profit sector starved of funding, and the private sector with pressure for cashflow and ROI. There is the potential that as a result both sectors focus on the low hanging fruit, dealing with one website at a time, advocating high end assistive technologies - or as a management consultant once said to me

"You cant take small steps across a chasm"   

We need to acknowledge this challenge, we are all aging and have a need for accessibility now or in the near future. Alongside this is the problem of access to Assistive technology. Increasingly then I begin to think that the concept of Universal design is not in itself the solution, that principle needs to be coupled with the integration of pervasive access technologies that operate from within the cloud or on portable and mobile platforms.

By building in accessibility not as a set of standards, not as a bolt on but drawn from the internet itself we may have an opportunity to create a network that is intrinsically accessible, the tools and resources that we use would be based upon a core principle of universal access.

There is some fantastic work being done in this area, and it is crucial that these projects link closely together, projects like Inredis, AEGIS and Raising the Floor need to integrate not only with eachother but also with the key technology drivers such as Microsoft, Apple and Oracle. It may be that we need to kill accessibility in its current incarnation and look again at where our research, development, energy and funding are going if we are not going to be having this conversation in 10 years time and still saying that for significant parts of the population the benefits of communication, collaboration and community are denied.

So lets continue to make a case, companies will understand that there is a market for products delivered via accessible channels, developers may see that self interest and the interests of those around them demand access be made available, but we then need to ensure that the response to this self interest is not simply to try to place a sticking plaster over the wound, or even to try to sew the gaping edges together, rather it is to create a platform which facilitates that universal access.

That platform cannot be left in the hands of well meaning but probably misguided folks like me, nor can it be safely left solely in the hands of an Access Industry or Public sector, but instead within a growing ecosystem within which, each has a part to play. What those roles are and how they integrate together is beyond my tiny brain but Im sure that  there are others out there with the brainpower to think it through.

So perhaps we can't kill accessibility just yet, but maybe as we begin to co-ordinate our efforts in a common direction we might at least be able to put the sheets on the death bed, and take a shovel out to boot hill, just in case.

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