Can we talk about something important for once?
This video is showing my buddy trying to install windows 7 on his laptop. He’s blind and there was no text-to-speech functionality available during the installation process, so in order for him to install it without anyone being right there, he had to open up a Skype video chat and point the camera at the screen so I could read the text to him and tell him how to tab through things. There is one point, not in the video, where we could not use tab and I had to teach him how to use the trackpad.
Now, you might be asking, well, why should I care?
Why should you care? Because this is an example of a really big problem in terms of discrimination that people with disabilities face. And it amazes me with this extremely loud and vocal anti-discrimination movement on tumblr that these very real and very serious problems are not being addressed.
So what? It’s just a computer.
Computers are traditionally one of the few devices that humans have created that is literally designed for an incredible amount of uses - all it requires you to do is to be able to program what you want it to do, and it will do it. In the many years that computers have become accessible to the public, they have become much easier to program for. People even before their teenage years can build a program these days - including my friend in this video.
Because of the versatility of the computer, it has been fitted with several tools to make them accessible to people with disabilities. For example, the computer can be used with just a keyboard and a screen reader (a fairly poor one typically comes installed on the computer but it’s possible to install other, better ones) to be accessible to a person who cannot see the screen. It allows the user to tab through options, read text, manage files and execute commands through the keyboard alone, while text is being read by a synthesizer.
This has literally opened a plethora of doors for those with disabilities, most notably the visually impaired and the mobility impaired. Take a database for example. Before, databases were in physical form, and occupied filing cabinets. There was no way for people who were visually impaired (and difficult for people who were mobility impaired) to sort through these and find the appropriate information, and maintain the information, thus cutting them off from these potential job/career opportunities. This made people view that they were physically unable to do the work, which, while at the time was true due to the nature of the format, did not mean they were incapable of handling the actual work at hand. Now that we have computers, this problem has mediated.
Or has it?
In the 90s and early 2000s, rather, this problem was mediated. Software in the 90s was more about functionality and less about appearance. Most software looked pretty similar to others, and were built in conventions which would make them readily accessible not by intent but by default design. It was just cheaper and not really required to not make your software look like this (for windows) in the 90s/2000s:
The problem is, is that we have advanced past this age.
It all began with Flash
With the popularity of Flash, starting around 2003-2005, Flash began to dominate certain areas of web design. Flash was special - it allowed you to do all sorts of fancy things, such as have programmable content mixed with visuals in a way that was extremely easy to do. This gave websites an aesthetic edge - it allowed them to look more visually appealing and attract the attention of potential customers. It was accepted by most browsers. Seems really great, right? Except there was one problem.
Flash is not inherently accessible without certain plugins attached.
Well, that’s not too bad, right? Except that most people were not aware of this, and didn’t understand the importance of a/ccessibility in software design. I know I didn’t!
While I have plenty of qualms regarding Flash outside of accessibility (memory usage, messiness of code, ect.), Flash, I believe, helped push accessibility out the side.
You might be wondering, well, what’s the big deal? Why is flash so important anyways? It’s not like people use that for essential parts of their websites, it’s just for ads and stuff like that.
Many websites use it for things that you would traditionally use HTML for, such as login screens, forms, or other things, to appear more “visually interesting” and “unique”. This means that people who cannot access the object without a mouse, such as the visually and mobility impaired, they might as well have tough shit.
Well, it’s not like this trend of “aesthetics over functionality” has leaked into other areas… has it?
Yes it has. And the video shows just one example. In fact, this is a growing problem that is costing people their jobs. People who are otherwise completely qualified for their positions, but a new version of software (such as Word 2013) has issues with its accessibility making certain functions difficult. This can cost people their jobs. Let that sink in for a moment.
The biggest problem now is that people never really understood what it meant to program accessible software in the first place. In my college classes I was astonished that it was never gone over with my professors, except a quick gloss over with an HTML5 professor. Woah. Think about that for a second. These are people who are preparing themselves to enter the industry who don’t understand a lick of why this stuff is important or how to keep it in mind.
And the reality is, it’s not that hard. It’s a matter of making sure that accessible controls and information is linked to whatever information is linked on the computer. Things like invisible labels, certain settings, and accessible names and handles help a ton. Designing everything so that every piece of information is available as text is also another way to help make it easier.
But because people don’t know how, people needs something like a JAWS specialist or something like that at certain locations. My brother, who works at IBM, works with one, and the process is somewhat inefficient to say the least - my brother and his coworkers write the code, and the JAWS specialist ensures that the code is accessible. The problem is, that the other coders do not realize that they’re breaking accessibility while the JAWS guy is working to fix it! In reality, he ends up doing a TON more work than what really needs to be done if education was better on the subject.
And here is just one challenge that people with disabilities face. It’s a challenge that I take with full force. It’s something that I want to help the software industry overcome, it’s my dedication to turn this one trend around.
But what about other discrimination?!
Well, surely discrimination will still exist. It’s a social element of our lives. It doesn’t mean that it’s not important to tackle the real issues first though. Computers literally opened thousands of doors for the blind when they became accessible - and their integration into businesses opened even more. By enabling those who traditionally had a disability, their disability becomes less of a disability and more of a “different”-ability. By working towards helping people with differences integrate themselves, we separate the differences between us. Some of us will always experience life differently, like my blind friend. But to me, he is really not that much different. We think similarly, we have a lot of the same interests, we have a lot of the same problems, we have a lot of the same goals and dreams and our ideas synergize together. He can do all the things I can do, bar drive a car, and do it without other people’s help. The only thing that stands in the way is not his disability, but us.
Going back to Tumblr now, the real problem that Tumblr faces in its activism for the disabled is that it focuses on how we are different, and how we have to treat people differently because they are different, instead of leveling the playing field and treating them the same because we are the same.
Tumblr is often afraid to address the real issues, and creates mountains out of molehills, while volcanoes are still erupting and few can put out the flames. We need to change our interest towards the real problems, like this. We need to help integrate people who we traditionally did not because we thought we couldn’t integrate them, on our own foolishness, as opposed to building even bigger walls. It’s not about special treatment. It’s about making things available to everyone, even if they have to do it a little differently.
Stop sweeping the real problems under a rug because it’s easier to address some nonexistent issue instead. Help stop what really stands in the way of those who are disabled.
When I had a dog I fed him regular dog food. I fed him pineapples, which he never ate but always seem to want them (think because it was sweet). I fed him ice which he liked to chew. He slept outside. He ran around the backyard. We played all the time. He didn’t come into the house after he stopped being a puppy. He had no idea what a tv was.
…. this is how you have a pet. Stop with the stairs for them to get on your bed easier. Stop vegans diets for animals. Stop stuffing them with good til they end up so fat they have to put on vegan diets. Stop taking them inside food places. If I see one more damn 8 lb dog in a stroller.
Stop treating animals like they’re human and can say no.