All of our bodies change over time. We all deserve dignity and access at every stage in our lives. Most people will need to seek accessibility solutions at some point, whether for a family member, a colleague, or for oneself. Disability is part of the human experience. We all need to engage in the work to make our world accessible to everyone. Inclusion is a choice.
Why should organizations invest in accessibility?
- Accessibility Promotes Organizational Growth. Disabled people are the largest minority group. There are over 60 million disabled Americans. Around the world there are over a billion disabled people. Reaching a group of this scale allows organizations to grow, increasing community engagement.
- Disability Drives Innovation. Disabled people sparked the creation of many of the technologies we use today, from vegetable peelers to email. Organizations that choose to become accessible can benefit from the talents of disabled people.
- Meet Legal Requirements. Litigation is expensive and time-consuming. Choosing to make services accessible saves resources in the long run.
What Can Organizations Do To Become More Accessible?
- Conduct a survey to identify physical, social, and digital barriers. Work to remove these barriers.
- Plan for accessibility from the start. Designing a new service or product with access in mind is easier than trying to jury-rig accessibility after the product or service has been created.
- Increase hiring of disabled people—one of the largest untapped talent pools.
- Hold regular disability training sessions to help create a more inclusive culture.
- Promote positive disability stories in the media.
Talking About Disability And Producing Positive Disability Stories
How we describe disability experiences in the media can help or hurt the disability community. Positive portrayals promote inclusion, increasing opportunities for education, employment, and social integration. While we can’t change our past, we can influence our future through the messages we send.
Positive Messages to Send
- We respect and admire disabled leaders, just as we respect and admire our nondisabled leaders.
- We can always find alternative techniques to reach goals and accomplish tasks. These creative solutions are equal in value to mainstream solutions.
- We’re all interdependent and go further when we support one another.
Harmful Messages to Avoid
- Nondisabled people should feel grateful they don’t have disabilities. This perpetuates hierarchies of us versus them, continuing the marginalization of the disabled.
- Successful disabled people overcame their disabilities. When the media portrays the problem as the disability, society is not encouraged to change. The biggest barriers exist not in the person, but in the physical, social, and digital environment. Disabled people and their communities succeed when the community decides to dis- mantle digital, attitudinal, and physical barriers.
- Flat, one-dimensional portrayals of disabled people. Stories that reduce a person to just their disability encourage potential employers, teachers, and other community members to similarly reduce the person to just a disability.
- Victimizing Language. Avoid victimizing language when describing medical conditions and other aspects of the dis- ability experience. E.g., “She is blind” is neutral, but, “She suffers from blindness” encourages pity.
- Jumping through hoops to avoid saying “disability” and re- lated words. Linguistic gymnastics such as “special needs” and “differently abled” perpetuate stigma. We plainly state other human characteristics. We write, “She is a girl,” rather than, “She has a special gender.” The words we use to discuss disability should similarly be straightforward. Tip- toeing around our differences is also more cumbersome. E.g., “He is a person who uses a wheelchair,” compared to “He uses a wheelchair.” Keep it simple and just say “disability” and related words.
- Spotlight disabled voices. Stories about disability have a disturbing pattern of marginalizing disabled voices in favor of the voices of the nondisabled parent, teacher, friend, etc. Practice focusing the story’s attention on the perspective of the disabled person rather than the nondisabled person.
- Avoid assumptions. Many disability myths are so deeply entrenched in our culture that people assume them to be true. Should you use blind, partially sighted, low vision, hard of sight, or legally blind? Ask the person being de- scribed rather than making assumptions.
- Challenge yourself to create a disability story without using the word “inspiration.” The overuse of the word, especially for the most trivial things, has dulled its meaning. People sometimes even use the word as a disguise for pity. E.g., “You inspire me to stop complaining about my problems because I should feel grateful I don’t have yours.” Messages that perpetuate us-versus-them hierarchies contribute to marginalization. Engage audiences by moving beyond the inspiration cliche.
Create Accessible Digital Content
Accessible digital information reaches a larger audience. Organizations investing in accessibility tap into the market of more than a billion disabled people around the world while also improving the experience for non disabled people. Accessibility features such as captions, transcripts, image descriptions, and machine-readable text enhance search engine optimization, making it easier for disabled and non disabled people to find and engage with digital content. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is a set of technical standards for making websites accessible. To design accessible mobile apps, refer to the developer accessibility guidelines for iOS and Android. Here are a few things to keep in mind for digital content.
- Provide captions so that Deaf individuals can access the audio content. You can learn how to create captions on YouTube, and upload captions to Facebook videos. On platforms that do not offer a caption track, such as Twitter and Instagram, you can upload the video with captions burnt in.
- Provide audio descriptions so that blind individuals can access the visual content. Audio descriptions are spoken narrations of key visual information that is inserted during pauses in the dialogue.
- Provide a transcript that also includes key visual descriptions. This is particularly helpful for Deafblind viewers.
- Here’s an in-depth guide for making accessible videos: University of Washington: Creating Accessible Videos.
Podcasts and Radio
Provide a transcript to ensure access for Deaf viewers.
Provide an image description near the image. The image description should communicate key visual information. Try to capture the story or message of the image in one to three sentences. On Facebook and Instagram, type the image description in the Status/Caption field. For images on Twitter, follow Twitter’s guide for inserting image descriptions.
The text of the articles should be machine-readable. Machine-readable text can be read by software used by blind viewers that converts the text to speech or braille.
- Haben The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law, published by Twelve Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.
- People with Disabilities Drive Innovation, an essay originally published in the Financial Times.
- Haben Girma: Why I Never Tell People With Disabilities to “Just Work Harder,” published in PopSugar.