The Difference between blind-friendly and digital accessible

Whenever I am asked for consulting, I am mainly asked about the requirements of blind people. That makes sense since I'm blind myself. However, it is quite common for the needs of blind and partially sighted people to be equated with accessibility. In this article you can find out why this is wrong and sometimes dangerous.

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the causes

I often hear from blind people that this or that software is not accessible. In 99 percent of the cases what is actually meant is: "I can't get along with this software". I used to say that quite often myself.

The problem is multifaceted. One software works with Jaws, another with NVDA and another one doesn't work at all. With special modes such as the jaws cursor or the touch cursor, programs can sometimes be used that are not accessible with the virtual cursor. The app may be accessible where the website isn't, or vice versa.

it can very well fail due to individual abilities. I hear from blind people who do everything on a tablet or smartphone and get along with it. I, on the other hand, prefer the notebook for everything that requires typing more than three characters. Therefore, one system is not more accessible than the other.

Much is also a pure usability problem. In principle, most things work with Windows, but it is not really user-friendly - for the blind.

Unfortunately, similar things come from the big associations like DBSV or DVBS. This is not accessible, that is not inclusive. However, they always only mean access for the blind and visually impaired. Of course, it is their job to stand up for the interests of their groups. But the fact that other groups also have access to books is not guaranteed by the fact that the barrier regulations for the blind and visually impaired are made possible.

The DBSV recently announced that its new design concept was inclusive and attractive. Unfortunately neither is the case. It couldn't be inclusive, if only because no other disabled group was involved in the creation of it apart from the blind and visually impaired.

Maybe with every post about inclusion or accessibility, you should write: "The inclusion you mean" or "The accessibility you mean".

This problem can also be found in other contexts in other groups. If one speaks of accessible buildings or environments, one usually means wheelchair-accessible. But that's no excuse for blind people to do the same.

Incidentally, it is not a German problem either. Google recently offered a free online web design course. The course description was primarily about contrasts, semantics and ARIA. Certainly not unimportant issues, but that's a subset of accessibility. But the graduates probably think they are now experts in accessible web development.

The motifs

There are different motives here. Let's start with the associations.

Many of the associations' projects are publicly funded. The press releases and other announcements are therefore aimed less at the public and more at the donors. They react more positively to the usual buzz words inclusion and accessibility. Just sounds better than blind or visually impaired. The same may apply to the media. Since inclusion, UN-CRPD and accessibility have now become public issues, one hopes that using such terms will generate greater resonance. The success is rather moderate.

With the individual it is different. This is often about distracting from one's own responsibility. "It's not accessible" is easier to say than "I can't handle it". The responsibility is shifted to the public. That's what blind people like to do. Many are not even aware of this behavior. We pastor's daughters call it learned helplessness.

But even if they are not the cause of their problems themselves. Software can work wonderfully for the visually impaired and paraplegics. But if it doesn't work for the blind, is that an accessibility issue? Well, that's not quite consistent.

Admittedly, if you argue that way, all software is accessible. Of the 7.6 million severely disabled people, very few have problems using software that can be traced back to accessibility. In many cases it is a lack of experience or mastery of the auxiliary technology.

On the other hand, the term accessibility is too vague to describe a specific problem. Cannot use the keyboard, no alternative description, too low contrast - these are problem descriptions. A lack of accessibility, on the other hand, is wishy-washy and shying away from naming the problems specifically.

Parallels and differences

Almost all users certainly benefit from a high-contrast and adaptable design of user interfaces. Screen reader compatibility and keyboard usability are important for the blind. Other users also benefit from this, especially those who use the keyboard.

Blind people don't care about the contrast of text and images. The graphic arrangement of content blocks is also irrelevant to them.

However, this is important for the visually impaired and others. The arrangement and design of information and operating units and their number is decisive for how quickly someone finds their way around.

Other people don't give a damn about invisible captions and alternative image descriptions. At night we dream that others will also benefit from it. But they don't. Seriously, I'm supposed to describe a picture for five blind people, but 50 visually impaired people can guess about the picture's content? 7.5 million functionally illiterate people should be able to do without good readability because 100,000 blind people can get along just fine? Perhaps the blind group simply overestimates its relevance.

The Risk

The working group for accessible information and communication is quite closely linked to the associations for the blind. Here, too, the over-representation of blind and partially sighted people is a constant nuisance. Unfortunately, the situation is no different in other accessibility committees.

By putting our own interests first, we blind people harm the other groups.

It is becoming more difficult for people with autism, deafness or dementia to articulate their own interests. The organizations say, sorry, the resources have gone to the design for the blind and visually impaired. Or these groups need so much time to express their interests that there is no time for the others. Or "It's accessible if it works for the blind".

Appeal to those affected

I think it is also the task of the experts to explain these aspects to the client.

Those affected should always say, "I have a problem," instead of always coming up with accessibility around the corner. You should also have the courage to admit that you may not understand how software works. We shouldn't always automatically blame other people for something.

My other appeal, which unfortunately will again come to nothing, is to work more with other groups with similar interests. There are very few groups that are involved across disabilities. But there are these interests. The few common bodies that exist are limited to narrow areas or have no power at all. I would say that the barriers to the Marakesh Treaty could have been enforced more quickly if there had been cooperation with the illiterate associations. Their number is significantly larger than the number of blind and partially sighted people. However, the associations continue to act as lone fighters and thus do not contribute to the fact that accessibility prevails more quickly. On the contrary: improvements are often blocked because they do not benefit a specific group. And the most common blockers, in my experience, are the blind. They have a very strong lobby compared to their absolute numbers. The other disability groups are unlucky in that their lobby isn't as punchy or noisy.

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