How everybody can contribute to Accessibility

In Germany there is a long tradition of enforcing accessibility from the top down, so to speak; in the social sciences we call this top down. In Germany, the accessible information technology regulation (BITV) stands for this in the public sector. However, the BITV does not apply to private institutions. Ultimately, there are plenty of public and private institutions that do not even begin to meet the basics of accessibility. This not only applies to websites or digital information technology - the topic of this blog - but also to the accessibility of buildings or infrastructure.

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Laws are needed, but we can't wait for them

In fact, something is going wrong if buses are still being bought that are not wheelchair-accessible or new buildings are being built where the wheelchair user has to go through the back entrance because there are stairs without a ramp at the front. Unfortunately, there is only one solution for this: we need an equivalent to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that stipulates accessibility for all publicly accessible facilities and public transport. I find it impressive that there are many local persons who are committed to accessibility. That's grassroots accessibility. But it is absolutely incomprehensible why this still has to be done in 2012, when those responsible are aware of all the problems

What is Grassroots Accessibility?

I am known to be a friend of initiatives that come from the persons and are not dictated by the state or promoted by a large organization. Grassroots accessibility is the attempt to bring accessibility into society from below – i.e. from the grassroots – we hobby sociologists call it the bottom up. This includes everything:

  • which explains about accessibility, its importance and implementation
  • which helps improve accessibility

Without wishing to detract from the achievements of the numerous initiatives to date, most of these are aimed at experts or the already converted and do not reach the mere mortal. Even the average disabled person doesn't know much about accessibility or even tries to get someone to make a statement about semantic markup.

At this point I would like to present my – not quite mature – thoughts on this. I have already taken up various approaches here and elsewhere.

Crowdsourcing, for example, is about thatto attract large numbers of persons to relatively simple tasks. This can be, for example, the evaluation of a place on Wheelmap or the mass testing of an application by disabled persons. The advantage is obvious: many persons are introduced to the difficult topic of accessibility in a low-threshold manner and many tasks can be completed more easily and quickly by a large number of persons. Crowd financing approaches, which I have explained in more detail here, go in a slightly different direction. persons finance the development or further development of a concept or an application that increases accessibility in the broadest sense. Tasks in this area can be the development of an auxiliary technology such as a cheap braille display, the screen reader NVDA or the helpful Firefox add-on WebVisum. However, it would also be conceivable for a previously non-accessible application or framework to be made accessible, which is funded by the crowd. Of course, this only works for non-commercial products. Last but not least, the disabled community itself can pimp its own assistive technologies using the open source approach. It is conceivable, for example, to make a closed system such as a hearing aid more practical. I'm not familiar with hearing aids, but it would be conceivable, for example, for the volume control to dynamically adapt to the ambient noise. The volume will increase when it gets loud and decrease when it's quiet. It may be that the devices can already do this, it should only be an example. Such further developments are only possible if the technologies are generally open to modifications. As a rule, they are not, they are also usually not compatible with each other and are therefore often uncomfortable to use. Even a Bluetooth interface would make it easier to control the device via smartphone.

Or let's take vision as an example: there are a handful of visual aids that are, by and large, very similar. At the same time, the visual impairments differ significantly. One sees 60 percent in a field of view of 30 degrees, the other sees 5 percent near and 1 percent far. Especially in the poorly sighted segment, I have yet to meet anyone who can see the same as another visually impaired person, even if they achieve the same values ​​in the eye test. However, we only have a handful of visual aids available that we can hardly adapt to our needs. In addition, I have not yet met a visually impaired person who has found the perfect visual aid for them. It is always a compromise where you look for the best product for yourself, which the health insurance company will finance. On the one hand, an open approach would allow us to precisely adapt the visual aids to the respective needs. And it would also allow for modifications that would be necessary, for example, with a change in vision. u opian? Maybe, but the alternative is to continue forever on the status quo. With software-based products, we also have the opportunity to dock with the socially active hacker community and introduce these persons to accessibility.

Last but not least we have to find new ways of conveying information . As a blind person, while I'm a friend of text, most sighted persons need something visual to understand the abstract issue of accessibility. Tools such as Storify, animations or infographics can contribute to this. The motto is not telling, but showing. It is certainly no secret that most of the texts reach the persons who are already converted anyway. The rest drop out when acronyms like BITV, WCAG, and WAI are thrown at them. You can find that stupid or you can adapt to it.


As mentioned above, we will certainly need a law for accessibility beyond public institutions that also provides guidelines for accessibility for private institutions. However, nobody believes that there will be such a law in the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, I believe that the disabled community and its associations are not making enough use of today's opportunities. How many German organizations for the disabled are there on Twitter and Facebook? How many use modern communication tools or voting tools to win the public over to their concerns? Then there are certainly some persons or organizations that get lost in my digital data noise. But there are certainly not as many as there could be. The majority of persons and organizations limit themselves to pointing out problems and then pointing to someone who should take care of them. One may think that this is legitimate, but it also shows that the senders do not have the confidence to bring about changes themselves.

We have made it very easy for ourselves because we are waiting for the state and some interest groups to take care of it. But I think that we should all do what is in our power and what we can to make our own contribution to a accessible society.

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