The human help as accessibility factor

When it comes to accessibility, three key factors can be distinguished.

  • The objectively verifiable accessibility
  • the individual abilities and possibilities of each disabled person
  • The Human Factor

Let's take a deeper look on this.

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Factor 1: Objectively verifiable accessibility

Today there are norms, standards and guidelines for accessibility in many areas, for example for the Internet, for buildings, for PDF documents and so on.

In other areas there are catalogs of measures that have to be tailored to each project. Whether an adult education course or an art exhibition is accessible can be assessed on the basis of these measures and their implementation.

The problem with this factor is that it suggests a degree of absoluteness that is not possible in reality. Even if we meet WCAG 2.0 AAA, there will still be persons who don't get along with the site. The PDF UA standard does not address the needs of persons with learning disabilities. In most accessible rooms you will have problems with a recumbent wheelchair. This means that accessibility according to checklists always excludes persons, but one still speaks of accessibility when these standards have been met.

Factor 2: The skills of the individual

It's no secret that the abilities of the disabled also vary greatly within the individual disability groups. One blind person plows through the net faster than anyone who can see, the next one needs five minutes to find a train connection. One tours through mountainous Tibet, the next gets lost in their own apartment.

A number of factors play an important role in these abilities:

  • There are the cognitive or physiological limits that the body sets itself. And of course the disabilities themselves are very different.
  • Then the question is how long someone has been disabled. Persons with disabilities from birth are usually much better adapted to their disability than late disabled persons.
  • Personality is important. Anxious persons are reluctant to try new things. Others can't wait to test and push the boundaries.
  • Another limiting factor are the tools. Anyone who uses outdated or half-defective technology will probably not be able to keep up with someone who is up to date.
  • Then it's not enough to have the latest technology. You also have to be able to use them. This is a factor that is often overlooked.

Incidentally, one of the useful abilities of a disabled person is to get help when you need it. I see often enough that persons sit back and relax when they can't get something right. Or they don't do anything at all when it could cause difficulties. Which brings us to the last factor.

The third factor: human help

Last but not least, there are problems which, as a disabled person, absolutely cannot be solved without the help of third parties. A blind editor like me, for example, cannot research images and can only edit them to a limited extent. My ability to create and visually review my presentations is limited. I cannot do my teaching work without assistance.

In general, accessibility is considered to be achieved when something is basically possible without external help. However, there are some areas in which at least most blind persons will never be able to do without others help. Besides, there's nothing wrong with that. Human help is not negative, and wanting to do without it entirely is not a value in itself. All persons occasionally need the support of others. I call this the social factor in accessibility.

Why am I bringing this up now?

As I've been dealing with non-digital accessibility lately, I occasionally come up against the limits of technology.

There are very different limits. A large city can theoretically be made blind-friendly to a very high degree. But seriously: No city will want to raise the billions that are necessary for this. And even if that happens, there will still be many blind persons who will have problems. So it doesn't matter how much money we invest, we blind persons will always be dependent on external help to a certain extent.

In adult education, teachers are required to respond to each participant individually. Here we encounter two limits:

  • The resource time is running out
  • Patience is a scarce resource

On the one hand, of course, every participant deserves attention, on the other hand, every lecturer must provide a certain level of minimum educational performance for all participants. As a lecturer, I promise a certain learning goal and if I don't deliver, it doesn't fall back on the participant, but on me.

The disabled participant must be willing to a certain extent to make a personal contribution. It doesn't work without it. I can support him as much as possible. But I can't neglect the whole group for him.

In many cases, it makes the most sense for the disabled person to organize an assistant. You can support him with the tasks that I as a service provider cannot or cannot adequately perform.

As I have already explained under point 1, absolute accessibility is not possible. A handicap - point 2 - can be compensated within certain limits. However, we reach our limits when it comes to newly acquired disabilities, multiple disabilities or other limitations.

Of course, the greatest possible accessibility should be created. If I can't use the software I need, then I can't do my job.

On the other hand, the human factor should not be neglected. persons need human support if our robots don't soon learn to develop social empathy and also take on more complex tasks.

An important factor is also reasonable payment of the assistants. Depending on the type of assistance they provide, they sometimes have to meet high standards. At the same time, those affected are paid the worst in the social sector - where persons are concerned. Working as a waiter or cleaning would hardly be less strenuous, but better rewarded. Perhaps, instead of spending 700 euros on an iPhone, we should try to ensure that our supporters are paid reasonably. Technology isn't everything.

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