Why you should involve Disabled in digital Accessibility Projects

Did you know that accessibility can be implemented without involving those affected? At least in Germany people seem to think so.

There are plenty of examples: In 2020, for example, the federal government issued a multi-million tender for testing accessibility, but there was no mention of the participation of disabled people in these tests. A tender by the Bundestag administration on the subject of raising awareness of accessibility with around 20 lectures did not mention a word that disabled people should be there. Agencies that implement accessibility, large or small, do not mention, with a few exceptions, that disabled people are involved in development or testing. There are countless disability officers in public service or in companies who do not have a disability themselves. Last but not least, the IAAP Accessibility Organization, also disabled people have stayed here so far invisible, just like the BITV test.So here are four reasons why you should actively involve disabled people in your accessibility projects.

  • Theoretical knowledge is not enough. I have to tell even the seasoned experts that there's one thing that doesn't work with screen readers. There is a difference between knowing theoretically what problems disabled people encounter and knowing the problems in practice.
  • An imperative of inclusion is that nothing should happen about us without us. However, many accessibility experts believe they know better than those affected. The reference to the guidelines is correct, but does not go far enough. They are just guidelines and not rules or fixed norms.
  • Jobs will be created for people with disabilities. It's unbelievable how many unemployed disabled people there are. Several hundred positions for testers could easily be created, otherwise highly qualified and well-paid positions that disabled people lack. Of course you have to qualify these people, disability is not a qualification in itself. But non-disabled people also have to be qualified.
  • It's the right thing to do. Just as other disadvantaged groups have long fought for equal rights, disabled people continue to fight for their proper place in society. Equal rights for women in the workplace, for example, is not about women generally being better employees, that may often be the case. The point is that women have almost always been or are structurally disadvantaged and that it is the right thing to do to eliminate this disadvantage. I hope that no one would think of convening a group of old men today to clarify how equal rights for women can be implemented. However, this approach seems to me to be widespread among disabled people, i.e. non-disabled people who know better than we do what is good for us.
  • I see a pronounced paternalism in some non-disabled people, loosely based on the motto, let's make the world accessible for the poor disabled. There are probably rounds like this every day in which no one affected is represented. But that's the behavior of the 80s. We have a disability rights convention that some people should look into.

    I don't doubt that many of those involved are of good will. However, what bothers me is the attitude behind it and the results, which are not as good as they could have been if disabled people had been involved.

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