“Our Users Have no Disabilities”

There are a lot of unfortunate misconceptions about people with disabilities. Many trickle down into IT-teams who use them as arguments not to care about accessibility. So it’s time to set some things straight!

8 stick figures, 2 of which in wheelchair with a red cross over.

Things we hear all the time

When we at Axess Lab are out consulting or speaking about accessibility, time and time again we hear the same types of arguments from people who are not very keen on focusing on accessibility:

I work on an intranet. We don’t have disabled employees.

Our customers are athletes, not handicapped people.

I’m building a site for this upcoming movie. Obviously, blind people are not part of my target audience.

The many, many people who think or say these kinds of things probably don’t do it because they are pure evil! Instead, the comments are likely to stem from a lack of knowledge and preconceived ideas about disabilities.

So, let’s bust some myths and straighten this thing out once and for all!

All disabilities are not visible

Most of the time, you can’t tell if a person has a disability just by looking at them. Even though you might not think you have colleagues or users with disabilities, you probably do. Here are some disabilities that usually are hidden:

  • Autism
  • Adhd
  • Hard of hearing
  • Dyslexia
  • Color vision deficiency
  • Chronic pain
  • Mental illness
  • Many more

Even some disabilities that you think are visible are not always. I am legally blind. If I don’t chose to tell people, they usually have no idea. Just by looking at me, there’s no way to tell.

Here I am, roller skating!

Daniel Göransson looking like a pro roller skater in a half pipe ramp. PS. Kids, use a helmet.

So guess what! You’ll probably pass a lot of people today that have disabilities, but you won’t even notice!

And me roller skating leads us nicely onto the next topic…

People with disabilities have interests too

There are a lot of preconceived ideas about what people with disabilities do. We do everything. Or nothing. Or exactly what we want to. And we want different things, just like everyone else.

Some of my favorite interests are:

  • Video games  – not special games for special people. Right now I’m playing Tekken 7, accessible to me through great sound design and contrasts.
  • Sports – I both like to watch sports and play it myself. I play a type of soccer that involves eye shades and sounds. Here’s a link to the best goals in the 2016 Paralympics.
  • Movies – Contrary to popular belief, many blind people enjoy movies. I use a combination of the little sight I have and audio descriptions that describe what’s happening, like who’s beating up whom in a fight scene.

I have friends who are blind. Some hate sports and don’t do video games. Some love them like me. I know people with hearing impairments that love music, theatre and musicals.

The point is we are different and have many interests!

This means that we buy soccer shoes, book movies tickets and hang out on video game review sites. And skateboards!

So let’s agree on that you can’t assume that their target audience has no disabilities. We are everywhere!

Young people have disabilities too

Many people tend to believe that disabilities is something that only elderly people have. It’s true that many disabilities are more common among the older population. But not all.

Think of dyslexia, color vision deficiency, autism and adhd. They are just as common in all age groups. And there are, of course, young people with disabilities like vision and hearing impairments, even if they are more common among elderly.

We would also like to congratulate you, our dear reader. You’ve just set a personal record! You’ve never been older than you are right now! And you’re getting older every day. Design for your future self!

Employed people have disabilities too

One of the most common situations where we hear excuses for not caring about accessibility is when it comes to intranets, administrative systems or any other system that is used by professionals. There is a widespread misconception that people with disabilities don’t work. At least not at your own office.

This, of course, is false.

People with disabilities can be found at any workplace. Sometimes you don’t know about it, because many disabilities are hidden. But trust me, we’re there!

And even if you don’t have a colleague right now who is, say, blind, that doesn’t mean you can assume you never will.

Let’s say a highly qualified individual is applying for a job. She’s better than all the competition and would be perfect for the position. However, she happens to use an assistive technology. And your intranet and administrative systems are not accessible at all. Because of that, she can’t do her job and you hire someone else.

In that scenario, apart from the terrible discrimination, you also lose a great recruitment.

So don’t just make your external website accessible. The inside counts as well!

You can’t know your user’s environment

Impairments can be situational. A user without a disability could be stressed, tired, drunk (maybe not for intranets..) or using their device in sunlight. Anyone could be riding the subway on a poor internet connection. All users have disabilities sometime in their day-to-day life.

In web analytics, there is no good way of examining if the visitor has a disability or is using an assistive technology. So you can’t know if a user is using a screen reader or an eye tracker to navigate. So even if you know that over 90% of your users are using a large screen, you can’t assume that everyone is using a mouse. Which in turn means you can’t rely on hover to navigate.

Tech enables

Digital services like apps and web are often more important to people with disabilities than the so called average Joe out there.

Let’s look at an example. Stephen Murray crashed on his BMX-bike and was paralyzed from the neck down. He now uses an eye tracker to control his technology. He runs his own company, pays his bills and communicates with friends and family, all by only using his eyes. Tech has enabled him to do all this, and to be independent again.

But Stephen Murray is also very reliant on the accessibility of the services that he uses. More so than most other people.

Say you want to book a meeting room. If the booking system is a piece of paper by the meeting room, most people could use it, even if it would be a bit annoying not to be able to do it from the computer.

Stephen wouldn’t be able to book it at all independently. The same goes for other people with disabilities, like someone in a wheelchair who might not reach the paper, someone with a hand tremor who can’t write with a pencil or someone with a vision impairment. An accessible digital booking solution is crucial fort these users, but benefits everyone.

One last tip

Now you’re hopefully equipped with enough arguments to convince your colleagues and bosses to prioritize accessibility. People with disabilities are everywhere and inclusive design is important for everyone. No matter what prject you’re in

Here comes our last tip! The best way to get empathy and understanding from someone is to let them experience accessibility issues themselves. One way is to get Funkify – the disability simulator, a free Chrome extension that we’ve been a part of building! Another way is to let us meet your team. We’ll let you use your site or apps with screen readers, magnification, eye control and a lot more. An empathy lab that will convince even your most stubborn colleague!

Thanks for reading and keep on spreading accessibility awareness!

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