Accessibility 101

Accessibility Barriers: Technology, not People

Think about the way many technologies are designed--to be used by manipulating input devices, and receiving output. Frequently, the input method involves use of the hands and fingers; frequently, the output is received as visual signals. But this approach to technology is limited. Not all people can operate a mouse or a keyboard. Not all people can receive or interpret visual signals.

Technologies that are usable by only some users are like websites that only work in some browsers--they are incomplete. Accessibility is a characteristic of technology, not of people.

Thought Exercise

Consider the scenarios from an earlier section of this tutorial:

  • A blind user wants to complete an online registration form, but the form fields do not include readable names or labels
    • A user doesn't experience a barrier because he can't see a web page.  A user experiences a barrier because the web page lacks information required by a screen reader.
  • A user who is hearing-impaired is required to view an online training video, but the video is not captioned
    • A user doesn't experience a barrier because she can't hear a video's soundtrack.  A user experiences a barrier because a video lacks captions.
  • A keyboard-only encounters an online assessment that requires users to drag-and-drop responses into different areas of the screen, but requires the use of a mouse
    • A user doesn't experience a barrier because he or she can't use a mouse.  A user experiences a barrier because a piece of technology lacks keyboard operability.
  • A user with traumatic brain injury begins a timed online activity, but the controls are differently positioned and labeled in each screen
    • A user doesn't experience a barrier because he can't interact with a complex interface.  A user experiences a barrier because the interface lacks the order, predictability, instruction, and cues necessary for effective interaction.
  • A screen reader user needs to skim a long document, but the document does not use headings or landmarks for internal navigation.
    • A user doesn't experience a barrier because she can't navigate a document quickly. A user experiences a barrier because the document lacks a navigable structure and organization.