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Cover image for Accessibility - understanding **WHY** it is important and why the current approach doesn't make people implement it.

Accessibility - understanding **WHY** it is important and why the current approach doesn't make people implement it.

InHuOfficial
Specialising in accessibility and website load speed / performance. If you have a question about [accessibility] or [page-speed-insights] ask away and I will help any way I can!
・38 min read

Preword: The article isn't a 37 minute read, there is a long table in the middle of it, it is more like 20!

If you are in a rush I have added a contents section a couple of paragraphs down but I would encourage you to at least skim read the whole article!

Finally there are a couple of hard truths that may shock you when said so bluntly towards the end of this article. If you get triggered by that sort of thing please do not read this article, I wouldn't want to upset you.


Introduction

You have hopefully had somebody at some point in your tech career tell you that "you must make your application / website / app etc. accessible", but did anyone ever take the time to tell you why?

And if you haven't had someone tell you that, or you are brand new to development - "You must make your application / website / app etc. accessible" - I have just told you and I am about to tell you why it is important! 😁

Hopefully this post will explain why I put accessibility (making things usable for people with disabilities) at the top of my list when making any decision relating to work and (if I have written it well) persuade you that you should do the same!

For clarity though, if you are looking for technical guidance, there isn't any here.

This whole article focuses on the approaches to disability inclusion that aren't working (that you may be guilty of yourself!) and how I approach persuading business owners that they must start considering accessibility for their own success.

Think of this article as a crash course in why disability (and therefore accessibility) often gets ignored and swept under the carpet and an approach to change that.

It is the foundation for a series on how to get people to take accessibility seriously.

Contents

What is in this article

This article:

  • starts by explaining the size of the problem / how many people are affected by the decisions you make regarding accessibility
  • then covers why most people will never persuade you to actually do something about it
  • finally my approach to persuading people that accessibility is important and focusing on inclusive practices helps them.

Hopefully by the end of it you will have a light bulb moment and join me in championing accessibility.

And once you do have that light bulb moment, hopefully you will follow me to learn more about accessibility and benefit from some future posts on things you can do to improve the accessibility of your site, as well as some articles on persuading your boss, your clients and your colleagues to join you in an "accessibility first" mindset.

If you are just starting out in development, take an hour or two (after reading this article) just to learn the basics of accessibility and what it is about. It will make you conscious of where you get code examples from while you are learning and will make you a far better developer than people who do not know / ignore accessibility.


Just how many disabled people are there?

This may shock you, but somewhere between 16% and 20% of people in the world have some form of disability, many people even have multiple disabilities.

That equates to somewhere between 1 billion and 1.4 billion people on this planet.

If you are one of the people who like to talk about "group identities", people with disabilities are the single largest minority group on the planet! Start advocating for them today!

Why have I hardly ever interacted with someone with a disability before then?

You probably have and just did not realise it. This is because around 85% to 90% of disabilities are completely invisible.

You generally can't see if someone has poor vision, or has a hearing impairment. You also cannot see if someone has a cognitive (mental) condition (generally).

Also given the average age of people in tech, you may only be exposed to 1 in 10 or even 1 in 20 of your friends and colleagues having a disability, as the prevalence of disability increases with age.

If so many people have disabilities, why is it not talked about more.

Disability can affect anybody, regardless of other minority groups people may or may not belong to.

This makes it difficult to have a singular voice on disability and people get silenced very quickly if you try to talk about this and it doesn't fit a narrative.

As we aren't having the conversation nothing is changing, it is that simple! We need to talk about it as at the moment it gets swept under the carpet.

Another reason is it isn't "sexy" enough.

Companies want to virtue signal and show how wonderful and great they are, it is easy to do that to one "group" by changing their colour scheme or promoting "XXX month", but disability is really broad.

You could have "multiple sclerosis month" for example, but that affects only a few million people.

If you wanted to have a month for every disability it would take 30 years!

Maybe you could have "hearing impairment awareness month" as that is the disability that impacts the most people in this world, but that still excludes people with vision impairments, cognitive impairments, motor impairments, disfigurements etc.

To illustrate this point: It is far more trendy to say "now serving vegan food" at a restaurant (about 0.7% of the population) than to say "we have made our restaurant accessible" (25+ times the number of people affected) as veganism gets talked about all the time, it fits the narrative that is being talked about in the media and on social media.

Anyway, this isn't the place for any more detail on that conversation, let's sum it up as politics, virtue signalling and a broken narrative are the reason disability is not talked about enough.


Ok I get it, it is a big problem that isn't being addressed, what were you saying about the wrong approach?

Yes, that is the point of the article, but you did need to know how big a problem it is first.

Now as with a lot of things people have taken a few approaches to try and improve the situation, but they don't really work:

Approach 1: Laws and litigation

You probably didn't realise but your website / app is illegal.

Now I can say that with about 85% confidence without knowing anything about you.

97.4% of websites have accessibility issues (that can be detected automatically, and automatic detection only covers about 40% of all accessibility issues) so I am pretty confident your website has at least one accessibility issue (make that 50 accessibility issues....on just the home page...if it is an average site!).

The only reason I can't offer a higher confidence level is I do not know which Country you are from!

If you are from an EU country, the UK or the USA - it is a legal requirement that your digital product is accessible.

I am not entirely familiar with the laws of other countries, how much protection they offer and whether they apply to digital products, but the list of laws that protect people with disabilities is quite large (so I would imagine loads of them!):

Skip large table on laws that protect people with disabilities

Country Law Language
Afghanistan Law on Disability Rights and Privileges Arabic
Albania Law No. 8626 of 22 June 2000 on the Status of Paraplegic and Tetraplegic Albanian
Law No. 44/2012 on mental Health Albanian
Algeria Act on the protection and promotion of persons with disabilities, adopted on 8 May 2002, Official Gazette No. 34/2002 French
Andorra Law guaranteeing the rights of persons with disabilities Catalan
Angola Law 21/12, of 30 July 2012, Law on Persons with Disabilities Portuguese
Antigua and Barbuda Disabilities And Equal Opportunities Bill, 2017 English
Argentina Law No. 22431 Comprehensive protection system for the disabled (1981) Spanish
Law No. 24314 on accesibility for persons with limited mobility Spanish
Law No. 24204 on public telephony for the hard of eharing Spanish
Armenia Law of the Republic of Armenia “On social protection of persons with disabilities in the Republic of Armenia”  adopted in 1993 English
Australia The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (DDA)  English
Austria Federal Disability Equality Act (BGBl. I No. 82/2005) German
Azerbaijan Law on prevention of disabilities and impaired health of children and rehabilitation and social protection of the disabled and children with impaired health
Bahamas Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act, 2014 English
Bahrain Law No. 74 of 2006 regulating the care and employment of persons with disabilities  Arabic
Bangladesh Disability Welfare Act (2001) English
Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act 2013. Bangla
Belarus Law of the Republic of Belarus of November 11, 1991, No. 1224-XII “On Social Protection of Disabled Persons of the Republic of Belarus” Russian
Belgium Reform Act on disability and introducing a new protected status in accordance with human dignity French
The Act of 27 February 1987 on disability allowances
Bolivia (Plurinational State of) General Law for Persons with Disabilities (2012) Spanish
Bosnia and Herzegovina Laws on pension and disability insurance Serbian
Brazil Law No. 13,146 on Inclusion of People with Disabiltiies (Person with Disabilities Statute) (2015) Portuguese
Brunei Darussalam Old Age and Disability Pensions Law 1955/Revised Version 1984 English
Bulgaria Law on the Integration of Persons with Disabilities of 01 January 2005 English
Burkina Faso Law No. 012-2010/AN of 1 April, 2010 on the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities French
Cambodia Law on the Protection and the Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities English (unofficial translation)
Cameroon Law No 2010/002 of 13 April 2010 on the protection and promotion of persons with disabilities French
Decree No. 2018/6233 fixing the procedures for the application of Law N° 2010/002 of 13 April 2010 on the protection and promotion of persons with disabilities  English
Canada Services and Supports to Promote the Social Inclusion of Persons with Developmental Disabilities Act, 2008 English
Chad Law No. 007/PR/2007 Bearing Protection for Disabled Persons French
Chile Law 20,422 establishing rules on equal opportunities and social inclusion of persons with disabilities (2010) Spanish
China The Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Disabled Persons (2008) English
China (Hong Kong) Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 487) (DDO)  English
China (Macau) Law 9/83/M of 3 October on the suppression of architectural barriers Portuguese
Colombia Enacting Law 1618, through which the provisions are established to ensure the full exercise of the rights of persons with disabilties (2013) Spanish
Cook Islands Disability Act of 2008  English
Costa Rica Act 7600 on Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1996).  Spanish
Law No. 9379 on the Promotion of Personal Autonomy of Persons with Disabilities (2016) Spanish
Croatia Law on the Croatian Registry of Persons with Disability (2001) Croatian
Law on Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities (2002) English
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities
Dominican Republic Law No. 5-13 of 5 January 2013 on Organic Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities  Spanish
Ecuador Organic Law on Disabilities (2012) Spanish
El Salvador Law of Equality of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Spanish
Ethiopia Proclamation of the Rights to Employment for Persons with Disabilities No. 568/2008 English
Fiji Fiji National Council for disabled Persons Act 1994 English
Act No. 4 of 2018 – Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2018 English
Finland Disability Services Act 380/1987 Finnish
Act on Intellectual Disabilities 519/1977 Finnish
France Law No. 2005-102 of 11 February 2005 on equal rights, opportunities, participation and citizenship to individuals with disabilities French
Gabon Act No. 19/95 of 13 February 1996 on Social Protection for Persons with Disabilities French
Georgia Law of Georgia of 16 October 1997 №959 on Social Protection of Persons with Disabilities  Georgian
Germany Book IX of the Social Code ‘Integration and Rehabilitation of Disabled People (SGB IX, 2001) German
Equality for Persons with Disabilities Act (BGG) German
General Act on Equal Treatment Act (AGG) English
Ghana Persons with Disability Act, 2006 (Act 715) English
Guatemala Decree No. 135-96 on the law on the care for persons with disabilities Spanish
Haiti Law on the Integration of Persons with Disabilities (2012) French
Honduras Law on equity and integral development for people with disabilities (2005) Spanish
Hungary Disability act Act XXVI of 1998 on the rights and equal opportunities of Hungarian
persons with disabilities
India Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 English
Indonesia Law No. 8/2016 on persons with disabilities  Indonesian
Iran (Islamic Republic of) Comprehensive Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities of 2004 Persian
Iraq Act No. 38 of 2013 on Care of Persons with Disabilities and Special Needs Arabic
Israel Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law 5758-1998 (the “Equal Rights Law”)  English
Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities (Service Accessibility Adjustments) Regulations 5773-2013  English
Italy Law 104/92 – Framework Law for assistance, social integration and rights of the handicapped Italian
Law 68/99 – Norms for the right to work of the disabled Italian
Jamaica Disabilities Act 2014 English
Japan Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities (August 2011) English
Services and Supports for Persons with Disabilities Act (June 2012) English
Jordan Law No. 20 for the year 2017 on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities English
Kazakhstan Law No. 39 of 13 April 2005 on Social Protection of disabled Persons English
Kenya Persons With Disabilities Act No. 14 of 2003 English
Latvia Disability Law  Latvian
Lithuania  Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Social Integration of Persons with Disabilities English (unofficial translation)
Luxemburg Law No. 169 of 28 July 2011 on the rights of persons with disabilities  French
Malawi Disability Act, 2012 English
Maldives Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Provision of Financial Assistance (Law No. 8/2010)
Malta Equal Opportunities (Persons with Disability) Act  English
Marshall Islands Rights of Persons with disabilities Act, 2015 English
Mauritius Constitution Article 16 English
National Council for Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons Act
Training and Employment of Disabled Persons Act English
Mexico General Law for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (2011) Spanish
Monaco Law No. 1.410 of 02 December 2014 for the protection and autonomy and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities French
Mongolia Law on the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2016 English
Montenegro Law on prohibition of discrimination  English
Myanmar Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Law No. 30/2015 – Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Burmese
Nepal Act No. 2039 of 1982 on the  Protection and Welfare of the Disabled Persons English
Netherlands Act on Equal Treatment on the Grounds of Disability or Chronic Illness  English (Unofficial Translation)
New Zealand New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000 English
Nicaragua Law No. 763 on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2011) Spanish
Niger Ordinance No. 93-012 of 2 March 1993
Ordinance No. 2010-028 of 20 May 2010
Nigeria Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 English
Norway Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act (No. 42 of 2008). Norwegian
Oman Welfare and Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 Arabic
Palau The Disabled Person’s Anti-Discrimination Act  English
Panama Law 15 of 31 May 2016 ammending Law 42 of 1999 on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Spanish
Paraguay Law 4692 establishing benefits for employers for the incorporation of persons with disabilities in the private sector Spanish
Law 122/90 establishing rights and privileges for persons with disabilities Spanish
Peru General Law for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (2012) Spanish
Philippines Republic Act No. 7277 – Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities English
Poland Act on Vocational and Social Rehabilitation and Employment of Disabled People Polish
Portugal Framework Act 38/2004 of 18 August – General Basis of the Legal System for Prevention, Habilitation, Rehabilitation and Participation of Persons with Disabilities Portuguese
Qatar Persons with Special Needs Act No. 2 of 2004 English
Republic of Korea Act on the Prohibition of Discrimination of Disabled Persons English
Act on Welfare of Persons with Disabilities  English
Republic of Moldova Law No. 60 of 30.03.2012 on the social inclusion of persons with disabilities Romanian
Republic of North Macedonia Law on Employment of Persons with Disability
Law on Civilian Invalids of War
The Rulebook on Assessing Specific Needs of Persons with Physical or Mental Disabilities
Romania Law no. 448/2006 Regarding the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Disabled Persons English
Russian Federation Law No. 181-FZ of 24 November 1995 on Social Protection of the Disabled (as amended on 02 July 2013) Russian
Rwanda Law No. 01/2007 of 20 January 2007 Relating to the Protection of Persons with Disabilities in General English
Saudi Arabia Disability Law 2000 Arabic
Senegal Social orientation law no.2010-15 of July 6, 2010 French
Serbia Law on Prevention of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (LPDPD) – Official Gazette of RS No. 33/06 Serbian
Law on Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities (LPREPD) – Official Gazette of RS No. 36/09 Serbian
Sierra Leone Persons with Disability Act, 2011 English
Slovenia The Law on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities (ZZRZ)I Slovenian
The Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act (ZIMI) Slovenian
South Africa Code of Good Practice: Key Aspects on the Employment of People with Disabilities English
The South African Library for the Blind Act English
Spain Act No. 13/1982 of 7 April 1982 on social integration of the handicapped  Spanish
Act No. 51/2003 of 2 December 2003 on equality of opportunity, nondiscrimination and universal accessibility for persons with disabilities  Spanish
Sri Lanka 1996 Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act No. 28  English
Sudan Persons with Disabilities Act of 2009 Arabic
Sweden Act concerning Support and Service to Persons with Certain Functional Disabilities (LSS)  English
Switzerland Federal Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against People with Disabilities English
Tanzania Persons with Disabilities Act (2010) English
Thailand The Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act B.E. 2550 (2007)  English (unofficial translation)
Togo Act No. 2004-005 of 23 April 2004 on the social protection of disabled persons French
Trinidad and Tobago Equal Opportunity Act of 2000 English
Tunisia Law No. 83 of 15 August 2005 on the advancement and protection of persons with disabilities Arabic
Turkey Turkish Disability Act (TDA) No. 5378 of 2005 English
Uganda Persons with Disabilities Act (2006) English
National Council for Disability Act (2003) English
Ukraine Law “On Basics of Social Protection for the Disabled in Ukraine” Ukrainian
United Arab Emirates Federal Law No. 29 of 2006 In Respect of The Rights of People with Special Needs English
United Kingdom Equality Act 2010 English
United States Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended English
Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – As Amended Through P.L. 114–95, Enacted 10 December 2015 English
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act English
Uruguay Law No.29973 – General Law on Persons with Disabilities  Spanish
Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Persons with Disabilities Act of 29 December 2006. Spanish
18,651 Comprehensive Protection Act of Persons with Disabilities (2010) Spanish
Viet Nam Law on Persons with Disabilities (No. 51/2010/QH12) English
Decree 28/2012/ND-CP dated April 10th 2012 of the Government guiding the implementation of some articles of the Law on Persons with Disabilities Vietnamese

Source: UN website - Disability Laws and Acts by Country/Area

Why laws don't work

That list is quite amazing isn't it? All those laws "protecting people".

The problem is enforcement. You can write all the laws you want but if nobody enforces them then they don't do anything.

In a lot of Countries hardly anybody actually gets taken to court over these laws. In the UK we have had...wait for it...2 total cases on digital accessibility issues (and they were all settled as quietly as possible to avoid any press about it)...and we have had these laws since 1995!

With that being said...watch this space, somebody not too far from you might be involved in something that may change that but they cannot talk about it yet! 😉

Now America, being the land of litigation, is at least starting to use these laws to sue companies that make their digital products inaccessible.

I won't comment on the 🤑 motives 🤑, because any action is better than no action as far as I am concerned and the end result is all I am bothered about.

There is a problem with litigation though:

"Reasonable Adjustments"

The UK and the US (and I am sure many other Countries) have a "get out of jail free card" for accessibility issues.

You only have to implement them if it "does not cause undue financial stress" on the company.

Now a good solicitor will immediately see why the battle is difficult, that is a very hard thing to measure / quantify.

An example

What if Big Widget Company made £1,000,000 profit last year?

They get taken to court over accessibility issues with their website and the cost to rectify is £150,000.

Now you might immediately think "15% of their profits, can afford that, case closed".

But it is easy to argue that they have shareholders who expect dividends and that sort of expenditure could cause investors to withdraw, damaging the company.

It is easy to argue that those profits need retaining for future growth and that expenditure would cause the company significant damage once again.

You hopefully get the idea, solicitors are clever! In fact if a solicitor (lawyer) ever reads this article, feel free to show the 20 other ways you could argue against such a flimsy exception!

Conclusion on laws

Obviously I am just scratching the surface here and I am also over simplifying things.

But my opinion is that laws do not work as it is another "you must", and unless you actually enforce it then companies will do a risk assessment, realise that their odds of having a problem are thousands to one and decide it is not worth the expense to mitigate that risk....and it may shock you that I agree with that assessment.

The law is not a strong enough reason to implement accessibility for most companies as the risk of litigation is so low (not that I don't use it as a nice persuasion technique to scare people into action! Just don't tell people my little secret 😉)

And I didn't even get to the worst part of people telling you that "you must" for legal reasons...it encourages a mentality of "minimum standards", which is why so many people focus on "WCAG compliance"...compliance doesn't mean a great experience...but that is a conversation for one of my angry rants on accessibility when I find a new home for them!

Approach 2: Moral Obligations

You will hear lots of people telling you that you must do this as it is morally right.

And they are absolutely correct. We need to offer a level playing field to everyone in society, we should not participate in practices that exclude people.

In reality this approach does not work.

Instead of having a conversation with you, like I am doing now in the hope of showing you the size of the problem, they will chastise you and berate you from a moral high-ground they think they occupy.

They will silence you if you have questions as those questions may "offend", they will think you are a lesser human for not knowing things in the first place.

You will all be familiar with this narrative, unfortunately in an an effort to "protect" they just push the problem down the road. You (and I) will not learn without asking these questions.

Neither will we learn with someone wagging their finger at us. In fact for a lot of people the harder you wag a finger at them the less likely they are to engage.

Also, let's be honest, we have loads of moral obligations, more and more each passing day, we have our own struggles and we are just doing the best that we can.

We are, by nature, self absorbed. We have families to look after, personal problems, financial concerns and 100 hundred other things to deal with...whatever energy we have left after all that we can dedicate to making the world a better place.

As you can probably tell, I hold little faith in persuading you that it is your moral obligation to make accessibility a priority, especially as you probably perceive the extra work of learning about accessibility as something that does not benefit you.

Conclusion on Moral Obligations.

It just won't work for most people.

We all want to be good human beings and help our fellow humans, but we have our own priorities and they will inevitably take precedence.

And if you are like me (but I am beginning to think I am in the minority here), people chastising you and telling you that "you may cause offence" when exploring these issues only serves to make you less likely to explore a topic and learn.

Nearly every article you read on accessibility is written from a "wagging your finger moral high-ground"...is it working? (NO!)

I will leave you with this thought: if moral obligations to protect people were an effective argument, would we have wars, or famine?

Approach 3: Education and demonstration

Now this one may surprise you (especially as education is key to success in removing inequalities in my opinion), but let me elaborate on the specific type of education that is problematic.

A lot of people like to run seminars that "put you in other people's shoes". They are workshops that allow you to experience what it is like to be blind, what it is like to be a wheelchair user etc.

They have their place and I will often show people the severity of the problems with their websites by firing up a screen reader (a piece of software that reads the website out, primarily used by people with vision impairments) and showing people what a person who uses a screen reader might experience on a poorly structured website.

The problem is if the whole focus of their presentation and their approach is to try and get you to experience disability in the hope that you will empathise and take action.

Do you know what this actually leads to? Pity!

People start feeling sorry for people with disabilities. People with disabilities don't want (or need) your pity, they just want you to be considerate when designing products and services so they can use them too.

Pity (and the approach of "showing people what it is like" to have a disability) doesn't actually help as it has an additional negative effect, it makes people think that people with disabilities are "less able" and things must be hard for them (which inevitably leads them to "moral obligations" type thinking).

For example: They cannot understand from a brief experience how someone with a sight impairment might be able to do tasks that they associate with their own sight.

Curiosity leads to (valid) questions like how can a blind person possible be a developer:

How can you program if you're blind?

685

Sight is one of the senses most programmers take for granted. Most programmers would spend hours looking at a computer monitor (especially during times when they are in the zone), but I know there are blind programmers (such as T.V. Raman who currently works for Google).

If you were…

Easy enough to answer, but after "experiencing disability" people stop asking these sorts of questions as things seem impossible, they start thinking "it must be impossible for a blind person to be a developer".

It then adds an unconscious bias that people with disabilities are less able to complete tasks and that means that you are less likely to hire them.

It has further implications as you then start thinking "blind people can't enjoy movies" or "blind people can't play video games".

The good intentions have had the opposite effect, how can you possibly be friends with someone who can't enjoy a video game with you if you are a gamer?

Yes, he would beat me in Mortal Kombat without even breaking a sweat, and he is totally blind.

It makes you assume that people cannot do things because of their disability, because you could not do them with a 10 minute demonstration of what it is like living with their disability.

As I said earlier, it has its place but only to demonstrate how your actions can exclude, otherwise it actually has the opposite effect.

There is a second part to education that often gets abused and causes bigger problems:

Approach 3a: The language police

Often when you go to some of these seminars we reach the section on "appropriate language".

Now, yet again, this part is important and has its place. But when people try and apply language rules as "definitive" (you must use this word) - it does not work.

I will myself include preferred language when doing a talk on inclusion.

Where it goes wrong is when people start discounting views, getting offended and complaining about language choice.

If someone was to raise the question:

"How does a cripple get up and down stairs" they would get lambasted for using a very out-dated and "offensive" word.

In the UK at least, we don't condone the use of the word "cripple".

But it is easy to tell people, in a polite and non-condescending way that if would be better to use a different word and that their language choice was not the best.

Instead people try and get people who use inappropriate language silenced.

It gets worse than that though, as they do this from the perspective of their own culture. They start imposing their own cultural views on others as that is what they believe / have been taught.

For example: "Handicapped" is a word that people in the UK are very likely to find offensive.

But in America it is a perfectly acceptable term and may even be the preferred term!

It is funny how it can make me twitch when I hear an American talking about accessibility and disability and they use "handicapped", but I understand that their choice of language is appropriate in their Country.

This is why people need to stop trying to police language as "it may cause offence", but rather educate them on what may be a better choice of language.

Instead I always look at the intention behind a person's questions. If someone asked me "what do I have to do to make my business more accessible for cripples" I wouldn't immediately try and correct their language choice.

I would educate them on wider doorways, turning circles for wheelchairs, unobstructed paths to facilities, accessible bathrooms, not leaning on a person's wheelchair when talking to them, having a lower section on their bar / counter for people who use a wheelchair etc.

Somewhere in there I would gently suggest that "cripple" is not a good choice of word and is no longer the socially accepted wording and that they should instead say "someone who uses a wheelchair".

If they slipped up again, I would not think anything of it, just keep going with the gentle nudges in the preferred direction.

Final point on this: I met a guy who wanted to be called "Crip Kev", it was an identity he had an affinity with and actual found it empowering...how can you possibly police language and not offend somebody? Context and situation are important so when I say preferred language, I am talking about in a professional setting / when addressing a general audience.

If you have a friend or colleague with a disability, call them whatever you both agree is acceptable.

Conclusion on education and demonstration

Education does have an important role to play in improving things, but it needs to be careful not to introduce more problems than it solves.

Don't focus on trying to get people to experience disability for themselves as a sole route to trying to make them make a change, instead it will actually make things harder as they will immediately dismiss certain people as "unable" based on their own experience of disability through simulation, in comparison to their own experiences without that disability.

Also if someone uses out-dated language, don't worry about it if their question and intentions seem good. Just slowly drop it in the conversation as they engage with new ideas.

And above all when educating, let people ask questions, don't attack someone for curiosity.

It is the only way you learn (and the problem with attacking or silencing someone who is questioning things is that they stop asking questions...and that is the root cause of bias and exclusion.)

OK, yet again, I get it, there are lots of bad approaches that don't work, what do you suggest?

I focus on the money!

More accurately I focus on why thinking about accessibility has benefits to the person I am talking to.

Now I am going to do a whole series on how it benefits people with different roles in a company, but for now I will just touch on the things I talk about to business owners I work with (applicable to your company's clients).

A Huge market

I will focus on the size of the market (16-20% of the population) that they are ignoring. In the UK that represents 14 million+ people! (out of a population of 66 million).

Plenty of untapped money

I will focus on the spending power of that market (£250 BILLION + in the UK alone - which for comparison is more than the value of the UK exports each year!).

Those two points alone are enough to make business owners wake up, but there is a lot more we can say to really drive it home.

Not only is it a large market (the largest minority group in the world) but it is a market that is ignored.

A massive market that is mostly being ignored..is a fantastic business opportunity!

A competitive edge

As I said earlier, 97.4% of websites have accessibility errors we can detect automatically. How does that translate into a competitive edge though?

Well what if your company was the only one with a fully accessible website in your industry?

Those people who struggle using your competitor's websites will hopefully find yours and keep coming back again and again, recommend it to others etc.

And if that is hard to understand - imagine if you went into 10 shops looking for clothes and they were rude, told you which products you could and couldn't buy, told you things were out of stock when you can clearly see them on the shelf etc.

Now imagine that you went into a shop that welcomed you in, showed you variations of items you liked, offered you a drink while you browsed etc.

Which shop would you return to the next time you need clothes?

Higher likelihood of recommendations / word of mouth

The disabled community is a close knit community, the word of mouth potential is much higher with a customer with a disability than anyone else if you offer a great experience (especially as people with disabilities are so used to having a poor experience!).

In the example of different shops I gave in the previous section, which would you tell your friends about for example?

They spend more too

Once someone finds the shop that looks after them (to milk my previous analogy to death) they are likely exhausted with the poor experience they have had elsewhere.

They want to support the shop that looked after them and treated them well. So they may see if that shop offers other items that they require.

The average spend / basket value can be significantly higher because of this.

The moral high ground

Now remember in point 2 I said moral obligations is a rubbish argument for implementing accessibility?

Do you also remember how I said that moral posturing by companies is just that, posturing for their own gain?

Well it is, but that doesn't mean you can't use it to your advantage!

Imagine if you can tell people that you are inclusive...and deliver on that promise. Imagine being able to (carefully) point out that you don't virtue signal, you actually do what you say.

Then imagine how many people who don't have a disability, but either know someone who does or is conscious about inclusion, would be more inclined to spend money with your company.

Being accessible gives you a marketing angle that very few are capitalising on. Use it if you can deliver on your claims!

A wider pool of talent

I mean, most of the above is about gaining more money, which is essential! But what about on the other side of the equation, what about employing people?

Well, yet again, I will be writing about this in detail but "in a nutshell" people with disabilities have less options, this means that you can get talented individuals at good market rates, they are likely to stay longer as they are treated equally (and are used to being treated poorly / excluded) and because of this there are fewer options for them to jump ship to other jobs.

That may all sound horrendous (and it is) but it is a harsh reality of life. You can get an amazing pool of talent with some very simple adjustments to your business attitude, culture and practices.

I haven't even covered the diversity of your team improving creativity bit!

Ok, wow, that is quite a list for a business owner!

Some of the stuff in there may shock you when I say it so bluntly.

But that is the reality of things, I cannot protect your from harsh truths.

Do you think a business owner who hears all of that (when presented with a little more flair) has any issue with putting accessibility on their agenda...right near the top of priorities?

Conclusion

So that is my approach. As far as a business owner is concerned:

I don't care about the law, it is toothless and not something most businesses should even fear.

I don't care about your moral obligations, there are too many moral obligations for us all to adhere to and it is draining trying to keep up.

I don't care if you understand what it is like to be a person with a disability, in fact I would prefer you didn't as it leads to incorrect assumptions.

Nor do I care if you use outdated language, as long as your intentions are pure. (although I would suggest you outsource your marketing etc! 😋).

All I care about is your wallet and the success of your business.

All I care about is showing you a massive opportunity that is being ignored.

Who do you think people will listen to?

Now you tell me, who do you think a business owner is more likely to engage with? People wagging fingers or someone saying "look at all the benefits to you...oh and you get to do some good in the world at the same time!".

From a personal perspective, a side effect of this approach is that I get to help hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of people indirectly find a small corner of the internet where they are not excluded or treated like second class citizens.

I get to actually make a difference in the world, instead of just making myself feel better with moral posturing.

Basically I can use this technique to trick business owners into driving change in the world that I believe in!

Hopefully the cover image now makes perfect sense...it's a trap! (but a good one!)

If you think that this approach is the way to enact real change in the world, if you want to be a part of "improving inclusion without the wokeness" (and yes, I am actually toying with making that my new company mission statement!) then follow me:

inhuofficial image

There will also be an "angry rant" version of this article for those of you who enjoy that series, I just need a more appropriate place to put them that DEV.to, give me a couple of weeks to fix that 😁

For the Algo!

My new sign off experiment!

If you enjoyed this article, give it a ❤, if you thought it was special give it a 🦄 and above all, don't forget:


Leave a comment for the algorithm! 😁 Do you agree with my approach or do you think I am wrong?

Discussion (2)

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nicm42 profile image
Nic

I have a bugbear about accessibility, so I really liked this article. Although my problems with it are entirely down to my computer settings.

However, I also have a bugbear about the number of disabled people. This was on the More or Less podcast back in February (bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p096htls) where they found that the government's definition included people who had a long-term condition that affect their day-to-day life a little. Which includes things like asthma.

If you only include people who say that their condition affects their life a lot, then it's more like 10%. Which is still a lot of people and doesn't invalidate this article.

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial Author

Did I miss anything on approaches that work (or approaches that don't work!)?

If you have a secret weapon for persuading people that accessibility and thinking about people with disabilities when designing products and services is essential, then please do share it!