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All Assistive Tech

AST – Week 5 Responses

Becky the Barbie

Kids and collectors soon discovered that Becky’s wheelchair didn’t fit through the doors of the Barbie Dreamhouse — that pink-swathed epicenter of Barbie’s social world. The chair couldn’t squeeze inside the house’s elevator, either.

The sobering irony of this story and reflection of the reality for wheelchair users is so gross and unfortunately unsurprising.

Art School Lawsuits & College Online Videos

These articles, surprisingly, discuss the accessibility of (art, and regular) universities’ websites, not the schools themselves. Web accessibility is not easy, but it’s also easily testable, doable, and (should be…) an expectation for any professional web designer. And unlike making old spaces accessible, which can cost many millions, web accessibility is cheap—but it’s an effort and focused time spent many companies wish to ignore. From a business sense, though, this is dumb—excluding customers from your business means losing money on them, in addition to being morally deficient. One interesting angle of this situation is that HTML (the language webpages are written in) is accessible by default—it’s actually designers & developers trying to make fancy changes to the default behavior that breaks accessibility. There is no excuse for this, especially if you’re a big company.

Recently, Domino’s similarly lost a lawsuit. Having to use the justice system for this is ridiculous, but I fully support the effort. Web accessibility should be the standard, hands-down.

“No Pity”

Adam Morse, a web designer I’ve long respected, in 2016, wrote “The Veil of Ignorance”, about the idea of “what if you woke up as someone else, in any position in society?” & how we might consider designing differently based on our reactions to this prompt. (He looks at it specifically in the context of designing on a screen, with clear, large typography, colors with sufficient contrast, etc.) He says:

When I sit down to design things I try to put on the veil of ignorance. I imagine a world where I am not who I am right now. And I think about all the things that could possibly frustrate me. Then I think some more.

This is an incredibly important perspective to keep in mind when we’re making things. To not get sued (see above), to make a good business, and to be making inclusive/morally good products & services in the world. As the movement described in “No Pity” indicates, people with disabilities deserve better. Because we all deserve things that work.

New York Subway

The subway is remarkable in many ways, allowing people of all walks of life to get across the city relatively quickly & affordably. But the situation for folks in wheelchairs, as this article reveals, is nothing of the sort.

I became increasingly aware of how large, inflexible bureaucracies with a “good enough” approach to infrastructure and services can disenfranchise citizens with disabilities, many of whom cannot bridge these gaps on their own.

I’ve noticed on my many subway rides in New York how the list of upcoming stops shows how 1 every 4 or 5 stops has the accessibility icon. (And as the author mentions, oftentimes the accessibility resources like elevators are out of service or otherwise unavailable.) If I were to get off even 2 stops from where I was going on foot, I’d get back on the subway, and I’m able to walk/run to my destination just fine, not push myself in a wheelchair (which faces many more obstacles & so takes longer). But to get off 4 stops from one’s destination, and it being far more taxing & take significantly longer to arrive, is unimaginable for me.

These two sentences especially spoke to me, & I’ve totally felt this way:

Before my injury, I had felt that dealing with grittiness and unreliability were the price of entry for living in New York, and even took a smug pride in dealing with obstacles. Since my accident, I have been humbled to realize the often dire effect of civic dysfunction on the vulnerable, and have had to recognize that some of what I once took for resourcefulness was in truth enabled by privilege.

As amazing as it is to see all the assistive technology we can build and the NYU occupational therapy department can give, it is sobering to realize that potentially the majority of folks who need it cannot access it. (Even for wealthy folks, the cost of assistive technology and health insurance is staggering, and living in New York unemployed for a period or permanently while recovering from an accident can be brutal.) The rest of folks with disabilities, we as a society leave to rot on the streets, sometimes in terrible nursing homes, and even worse situations, with not a care in the world. It is horrifying to contemplate.