Why Accessibility Matters

As educators, we know that we have an ethical obligation to make our technical services and media accessible to all of our students, potential students, and community members. There’s a great business case to be made for most accessibility initiatives and technologies, including the many gains in usability and productivity for all of our users. Further, most or all of us have a legal obligation to make our materials accessible.

But here are some other reasons to not only make your systems and services accessible but also get you excited about technology and its ability to connect people.

  1. Videos, particularly video blogs, made by deaf persons. I’ve mentioned this a few times already but it’s such a fascinating application of technology that I can’t help trotting out this example once again. Just check this stuff out – how can you not get excited about it?! Not only are these technologies allowing deaf persons to easily communicate with one another in their natural language but they can also allow those who do not know sign language to have a peek into their life and culture.
  2. Video and text as a bridge between those who speak and think very differently. Andy Carvin at PBS’s learning.now recently wrote about Amanda, a severely autistic person who best communicates with us via her blog, Second Life, and video. Please, go read Andy’s post and watch the video to which he links. It’s amazing and shocking. It’s the kind of thing that keeps you awake at night questioning things you thought were pretty well-understood and fundamental in your world view. I’m incredibly ashamed to admit that Amanda’s right when she says that I would dismiss her as a non-person unless she were able to communicate using those tools. It’s incredible that these technologies allow her to communicate with us and express herself in a language that I can understand and we’re all richer for being able to cross this bridge.

Do you think this was what anyone envisioned when the Web, webcams, YouTube, or any of the other technologies were created? Probably not. But if the technologies were not accessible and on some level open (cue “Net Neutrality” sermon), these incredible connections and communications would not be able to take place. We can’t envision what people will do with our systems and services. So let’s not lock them up lest we shut out those who desire and need our services.