Barriers to Accessibility: Stories from Our Community

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In today’s world, technology advances at a rapid pace. While these advancements bring benefits such as faster connections and increased productivity, they can also lead to challenges for accessibility. People often assume better technology improves accessibility. However, new technology can sometimes create more barriers for people with disabilities.

GSA has made it our mission to transform the way the federal government approaches accessible IT. To further this mission, we encourage members of the IT Accessibility community to share their stories. Our hope is that these personal stories can bring awareness to the importance of creating products, services and cultural environments that are accessible to people with disabilities.

Consequences of Inaccessibility

By Allen Hoffman, Acting Executive Director, Office of Accessible Systems & Technology, Department of Homeland Security

People often don’t understand the full consequences of inaccessibility in the workplace, educational institutions, and in daily living. In today’s world, it’s critical that information and communications are accessible, so they can be understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability

As a person who is blind, I’ve experienced issues with inaccessible information in numerous ways. Notably, I’ve had the most issues accessing educational content including training and webinars. Despite the dramatic increase of access to online information over the past fifty years, I’ve found that training is often our most inaccessible resource, and often for no technical reason at all.

I know that online training can be made accessible in most situations, and over the past fifteen years I’ve tried to take many online training courses. In nearly every online training in which I’ve participated, I found the training to have severe accessibility issues, often to the extent that I could not complete the course on my own. I had to have a reader sit with me to click a mouse because keyboard access was missing; read questions and answers because they weren’t labeled correctly; or read content which was inaccessible. It’s this experience that has made me assume that online trainings won’t work for me unless I have assistance, and this has become a more frequent, frustrating experience as our world moves towards more online services and solutions. On a personal level, I grow less interested in taking such training, and now often look toward alternative learning methods. I tend to read heavily but, even then, technical materials are often inaccessible, because they often have great accessible text, the mathematical equations or programming code are inaccessible! Sort of defeats the point, right?

I know I’m not the only person suffering from the consequences of inaccessibility, and I feel like it’s time to stand up on behalf of myself and others, to bring attention to the importance of accessibility in every aspect of our lives, and especially in a professional environment. My hope by writing this is to create momentum around making information and communication technology more accessible, so others can start to trust in it moving forward. Those of us with disabilities are regularly subjected to barriers and, after a while, we learn that some barriers are to be expected rather than exceptions. Let’s change this perception through increasing the volume of accessible information and communication technologies.

Visit Section508.gov to become a part of this change, and browse resources for creating, buying, and managing accessible products and services at your organization. Please contact us at section.508@gsa.gov to learn more.