Technology is becoming a ubiquitous and almost required part of our lives, but one group of people is conspicuously left out of the tech revolution: people with disabilities. It’s a problem that’s creating a significant barrier to full public participation, as without access to technology, people with disabilities are left a step behind the nondisabled community. A new program that unites advocates, academia and the tech industry is working to change that. Teaching Accessibility aims to change the technical landscape for people with disabilities, creating a more inclusive world. It couldn’t come at a better time, with the Americans with Disabilities Act 25 years behind us and the disability community still agitating for many basic rights.
From the perspective of advocates, Teaching Accessibility provides an opportunity to work with the people who are creating technology directly, to help them develop best practices and standards from the perspective of people who actually need accommodations. Rather than guessing at what the disability community needs, developers can ask directly, working with people who share a range of impairments from developmental disabilities to neurological conditions that make fine motor skills challenging. The industry, meanwhile, benefits from this consultancy, backed by academia, which will change the way it trains future programmers and developers, integrating discussions about accessibility from the ground up so they’re ready to enter the field and hit the ground running — or rolling, as the case may be.
In recent years, the tech industry has faced heavy criticism for lack of diversity in hiring practices, leading to a push for more minority hires; today, many job listings specify that firms are interested in women, people of color, and people with disabilities for key roles. Teaching Accessibility adds another facet to the push towards greater diversity by explicitly including accessibility skills in job requirements — now, people with this training will be preferentially treated during reviews of candidates, and being familiar with the issue could give people a competitive edge. This creates a strong incentive for people to get accessibility training, whether they’re brand new web developers building up a skillset or experienced personnel thinking about a shift to a new position somewhere else.
Today, full accessibility is not required in most cases online, with the exception of government websites, which are held to a different standard. That might change at some point in the future, as the internet is a public resource and it’s become almost like a public venue, which means that it shares commonalities with the same public accommodations that exist offline. Just as a hotel must maintain accessible rooms, someday the web might be required to do the same. Teaching Accessibility will give some companies a leg up if the ADA is ever expanded to include the internet, and meanwhile, it gives the firms involved an edge over their competition. Disabled consumers will choose sites they can actually use over those that are a struggle to navigate, and the growth of Teaching Accessibility will put growing pressure on firms with inaccessible content to change their ways.