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POV: I'm Totally Ignorant About Disabilities

A woman with her hands crossed over her mouth. Her eye are wide in shock.

I will admit that when I started working in the field of disability…I was entirely clueless and ignorant.

I put my foot in my mouth (cue the embarrassment!).

I used inappropriate terminology (that some would consider offensive…eek!). 

I even pissed off some people too! 

And the ironic part is… I’m a social worker! I should have known better!

This confession comes from a place of understanding - an understanding of how it feels to be out of your comfort zone in an expansive and ever-evolving field. 

It’s perfectly normal and acceptable to be in a constant state of learning. 

I’m right there with you! I learn something new about accessibility on a daily basis, which, in my opinion, is a pretty remarkable benefit of working in this field.

Here’s the silver lining: you’re part of my inner circle now! Together, we’ll explore the fundamentals of disability and accessibility to move you toward a new level of comfort.

Let’s not waste any time and dive right into the fundamentals of disabilities.

A three-by-three grid of black and white icons representing various disabilities. Including, mobility, amputation, hearing, vision, cognitive, wheelchair user, pregnant, and a blind person walking with a cane.

What do we mean by disabilities?

Disabilities refer to conditions that affect a person’s day-to-day functioning. They can be temporary or permanent, occurring at any stage of life.

Disabilities typically fall into various broad groups. Here are some examples:

Vision: low vision, color blindness, cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma.

Hearing: deaf, hard of hearing.

Mental health: depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder.

Cognitive: learning disabilities (i.e. dyslexia and dyscalculia), autism spectrum disorder, traumatic brain injury (TBI), intellectual disabilities.

Mobility: amputated limb, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, paralysis.

Now that we have a clearer understanding of the definition of disabilities as well as some examples, it’s time to address how accessibility factors in.

View from behind a man who is using a wheelchair. He is positioned at the base of a ramp that leads up to a building. His hands are on the wheels of the wheelchair.

What is accessibility?

Let's break it down with an analogy:

Imagine a building with only stairs at the entrance. Can everyone enter? No, it’s not possible!

Now, envision the same building with a ramp added to the entrance. Suddenly, everyone can enter! That ramp makes it accessible and ensures equal access to all.

The same principle applies to digital content. When digital content is created with accessibility in mind, everyone, especially individuals with disabilities, can access it easily.

The ramp and stairs analogy is useful for explaining physical space accessibility. But what does accessibility look like in a digital environment?

Here are some digital accessibility examples:

  1. Captions for videos.
  2. Podcast transcripts.
  3. Alternative text or image descriptions.
  4. Proper color contrast between the text and background.
  5. Content that can be navigated using only a keyboard.

Starting to get the hang of it?

Digital accessibility is about making content inclusive for everyone. Just as a person requires a ramp to access a building, someone might need captions on a video to access the content. 

Whether it’s a physical space or a digital one, accessibility provides equitable access for all. The entire community benefits when accessibility is implemented.

Accessibility in digital spaces isn’t always apparent at first glance. Often, it’s embedded into the content during formatting or with HTML code. The crucial part is that accessibility is built-in. When it’s not, individuals who use assistive technology to access digital content may not receive the equitable access they require.

Understanding disabilities and their impact on daily life is a vital ingredient in making content accessible.

Once you have all the right components, you can integrate accessibility seamlessly from start to finish!

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