Almost a year ago, Dale Cruse posted a list of must-follow people involved in accessibility. I was honored to be on that list. Dale described me as “militant about accessibility”. I began working on a follow-up post where I disagreed about the “militant” label. Ultimately I deleted the post largely because it turned into a ramble about being committed to quality over accessibility.
The other day, I posted this on Twitter:
Think U have a good arg against making things accessible? Replace “blind/ disabled people” with “black people” or “Jews” & say it in public
— (((Karl Groves))) (@karlgroves) June 16, 2016
It got a lot of traction on Twitter and is probably one of my most popular Tweets, with 109 “engagements” according to Twitter. It also got one sharply negative response, from Amanda Rush, who was inspired to write a blog post of her own. A series of 140 Character-at-a-time posts on Twitter isn’t really a sufficient method of communicating ideas so I’ll do it here.
I’ve described this a bit before, but in the very late 90s I created my first web pages. I was working in the music industry at the time and someone else had made a website for me, but getting them to do updates was sort of a pain so I decided to learn how to do so on my own. Over time I got more serious about web stuff and frequented a number of Usenet newsgroups like alt.www.webmaster and comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html. There, I forged friendships that remain to this day with people like Brian Huisman and William Tasso. I also interacted with other people like Mike Davies, David Dorward, Jukka Korpela, and Patrick Lauke – all of whom opened my eyes to accessibility. They often commented about web accessibility, often saying simply “How would this work for a person on a screen reader?”. They got me thinking about my sites’ in the context of the user. They soft-selled me into giving a shit about the person who has to interact with my work. I owe a lot to them for opening my eyes. The user matters.
Starting with my very first jobs as a professional web developer I’ve heard every excuse imaginable for why someone doesn’t do more about accessibility – up to and including outright hostility:
- …but how many blind people actually visit our site?
- …but aren’t most people with disabilities unemployed?
- …if people with disabilities need some help, they can just ask a friend
- People with disabilities aren’t in our target demographic
The list goes on. In the meantime, the accessibility community goes on the defensive, trying to construct spurious business case arguments for accessibility.
Enough is enough. Accessibility is a civil right, end of story. I dare everyone reading this to stand up in their workplace and replace “blind people” or “people with disabilities” in the above list with “black people” or “Jews” and blurt it out. Scared to sound like a racist jerk? Good.
This isn’t “appropriation”, as Amanda Rush claims, this is about illuminating the fundamental failure of judgment that drives this type of excuse-making. Accessibility is a civil right. I’m not trying to claim that ICT products and services need to be perfect. My argument is that these excuses are offensive and worthy of ridicule. Don’t agree with me? That’s fine. You should be aware, however, that the US Department of Justice, the Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, lawyers, judges, and lawmakers across the country agree with me, as proven by my List of web-accessibility related litigation and settlements. Every single one of these lawsuits was a prayer for relief based on a claim of violation of the plaintiff’s civil rights.
Accessibility is a Civil Rights issue, plain and simple. I have no patience for excuse-making around accessibility and I will not apologize for pointing out that it is a Civil Rights issue that exists on the same level as racial discrimination.