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Robert Pearson

Accessible Media

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Customizing Accessibility in the Digital Age

Accessibility isn’t a one-size-fits-all paradigm, writes Robert Pearson, making a case for device-independent accessibility provisions by harnessing the power of the Internet for users of all abilities.

A person may require an accessibility accommodation limited to the extent when they are connected to a specific device, regardless of where they may go

Image: We may require an accessibility accommodation limited to the occasion when we are connected to a specific device. Image courtesy: Motorola.

In the mid-1990s, I used a phrase to describe myself and my colleagues who were beginning our careers in the fields of technology and the Internet. The phrase, "an Internet Pioneer,” gives you a sense of breaking new ground, setting off to explore unchartered places and following our basics instincts in interacting with a new platform. It was a time when text browsers and Netscape were common, GUI interfaces didn't span much beyond a Windows 3.1 interface, and the first official recommendation of accessibility guidelines was years away.

Jump ahead two decades and we now live in a vastly connected and mostly explored digitally connected world. There will always be new technological ground to break and explore, but in terms of following our basic instincts and interacting with those around us, whether it be through the consumption of media or on a strictly social basis, those are parts of our lifestyle that have forever changed. Is it possible to disconnect from this digitally-enabled world?

My guess is: No. WiFi networks, media outlets and mobile phones connected by satellite and that contain any number of apps have the ability to connect the world like at no other time. Certainly, there are many parts of the world where the digital landscape has not yet made its presence felt, but it’s just a matter of when, not if.

So, how do we factor in accessibility for all the indefinite number of outlets at which media becomes available? Are there provisions for customizing this accessibility? For instance, a person may require an accessibility accommodation limited to the extent when they are connected to a specific device, regardless of where they may go, but might not require it at other times. It would seem that without sufficient assistive technologies or basic accommodations such as captioning and video and audio description this customizing may not be possible. These services and facilities are Internet-depending and are not limited to the device you use.

Addressing the Gap: How about if we focus on providing connections that are as accessible as possible to the widest possible audience?

Consider it also conversely though. What if someone chooses to disconnect and escape the connected world in which we live? No access required, both in terms of accessibility or to access the device or service itself. Accessibility accommodations required or not, these persons fall outside the need for the provision of accessible media or a connection of any kind. There could be many reasons for seeking this.

The best place that I have found to disconnect, as a former pioneer versed in accessibility, is on a cruise ship. It's a bastion in which to escape the “outside” world and remember the values that are important to us. It's crucial to recognize that there isn't a need to remain connected all the time. It's healthy to take a break and remember what the world was like when all we had was our basic instincts to go with in order to explore, interact and forge new ties.

Whether you need or want access to media, social resources, your email or anything else digitally located, the reality is that regardless of whether you choose to remain connected or not, your accessibility may be limited depending on where you are and what you do.


Related Resources

Blog: An Accessibility Bill of Rights for Digital Inclusion | Read Robert Pearson's Article.

Publication: Developing e-Accessibility as a Professional Skill | Download Free PDF.

Event: 30th Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability and Diversity | May 19-20, 2014, Hawaii | View Event Details.


Related Items:

• GameON


• Accessibility Online: A Neglected Frontier for People with Disabilities

• Nominations Open for U.S. FCC Chairman’s Award for Advancement in Accessibility (AAA)

• UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Address

• Accessibility Summit 2014: Web and Mobile Accessibility, Online Event

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