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Robert Pearson

  Accessible Media


Digital Media Outcasts: Emergency Preparedness for Persons with Disabilities

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Accessibility accommodations need to be as diverse as humanity itself. Robert Pearson makes a case for accessible Emergency Preparedness for Persons with Disabilities.

A few months ago, my colleague remarked on how curious it was that children's literature continued to focus on teaching children about farming and farm animals and the noises that they make. Being a father to a little one, it hadn't occurred to me up to that point, having read my daughter a number of stories about horses, rabbits and ducks, how out of context that may be in our urban condo, in the big city, in the digital age. A few weeks later, Toronto was struck by a massive rain storm causing wide spread flooding and power outage at our condo for a full two days. Both of these incidents reminded me of just how tenuous our reliance on all things digital may be.

Toronto rainstorm, July 2013

Image: Robert Pearson, and hundreds of residents of Toronto, faced a massive rainstorm in July 2013

On the first night of the blackout we became dependent on our mobile devices for any source of news or media. We monitored the local utility company’s Twitter feed for the next tweet as to when the power might come back on. We made phone calls via Skype as the power to the portable phones failed, and eventually phone service itself, along with the water supply and elevator service also disappeared. The following morning I lined up at a electrical outlet running on emergency power where people had gathered to plug in their mobile devices for a few minutes to be able to check the news, download their mail or call into work to say that they wouldn't be in that day.

It was a strange time, but one which made me consider what plans may already be or need to be in place for ensuring support for persons with disabilities, not only in the access to media, but generally in the time of disasters when we are forced to become digital refugees.

Also Read: UN survey focuses on how persons with disabilities cope during disasters

Accessible media takes on an entirely new context when defined as the physical access to media. In a time when farming and animal noises were relevant in all contexts and the extent of media was what came in the newspaper on your doorstep, you could say if you were a person with a disability or not, the amount of media available to you was limited to those pages. We have become desensitized to the amount of media out there due to the ability to access anything at any time. When this access is taken, we lose our bearings and become outcasts back into a time when things were localized and less accessible both physically and through the use of assistive technologies.

As we work to define accessibility accommodations for digital media in the future, we must consider that this media may at times become equally inaccessible, regardless of any accommodations that we may put in place. Therefore, we must ensure that policies and standards are established for the creation and provision of accessible media regardless of the presence or lack of an infrastructure to provide it.

Accessibility accommodations are as diverse as humanity itself and this becomes no more apparent than in our time of need.