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Robert Pearson

  Accessible Media


The Transition from Accessibility to Universal Access

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Children watching a video on the Apple iPad

Image: Children watching a video on the Apple iPad.

Robert Pearson sheds light on the transition from an accommodation-based environment to one where universal access is the norm for users to all abilities.

The other day, my daughter was watching a cartoon show on my iPad and I noticed that she had accidentally turned on the captions for the video. The cartoon was still playing, but she wasn't sure why this bar had appeared at the bottom of the screen with text flashing by. She called me over as she got increasingly frustrated and asked me to fix it for her. Keep in mind she is only two years old and not aware of the purpose or intent of captions, but nonetheless she didn't want this accessibility accommodation interfering with her cartoon viewing experience.

In my last post, I analyzed whether we have arrived at a Golden Age of Accessibility where society has moved beyond accommodating the needs of persons with disabilities to adopting an inclusive attitude, where users of all abilities have access to technology – an environment where universal access is the norm, rather than the exception. Seeing my daughter’s frustration with the caption on the video led me to question if we have given enough consideration to the transition from an accommodation-based environment to one where inclusion is the norm to secure this Golden Age?

Accessibility professionals will vouch from experience that they have often faced with questions from the public and corporate audience asking why an accessibility accommodation may be required, or why they need to be bothered by it. For example, it is well known that the term ‘handicap’ exemplifies old fashioned attitudes towards impairment. It is a term ingrained in society through the use of the blue wheelchair symbol to denote everything from special parking spaces to many other types of accessibility accommodations. It was the need to update this old fashioned symbol that was the focus of the recent Reimagining Accessibility campaign led by His Honor, the Honorable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

At its conclusion, the international contest to redesign the wheelchair symbol had no definitive winner, however the ‘Honorable Mentions’ that were selected will likely lead to an appropriate choice of a new symbol in the future. One recognizable objective that was achieved with the contest, though, was the need to revisit set notions of what disability implies and explore how we could update our attitudes towards accessibility. You can view the AMI coverage of this content on our YouTube channel.

The term handicap is nearly 100 years old in its current context and we have come a long way in moving away from where we began with the usage of this word. Certainly, there is more to come in terms of ensuring a universal change of mindset. As the groundwork is laid for this to continue, this reversal of the logical order of things may be of benefit toward achieving accessibility for an ever increasing audience.

As for my daughter, I feel a measure of peace thinking that she would be growing up in an era where inclusion and universal access would be considered the norm, rather than something that society has to set regulations for.


Related Resources

Blog: Centralization of Digital Accessibility Knowledge | Read Robert Pearson's Post.

Publication: Making Television Accessible to Everyone: Accessible Media Inc and the Canadian Perspective | Download Report.

Event: ATIA 2014 Orlando, January 29-February 01, 2014 | View Event Details.