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Robert Pearson

  Accessible Media

07/30/2014

The Intersection of Access and Ability

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From the printing press to the Internet, accessibility has redefined itself with every new media platform. Robert Pearson explores how technology drives innovation in accessibility.

When did "access" partner itself with "ability" to bring about the definition of accessibility that we know today? If you look back, the concepts of "access," "ability," and "accessibility" have always existed in some context. The Latin words for the three were Aditum, Possit and Accessus respectively. Ancient Rome also had an equivalent word for "disabled," although it is likely that it was not used in the same context. That word was Debiles.

So over time, we have seen these separate words evolve into the modern day version of the word accessibility, as we know it today, whereby access is provided for those of differing abilities. Taking it further, these definitions continue to change just as society evolves along with it. From the printing press to the Internet, accessibility has redefined itself with every new media platform. As each new platform is introduced and establishes itself, the need to include the widest possible audience for the medium is eventually recognized as a priority. Work then proceeds towards ensuring the inclusion of the entire audience. It continues unabated until the leading edge of technology takes a further step forward, requiring once again a redefinition and for work to begin anew. In this manner, technology drives innovation for accessible media, but as well as many other aspects of the general discipline of accessibility.

Also read: Accessibility is a Driver for Innovation – by Axel Leblois.

As we settle into the Golden Age of Accessibility it may be possible to plot the progression of accessibility along an evolutionary timeline. As specific milestones are achieved, the learning from them fuel innovation and development in the next phase of evolution. An evolutionary timeline for accessibility would highlight how these milestones were defined and achieved.

There has been discussion in recent times of the need for a Bill of Rights or a Magna Carta for the Internet. The timeline that measures the evolution into the Golden Age of Accessibility would provide a historical reference for how to ensure that the issues encountered in the past are avoided and that an established bill of rights is upheld so that those issues never come to pass again.

Roughly translated, the two Latin words Aditum and Possit equate to the phrase "can access". That concept remains valid – and vital - today in the meaning behind Accessus, or accessibility. The work that is done to ensure accessibility in the digital age for the widest possible audience is only one part of an evolution that has come a great distance in terms of its meaning over the centuries, and which will continue to do so in the centuries yet to come.

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Related Resources

Blog: The Long Road to Accessibility | Read Lucy Greco's Article.

Publication: CRPD 2013 ICT Accessibility Progress Report | Download Free PDF.