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Robert Pearson

  Accessible Media


Will Today's Accessibility Accommodations Stand the Test of Time?

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Accessibility standards have always been devised based on the prevailing requirements for disability accommodation. How do we ensure these standards remain relevant today, asks Robert Pearson.
The consumption of broadcast content is seeing a transition from television sets to devices such as tablets, mobile phones and netbooks
Image: The consumption of broadcast content is seeing a transition from television sets to devices such as tablets, mobile phones and netbooks. Photo courtesy Shutterstock.
Disability has never changed. While terminology, references and political correctness have evolved over the years, actual disabilities have always been and will always remain the same. New environmental factors may arise that cause new disabilities, but at its most basic definition, a person with limited or no vision, has always been a person with limited or no vision. Given the timeless nature of disability, we must question whether accessibility accommodations we put in place today will suffice long term - to indefinitely accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities in their consumption of information, media and other content.

Let’s look at web accessibility. For the most part, every web accessibility standard set in existence has at its core the four principles represented within the W3C 2.0 AA standard set. The latter is a result of the W3C 1.0 standard set, published as part of the official recommendation for the adoption of web accessibility in December 2008. We can see that these recommendations are a reflection of the technology and state of the Web at that time. In the years since, they have become the de facto standard upon which all web accessibility practices are based.
However, that's not to say that these standards aren't reflective of the needs today. In fact, they have proven to be highly effective strategies for ensuring universal inclusion for the Web, and now, by extension, the Internet of Things. When it comes to accessibility of media (multimedia, television, digital platforms, social media), our usage and consumption is constantly evolving, beginning with television and broadcast media at the turn of the century. Captioning, description, transcription, signing - all these are well established, common techniques created to address and meet the needs of a range of disabilities. With the evolution of technology, we can now develop a range of accommodations that cater to users of all abilities.

The consumption of broadcast content is seeing a transition from television sets to devices such as tablets, mobile phones and netbooks. Take an example of Apple’s iPhone 6, quite popular with persons with disabilities for their built-in features that make it easier to access menus and apps. The latest release, which comes with the addition of 3D touch, represents a new understanding of the possibilities of mobile technology, and is highly relevant for persons who have a mobility impairment or cognitive disability. As before, the common concerns addressed by accessibility accommodations have always been present. Technology has risen to meet the challenge of addressing these.  
Disability has always been present and will continue to become more prevalent as the population of the world continues to age. Environmental factors will change, propagate and even eliminate some disabilities, but the need for relevant, customizable and timely accessibility accommodations will always be present. We must ensure that a static approach is never taken and focus our efforts on knowledge and a belief that the intent of doing good may in fact one day lead to a state of universal inclusion.


Related Resources

Blog: Where Does Accessibility Begin for the Internet of Things Ecosystem | Read Robert Pearson's post.
Publication: Internet of Things - New Promises for Persons with Disabilities | Download PDF.
Event: FCC Roundtable Discussion on Closed Captioning for Public Access and Government Programming | Event Details.