In another life I am an assistive technology specialist. This means I play with hardware, software and overall gizmos and gadgetry to help people with disabilities become successfully independent. I’m passionately crazed about that goal; I think independence is a fundamental human right and people with disabilities are too often denied that right out of some agency’s notion of what is needed or prescribed. A born problem solver, my little heart swells with joy when presented with a conundrum in a person’s life that needs a solution. If that solution involves velcro or web 2.0 products then ALL THE BETTER.
Right. So this past weekend I went to my first ever un-conference focusing on assistive technology. I was overwhelmed by all of the people from tech/design/development/engineering backgrounds who gathered together to talk about making the web and the world work for PWDs. Here, I thought was my home. Amongst the movers, shakers and enlightened world-changers. After a few sessions however, I quickly realized that enlightened does not always come hand in hand with interested-in-the-subject.
In each workshop I attended there was a problem with language. Screen-reader was used synonymously with text-to-speech and reading aids. Content was confused with information. Disability was confused with disease. When I corrected a presenter on his interchanging of screen reader with reading aid software, he got feisty. Arguing that I was wrong, he asserted that if he was rusty in his language it was because he was accustomed to presenting to educators who had little to no experience with the field.
Really? So working with uninformed educators means you use outdated or erroneous language to describe tools they’ll want to use in the classroom? So when that educator goes online to find a piece of software for helping Timmy navigate a computer and ends up with someone that helps Timmy read a book, should that educator shrug it off to her own ignorance or yours? Isn’t it more important to get language correct especially when talking to uninformed folk who won’t be able to make those distinctions on their own?
It saddened me to think that folks interested in making assistive tech part of their overall work (thus doing universal design) were marred and in part informed by folks who casually tossed around information. Is it difficult to incorporate accessibility into everyday tech and non-tech things? Not even a little bit. But it has to be done within the frameworks of correct information. Mr.Do-Gooder with his outdated and erroneous language is informing a whole group of people to give the right tools to the wrong people.
Tell me how that’s helpful?!