situational disability trumps accessibility

Most human beings make decisions based on visual cues. There is enormous value in using an image to capture and convey the complexity of a single idea.  After all, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.  If I can construct a picture that will allow me to capture in my mind, the intimate behavioral and psychographic knowledge of the ideal users of my product or service, I would feel truly empowered and confident in the design decisions that I make. Being equipped with these insights in advance helps to better prioritize design time on a project.  I am a strong proponent of moving beyond pretty pictures and prayers and using real data to inform design decisions.  

In the interactive industry, I have seen how emotionally driven decision-making can eat away at project scope.  Perhaps one of the biggest culprits is the broad category of "accessibility" and the reasoning that "any" website should be accessible to "all" users, regardless of ability.  Whenever I see or hear those two words, "any" and "all" in the same sentence, I immediately question everything that comes after.  I have a hard time taking anyone serious that uses those two words within a single sentence.  I exercise similar caution with any man that doesn’t tie up his shoes.  (Particularly, those shoes with Velcro straps instead of laces.)

Let’s say, for instance, that your analytics tell you that 0.02% of the people that visit your site over the course of a year do so with the aid of an assistive technology, such as an automatic screen reader.  From data this you infer that 0.02% of visitors to your site have some sort of visual impairment or other inhibiting factor that is preventing them from consuming information on your site using common browsing methods.  If I were to act on that 0.02% and change the underlying code and alter the design of your site to cater to this tiny fraction of your audience, you run the risk of negatively impacting how potentially 99.98% of your target audience engage and interact with your brand on the web.  This would impact your ability to use sight, sound, and motion to tell your story to your core audience.  

Regardless of what the accessibility pundits say, it costs more to build a single site that’s accessible to both people with disabilities and those without.  Don’t believe me?  Have you ever seen a mobile phone that retails for $2,820?  Why does it cost so much?  I’ll tell you why.  Because it’s made "accessible" for people with disabilities.  At that price point, I’m not sure exactly how "accessible" it is for those who can’t afford it.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe in accessibility.  Perhaps, just not in the same way as most industry practitioners view accessibility.  The term itself needs to account for more than physical handicaps. We need to broaden the circle to include what I call "situational disabilities" that handicap people from accessing information when and how they want.  At the heart of every project on this site is one single objective.  Knock down barriers to information.  Make it easy to get to stuff.  Remove friction and help people overcome the broader set of social and technological handicaps that affect their life.  If time constraints handicap our ability to read all the articles we want in a single sitting, that’s fine.  I understand.  Let’s create a technology that makes it easy to consume some now, and save some for later.  Having trouble reading text on a small screen?  Don’t bother.  Pick up the phone and call 641-453-7208 to access the same information by phone.  

That’s how modern society will be transformed and overcome these physical and situational handicaps.  The single most important factor that this new definition brings to the world is a cure for a particular kind of situational disability known as "choice paralysis."   Choice paralysis occurs as a result of information overload.  We overcome this by letting people listen to the web instead of reading the web.