This post has been written as part of Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012.
When I first contributed to Blogging Against Disablism Day back in 2009, I attempted to define the term disablism in relation to web professionals. I drew some fairly strong conclusions:
Like it or not, every single person who makes the choice not to spend the 20 seconds giving that image a suitable description, or thinks that aesthetics beats usability, or who assumes blind people wouldn’t be interested in their site anyway – these people are the embodiment of disablism, because they have relegated the needs of those users (for whatever reason) and, by that action, cast them as inferior.
Defining Disablism, May 2009
My post was picked up by disability and new media researcher Sarah Lewthwaite, who added a new dimension by applying the term aversive disablism to what I had written.
Aversive disablists recognize disablism is bad but do not recognize that they themselves are prejudiced. Likewise, aversive disablism, like aversive racism, is often unintentional.
Taken from Mark Deal’s paper ‘Aversive Disablism, subtle prejudice towards disabled people’
This time, I’ve decided to expand on this theme by looking at a related behaviour I’ve observed – something that I’ll call complicit disablism.
As a web professional, I’m constantly asked to post information to the web, to develop new online services, and to design new interfaces. Part of my role is to ensure all of these things are done correctly – to not only comply with all relevant laws and legislation, but to also deliver the best user experience, for all users.
Often, the topic of accessibility will come up. Unavoidably, this often goes hand in hand with needing to explain why something isn’t possible, or requires more work (videos need transcripts, PDFs need to be tagged, images need meaningful descriptions, colours must be changed to offer sufficient contrast). Of course, when you explain why, most people wouldn’t dream of arguing.
But life is not always that simple. Maybe resources are limited, or the person paying the bill is insisting on something inaccessible. I know of several web developers who have reported being instructed to do something that will directly create accessibility barriers, and their protests have gone ignored, dismissed or overruled.
Enter the risk of complicit disablism – an ethical occupational hazard being faced every day by web folk. Do you risk everything and stick to your guns, or do you relinquish and sacrifice accessibility for a quiet life, effectively being complicit in the discrimination this might cause?
I was struck by some advice given by law site Out-Law.com, which suggests:
If clients insist on such designs, you should address this in the development contract. Seek an indemnity to protect you in the event of litigation over the website’s failure to comply with the accessibility legislation.
Out-law.com – disabled access to websites
I was fascinated by this idea – that a developer should go so far to protect themselves from the fall-out of a bad design. It seems sensible, though, and might even serve to set the alarm bells ringing in the ears of your client, perhaps enough to shock them into some sense.
But before the conversation reaches this litigious extreme, I’d like to recommend that people try one last tact – a plea to reason, or more specifically, to reasonable adjustment.
In the UK, the Equality Act talks about a duty on service providers to make reasonable adjustments to make their services accessible. Out-Law.com has this to say on that subject:
In considering what constitutes a reasonable adjustment, the Code suggests that factors which might be taken into account include: the service provider’s financial and other resources; the amount of resources already spent on making adjustments; and the extent of any disruption which taking the steps would cause the service provider.
Out-law.com – disabled access to websites
Talking about reasonable adjustments, specific to your client’s circumstances, may suddenly change the conversation from “we must do all of this, now” to “let’s start here, and aim for there”. This can be a very powerful tool for the accessibility champion, giving them enough flexibility to work with their client and find a reasonable compromise. After all, accessibility is not binary – not simply black or white, accessible or not. It’s also not a one off job. By getting approval for small, reasonable steps towards better accessibility, you may make far more progress than starting off by saying “we either do all of this, or we do nothing”.
In this way, hopefully people will find themselves no longer being complicit disablists, but rather enablers for real, reasonable change.
Do you agree that focusing on reasonable adjustments is good enough? Have you found other ways to get your clients to accept your accessibility measures? If your client still disagrees, do you agree that you’re complicit? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.