Accessibility: Technology’s Answer to the Golden Rule

Dana Marlowe

(credit: Rebecca Drobis Photography)

By: Dana Marlowe

What if there was a commentary in the ancient religious texts about technology? How would leaders in the early millennia have interpreted smart phones and tablets? We can take one page out of their user manuals and apply it to our tech products of today. One of the most memorable Talmud quotes was delivered to an individual who asked the scholar Hillel if he could learn the whole Torah standing on one foot. Hillel’s profound response was: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor…the rest is the explanation of this.” In modern society today, this tenet is referred to as “The Golden Rule.”

So, how does this tie into technology? It would be impossible to have one person master all of technology while standing on one foot. Products are innovating swiftly; the newest version is not always usable out of the box. Just as easily as technology opens up for some, it shuts the door for others. Especially those with disabilities. Fortunately, the solution is accessibility.

Accessibility and technology is the fusion of IT and disability; the focus on the user over the device. It is the human side of technology by personalizing the impersonal. Instead of shutting out individuals, or having organizations fearful of lawsuits, accessibility is a groundbreaking chance for new technological development with the inclusion of assistive devices. It can put people with disabilities at the helm of innovation and dictate progress focused on human experience.

As technology dictates our interpersonal reactions, accessibility can ensure that no one gets left out. Simple suggestions include screen magnification for users with visual disabilities, speech recognition for those with mobility disabilities, captions for those who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, alternative input and keyboards are standard in some devices, but not all. These options can be toggled on or off for a user’s preference, but don’t discriminate based on disability.

Technology and accessibility

Dana speaking with a man who is hard of hearing and visually impaired about innovative assistive technology while she was keynoting a conference in Trinidad.

On other levels, simple recommendations are to include alternative text for all images and non-textual items, have heading structures in documents, tables with headers, caption audiovisual media, and utilize proper color contrast. These are just a few suggestions. Accessibility enables anyone to use anything.

Yet, too often today, people are shut out of utilizing a piece of technology, whether a notebook, smartphone, desktop, touchscreen kiosk and beyond, due to inaccessibility. The best course of action is to have an open and consistent dialogue with developers and people with disabilities to create technology that is inclusive and powerful. It can propel a future where all can access any device or technology interface. By building in a strong foundation now, it ensures that all future developments move in the direction that benefits and values people with disabilities and fosters an inclusive society.

The Golden Rule teaches us to humbly consider the experiences of our neighbor. This value is applicable to technology innovation. Instead of trying to please lofty users with dazzling features, perhaps technology should think bigger picture, but closer to home. People with disabilities are the fastest growing demographic on the planet and one that anyone can join at any time in their life.

Accessibility might take some years to implement universally, but as Hillel also says, if we are only for ourselves, than what good are we?

Dana Marlowe is the Principal Partner of Accessibility Partners, L.L.C., an IT consulting firm. Dana works to remove barriers in technology, and to make opportunities available for people with disabilities. Dana partners with Federal Agencies, international organizations, and Fortune 500 businesses to help them create accessibility roadmaps and audit products to make them more usable for everyone. Like them on Facebook and engage Dana on Twitter to learn more.

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