By Anne Gibson
Here’s the thing: all kinds of tools we take for granted—from the typewriter to the telephone to closed captioning—are tools that solve problems for people with disabilities. The Snuggie? Perfect for people in wheelchairs. The audiobook? Originally funded by the government for people with vision issues.
What about VoiceOver? VoiceOver is Apple’s solution for people with low vision who need to use their Mac or their iPhone. If you don’t have those problems, you might wonder why you would use it.
Picture this: it’s 7:30 at night, and I’m leaving the office for my 20-minute commute home. But a friend has sent me the link to a great long-form article on The Atlantic (or some other site, I don’t remember) and two paragraphs in, I’m hooked. I obviously can’t drive home and read the tiny text on the phone screen. And I obviously can’t sit in my car and read for 20 minutes when I’m already getting out of work late.
Enter VoiceOver. I enabled the tool with a few quick settings, then swiped up the length of my screen with two fingers. The phone then reads (through my Bluetooth connection to the car speakers) the entire article for me.
Robin Christopherson often says that we are all temporarily able-bodied. He doesn’t just mean that we’ll all—if we live long enough—become disabled in some form or another. He also means that there are times that we can’t use our full faculties because of the environment or situation we’re in. Perhaps we’re at a concert and can’t hear our phones. Perhaps we’re in the baby’s room and need the phone silent and the screen dim. Perhaps we’re driving home and want to listen to an article.
Learning how to use the accessibility tools designed for others has given me more freedom to experience the things I want to discover.
But just as importantly, learning accessibility tools has given me the ability to teach them. Whether it’s compensating for chemo-brain, flipping the screen colors for someone with light sensitivity, cranking the font size up in a web browser, or reducing motion for someone who gets nauseous during migraines, knowing how to help my friends and family has always paid off.
Ultimately, accessibility tools are for all of us. The more we know about them, the better we can design for them, develop for them, use them, and build for a world where we can all accomplish more.
About the Author
Anne Gibson is an information architect and general troublemaker working for Dell Boomi as a Principal UX Designer. She lives close enough to Valley Forge to think a run in a revolutionary battlefield is normal. In her personal life, Anne’s been surrounded by people with disabilities for at least 20 years, and she’s been studying and advocating for accessibility in design since 2014.
Anne will present the talk What Letter Are You? An Alphabet of Accessibility Issues at edUi 2018.