The Observatory

Improvement still needed in accessibility

David Woodbridge

Global Accessibility Day is an opportunity for us to reflect upon where we have come from and where we still need to go. It is also important to remember that it does not just mean the web, but all the ways that accessibility impacts on people's lives.

Particularly over the last five to ten years, mainstream technology across smart phones, tablets, and computers has come a long way, with application development for these platforms improving with their own accessibility and usability.This has in turn led to less costly hardware and software options for people to carry out home, educational, or vocational activities. While there is still room for improvement across the industry, improvement is definitely happening.

As someone who is blind, I can access many sources of information and services merely by using the inbuilt speech (VoiceOver) in my iPhone 6 plus.  For example, using an app to find out what time and platform the next train is leaving from. However, sometimes there are apps that I would like to access but I can’t due to their inaccessibility with VoiceOver. This is why giving feedback is so important.

With respect to dedicated hardware items such as appliances in the home (microwave, air conditioner, alarms, smart TVS etc), travel (check-in kiosks), shopping (self-service terminals), the office (printers, photocopiers, telephone systems etc), a lot more work needs to be done in making these systems inherently accessible in their own right or via software control from a personal computer, smart phone or tablet.

I think for me, this is the area of technology which is still sadly lacking, particularly for a person who is blind. Trying to find a washing machine for example that doesn’t use a touch screen these days and has physical buttons is getting harder and harder. Then of course, we have the inaccessible systems at the airport, shops, and even government agencies which really do let the side down for trying to get a level playing field for all.

Sadly, the last accessible digital box that had inbuilt speech to get electronic program guide information is no longer available. Luckily for me, there is the ABC iView trial for audio described content, Netflix - again with audio described content (and growing), still some smart TVS that have inbuilt accessibility such as the Panasonic Veira, and the fantastic service at a number of cinemas around Australia with the audio described and closed captioning units.

The internet, in all of its variations, needs to be constantly monitored by individuals and organisations to ensure accessibility improvement, and maintenance for everyone, not just for those with a disability.It is still amazing these days to find a website that is accessible one day, and changed the next day for the worse because someone has thought of a new feature for the site.

Yes, we have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go, and the need to reinforce good accessibility practice, (makes sense for everyone), bring new technologies into the accessibility sphere (self-servicing systems in particular), and the education of those that manufacturer or develop hardware and software systems, is just, or if not more important now as technology solutions move ahead and perhaps leave older accessible solutions behind.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can buy a house alarm like anyone else and not have to worry about accessibility, independently use self-servicing check outs at the shop, easily breeze through checking-in to a flight when travelling, and so on.

It might sound a bit negative that so many things are still inaccessible, but things are truly improving, and I don’t mind myself as a person who is blind giving constructive feedback whenever I can.

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About the Author

David Woodbridge sitting in a corridor with his Guide Dog next to him holding a computer and iPad.

David Woodbridge

David Woodbridge is a Technology Consultant at Vision Australia where he has worked since 1990. David lost his sight when he was eight years old and had to learn braille. Since then, he completed high school and went to Sydney University receiving a Social Work degree. David is involved in evaluating technology for use by people who are blind or have low vision and as a person who is blind, he believes that he is well situated to look at the strengths and short comings of the assistive technology that he comes across in both his professional and personal life. Read more by this author →

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