People often think of as it relates to an individual person and their specific impairments. However, the social model of disability helps us understand that the source of barriers for people with disabilities comes from society and the inaccessible environments it creates. The barrier is not that a person uses a wheelchair; the barrier is the building without a ramp. The barrier is not that a person cannot hear audio information; the barrier is information that is only communicated in an audio format. Under the social model of disability, we understand that the responsibility to remove barriers for people with disabilities lies with society, rather than asking people with disabilities to change or adapt to inaccessible environments.
Who experiences barriers to technology?
Many people with and without disabilities experience barriers to technology use. Sometimes those barriers are financial, such as a student who cannot afford to purchase a particular piece of software. Sometimes the barriers are knowledge based, such as a mature student who did not grow up with computer technology.
For people with disabilities, the barriers they face often come from the technology itself, which is rarely designed with a wide variety of users in mind. Most designers build products based around the idea of a “typical” or “average” user. This approach to design does not account for the variety of individuals who may encounter or use the technology in alternative ways. For example, technology may not consider a person who accesses web information by having it read by a screen reader rather than viewed. People with different types of disabilities experience barriers to technology in different ways.
Physical/Dexterity Disabilities: People who have physical disabilities that affect dexterity and fine motor skills may experience barriers trying to interact with a mouse, keyboard, or touch screen in traditional ways. For example, small webpage buttons may cause barriers for people with disabilities affecting their manual dexterity.
Disabilities that Impact Vision: People with visual impairments may have difficulty seeing the equipment they are using (such as a keyboard) and may have difficulty seeing the information that is displayed on a screen. Many people with vision disabilities have some sight, and so they may experience barriers when they encounter small text, crowded graphics, or poor colour contrast. For example, webpages where the headings, column and row headers, and links are not properly coded will create barriers for people who rely on screen readers.
Disabilities that Impact Hearing: People with hearing impairments will encounter barriers whenever information is presented through sound. For example, videos, audio clips, or sound effects that have not been created or designed in accessible ways can pose barriers for people with hearing impairments.
Disabilities that Impact Comprehension: People with disabilities that impact comprehension may experience barriers with understanding information or navigating around websites or apps. Barriers for people can include how information is presented visually, the type of language that is used, or how “intuitive” the app or website is to use. For example, websites with unclear navigation can create barriers for people with some cognitive and learning disabilities.
Other disabilities may impact executive function and social interaction. Each person’s situation is unique. Not every person with the same category of disability will experience barriers in the same way, and some people have more than one disability. Therefore, when planning to make technology accessible, consider a wide variety of users and attempt to remove as many barriers as possible.
Any impairment, or difference in physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, or communication ability. Disabilities can be permanent, temporary, or episodic (meaning that the impact of the disability can change over time). There are different types of disabilities, including physical, vision-related, hearing-related, and cognitive disabilities. The specifics of a disability vary by person and a person can have more than one disability.