I have always loved learning languages. In sixth grade, I was excited the day the junior high school language teachers visited my class. I knew immediately that I wanted to learn French, even though everyone said it was much harder than Spanish. Later in high school, I was flipping through television channels one lazy Saturday when I realized I could follow an Italian opera without subtitles because of the similarities between Italian and French.
When I entered the field of accessibility ten years ago, the first golden rule I learned was that a keyboard must control all software and content features.
Today, this golden rule is found throughout accessibility public policy. But, it is time to re-examine the underlying assumptions of this once undisputable idea. Let’s start by looking at problems it was supposed to solve.
People with disabilities belong at the heart of international development.
That was the message hundreds of government officials and representatives from around the world delivered when they gathered for the United Nations General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development (HLMDD) in September.
What does the word accessible mean to you? You may first think of the word available. Something that is accessible is available, or perhaps within reach for you to use. However, just because something is available doesn’t necessarily mean it is accessible. For instance, if you are hard of hearing or have poor vision, or have a neuromuscular or cognitive disability, some things around you may be available, but hard or impossible for you to use because they are not accessible. Furthermore, accessibility isn't just for what you might traditionally think of as "people with disabilities". For a person who is aging, accessibility may be challenged by diminished physical stamina. Even for someone with excellent visual acuity, using a mobile phone outside in bright sunlight without automatic adjustment in screen contrast is difficult, as would not having voice controls when using a smartphone in your car.
Today is the International Day of Older Persons, a date the United Nations designated nearly a quarter century ago to focus on the lives of seniors.
This month an inspiring article about Tommy Hollenstein, who learned to paint with his wheelchair and his dog, reminded me of the importance of being open to new paths.
I recently visited a relative at a care facility and was greeted at the visitors entrance by a sign with a wheelchair icon that read: “To Enter: Please push large handicap button to your far right on the wall, then you can PULL open the door.” I wondered if the person who installed that door ever tested it. If you pushed that lovely button and tried to pull open the door, while maneuvering in a wheelchair on a tiny porch, you would be forced into a nearby flowerbed to make room for the door to get past you.
Today one of our partners, Tobii, is releasing the latest in its line of accessibility solutions – the Tobii EyeMobile. The EyeMobile connects to Windows 8 tablets to enable full functionality of the tablet using eye gaze. The technology was optimized to work with the Microsoft Surface, and was built to mirror the functions of Windows 8 that were designed for touch – such as swiping, tapping and scrolling. With EyeMobile, users can enjoy full Microsoft Surface functionality at home, at work, and in the classroom.
When I joined Microsoft seven years ago to work on global accessibility policy I thought: ‘Is there even enough activity around the world to keep me busy?’ Policymaking was largely centered in the United States, the European Union, and a small number of other countries.
In July, I attended one of my favorite events and it confirmed that accessibility policy is no longer something that happens only in Washington and Brussels. It was the sixth gathering of the 125 countries that signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, where leaders of disability work get together to share their experiences implementing the convention.