Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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Copyright, Accessibility, and Ableism is conducting a survey to crowdsource information about the best way to approach copyright. This is good. They don’t offer “accessibility” as one of the important considerations to keep in mind when talking about copyright. This is bad.

A Disclaimer

First, I must point out I do not mean to smash into Open Media, who I think are doing an important and excellent job. I had been thinking about the issues of ableism in activist groups as well as copyright in relation to accessibility requirements lately. My blogging about this specific example is merely a question of timing. Unfortunately, Open Media isn’t alone in this.

Copyright and Accessibility

There are significant issues when looking at copyright and accessibility. Here, I’m talking about accessibility to copyrighted content for people with disabilities. I spell this out to make sure we’re all on the same page. Perhaps the most important one is media-shifting, or the ability to purchase content in one media and use it in another. For example, someone might purchase a print copy of a book, but they need to read it on an e-reader because they have severe arthritis, or paralysis, that prevents them from holding books. Or someone might purchase an e-book, but needs it in audio-format because they have a vision impairment and rely on text-to-speech to access the "written" word.

Survey options and Language

The survey uses Drag N Drop to allow people to order the importance of items to consider when talking about copyright. On mobile devices you can order using a drop down menu and select the importance factor (1 to 6). If you are on a PC and use keyboard only (because perhaps you have fine motor control issues), you cannot complete the survey. In fact, if you are a sighted keyboard user, the whole site is particularly difficult to navigate, but that’s another issue altogether. A quick test using NVDA tells me that a screenreader can’t see the survey options at all (though here I admit this could be a false negative due to my not being as proficient as others using NVDA).

The survey options, in bright chunks of differing colours, are:

  • Protecting free expression,
  • Clear and simple rules,
  • Rules made democratically,
  • Compensations for creators & artists,
  • Protection for media conglomerates, and
  • Privacy safeguards. Definitely important considerations.

Accessibility is missing from the list. If you opt to give more info, on the 3rd page, one of the questions offers an option with the terms “your special needs” buried in the middle of the sentence. This doesn’t appear to target accessibility for people with disabilities. If it does, using the terms “special needs” is a bit of a faux pas, as that expression has been frowned upon by the disability community for decades.

Who’s Job Is It?

It was suggested on Twitter that it wasn’t the role of [copyright] activists to go into “accessibility”, and that OpenMedia didn’t mean to exclude. I buy that they didn’t intend to exclude. I disagree with the idea it isn’t the role of activists to consider accessibility. That idea is an ableist one. And it is not isolated. All too often civil rights activists completely “forget”, or chose to ignore, disability rights. There have been several complaints that feminists don’t include women with disabilities, or that GLBT activists don’t include or think about their disabled brothers and sisters.

The fact is, people with disabilities are routinely excluded. It may not be a conscious act, but it is exclusion. It is discrimination. And it hurts. I realise that accessibility is not at the forefront of most people’s mind – and I understand that if it isn’t part of your daily life, it can be difficult to think about. That does not excuse you from doing nothing. QUOTE “All it takes for evil to win is for good people to do nothing”


I was also asked on Twitter where groups and organisations can go to learn more about [web] accessibility. Google or Bing are good places to start. WebAIM has fantastic information. You can also read about some web accessibility best practices. If you want the nitty gritty of current accessibility standards, there’s always the WCAG. And of course, I’m happy to talk to you/your group about it.

Ironic Anecdote

In March 2013, there was a petition on the US White House site aimed at providing access to copyrighted content for blind customers. Unfortunately, because of accessibility issues, blind visitors could not sign the petition. I find that quite ironic, disappointing, and somehow not surprising.