Part of a Whole

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

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Lack of Accessibility Symptomatic of Something Else?

Someone pointed me to the Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation’s Website this morning, with a single question: "What do you make of this?". So I went to the site. And the words failed me. I couldn’t quite believe what I saw. The entire site is one big Flash object. You don’t get much LESS accessible than that.

Ok, so, you can make some Flash objects accessible. But an entire Flash website, well, no, that doesn’t work. Especially considering the target audience. I mean, this is a foundation working with blind individuals, doesn’t it make sense that their website would be, at the very least, usable by people who are blind? Perhaps not.

Who is really the Foundation’s target audience? Here’s their mission statement:

We are dedicated to providing information and services that enable families, health care professionals, and the community to understand and meet the unique needs of infants and children who are blind or visually impaired.

So, their audience are families, health care pros, and the community. Not the children themselves. Or perhaps the children through their parents and "caregivers", but as they are arguably "too young to read and use computers", they don’t count?

This is not only a case of a website not being accessible. I think it’s a lot more symptomatic of a culture of dependence. Here’s an organisation who is there to assist people with disabilities becoming more independent, yet they miss the boat completely with their website. The message here is "we’ll teach someone else to take care of you".

On the surface that isn’t a problem. They are "infants and children". But are the parents being informed about raising their children independently? Or is the message so skewed that what they are doing is to teach dependence to their children? I don’t know. I’ve never worked with the Foundation, I am only making assumptions based on looking at their website.

It isn’t unusual for a service organisation for people with disabilities to be lead by people without disabilities. They mean well, and usualy do well. But some just don’t get the fact that they perpetuate a culture of dependence.

I would have thought that a foundation working towards the independence of children with blindness or other visual impairment would make every effort to ensure their website was as accessible as possible. Does the foundation have high level employees who are blind or have vision issues? If there are such employees, how could they let this happen? Or are the only employees with disabilities kept in the "usual positions", such as pot washing, baking, etc? I don’t know the answers to that, but I don’t like the feeling I have.

I recently watched a fascinating documentary about a young boy who lost his eyes due to cancer, and who taught himself to use clicking sounds to echo-locate objects in his environment. That was pretty cool. But what I found most amazing out of the entire documentary was the mother’s attitude. She went out of her way to teach her son independence. He was not "blind" first, and a "kid" second. He was treated just as any kid, who just happened to be blind.

I have the feeling that’s not the philosophy taught to parents through that foundation.

One might say that a website should be an expression, a representation, of an organisation. And if that’s the case, then either the website fails the Foundation, or the Foundation fails their ultimate "clients" – children with vision impairments.

One might also wonder if the Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation receives federal funding, and if so, should they be meeting §508 of the United States Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as ammended. But that’s another question entirely.

I would love to hear from parents who receive services from this foundation. I would love to get the Foundation’s viewpoint as to why they chose to use a less (or not at all) accessible technology for their website. I would love to hear the thoughts of the "online accessibility community" on this, and do those thought really matter in the "real world"? I would love to hear from blind individuals who are independent and know what they think. So many questions raised by this discovery.

4 thoughts on “Lack of Accessibility Symptomatic of Something Else?

  1. What’s even more amazing is that the site uses the most generic layout possible, the old 3 column. My gut feeling is a well-intentioned individual volunteers to build the website for free. In which case a website over no-website is greater accessibility but in the loosest sense of the word.

  2. Yikes!!!!! Also, not only is the site not accessible, but an all Flash site (usually) is very bad for SEO, loses ability to bookmark, more difficult to maintain, and unable to deliver to multiple devices.

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