Accessing The Internet as a Disabled Person
I recently read an article published in The Guardian Online called How The Internet Still Fails Disabled People. I decided to write a blog about all things online, and whether I agree that the Internet is indeed failing to meet the needs of those of us with disabilities.
How The Internet is Helping Us
First off, the Internet is a great way to socialise with people, listen to music, email and work. I’ve found it really useful over the past four years for not only my University studies, but also for keeping in touch with friends from home when I can’t very easily nip down the road or hop on the train to see them.
I’ve also found it great for things like online food shopping and checking menus in restaurants. As supermarkets are difficult to navigate at the best of times, my visual impairment doesn’t help matters one bit! Thankfully, shopping online provides a great solution to that and therefore the Internet allows me to access some things that would be more difficult to do without it.
Ian, who is interviewed for the article in The Guardian, agrees with me. He says that using the Internet is a ‘liberating experience’ and mentions food shopping as one of the things that he does more easily because of the existence of supermarket shopping online. I also shop for other things too, like clothes and makeup. I look for almost all the makeup that I want online (it allows me to view the colours up close) and then go into stores and see if they have it there – it makes my shopping trips a lot quicker and less stressful. This is great as I’m not a fan of being in crowded places, especially if I’m on my own.
As for restaurants, often the print on menus isn’t accessible to me and it’s awkward to have to ask a friend to read the whole thing out – or even more awkward on a first date! But the good news is that with so many of the restaurants having websites now, I can go online and have a look at the menu, decide what I might like and ask a friend if those choices match up with the in-restaurant menu, rather than getting them to read the whole thing out. I’ve done this with Costa and Caffe Nero more times than I can count!
So while the Internet can be great to help disabled people access the world around them, how do we access the Internet itself?
Experiences of Accessibility
Luckily, I have a Mac computer and an iPad, both of which have VoiceOver and Zoom software built into them to allow me to access a lot of online material. However, Ian makes a really good point in The Guardian article. He says that: ‘it’s a long and complicated process’ navigating a website using VoiceOver. I have to say, I completely agree with him here. VoiceOver reads out every single heading until you get to the one you want to click on. As I have some useful vision, in the past I’ve found this frustrating, switched it off and continued to use Zoom on its own for accessibility.
Ian also mentions that websites with Flash are inaccessible to visually impaired users. Again I can completely see where he’s coming from with this. I’ve often been frustrated not being able to see what’s going on in my favourite music videos on YouTube!
However, my friend who has cerebral palsy says she doesn’t have any difficulty in accessing the Internet due to her disability.
She has both an iPad and a laptop, but find the iPad much easier to use because she finds using a mouse and a physical keyboard tricker. However, she did mention that it was probably because of the software that she has to help her use the iPad that makes it easier for her to navigate the web. She has a predictive word feature on the iPad so that when she starts typing something it will guess the rest of the word – this is built in to the iPad as standard, I use it too. She may have a much more superior version of it – I know it was something she was considering at one stage. She also has an App called ProLoquo2Go which is a communication application which helps her use her iPad for communication in the first place, which has a knock-on effect on how she uses the Internet. This is a really good experience and undoubtedly balances out the slightly negative experiences that some disabled Internet users have had.
Solutions and Verdicts
It’s difficult to say whether I completely agree with the Guardian article in saying that the Internet is ‘failing’ disabled people outright. The truth of the matter is, I don’t think it is – at least not completely. The Internet is growing every day with more and more scope for developments to social media, gameplay and streaming. It’s opened up a whole new world of possibilities for disabled people (such as online shopping and socialising for those who may find it harder to leave the house because of learning, mental, or physical disabilities).
Where I think the Internet does need to be improved is for websites to be accessible without us having to rely on incredibly expensive software and technology in order to use them. All of the disabled people mentioned in this blog, including myself, use some form of Apple device in order to access the Internet. But what about those who don’t have access to that technology?
It would be good if websites were accessible with features like large print and good contrasting colours on screen, and to solve Ian’s and my problem of using Flash, if all Flash videos had an Audio Description feature that could be turned on or off at the click of a button. Websites like BBC iPlayer and All4 already do this and it works brilliantly for accessing TV online. If this could extend to all websites that use Flash videos, this would be a big step in the right direction and would solve the problem of having to spend hundreds or thousands of pounds on technology and/or software.
I know this seems like it would be quite a lot to ask, but with it so easy to upload things to the Internet these days, surely an extra audio track or some different colour or font settings on websites wouldn’t be too much to for the website designers to deal with?
So my verdict: Is the Internet failing disabled people? Not completely, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.
What’s your experience of using the Internet? Tell us in the comments!
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