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I’m not going to lie; I was pretty annoyed when I read Perez Hilton’s review of the Kardashian accessibility lawsuit. The quick version of the lawsuit is that a blind man is suing the Kardashian’s online store, DASH, because it allegedly doesn’t comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you want to know more, I wrote a bit about the lawsuit in another post.
The Perez Hilton story blatantly calls the man out for filing similar lawsuits against other retailers saying, “We’ll see how this one fares, and whether Mr. Gomez will ever actually see ANY pay day over this lawsuit…” Even just the post title, “Legally Blind Man Sues Kardashian DASH Stores For Violating His Rights — But Is It Just A Money Grab?!” shows that there isn’t much focus on the core issue going on here.
Before you even begin, no, I’m not new to the internet. This is all clickbait and snark, and I get that. The website has a brand and a voice, and the post is perfectly aligned with all of those choices that Perez and his team made. I wasn’t surprised by the content or tone, just disappointed because there really is a big issue going on here. I don’t know the defendant, so I can’t tell you what he wants to achieve by filing these lawsuits. But it doesn’t alter the fact that website accessibility is a big problem.
The Real Issue
Stories like this totally undermine the core issue that a website can exclude users based on their disabilities. Now there are rules in place, WCAG 2.0 to be exact. So why is the big problem the blind man who is suing instead of a website that is discriminating against a huge group of users?
It’s not just about blind users either. Digital accessibility helps users who are deaf, visually impaired, and have limited mobility. While the majority of people tend not to be impacted (at least directly) by these issues permanently, almost everyone will encounter a time where they have a situational disability. These are the times where you can’t hear a phone ringing in a loud room, or when you break your arm and can’t use a mouse to control your computer. When these temporary issues crop up, you will be thankful that accessibility modifications exist. That is if they’re available on the sites you frequent.
We need to shift the conversation away from wondering what the man’s motives are, and realize that websites simply need to comply. While this is one man stepping forward and calling a site out, we can’t tell how many other users tried to access the website and found the same issue. Website owners need to be inclusive and create a digital environment that everyone can use no matter what their ability levels are or which modifications they need.
How Should We Talk About It?
This is tough, because the conversation about disability and accessibility is really broad. More than that, everyone has their own take on it. There are many people who prefer not to discuss their disability. This choice needs to be respected, it’s not something people should have to broadcast. How a person approaches their disability is an extremely personal choice. We can’t just have a blanket notion that if someone doesn’t say there is a problem, then no problem exists. What if no one spoke up and called sites out for being inaccessible? Would that mean that no one was having trouble using them? Nope. It would just mean that no one was saying anything about it.
That’s another really big component of this problem. People shouldn’t have to get access to websites by publicly shaming the sites that don’t comply with the ADA or WCAG 2.0. Inherently, this process requires the person who needs accessibility modifications to publicly declare that they are disabled in order to prove that changes need to be made. If a person would prefer not to openly proclaim that they need modifications, they really shouldn’t have to do it. I know that’s an idealistic view, and that’s why I’m writing about the issue in the first place.
Change Is Happening
Thankfully, the conversation surrounding digital accessibility is starting to gain more traction within the tech community. At a recent Digital Gaggle event in Bristol, there was an entire talk devoted to the topic. The talk summary stated, “With a little help from the movies, Léonie discussed why accessibility has a reputation problem and offered a few bits of advice on what you can do to revive your accessibility mojo.” While I wasn’t at the talk, even just that snippet shows that they’re heading in the right direction.
We can’t pretend that the issue is simple to address or to fix. Things like installing the UserWay widget to give your website a boost of accessibility tools is a step toward a more inclusive digital world.
What bugs you about the accessibility discussion? What do you think the media should change about the way they discuss disabilities? Let us know in the comments below!