Tribal warfare

John’s Nice Idea

Long standing accessibility advocate John Foliot often refers to people working in the accessibility world as members of the Tribe – itinerant, dispersed and yet connected with some commonality of purpose. John has a very positive outlook and it is one that I admire; he advocates finding solutions rather than pointing out problems, being a fireman taking action to prevent fires rather than a policeman arresting villains…

I admire all of this and subscribe wholeheartedly to this approach.

But it is not reflective of the reality in which we currently live and work.

What we actually have is a load of different tribes

Rather than harmony we have tribal warfare.

Tribes at warLet me give some context to my comments:

I recently attended a meeting of the eAccessibility forum at the Department for Culture Media And Sport (DCMS). It was intended as an opportunity to contribute to future legislation and policy to further digital inclusion for people with disabilities.

The session to explore the challenges and opportunities for accessibility presented by the rapidly changing technology landscape and to share ideas and potential solutions quickly fell apart.

One of the keynote speakers was harangued for being too personal despite advocating a broad brush pan disability approach.  She was advocating a rational, realistic and inclusive approach to the issues at hand.

The first person to stand up and criticise professed to have broadly the same aims as the speaker but attacked all the same only to get a smattering of applause.

For nearly two hours most of what I saw was people pushing their own personal agendas, complaining about this or that failing. Bemoaning that access was not 100% perfect. Wilfully misunderstanding and dismissing or ignoring each other.

It was like listening to a room full of broken records. The voices of the rational and reasonable (yes there were some there) drowned out in the clamouring.

Fragments of broken records

What happened to the concept of doing things for the greater good?

Or contributing for the benefit of all?

There was a fundamental lack of respect in the room which saddened me. Not from everyone but from enough to make the meeting unworkable as a useful forum.

Instead of thinking about the digital landscape in 5, 10 and 20 years time and what benefit we might bring to all people were fixated with their pet topics or asking for the impossible.

The one good idea of the whole event was tax breaks for accessibility.

This has some potential as a carrot to encourage businesses to do more.  We have the legislative sticks but businesses always look at the bottom line and incentives can and do make a difference.

He Who Shouts Loudest

After the event I sat mulling things over as to why people had behaved in such a way.  It occurred to me that this behaviour was not natural but had been adopted and learned.

Man with a megaphone

Advocates from disability groups had seen people have a measure of success by being vocal and forceful. So they assumed that this was the most effective approach to break down the barricades.

What this approach fails to recognise is that the war is over.

There may still be a lot to do but there is legislation in place and we were sitting in a government building being consulted and this is how people behaved…

It is no wonder legislators and companies shy away from us if we behave like terrorists.  Even the IRA recognised that the best way forward was to negotiate and compromise. Now one of their former number is the Second Minister in Northern Ireland.  They may not have everything they want yet and they may never but working peacefully and collaboratively has achieved more than all of the bombing.

What works for one group of users may not for another, the needs of businesses to pay their owners and staff and governments to run their countries mean that there will be no accessibility promised land.

100% accessibility of 100% of the web and Media for 100% of all the disability groups is a pipe dream but…

We can still make things a lot better

This is why we need to lay down the megaphones we use as weapons and start thinking about a pragmatic inclusive approach to technology and accessibility.  Think about what the challenges are for business and align with them to achieve far more for a wider group of people than ever before.

Paradigm Shift Futher Discussions

My post “inclusivity requires a paradigm shift” gathered quite a lot of comments and we had some nice discussions on Linkedin groups.  Rather than go round the houses I have collated the discussions here.

Phill Jenkins

“I think GPII.net has some potential, I just wonder what the AT vendors are saying and how the policy makers and grant funders are getting involved?”

Neil Milliken

“Hi Phill, There is at least one AT vendor involved (TextHelp). Hopefully more will get involved as well as people like the guys behind NVDA and other open-source ATs. There is grant funding from the European Union for the Cloud For All elements so it has some momentum – it still needs more and that momentum must be sustained if we are to achieve something great”

Jim Tobias

“Good question, Phill. I think there are already cloud-based AT vendors, and more will join them. Aside from the continuing need for alternative input (like large key keyboards) and output (like Braille printing), the cloud emphasizes the advantages of software solutions over hardware ones. But why should cloud-curious AT vendors adopt GPII as a strategy? The advantages of GPII as a cloud strategy for AT vendors are: easier global marketing, serving diverging platforms (desktop, mobile, kiosks, POS terminals, etc…) without having to develop separate products, and assistance with the enterprise customer (employer, school district, etc., who may want a package of solutions rather than buying a screen reader from vendor X, a communication aid from Vendor Y, and captioning services from vendor Z).”

L. E. Storck

“Keep talking about this here when you have time :-); where are the women involved?”

Phill Jenkins

“Jim and Neil, I think the business model is what really needs to be tested and proven as sustainable. GPII needs vendors X, Y, and Z to really buy in while assuring the end users that their needs will be met. The old business model of a vendor developing, selling AND SERVICING the end user is what made the AT industry. All the advantages of GPii will only succeed when the end users needs are really met. Marketing messages saying it will “just work” are not enough to meet the previous “services” expectations that came along with Neil’s so called “niche” expensive AT solutions. For example, as expensive and one-off as they may have been, custom JAWS scripts did keep a person working and productive – while complaining to a platform owner may take months and an upgrade release to wait for a fix.”

Jim Tobias

“Phill, I absolutely agree — GPII has to stay out of the way of the AT vendors and their customers, because that’s the relationship that makes everything work. I think of it like mall management: provide the building, spaces, escalators, parking, maps, etc., and let the merchants, large and small, do their thing. There’s one area where GPII itself could be of value, and that’s free-and-open-source-software. We’ve all seen dozens of worthy AT projects come and go because they weren’t successfully commercialized or otherwise made sustainable. Users often wound up in a dead end. GPII could do something about that.”

Neil Milliken

“I’m really pleased to have started off some discussion.

I’ll try and address the points made by everyone.

L.E. I cannot really answer why there are not more women involved, in this discussion, AT and indeed IT in general. I know a number of fantastic female professionals in the AT and accessibility field but they are significantly outnumbered. I am open to anyone who wants to make a positive contribution.

Jim & Phill,

I don’t believe that it is the intention of GPII to get in the way of AT vendors and their customers, rather the opposite. The whole rationale for GPII is to provide a mechanism for making AT available to more people on more devices. Gregg Vanderheiden talks about it as being like a transport network which the ATs and the customers use to get where they need to be. The network is not biased towards one type of car, bike or bus etc.

Phill,

With regards to JAWS scripting I understand your argument and the pragmatic results that it brings. The cost of purchasing the license for JAWS is just the tip of the ice-berg. However, I have spent more on JAWS scripting than I have on my house. Scripting a solution to a problem locks you into a cycle of continuous updates to the scripts that do not benefit everyone. It also means that the real culprit – ie the manufacturer of the offending software or the website owner is oblivious to the problems with their product and or service.

Sometime scripts are necessary but I think that Freedom Scientific and their Partners, should be submitting every script created for the potential further development of the product.

I am sure that currently there are many duplications of the scripting work because of the way that scripting does not get back into the product and is effectively outsourced.

Jim – with regards to AT vendors having a direct relationship with their customers I don’t believe that this is necessarily so outside of the vendor’s home nation. Outside of the US lot of AT is supplied by third parties who have no control of the product. Attend a Nuance Dragon Partner Meeting in the UK and you will feel the frustration.

Jim – I really do hope that the GPII will open up the opportunities for more low and no cost options for people. I know from experience that you can create a great product that wins awards but still dies a death because of price and market constraints.”

Martyn Cooper

“I agree with your point and have been making similar headline claims in my own work for decades. However handle with care. The population of people with disabilities is as diverse as any other large sample of the total human population. There is *never* just one thing you can do that makes your product/service accessible to all different people with disabilities. You need to adopt a culture that seeks to address diversity and moves away from one size fits all. If you do this with the motivation of meeting the needs of disabled people you are likely to meet the wide range of users needs and requirements in the general population too!”

Nancy Hays
“Good point, Martyn. I was thinking the same things while reading the article. All of us have different contexts in which services designed for people with disabilities of all different kinds would benefit us not because of our personal diversity, exactly, but because of our diverse situations at any moment. A simple example would be speech-to-text services that could convert a spoken message to a text message to avoid “texting while walking” (driving clearly being too dangerous to consider). The potential ways to leverage accessibility technologies for the wider public might persuade companies to invest in the effort.”

Neil Milliken

“Hi Martyn and Nancy,Thanks for the comments.Martyn I agree that amongst that huge group there are wide variances of need. Absolutely agree when you say that there will never be a one size fits all approach that works. But that is why the GPII is so interesting, it gives the individual flexibility to choose what is right for them and works for them and tries to match it with mainstream technology.This actually fits very well with the trend in business for “mass customisation” where there are base components that a user can choose to make something pretty unique to them. You see this in the auto industry where people can choose from a range of different colours, accessories trims etc.. For any one model of car there may be anything like 500 variations.Nancy – I have been saying for a decade now that my favourite assistive technologies for helping me with my dyslexia are Microsoft Outlook which helps me organise myself and Dragon Naturally Speaking – both were designed and marketed as productivity tools.It is only 10 years later that speech recognition is becoming mainstream and being included on your mobile phone as standard!”