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Empathy in Accessibility

Types of Disability - Permanent, Temporary, and Situational
Example of how disability can be permanent, temporary, or situational

An excellent session on empathy and inclusion in accessibility by Craig Abbott, Head of Accessibility at DWP Digital. Excellent because of the various ways in which Craig conceptualised disability, and I am shamelessly going to lift and adapt many of these points into our own teaching around accessibility in CELT.

On disability itself, Craig made an important distinction between disability and impairment. Someone who uses a wheelchair for example, is not ipso facto disabled, their mobility is merely impaired; they are disabled by societal failures. They may, for example, live in an accessible home and have a car that has been adapted, but once they get to the local shops they are disabled by the stairs going up to the newsagents with no ramp available.

In an example from tech, consider red / green colour blindness – the most common form of colour blindness, yet we in tech do like to have our red / amber / green traffic light status symbols. (The solution is to not convey information by colour alone.)

Another great thing I’m taking from this session is that disability and impairment are situational. I am not currently disabled, but there’s a good change I will be as I get older. Prevalence of disability rises with age, from 8% of the population in childhood to 46% of adults at state pension age. A broken arm, an ear infection or laryngitis are all things that could happen that would render me impaired or disabled for a period of time. If for no other reason, you should embed accessibility into your work because it could happen to you too!

In practical terms, Craig pointed us to both the DWP’s Accessibility Manual and Worcestershire County Council’s SCULPT Framework – Structure (use headings and styles), Colour and contrast, Use of images, Links, Plain English, and Tables.

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