Several times in the last few months there have been situations where I’ve been dealing with inaccessible technology. One such situation cost me a job I had gotten as a transcriber. The transcription interface turned out to be inaccessible without the use of a mouse. When I mentioned this tiny but major issue, the company who hired me said, “Well, we outsource the maintenance of that site, so we can’t do anything.” Basically, “Sorry, but not our problem. And if you can’t do this one thing, no job for you.”
That was the most extreme and the most frustrating. But other situations have come up where a site has been inaccessible: whether it’s content not being spoken by my screenreader, a required signature that can only be achieved by “drawing” with a mouse, or a a “submit” button that doesn’t respond to keyboard commands. In every instance, I try to find someone to report the situation to. I send emails. I speak to my colleagues. And in almost every situation, the answer comes back: “Well, we outsource this, so there’s not much we can do to fix it.” Also known as: “So not our problem, and we’re busy people with a lot more pressing problems to deal with.”
No one has actually said that. People have tried to be helpful, I suppose. People have suggested I send feedback to the web administrator, which may or may not get read, or wait for sighted assistance, which may or may not be remembered by the sighted person. These solutions are fine, but ultimately, I want a solution that I feel like will fix the problem and not just be a waste of time.
I think what it comes down to is: I don’t understand social irresponsibility. Maybe this comes from my work in nonprofits, or more specifically, the nonprofits I served where people have gone totally beyond necessity to help me, to help others, or at least to make a concerted effort to find the person who knows what must be done to help. And these aren’t people who are bored and have nothing better to do. These are people who are as exceedingly busy as everyone else claims to be.
It’s not that I’m a martyr, or a saint. I’m not even that good of a person a lot of the time. And yet, I also feel a kinship with and a responsibility to others, and if I had a company who outsourced an inaccessible web site, or rented an inaccessible building, or was somehow paying companies that were complicating the life of someone, I would be going to those companies to see how we could fix it, and I would consider it a priority. Totally my problem. Certainly not solely mine, but mine enough to work diligently for a solution.
What frustrates me the most about the “not my problem” attitude when faced with inaccessible technology is that so many people are content to let the issue rest there. And if it rests, it doesn’t make its way to the people who can fix it. It stays with the people who are too busy, too harassed, too maxed out to push it forward. I can’t help but think that so many of these issues are simple coding flaws, and that they could be fixed reasonably quickly. But if they never make it to the proper person because someone decides it’s not their problem, the code is left to continue tripping people up.
I don’t mean to blame the entire tech industry, but I would like to see a lot more social responsibility and way more collaboration on this. And it starts as easily as acknowledging our responsibility to one another as people.