There have been a few posts this week which could seem unrelated, but to me, weave an unsettling narrative. First, there is a young woman named Katie, who has found herself inside a storm of controversy. U.S. readers, and those in the disability and feminist circles may find this to be a familiar story. In essence, Katie's mother is seeking the right to have her daughter sterilized, in other words, have doctors give her a hysterectomy, because she doesn't want Katie to experience the "pain and humiliation" of menstruation.
Penny at the Disability Studies blog says "We do know better".
Next, there is the argument over the Target.com court case, which has now reached class-action status.
This post shows the confusion sighted people feel
That's actually one of the more tame posts I've found.
The assumption I see in both stories is that people with disabilities should either do or not do something to make it easier for the able-bodied population. I've seen the argument that we don't know what it's like for people who have to accommodate our needs, or that we're not disabled enough to understand.
What I don't understand is why it's okay to say that someone's body should be mutilated, or the ADA should be invalidated because it's easier for everyone else. First, there is the falacy of both arguments. I don't buy the argument that the hysterectomy is to spare Katie pain. I've had painful cramps, but I can tell you it's a lot less painful than having surgery. And if you can't tell when a child needs motrin for cramp pain, what's to say you'll know when to give her meds for surgery?
The argument of accessibility being "unnecessary" is insulting to the person who makes it, not to mention the people it truly effects. If I don't need access to your content, neither does anyone else. The effort put into arguing against accessibility could be so much better spent if it were put into actually attempting to create accessibility. If you can comment on a blog in a 100-word post, or reply to a post, you can write the code to describe 10 images. You can write a summary of a video, or an email to a contact to find sites which provide transcripts.
Now that I've pointed out just one falacy for each argument, let's take a look at the attitudesunderlying each argument. In the case of Katie, the assumption is that there aren't reasonable ways to keep Katie comfortable, and that she couldn't find use for a uterus in the future. I've been in some situations which could be very undignified before, and there has always been a way to make the situation more bearable, and keep my dignity. What do they do in the ICU when women menstruate? How do you know Katie isn't in a lot of pain right now? If you know she's not in pain now, then you can't tell me you wouldn't know she was in pain later. In this case, the effort is being put into finding the most convenient solution for others, instead of seeking out other methods of preserving Katie's dignity.
In the case of accessibility of the Target web site, I'm willing to bet that the effort being put into this court case would be more than enough to make the Target web site accessible. And let's not forget that accessibility built in originally is a whole lot easier than retrofitting. Why should I, as a potential spender, have to suffer because accessibility wasn't considered in the first place? Here, again, it's more convenient for others to assume the status quoe, than to educate themselves on accessibility.
The reality is that accessibility isn't perceived important until you need it. When the car accident happens and you're in a wheelchair, or visually impaired, suddenly, it's important for people to accommodate accessibility needs. When you can't talk to advocate for your needs and desires, it's suddenly important for people to know how to keep you comfortable, hear what you have to say and allow you to live with dignity.
I'm convinced that what we need isn't just a court case, or an ethics review board, but rather a new understanding of accessibility. We need to start understanding that accessibility is a true right. It's not a matter of alt tags, wheel chair ramps and closedc captions, but rather a matter of "how can I make this available to as many people as possible?". The answer to that question is to make it accessible. When we truly ask that question, we can find new answers. My friends who ask that question don't always come up with the typical answers. They frequently surprise me with their suggestions.
If you're considering some of these questions, think about what it is that you want others to access. Is it really important? If not, then why are you bothering? If the solution you seek isn't available, what other options could you consider? Or, better yet, what can you do to further the solution's availability?
I truly hope the right to accessibility will become commonplace