We're all familiar with physical accessibility issues, and we're becoming more familiar with accessibility issues around hearing impairments, visual impairments, and even web design accessibility. But we're only starting to learn, it seems about making information accessible (which can use elements of all other types of accessibility).
Let's look at this example: Getting information about the Ontario Disability Support Program
- Even finding the phone number in a phone book would be too much for some of highest-functioning (for lack of a better term) people with intellectual disabilities that I've supported to find without some assistance.
- The voice mail system at ODSP makes you key in an extension based on the first letter of your last name. You have to listen carefully, because the letters are not presented sequentially (for example, you may have to key in a certain extension if your last name starts with A-L, Q, T, X or Z). Most times, the call goes directly to voice mail.
- ODSP does have a web site, but it's confusing to use and provides limited information on the program. You are referred to your local office, which can be difficult for people to ascertain.
It's confusing even for people without intellectual disabilities. It's not good "information architecture", as they say in the technical writing world. Depending where you are, other factors make the information even more difficult to access.
Different Region, Different Information Accessibility Needs
I remember going to quarterly regional meetings of the transition program in which I once worked, hearing about the fabulous things that everyone else was doing, and thinking, "That just won't work where we are." I wasn't trying to be negative. I just saw us facing different access challenges, as a very small town, than the people from larger centres did: no public transportation, lower literacy rates, fewer people with internet access in the home...it affected the way families that I supported understood their options for their children once they graduated, and often it meant an intensive level of support for some students and families. I felt like we did things differently than the programs in the larger centres, out of necessity, because needs of students and families were different.
Those Darn Assumptions
Which isn't necessarily bad. But there are assumptions out there now that *everyone* has internet access and knows how to use it effectively. A number of factors may make this simply not true, and it keeps people (and not just people with intellectual disabilities...if I'm having trouble getting what I need from a government website, then other people are people are as well) from getting information that 1) they're entitled to and 2) that they need.
It creates inequalities, and therefore needs to be addressed, whether it's through providing more support to assist people to understand information to or restructuring information architecture so that it makes information more accessible and understandable...or both.