First things first: I think it’s important that blogs be accessible to persons with disabilities. My own (invisible) disabilities don’t hinder me from reading blogs, but I recognize that this is a real issue. It’s also a thorny one when you start asking how to make blogs universally accessible.
As so often, the devil’s in the details. A few days back, brownfemipower posted a most satisfying gripe about some instructions posted at Bitch Magazine for making one’s blog accessible to people with disabilities. For bfp, a big sticking point was that the instructions presumed totally linear thinking:
just the title alone (The Transcontinental Disability Choir: How to make your blog accessible in five not-very-complicated steps) should be enough to let most people in on why people with ADHD/ADD simply aren’t going to be able to incorporate any of those “easy” or “not so hard” steps into their blogging very easily. Steps and directions suck, quite simply. When a brain can make one particular “step” mean twenty five different things, “steps” are a goddamn nightmare for many of us. not easily navigated.
Her whole post was great, but her description of how her brain works differently than the so-called norm was especially illuminating to me, because I’m one of those people who usually likes instructions laid out in steps. They help me organized my scattered neurons, and I especially appreciated such scaffolding when I had cognitive problems after falling sick last winter. For me, it was a revelation that “easy steps” could become stumbling blocks instead.
My biggest issue with Bitch’s instructions was the amount of typing they require. I actually appreciated Bitch’s suggestion to give a brief description of pictures, especially if they’re relevant to the post and not just decorative. I know I’ve got one blind reader (hi, Reg!) and while I’m certain I can’t evoke the beauty of a perfect clematis blossom in words, I can try to be more consistent in at least identifying a photo’s subject and describing any substantive connection to the post’s content.
But transcripts! That’s where I balk. I’m a very very fast typist, and while I’ve got an old carpal-tunnelish injury as a souvenir of grad school, it rarely flares up anymore. The issue with transcripts is, quite simply, time and energy. Even before I got sick last January, both were at a premium. Now my energy is short enough that whenever I’ve got a little surplus, I want to invest it in writing my own words, not transcribing someone else’s. From both academic and purely mercenary endeavors, I know what a time and energy suck transcriptions can be. Fatigue has been one of my most debilitating, long-lasting symptoms, and this is true for lots of other bloggers who deal with a chronic condition.
I know that some feminist blogs make a big effort to do provide transcripts. Shakesville obviously stands out. I know how much work goes into it. I know that if I felt compelled to match their standard, you’d never see Jon Stewart on Kittywampus again. Too many words! We’d be stuck with silly cat videos forever.
Seriously, this is an area where disabilities can and will collide. In the comments at bfp’s, Quixotess said:
Disabilities conflict. There was a discussion on FWD/Forward a little while ago where a woman said she needed speakers at her events to look up and speak clearly, or she couldn’t hear them. People on the autism spectrum replied that they couldn’t do that. She said, I know, and I’m not going to tell you you have to when you can’t, but you still have to know that that excludes me.
So how to minimize these collisions? Quixotess says she’s willing to transcribe videos for others, and that’s incredibly cool of her. But because most blogs rely wholly or largely on volunteers, more unpaid labor can’t be the long-term solution. As Quixotess also remarked, disability activists are pretty sympathetic to bloggers’ limitations. But relying on their patience is no long-term fix, either.
The problem with all of these proposals is that they’re radically individualized. They demand herculean effort from individual bloggers (disabled or not) and from individual readers with disabilities. Those efforts are that are probably unsustainable over the long run, because even the most able-bodied, able-minded bloggers will tend to burn out if they try to do it all. (Transcription wasn’t even on Melissa McEwan’s long and frustrated list of what it takes to keep Shakesville afloat, and yet I know it’s a big time sink.)
Ultimately, there need to be collective solutions. They need to be universally available, especially if they involve specialized technology, as they almost certainly must. I know that Reg has special equipment that lets him surf the web, write his own blog, Tangentville, post comments, play clips, etc. without needing to “see” what he’s doing. This is the model I think we need to be demanding, and we ought to expect public monies to pay for it, just as a surtax on telephone services funds telecommunications for the deaf. I’m still enough of an idealist about the Internet to insist that everyone ought to enjoy equal access. The voices of differently abled people, those who are aging or just plain old, non-native English speakers and immigrants, folks with limited literacy – we’re all a crucial part of the conversation. Or we all should be, in a just and reasonable world.