Thursday, November 30, 2006

Solving Disability

There is a movement towards defining disability in roughly the following way:
A disability is a condition resulting from a mismatch between an individual and his/her environment.
In the world of software user interfaces we might say:
A disability results from a mismatch between an individual and the user interface they are stuck with.
I would add:
Usability is the art of minimizing this mismatch.
and perhaps conclude:
If we can eliminate all the mismatches then we can eliminate disability.
This last one might appear silly yes, but remember I am toying here with new definitions. I think there are worthwhile reasons for shifting perspectives on disability, but I'll save that argument for a later post.


hecker said...

"...a mismatch between an individual and his/her environment." I like this definition. I would add that the environment (and thus any resulting mismatch) is not necessarily constant. I have no disability when I am sitting with a laptop at my desk, but if I am driving down the road with my laptop on the seat beside me then I do.

In my opinion thinking about disability in this way is key to dispelling the notion that accessibility is only a marginal issue. As I put it in a past blog post on Mozilla and accessibility, "Improving accessibility is key to improving access to information, communications, and applications for everyone."

Jon Gibbins said...

Thanks for linking me to this post, David. Disability is normally thought of in a social context and I think the lines often get blurred when we, as tech-heads, look at it from a technological viewpoint. Hence, the increasingly common term "situational disability". So, whenever I think of disability and accessibility, I try to focus on the people aspect. To my mind, you cannot eliminate disability, but you can work with the lowest common denominator in mind and accommodate individual needs through flexibility.

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