Asking Means No

The title may be a bit harsh, but it makes an important point. In most cases, if you have to ask a person with a disability if something is accessible, the odds are very high it isn’t.

I’m asked all the time whether something is accessible. In most cases, the person asking has done nothing to ensure the thing we are discussing is accessible. In many of those cases, the person hasn’t even considered accessibility until I have raised accessibility. Before asking a person with a disability if something is accessible, ask yourself if you have first done anything to make it accessible. If the answer is no, don’t burden people with disabilities with the task of telling you whether it is or not. Don’t expect us to tell you how to make it accessible. If you really want to be accessible, equitable, and inclusive, take the time to learn what constitutes accessibility and whether your thing meets those requirements.

Even if we are your colleague, it’s not our responsibility to tell you whether you are following the law or not. It’s not our responsibility to tell you how to follow the law. As the person responsible for the thing in question, it’s your responsibility to figure out whether it’s accessible and when it, as it will be in almost every case where you have not considered accessibility until it’s an afterthought, isn’t accessible.

Sadly, universal design is rarely a thing. Although many document types and web content can be accessible the default settings usually don’t result in accessibility. If you actually want to offer accessibility, take the time to figure out what accessibility means in the contexts in which you operate.

If you create electronic documents and/or web content, familiarize yourself with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If you are involved in facility management, maintenance, or are otherwise involved in site access, get to know the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (ADAG). ADAG is also good to know if you are responsible for coordinating events.

While accessibility and universal design are rarely the default, making things accessible isn’t as difficult or complicated as many think. Sure, you will need to learn new skills. You may need to change the ways you do certain things. But eventually the new ways of doing things will be your default. When they are, you will be much closer to providing services that are accessible to and inclusive of people with disabilities.

Accessibility is not the responsibility of people with disabilities. Accessibility is the responsibility of the person providing the activity, program, or service. Don’t expect us to do your job. We don’t expect you to do ours.

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