Where Technology Leads in Accessibility, Language & Attitudes Must Follow

By Alan Ralph on July 14, 2020 — 1 min read

I came across this post by Olof Hellman the other day, where he discusses how our language reflects old, outdated attitudes about people with disabilities:

This week I had an experience that put my feelings into perspective. A rather popular tech blogger used the phrase “blind leading the blind” (a phrase which has a long history: from Matthew 15, “And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”), and this phrase really struck a sour chord with me. Not just because of the casual ableism – I manage to not be offended by the everyday idioms that, if I were paying attention, would be constant reminders that the association between disability and inferiority is baked into our language.

No, it struck a sour chord because the traditional meaning of the idiom, that the ignorant are ill-served by getting advice from the ignorant, assumes that change is impossible – that the blind will never be able to navigate public spaces.

Inwardly I shout “No!”

The whole post is well worth your time to read, and I highly recommend it. Especially the footnotes.

This got me thinking about how society at large treats those with disabilities. While accessibility through technology has advanced massively over the last few decades, the roadblocks that prevent people with disabilities from reaping those benefits are primarily societal. There is still a perception that having a disability means that you’re less capable, even less intelligent.

I find myself becoming increasingly concerned about how these attitudes and perceptions can be changes, as I enter my 53rd year. The blunt fact is that disability, to varying degrees, is a part of the latter stages of life. And injury or trauma can bring about disability to people at any point in their life. We should be striving to create a world where disability is not a barrier to leading a full life, because ultimately that benefits everyone.

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