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Digital Accessibility

Disabilities and the Challenges Within Our Digital World


July is here as we have celebrated another Independence Day.  July is also the month that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law during 1990 which has led toward more independence for people with disabilities.  Sam is one of them.

Sam has been successful with his career in IT.  His interest in technology goes back to his childhood after being introduced to his family’s first computer.  He enjoyed helping his family find that “perfect” computer when he was about to become a teenager.  Through computer games, editing photos, and discovering the (World Wide!) Web, his career path started to take shape.  It was during that period that Sam had his first seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy.    

As it was childhood for Sam, being diagnosed with a disability any time in life is possible and can affect life’s ups and downs.  Let's gain an overview of disabilities and how accessibility impacts the experiences.

Breakdown of disability categories & types

For Sam, now with epilepsy, what does this mean?  What’s next?  Sam felt the need to build a better understanding of what epilepsy is.  Sam’s seizure disorder is just one of many types of disabilities, so to simplify this, in general, let’s break down specific disability categories: 

  • Mental health 
  • Cognitive
  • Physical / Mobility
  • Autism Spectrum
  • Visual
  • Hearing
  • General Health

As Sam’s epilepsy fits under the general health category, asthma also fits there.  For other categories, ADHD is a cognitive disorder, cerebral palsy is a physical disability, and anxiety and depression both fit under mental health.  

It took time for Sam to understand more about epilepsy, particularly to understand the challenges of living with his disability.  

Challenges sparked by disabilities

Sam is fortunate to rarely have a seizure and that they are not convulsive seizures that most people think of as epilepsy.  But because Sam does still have seizures one of his challenges is transportation.  For safety (and by law), Sam does not drive and depends on others for him to reach his destination.  He is not the only one with this specific challenge.    

Understanding the challenges is the centerpiece towards better experiences  

Whether you are someone that lives with a disability or not, it is invaluable to better your understanding of challenges that disabilities can cause.  These are more relatable, more tangible.  These challenges also intersect throughout the types of disabilities.
Sam’s bigger challenges, apart from transportation, are the ones that occur daily due to living with his disability and his medication side effects.  Some of these challenges include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Staying focused
  • Attention span
  • Obtaining, absorbing, and processing information
  • Long-term memory

Like the few of Sam’s listed above, disability challenges affect what and how he experiences every day.

Experiences sparked by challenges

Unique experiences are part of life for everyone.  For people with a disability, the frequency and intensity of the challenges they regularly deal with affect the outcome of their daily experiences.  

Emotions we all know too well

Each of us regularly experience feelings related to the powerful core emotions of happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, disgust, and fear.  These emotions play a part in our daily experiences.  For Sam, he’s certainly happy, and sometimes surprised, when crossing off a task at work sooner than expected, but he always gets mad when a seizure interferes with his flow of productivity.  His seizures’ aftermath is physical and mental exhaustion often forcing a nap.  It frustrates him due to more “burnt time.”

“Digital ramps” to avoid the barriers and roadblocks

Accessible ramps provide the ability to reach building entrances.  Curb cuts provide access to the sidewalks after crossing the streets.  Within our digital world many types of “digital ramps” exist and are just as important to provide.

Sam’s challenge of absorbing and processing information affects his experience of reading and listening to digital media.  This challenge can trigger frustration during a live webinar, archived videos, and digital content, but, fortunately, those negative emotions are avoided when videos and digital content are designed with accessibility in mind.  Accurate video captioning allows him to hear AND see what’s being said during the video just as accessible content allows text-to-speech tools to read aloud the digital content appropriately.  

Resiliency: the necessary ingredient

Multiple types of treatment were performed to help control Sam’s seizures ever since his first one.  Almost all of his therapy and procedures occurred during his high school and college years.  He fell behind his high school friends and didn’t complete college within the “typical” 4-years timeframe. 

Sam’s self-image and self-confidence were shaken throughout multiple medical procedures and additional years in school.  Depression joined his list of challenges.  

As it wasn’t always shown, life itself was a negative experience and led him to define himself as a “sick” person.  Keeping that strong grip of life alone became tougher.  

Fortunately, that “sick” person image slowly shifted towards a more resilient mindset through years of positive experiences with professional guidance and personal support, including mentors that helped him see the strengths in himself past the challenges of a disability.  

Embrace the challenges to gain unique perspectives

The strength of resiliency led Sam to accept and embrace his daily challenges.  His challenges of life with epilepsy helped him start experiencing life through a new lens and a unique perspective of life.  These new perspectives provide him the ability to empathize with, understand, and, now, mentor others going through similar challenges of their own.

Inclusive experiences for all

Sam is only one of millions that live with a disability and the challenges they bring within our shared spaces, including our digital world.  Many USC students and employees with a disability have similar experiences through similar challenges.  Some of each are relatable to many of us.  Even if these challenges may not be to the same extent, it can crack open the door towards empathy.  With our openness towards understanding the challenges disabilities bring, like Sam’s, it can shift our collective mindset towards providing more “digital ramps” for more positive, inclusive experiences for everyone.  

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.