Andrew Jones and the Blog of Doom

On Bifocals and Accessibility

I’ve been thinking a lot about disabilities lately.

Right before Christmas, I got a new pair of glasses, more bifocals. I’d been having trouble with my distance vision for a while and I wanted something better before the long holiday drive to Ohio.

The optometrist said I should adjust within a couple hours, but I don’t think I ever did. And for the past few weeks, I’ve been getting headaches and really tired eyes. I haven’t been able to stand sitting at the computer for long stretches and I feel like I’m constantly working to keep my vision focused. At first I thought it was just me, and I wasn’t “using” the glasses properly. With bifocals, there are narrow windows where you can focus at certain distances. To read, I have to look through the lower half. But even then, it’s difficult.

I’ve made an appointment to try to figure all this out, but it’s gotten me thinking. What if I went blind someday? Even if it were just “legally blind”, how would that affect my life?

I’ve been doing a lot of work lately related to accessibility on the web. Specifically, I audit sites and web components to determine how usable they are for people with disabilities. It covers everything from blindness, deafness, poor motor function to color-blindness.

While I know millions of blind people use devices and the Internet every day, it’s hard for me to imagine being able to adapt. If I woke up blind tomorrow, what would it mean? Could I continue to be a web developer? No. Could I continue to be an artist? No. And I sure as hell could not continue to be a woodworker. What, then? Well, it’d be the perfect time to pursue writing, I suppose.

Most people don’t think about or understand what it means to be disabled. Most people probably would not believe that a completely blind person can browse the internet or use an iPhone (they can, and do). That’s also why so many apps and websites are a crappy experience for those users. If you’re not disabled or personally know someone who is, it’s hard to think that a large group of people visiting your site are affected by it. And thus, that making your product accessible is actually worth your time or money.

Hopefully after I see the doctor again this week, we’ll have some answers. Answers that don’t cost me hundreds more dollars. But if nothing else, the last month or so has taught me how important this work is. It’s hard to be the developer in the room that’s always saying “this isn’t accessible” or “how will this work with a screen reader” or “these two colors don’t stand out enough”. But you have to keep doing it. If a designer tells you (as they have me) that, “blind people won’t use this site”, you have to push back. It’s the right thing to do.