Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on fixed and growth mindsets applies to accessibility. A fixed mindset is when someone assumes that a situation cannot be changed or improved while a growth mindset moves forward with the belief that a situation can be improved.
So if I am in a meeting and someone hands me a document in 12-pt font, I will say, “I can’t read this.” This sounds like a fixed-mindset statement. I use it here because I’ve already informed the meeting coordinator of my need for 18-pt font or a digital copy of the reading material. So if they have not provided these ahead of time, there is not much I can do. I’ve tried various handheld technologies on printed texts, but they slow my reading way down.
However, I never look at a webpage on my computer and just say, “I can’t read this.” I immediately start flipping switches, inverting colors, highlighting text, or activating a text-to-speech app to have the text read aloud. If these measures don’t work, I reach out to the website moderator.
Accessibility fails when people assume that it’s not their responsibility, and this applies to the disabled person as well as the nondisabled person providing content. If the nondisabled person says, “Hey, it’s not my problem. Figure it out yourself,” then the person who requires large print, an interpreter, or braille or a ramp has to struggle. This is especially difficult in real time, when the disabled person needs access to something immediately, something everyone else in the room can access easily.
But if the disabled person comes in and says, “I can’t read that” or “I can’t hear that” or “I can’t walk that far,” without any attempt to help the other person come up with a solution, nothing productive can occur.
Accessibility has to be a dialogue between all parties or else it will never happen. There is no room for martyrs or heroes. It can be exhausting to repeatedly have the same discussions about font sizes and wider pathways, especially if the other side doesn’t seem to be listening. But pouting and grumbling won’t solve the problem. Neither will “tough love” solve the problem. No amount of “tough love” and “powering through” makes me able to read small fonts. No amount of powering through will make an amputee’s leg grow back.
Disabilities rarely go away. For most of us, they are something we deal with on a daily basis. We need to choose a sustainable course of patience and collaboration. We’re all here to stay and we have to find a way to work together.