But it Wasn’t Designed for You: How Ignoring Accessibility Becomes the Excuse for Perpetuating Inaccessibility

I am sick of seeing people responding to evidence of inaccessibility with “but it wasn’t designed for you”. This argument has been used to both try and shut down calls to make inaccessible things more accessible (which is what I’ll be focusing on) and to limit access to accessible things that have been deemed unnecessary to nondisabled people (see my piece of accessibility to fresh food here for an example of that).

So the much anticipated augmented reality game Pokemon Go was released in several countries last week (though not Canada yet). It is already wildly popular and has had a noticeable impact on Nintendo stock prices.

The game–which is based on one originally released for Gameboy and which also had a television series and card game–allows smartphone users to find and catch pokemon in the real world.

Since it’s release it has been criticized for being inaccessible to many people with disabilities. The game requires that players actually be able to get around public spaces to find the pokemon and visit pokestops (which provide players with necessary items for the game) and train at gyms.

For people with limited mobility or who have difficulty leaving their homes. The game is entirely inaccessible because movement is completely tied to an individual’s GPS location.

I am going to spend less time talking about the accessibility issues of Pokemon Go itself because others are already doing that better than I could. I am instead going to use the game and people’s reactions to having its inaccessibility highlighted as a timely way of addressing how people’s  reactions to inaccessibility being called out end up justifying and perpetuating that inaccessibility.

When a new product is called out for being inaccessible or when disabled people advocate that a company make an inaccessible product more accessible, two related arguments inevitably come up.

  1. This game wasn’t made with you in mind.
  2. You are not the target demographic.

On the face of it these arguments seem identical but there are some key differences. In the first case, the exclusion may just be an oversight but it is one that will be justified as an understandable lapse.

The demographic argument works best when a product is made with a specific demographic market in mind.

The problem is that with the first argument it is far to acceptable to brush off inaccessibility as “oh well, I guess this one thing just isn’t for you” despite the fact that it is very far from being “just one thing” and is in fact representative of a widespread problem. It is far to common and easy to ignore whether a product or service is inaccessible.

In order to head off reactionary comments, I am not arguing or suggesting that everything can or should be made accessible for two reasons.

  1. Accessibility is not and never will be a one size fits all phenomenon.
  2. There are just some things that people with certain disabilities shouldn’t do for reasons of safety. For example, I have a weak arm and should for my own safety and the safety of others never operate a chainsaw. So I’m not going to go after chainsaw manufacturers to their products because I shouldn’t.

So please don’t send me a rant about how [insert random unrelated product or service] is either essential but still inaccessible or which regardless of redesign cannot be made safely accessible.

When disabled people point out accessibility issues it is usually because a.) they think with some tweaking the thing itself could be made accessible or b.) they are expressing a consumer desire to have someone redesign an inaccessible thing to be accessible. It is not a wholesale attack on all things.

So continuing on I am now going to address the “they just didn’t have you in mind” argument. There are way to many things that just happen to be inaccessible because the creators either didn’t consider disabled people or determined that accommodating the would be to time consuming. Far to many of these products (Pokemon Go included) could be made accessible or have accessibility mods added on if the creators cared to put the effort in.

The fact that far to many don’t is where this argument of “oh they just didn’t make it for you” really falls apart. Almost nothing that is available to the general public is made with disabled people in mind. We are far to frequently relegated to the realm of “niche target market” catered to primarily by medical companies or adaptive technology companies.

This leaves us out of far to many mainstream pass times. This is where it stops being an oversight and becomes a problem where out exclusion and reliance on only specialized targeted products and indicative of systemic and socially acceptable exclusion.

As a target demographic we are also treated differently, with products geared towards us specifically only made available in specialty stores.

In terms of a more mainstream understanding of target demographic, we are still separate because generally target demographics are based on goals and an understanding of who will be interested in a product. Not actually mandating who can use it.

People use products not expressly geared toward them all the time without consequences. The problem comes not from who a product is targeted at but at who is expressly excluded from using it.*

But back to Pokemon Go. Where does it fit into all this? The game itself  has a very broad demographic target. It is as much as any single product can be geared to everyone.** This is what makes the complete lack of consideration of disability so frustrating because it is a case of “this is actually for everyone except you”.

The sheer scale of the game’s popularity only emphasizes this fact.

So, I would ask that any person who reacts dismissively to calls for more accessibility (whether it is in Pokemon Go or anything else) to ask themselves

Why is this request making me so uncomfortable?

I would then ask you to express solidarity, to show companies that you actually are comfortable sharing space (and pokemon) with disabled people. Tell companies that disabled people deserve accessible products and don’t deserve to be forgotten or an afterthought.

 

 

*I am aware and do not wish to minimize the fact that there are certain industries which don’t expressly forbid people from outside their target demographics do create cultures within those industries which are very unwelcoming and often abusive to people who are seen as outsiders.

**It is also important to note that disabled people are not the only group criticizing the game’s inclusivity (see here for another example).

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My Love/Hate Relationship with Dragon NaturallySpeaking

So I type one handed and I’m an academic so a lot of typing is required, this poses a couple of issues. First I can’t type very fast and second I regularly feel like I’m getting carpal tunnel syndrome. I’ve been tested for the condition twice and in both cases the results were negative. While I may not have carpal tunnel, I do often deal with a lot of wrist and hand pain from typing. It was recommended that I start using speech recognition software and the only one that was ever recommended (by multiple people) was Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Since then I have owned and used two versions of Dragon. Dragon Home 11 and Dragon Home Premium 12. I will discuss my experience of both individually and then discuss issues that are common to both.

Dragon 11

I primarily used Dragon as dictation for writing but like most people with a new toy, I checked out its other features. Primarily controlling my computer with my voice. I was particularly amused with its functionality on the internet. I liked how I could command the software to open a link and have it do so (I know I’m easily amused). This function did however show an issue not with Dragon but with the general inaccessibility with website design. Occasionally buttons would not be coded with their visible titles. This meant that if you want or have to open a link with your dictation software, you have to verbally guide the mouse to the button and request the mouse click it,

Overall I enjoyed the software. I didn’t find it to be nearly as accurate as they claim (yes I calibrated it for highest accuracy). Anything composed through Dragon requires close editing.

The biggest issue I found was that it was completely incompatible with the web service Moodle which is commonly used by universities to offer online classes or online companions to campus classes.

I don’t just mean that I couldn’t dictate in Moodle, somehow the combination of Moodle and the Dragon add-on cancelled the ability for me to even type in the program. In order for me to complete online courses or online components to classes, I had disable the add-on. This forced me to type all communication through the site. It also put me at a disadvantage when taking internet delivered exams as I would have to type.

Dragon 12

I have a lot of buyer’s remorse over upgrading to Dragon 12. I found that the software was much less user friendly and entirely incompatible with the internet either for typing or navigation. If I tried to use Dragon with the internet, rather than obeying a command or typing in a text box, it would open another box type whatever I said and then I would have to click through to transfer the text to the web. So it had no navigation capability and an overcomplicated way of entering text. According to the product description, this is not how the software is meant to work so something was going wrong. My attempts at communicating with tech support were fruitless.

While I got nowhere with tech support. I was regularly called by sales begging me to upgrade to Dragon 12 from 11. As I had already done this, these repeated calls were frustrating as I explained each time that I had already done so and registered my new copy. I received at least five such calls before I demanded to be removed from their phone list.

As song as I was only dictating in Word, it worked as well as Dragon 11 but heaven forbid I needed to change tabs to check something in another program or particularly if I needed to check something online. Even if I turned off the microphone. Doing anything other than dictating while the program was active would initially slow both the program and my computer and ultimately cause Dragon to freeze, forcing me to forcibly close it through task manager and restart it. This issue deteriorated to the point that Dragon would crash on it’s own every 10-15 minutes. This eventually forced me to request the only assignment extension of my entire Masters degree because it was so time consuming.

Dragon 12 was a complete failure in functionality.

Issues in both versions

Accuracy, all versions claim to have accuracy rates over 95%, this has not been my experience at all,. Even after longterm use (accuracy is supposed to improve as you use the program more). This might be due in part to the highly academic work, I most commonly use it for, it recognized the word obstetrics as Star Trek. Often if you don’t catch errors immediately but find them later during editing it is difficult or impossible to discern what the intended word or phrase was to begin with.

I have a BA Honours in Women and Gender Studies and I occasionally wrote about issues of gendered and sexual violence. I found that the software was more likely to misinterpret words associated with violence. It really didn’t want to recognize the word rape for example. It wrote thing like grape or great. The software does have word training where you input the word and then train it to recognize your pronunciation of that word. Even with training it still didn’t want to accurately recognize the word rape. There is something disconcerting about yelling the word RAPE at your computer in frustration even if no one is around to hear you.

International English norms

Nuance and Dragon hate Canada, I can think of no other explanation. When you first use the software, you have to train it to recognize your voice. You help this along by setting your location so that it knows what accent to expect and what spelling is preferred. I don’t even know why there is a separate option for Canada because during selection it says in brackets that Canada uses American spelling. This is not true. Canada follows the British spelling system. Unfortunately selecting Britain isn’t a great option either because although we share spelling norms and say Zed instead of Zee, we use American terms for punctuation. We say period to denote the dot at the end of a sentence rather than full stop like the British. This causes issues of flow while dictating.You can’t change the settings in the software to change punctuation commands.

I am to fully programmed to use North American punctuation to be able to use the British settings. Using the Canadian/American setting causes it’s own difficulties that go beyond my frustration with being forced to adopt American spelling. If a word isn’t in Dragon’s dictionary (which happens a lot with academic terms) you can add them by dictating the spelling, You better just hope that the letter Z isn’t involved. I constantly forget that Americans say Zee, so I’m yelling Zed at my computer with no results. It’s beyond frustrating and a genuine flaw in the design of the software.

The fact that the software set up has to put in brackets that they assume Canada uses US spelling suggests that they know we don’t and just don’t care to set up a properly functioning set up for us. This despite the fact that they acknowledge the Britain does use another spelling and terminology and gives the preset options. You can go in and change the dictionary to reflect Canadian spelling but that is time consuming and quite frankly you shouldn’t have to. This is a huge oversight on the part of the software designers and it needs to be fixed.

Conclusions

When the software works it doesn’t seamlessly replace typing but it is a great option for those who can’t type or want to limit their typing. When the software fails it can be a big problem for the users who rely on it. There are some flaws in the software that I genuinely hope the designers will fix (though considering my experience with customer service I’m not holding my breath). They have now released Dragon 13 which I haven’t used and my attempts to see if they fixed the language flaws have been fruitless so I’m going to assume that they haven’t.

I start my PhD in the Fall and I will need to replace my Dragon 12 because it causes more problems than it solves and I may have to research the competition while searching for a replacement.

This post was typed single-handedly because my copy of Dragon 12 is unusable.