Yesterday I watched a webinar, Section 508 Best Practices Webinar: How Four Federal Agencies Handle Section 508 Testing: A Case Study, presented by ADA Conferences. The content of the webinar was good, and it was interesting hearing how the agencies approach 508 compliance. They work with the differing needs of their target audiences, but strive toward a common set of testing criteria that can be used globally.
But it was the presentation of the webinar that really struck me, and how well it reflected the spirit of the topic. Before it began the slides were available to download, in several formats to best suit each user. But they went well beyond that helpful action.
Here is a portion of a screen capture I took of the webinar window:
The presenters really practiced what they preached with this. You can see that in addition to the main screen, there is an inset video with a sign language interpreter, and a live feed closed captioning popup. It was the first time I have seen these functions used, and I was impressed.
It made me think about the age we live in, the ‘information age’. I am one of millions that work in fields unimagined a hundred years ago. My father spanned much of that period of huge technological change, from a childhood where the big entertainment was still when the medicine show came to town – and if you are thinking of old western movies, that is exactly what I mean – to being a pretty savvy computer user in his nineties. It is an age where much of the work is cerebral instead of physical.
Which brings me back around to 508. Accessibility requirements are increasingly accepted and strengthened, and that reflects the shift of work from physical to mental. Physical disabilities prevented many people from being able to work, when most work was based on muscles and movement. Today assistive technologies help remove the remaining physical barriers that a person with hearing, visual, or motor impairment might encounter. Most visible today is, of course, Dr. Stephen Hawking, a shining example of the triumph of the cerebral over the physical.
I have read science fiction since I was a child, and a recurring theme in the imaginings of the future is that shift from the physical to the mental in man’s evolution. In some cases it goes as far as losing the physical altogether – one of my favorites is The Last Question, by Isaac Asimov – but I wonder sometimes whether these are predictions or impellers. Do the imaginings of these speculative fiction authors change the mindset of those who read it, and result in the invention of technologies which do not exist? I have found myself reading about some new technology, and thinking to myself – did they just now come up with that? In my head it has existed for decades, because someone made it real for me on a page or a screen. Read about the technology of Star trek – Geordie’s visor is within our grasp.
Technology and imagination will continue to wear away at the physical barriers. As these barriers fall, perceptions change, and society as a whole can become more inclusive of all of its members.