Access Means Different Things to Different People

“’Access’ isn’t just yes or no, but really shades of accessibility, and has different dimesions.” (Access to Open Educational Resources Wiki)

The definition of access from Merriam-Webster:

a: permission, liberty, or ability to enter, approach, or pass to and from a place or to approach or communicate with a person or thing b: freedom or ability to obtain or make use of something c: a way or means of access d: the act or an instance of accessing

Depending on who you are or where you are at in life, the word access has different meanings. UNESCO has a fantastic wiki page on Access to Open Educational Resources where they define a number of different types of access. Although written for a specific type of content (open educational resources), the types of access they have identified can be applied generally :

  • Awareness, Policy, Attitude, Cultural:
    • Access in terms of awareness.
    • Access in terms of local policy/attitude.
    • Access in terms of languages.
  • Legal
    • Access in terms of licensing.
  • Technical (Delivery Method)
    • Access in terms of file formats.
    • Access in terms of disability.
  • Technical (Receiving)
    • Access in terms of infrastructure.
    • Access in terms of internet connectivity/bandwidth.
    • Access in terms of discovery.
    • Access in terms of ability and skills.

Reading through the comments on the page, it is evident that in many parts of the world, access for users with disabilities is a secondary concern (at best). Without power, bandwidth or an even an Internet connnection no content cannot be accessed, so who care if is it accessible to users with disabilities?

When considering all of the different barriers that keep people from accessing content on the Internet, all of the sudden adding alternative text to an image doesn’t feel like such a big deal. Let’s keep working on an accessible web, but in the meantime let’s not forget that lots of people don’t have access to that content whether it is “accessible” or not.

Via Stephen Downes

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