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 Separate but Equal from an E&IT Standpoint

July 22, 2009

By Steve Jacobs




        When I became involved in the information technology (IT) industry (over 35 years ago), I subscribed to the principles of universal design without realizing it. Universal Electronic and Information Technology (E&IT) design describes the process of designing and developing E&IT in a manner that makes it usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

        Someone recently asked my opinion about the consequences of using two systems simultaneously, one that is inaccessible and was designed for people without disabilities and a second to accommodate the “special” access needs of individuals with disabilities. My thoughts are as follows.

        Organizations that opt to use inaccessible systems in parallel with another system designed to handle the “special” access needs of people with disabilities unintentionally help developers of inaccessible E&IT products and services justify doing absolutely nothing to accommodate the access needs of people with disabilities.

        Unfortunately, “parallel system” strategies support and reinforce the development and use of inaccessible E&IT. 

        Even more unfortunate, “parallel system” strategies promote and support the philosophy that "Separate but Equal" is OK. It completely goes against the fabric of what universal E&IT design practices are all about.

        When it comes to accommodating the technology access needs of people with disabilities, "Separate but Equal" has a very ugly history in our country. Separate is NOT Equal. “Separate but Equal” is NOT OK. “Universal Design for All” is equal. 

        The quality-of-life, independence, education and employability of people with disabilities are negatively impacted every time developers release inaccessible E&IT products and services into the marketplace. Don’t help them by embracing “Separate but Equal” practices.

        Parallel system strategies promote this injustice by making it easy for E&IT developers to continue to ignore the access needs of people with disabilities.

        As we move into an era when events that were impossible yesterday are the reality of today, let’s carry forward the same tradition on the accessibly designed E&IT front.

        For the past 35 years I have done everything in my power to change corporate attitudes and the manners in which E&IT is designed by walking the talk. Want to help me get my message across to developers of inaccessible E&IT?

        Don’t buy their products!  Most important, don’t invest our precious federal tax dollars in acquiring inaccessible E&IT products and services.  It’s that simple.

Steve Jacobs, President
IDEAL Group, Inc.

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