Accessibility, it's good for everyone. Isn't it?

Published on May 8, 2023


Some disabled people object to saying accessibility is good for everyone. I have used that argument for a long time. I will continue to do so because I think it works. And I don't think it erases the disability experience, if it's done well.

Does advocating for accessibility on the basis of “it’s good for everyone” erase the disabled experience?

There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not accessibility should be “sold” with the argument of “it’s good for everyone”. Myself, I’ll sell accessibility any way I can. Because it’s more important to me that something be accessible than the reason for which it became accessible. But there are many disability rights activists who feel differently.

Four white icons on blue background, representing hearing impairments, vision impairments, mobility impairments, and cognitive impairments. The word Everyone is at the top of the image.

There are many advocates who think that pushing accessibility from any other perspective than “it’s for disabled people” erases the disability experience. I understand their logic. I don’t entirely disagree with them. And yet…

I was “selling” curb cuts in the 90’s to various municipalities by pointing out that they are critical for mobility impaired folks. And curb cuts are also beneficial for parents with strollers, kids on skates, delivery folks with dollies, etc.

I will still use similar arguments of “good for everyone” when arguing in favor of accessibility. These days I focus on digital accessibility more than physical accessibility. But the basics are the same.

To a point, I don’t care why an organization makes their site accessible. As long as it is accessible. That, to me, is the ultimate goal: Making sure that websites and applications can be used by disabled folks.

My first argument when I speak about accessibility isn’t how it’s good for everyone. I do center disabled people and the disability experience, first and foremost.

Yet, just like I was doing in the 90’s for curb cuts, I’ll talk about how digital accessibility benefits other people than disabled folks.

It’s not about trying to convince stakeholders by presenting them with “how many more people will benefit from this change”. It’s about tying disability access to an experience they can digest more easily. Let’s face it, most corporate stakeholders don’t have a personal experience of disability. Chances are they won’t be able to directly relate if I tell them that “folks with low vision need better contrast to perceive elements on a page”. It’s likely that they’ll get the idea if I tell them “good contrast also helps you better perceive content on a mobile device in bright sun”.

Let’s not forget there are legal requirements for accessibility for many websites. But you know… I’d rather use the argument that accessibility is good for everyone rather than dangle the thread of a lawsuit over them.

Perhaps it’s a bit like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Where I’m still at a stage where I need things to be accessible, before I worry about the “erasure” of disabled folks. You have to be able to eat and have a roof over your head before you can work on self-actualization.

Things do change over time. I might come to feel differently in time. Or not.

The thing is… Maybe having a range of people approaching “why accessibility” in different ways is what will ultimately get us to where we want to be. Maybe we need to work on this as a group effort, with each using our own tactics. Maybe if we did that rather than belittle or attack other disability rights advocates, maybe we’d get further. Maybe spending our energy towards advocacy and awareness would be more effective than spending our energy towards convincing other advocates that they do it wrong.