Invisible discrimination against the disabled

Have you walked into a store and found the layout makes less sense? How about running a computer software upgrade and then having to find where your most useful features have wandered off to? These can be minor annoyances to people who are not mobility, mentally or visually impaired but if you suffer from one or more of these disabilities, these changes can be downright frustrating or may make it impossible to complete a task.

In stores, many disabled people develop a plan in their head or on paper, where to find what items and how to get there. This plan often includes the easiest or shortest path to items, where to find them on the shelves and often roughly how much the item costs since most people with disabilities are on very restricted budgets. Changes to store layout, staffing and pricing can greatly effect people with disabilities by making it harder for them to get what they need. Certainly (unlike some other situations) stores have employees which may be able to help, however with stores hiring fewer floor staff, variations in training, and individual personalities, these employees can vary from very helpful to harassing. Most people with disabilities find this variation completely frustrating and attempt to avoid it as much as possible by finding their own people who can help them shop, or do their shopping for them.

Computer software is another area where change can cause great difficulty for people with disabilities; the visually impaired are often affected by this the most. Ever since the graphical user interface was popularized in the early 1980s, computers have moved away from text to relay information. Icons, animations, videos, sound effects and non-interactive screen elements are used to make the computer screens more pleasing to look at and occasionally easier to use by most users. However all these elements have the potential to be confusing, or can make using the computer more difficult for disabled users.

Companies can make the choice to serve as many people as possible, not just the average person. It really is not that hard. Change does not have to ruin the user experience. How do they go about this? Hire disabled people to work on your design teams. There are disabled people interested in the same things as everyone else. You can find people who are interested in all sorts of areas if you just look. Don’t rely on outside consultants or non-profits. These people need to be in-house, part of your regular team and not some token hire to make a quota or make you look socially responsible.

People with disabilities carry unique insights from their experiences dealing with their unique disabilities in a world which is not designed for them. You may find out that some of the changes asked for do not make life harder for the non-impaired but may, in fact, also help everyone. Automatic doors, talking kiosks, ramps and wider isles not only help the disabled but may make life easier for everyone.

It takes a lot of time, energy and money to deal with everyday living with a disability, so why would you want to make life harder? With a little thought, a little planning and a little empathy, you can make your small corner of the world a better place.

Don’t you think it is time for a change? The world’s disabled believe that it is long past time and they are ready, willing and able to help.