I am currently typing this using the voice to speech feature on my laptop. I’ve played around with this feature in the past, but I’ve never quite understood its purpose until today.
About two weeks before the semester began, I got into a car accident. After being T-boned by not one, but two cars on a highway, I felt nothing more than unimaginably blessed to have made it out without any physical ailments. Although at first glance I suspected only whiplash, I later began to get headaches, forget little things, and found myself unable to do day-to-day activities. As it turned out, the impact had caused a concussion.
Most people associate concussions with things like sports injuries. According to the CDC, a concussion is any “type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. Concussions can also occur from a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth.” In fact, many professional football players have reported permanent brain damage because of frequent concussions. According to my doctor, my concussion is likely to be a semester-long problem.
But, I’m not writing this to teach you more about concussions, or to complain about how frustrating it is to even do as much as write this article. In fact, I’m here to appreciate that I only have to put up with these mental inconveniences for a few short months.
After making it through the first day of classes, I attempted to complete one of the many reading assignments I had already been assigned. I struggled through the short article that day by using a text to speech application in lieu of reading. However, the academic website I had to use for class did not allow me to copy-paste the text into my application, nor did it have any accessibility features of its own.
Electronic technology, media, and good old-fashioned reading have become an integral part of survival and everyday life. While learning, health, and technology have progressed at an impressively rapid rate because of these things, they have also created more frustrations for people with certain physical and mental disabilities.
Imagine for a moment what your everyday life would be like if you were dyslexic or visually impaired. Assignments, projects, or even simple things like texting, emailing, and other basic forms of communication would become overwhelmingly frustrating.
Realistically, there’s no way to be completely void of the frustration, but there are ways for abled creators to make the everyday lives of the disabled significantly easier. For example, that academic website I had to use for class could have taken the extra time to install a text to speech feature, or simply could have made their website compatible with screen readers. This particular website was more concerned with copyright and their paid website memberships than with students with disabilities who struggle every day to get the education they are most certainly capable of.
In a month or two, my life will go back to normal and I’ll be able to do every assignment and day-to-day activity with ease. However, hundreds and thousands of people face long-term complications, and most of these people have disabilities that we can’t physically see. It’s easy for the general public to ignore what’s not directly visible to them, especially when it comes to affairs of the mind.
Teachers: Take students’ health into account, whether it’s mental or physical. The more understanding you are, the easier it will be for them to learn and want to learn.
Web Developers: Put in a little extra time to write lines of text and code for accessibility features; it will make all the difference to those who need them.
Entrepreneurs: Put people before profits. Accessibility features aren’t the upgraded stereo in your new car. They are a necessity, not a bonus feature.
And lastly, to students, employees, and all people everywhere:
It’s okay to ask for help. Whether you have a physical disability, mental illness, or no disability at all, everyone needs help and support from others. It’s only human.