The Importance of Accessibility in Classrooms and Technical Communication
If you’re wondering why accessibility is important or better yet, wondering how to make documents accessible–you’ve come to the right place. Allison Hitt’s study highlights the importance of accessibility and inclusivity in technical communication. Specifically, Hitt opens up a dialogue about universal design (UD) for technical communication instructors, professionals, and students to redefine their perceptions about accessibility. Hitt connects her argument to other scholarly research within disability studies (Oswal & Meloncon, Colton & Walton, Pameri, etc.) to demonstrate a real-life application of UD in a writing course at the University of Central Arkansas.
For technical and professional communication practitioners, Hitt outlines her key lessons as a professor teaching students about accessible writing and design, while simultaneously making the course accessible as a whole. Hitt lists her four assignment strategies, “1) Persona for a university student with a disability, 2) Usability and accessibility protocols, 3) Team usability testing and recommendation report, and 4) University promotional video with captions and accessible transcript” (57). Each of these strategies uniquely expand on accessibility by challenging students’ assumptions about user experiences; asking students to create flexible protocols that are comprehensive, well written, and well designed; implementing these protocols for a specific digital text; and finally, allowing students to create their own accessible digital texts by producing promotional videos. All things considered, technical communicators can greatly improve their own understanding of accessibility by further exploring these four strategies, findings, and results in Hitt’s article.
Technical communication professionals can apply Hitt’s lessons to their workplace environments by teaching others how to be mindful about universal writing, designing, and communicating to diverse audience groups. Instead of viewing accessibility as an “add-on,” or something “separate” from everyday life, Hitt argues that incorporating UD will “encourage designers to incorporate disability into considerations of usability, rather than treating it in isolation” (55). In other words, accessibility should be viewed beyond a legal requirement or an additive to society’s “norm.” Instead, people should make a “socially just, ethical commitment to creating a rich rhetorical experience for a range of diverse users” (62).
Personally, this article deepened my own understanding of accessibility, especially after taking numerous American Sign Language (ASL) classes and stepping into the Deaf community at Texas State University. I strongly agree with Hitt’s argument to prevent stereotypes by educating others through people’s experiences with disabilities. I experienced this first hand learning ASL and embracing a different community outside my own. Hitt’s work taught me how “Disability is often stereotyped as a monolithic identity” and reinforced the benefits of accessible closed captions. Overall, this article was a great stepping stone connecting my past ASL experiences to my current lessons and knowledge about technical communication.
In the future, people should ensure accessibility to all users whether it’s in the workplace, designing technical documents, or creating school curriculum. As a collective community, understanding accessibility and inclusive universal design will normalize disability to automatically include options such as closed-captions, transcripts, and color contrast on electronic documents to be more easily read across diverse audiences groups. Hopefully Allison Hitt’s research encourages technical communicators to see from different perspectives and apply these real-life scenarios to their own work.
Viewpoint Written by Grace Larner, Texas State University
Edited by Erica Lies, Texas State University