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By John McKenna.
As a high usage customer of the Internet I would like to share with you just how the Internet has changed my outlook on life, as a person with mobility restrictions.
I was born 1962 with "baby blue eyes and many twisted limbs" (I have always thought this would make a great T-Shirt solgan). Over the years I have had extensive, successful, corrective surgery. However I still have problems with reaching, holding, turning, and can't weight-bear at all. Dispite this, there are some things I can do well - they include eating, drinking and spending money!
Access in the bricks and mortar world - what can I say? In my opinion it's been very slow. Transport, access to buildings and people's attitudes are still the main challengers for me.
1981, the International Year of the Disabled Person, was a real shaker and mover for access issues. More recently however, it is the Internet that has the potential to break down many access barriers. This new online world has given me the mobility I never had in the 'bricks and mortar' world.
Do you remember the day you first you got your driver's license? As I don't drive I can only guess it improved your life quite a bit. Well, multiply that feeling by ten! Because that's the feeling I got five years ago when I started using the Internet!
I would like to share a few everyday scenarios with you, before and after the Internet. The one main finding you will learn from these scenarios is the amount of pre-planning that happens before I can even attempt any of these situations.
The first questions I have to ask are: "Can I reach the pen & paper?" and "Can I find a stamp?". Now it's signed and sealed but not delivered - so off I go and sit by the letterbox - looking, waiting. Will someone have to get out of their car or will it be a dog walker who can help me reach the mailbox slot? Email has changed this and given me back my independence. Recently I also came across a web site called letterpost.com. This web site promotes itself as "snail mail for the Internet" and highlights an interesting point ie you don't have to use the Internet yourself to benefit. Letter post allows you to buy your stamps online, write your letter and send it to one of the many world wide mailing centres who print and post your letter for you.
This involves organising transport, access into shops, handling money, signing the visa card, selecting/seeing the product, carrying the product and finding the right aisle to get out. Today there are many online stores selling products from books, cd's, flowers, groceries, services, software and more. Online availability of supermarkets, such as Woolworths and Coles means you can select the products you want and have them delivered to your home.
The Travel Agency door opens, fear in their face, they pull the chair out from the desk; they start to tell you that their grandmother was in a wheelchair! You then start the story about how you shower and require roll in facilities. The Internet has offered me great peace of mind, as I can now see the room where I will be staying, before making a booking.
Recently, something has not been quite right. I've been tired when I wake up. In the past I would ring the doctor, then get on the referral assessment train again! This time however it is different, by going online to research why I was so tired every morning, the train trip is now much shorter. Yippee, I now find I have a new problem - I have sleep apnea!
Assessments, Assessments, Assessments. When I did finally get a job and become financially independent the Internet made it easier for me to keep abreast of new developments and communicate with others.
Is it quicker for me to buy one from a newsagents or to get it delivered then somehow try and pick it up from the ground? Where will I read it? How will I hold it and turn the pages? The list of questions goes on, and reading the headlines only can get quite boring! Now of course, most newspaper can be read on the Web.
Where do you go, is it accessible? Can they find the key for the back gate. If you ring and check they start by saying you can't go to the toilet. Voting online is already a reality, and soon should be available for major elections.
These seven scenarios give you a snapshot of how the Internet is helping people with mobility restrictions. As a person with mobility restrictions who has spent most of my life in a bricks and mortar world, trying to cope with a variety of inaccessibility issues, I am pleased and excited about how the architects of the online world are addressing web accessibility issues.
In this new online world I no longer have to scream from the bottom of a staircase to be heard. The challenge for all of us is to ensure that usability and accessibility are going to be key factors driving ongoing Web development and online planning strategies.
John McKenna currently works for Telstra. Prior to taking up his current position he has had fifteen years experience in marketing, retailing and wholesaling rehabilitation equipment for people with disabilities. He spent seven years as Manager of the Home Healthcare division of three Amcal pharmacies in Bendigo, as well as two years operating his own business catering for the needs of people with physical disabilities. He is a Past President of the Bendigo Lions Club and Chaired the IIA Web Accessibility Taskforce, responsible for developing the first industry web accessibility action plan. He also won the first ever anti-discrimination test case in Victoria against a Health and Fitness club, and remains committed to raising awareness and creating positive community attitudes towards people with disabilities.
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