Accessibility is not optional

One of the many changes enacted in the first few weeks of the Biden administration was the addition of a sign language interpreter at daily press briefings. This change represents a significant shift from the past four years when interpreters were not regularly present at White House releases, including COVID-19 briefings, until a lawsuit from the National Association of the Deaf in September 2020.

Of course, this decision is a step in the right direction and is being praised as such. All people should have access to the resources needed to make any and all information and content accessible to them. But why is this a cause for celebration? Why is basic accessibility being considered an accomplishment in 2021? The interpreter situation at the White House is a microcosm of a much larger issue present in all facets of life; the idea that basic accessibility is an option, rather than the bare minimum. Instead of being essential, it is considered to be a “nice thing to have.” 

The need for inclusion extends further than just essential information. Media platforms continue to fall short in offering disabled people the opportunity to consume entertainment-related content as well. Consider TikTok, one of the most popular social mediums at the moment. While some users go out of their way to use third-party apps or insert them manually with the text option, TikTok still fails to provide any in-app features for adding captions. For an entirely video-focused app, this missing asset renders it unusable to countless individuals who require closed captioning.

It is crucial that we continue to put pressure everywhere where accessibility is lacking; content will not change unless users show their dissatisfaction and force establishments to adapt. In the meantime, some measures can be taken to aid in accessibility on the individual level; regardless of your platform, it is essential that everyone plays their part in setting a precedent for how content needs to be presented. Making image descriptions for Instagram posts and tweets, captioning videos across platforms and making transcripts easily accessible for your content are some steps you can take to ensure it is accessible for all.

Above all, listen and adapt when disabled people deem content inaccessible. Nobody can speak better on this issue than those who actually depend on it. All non-disabled people are responsible for playing their part in making the world more usable to all. Amplify the voices of disabled people, and demonstrate legitimate allyship by advocating for change on the larger level.