I can’t remember the last time my phone wasn’t on silent. I, like many people, at some point in the mid-2000s, switched from turning my phone to vibrate in movie theaters to only turning it off vibrate in very specific circumstances. Why? Because vibrate is just better. It’s just as noticeable since we all keep our phones close by if not on our person, it’s less disruptive, and, especially if you have a wearable (apple watch, etc.), you quickly wind up in a situation where you never really need to turn on the volume of your phone ever again.
Leaving your phone on vibrate is similar to leaving your apps in dark mode or the subtitles on tv shows, even when you have the volume up and speak the language. None of those things were designed as the default, but they have become the default for many because they’re easier. Dark mode saves battery, and subtitles help you catch details you might have missed.
All of these things also only exist because of disability advocacy. Silent mode, subtitles, and different light modes on screens are all a result of efforts by people with disabilities to make technology accessible to them. For the most part, the people creating those technologies fought tooth and nail to not have to implement those features because they were expensive and for what they saw as a small segment of the population. But the funny thing about accessibility is that it often makes the technology better for everyone.
From a consumer experience perspective, when you make accommodations for the few, you improve everyone’s experience. It costs money, sure, but the returns are exponential, not just for those the features are designed for, but for everyone. According to video game industry professionals, upwards of 80% of players of first-person shooter games play with subtitles on. The model user of audio accessibility features in video games is not hard-of-hearing players but new dads trying not to wake the baby. As a mom of new babies, and a wife of a frequent player of video games, I am understandably grateful that, whether by law or by choice, games are designed with accessibility for hard-of-hearing people in mind.
Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.Matthew 25:40
This week, consider:
- Where are you being called to do things the harder way to help more people?
- Where can you do something for the least of those around you with the faith the returns will be magnified?
- Where can you make your work and events more oriented towards those normally left out?
- What can you do to intentionally make your space more accessible for those with disabilities, with the belief that it will help everyone?
Wheelchair ramps are vital for people using mobility aids, but they are also helpful for people with strollers. Subtitles on worship services make them accessible to people who are hard of hearing but also help more members of your congregation engage with the words of songs you sing and can increase comprehension when scriptures are read.
Adding accessibility after the fact is more challenging than designing your program, space, or organization with it in mind. So as you look at launching something, think through all of the places where you can open the doors a little wider and rethink how you’ve set up to make it more accessible.
When we do the best we can for those on the margins of our society, we all wind up with a better experience, and we may very well make our places a bit more open to the love of Christ as well.