Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Accessible design and the law: a personal vision

Brenda Rotzoll with editor Bob Mutter at a 2013 Chicago Sun-Times alumni dinner.

Web accessibility law is still sketchy but best-practice guidelines are clear, and users are your co-workers.

Without realizing it, I watched one of my co-workers go blind.

These things can happen slowly. Brenda Rotzoll was quite nearsighted as a Chicago Sun-Times feature writer. She never gave up her big 1990s-style glasses, and in a newsroom if you're not wearing glasses chances are you have contact lenses. As a reporter in the field, Brenda would take notes on a laptop computer. That was a new practice, and more reliable for her. One reason was that she was developing cataracts.

After surgery, Brenda was diagnosed with degenerative myopia. Her peripheral vision was good, but straightaway it was fuzzy. About 2 percent of the population has this severe form of nearsightedness, and the Macula Vision Research Foundation says it's the leading cause of blindness in adults 50 and older.

A few years after the diagnosis, Brenda was legally blind. She adopted special equipment for work, but impaired vision did not stop her; she had become the local expert on the Asian long-horned beetle, the inch-long insects that were infesting trees across the city.

These days special computers are no longer necessary to resolve many vision problems, or for that matter hearing or mobility issues. Anyone can change their computer's font size, colors and contrast, display closed captions or set up keybord shortcuts. Siri will read your email aloud.