Today, Polio has been entirely expunged from the United States thanks to the Polio vaccine developed in 1955. Backtrack a century or so, however, and the poliovirus was a major health concern for Americans far and wide. During the first half of the 20th century thousands of Americans would contract Polio annually, an awful infectious disease capable of resulting in paralysis and meningitis in certain patients. Back in those days it wasn’t unusual for concerned parents to keep their kids from visiting crowded parks or playgrounds over polio-related fears.
Unfortunately the rollout of the vaccine didn’t come in time to help a young Ronald Mace who contracted polio in 1950 at the age of nine. After a year spent in the hospital Mace recovered but found himself confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Mace would go on to study architecture at North Carolina State University, but his time spent there revealed the harsh reality of living with a disability at that time. The vast majority of campus facilities were impossible for him to enter using his wheelchair, and he even had to be carried up and down staircases in order to attend classes.
Those experiences inspired Mace to put his architectural expertise to use by developing the concept of universal design. At its core, universal design is all about constructing buildings, rooms, products, and communications that are accessible to everyone regardless of any disabilities or other relevant hindrances.
Curb cuts on sidewalks, entranceway ramps instead of staircases, and lever handles for opening doors instead of twisting knobs are just a few of the most well known examples of universal design when it comes to building constructions. But, universal design can also apply to virtually any tool or product optimized to promote easy use among all; buttons that can be recognized by touch alone, tools that don’t require a tight grip, and even closed captioning on TV shows and movies.
The evolution of accessibility
Jump ahead a bit, and the accessibility efforts jumpstarted by Ronald Mace helped pave the way for the Americans with Disabilities Act. Signed into law in 1990, the ADA is all about ensuring that anyone with any type of disability avoids discrimination and enjoys the same access to basic services and opportunities like public accommodations and transportation, government programs, and employment.
Of course, a whole lot has changed in the world since 1990, and recent decades have seen the rise of a much more distinctly modern form of accessibility employment arrive on the scene: Online Content Accessibility.
Just like a construction accessibility specialist works to make sure bathroom doorways are wide enough for wheelchairs, digital accessibility jobs are tasked with making sure a company’s website and entire online presence and UX is appealing, inoffensive, and able to be understood regardless of any common disabilities (vision issues, deafness, etc). A truly accessible website should feature screen readers for blind users and text-based browsers for people with serious vision problems.
Per the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, a set of recommendations on how best to produce and present accessible online content released by the World Wide Web Consortium, the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web, four key principles should be followed to achieve maximum accessibility: Online content should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
The importance of working in accessibility
The accessibility industry has never been more relevant than it is today. Inclusion is a top priority in today’s world, as it should be, and working in an accessibility job is a great way to promote a more level playing field in life for everyone.
When one stops to consider the unbelievable hardships Ronald Mace had to endure decades ago as a college student on a campus with virtually no infrastructure to support his disability it becomes crystal clear why accessibility is a noble career path holding supremely important implications.
A career in accessibility is centered on breaking down the barriers (sometimes literally) hindering people from enjoying the same amenities and career opportunities the rest of us take for granted. Even better, there are plenty of accessibility jobs out there to choose from, depending on one’s expertise; accessibility testing, accessibility consulting, and accessibility engineering, just to name a few.
Looking for greater access to more accessibility job openings? Take a look at Ladder’s new job search filter and begin the next chapter of your career today.