Appendix A: Disability Explainer A:

Disability Explainer


  • TAB, for “temporarily able bodied”, the principle that everybody who lives long enough will be disabled somehow. Disability is the only minority anybody can join at any moment.
  • “PwD” denotes a “person with a disability” or “people with disabilities”, using the person-first style of writing.
  • Person with “low vision” covers terms like “visually impaired”, “legally blind”, “visually challenged” to suggest that (1) the person requires some adjustment compared with fully sighted persons and (2) the person has the skills to recommend and execute the adjustments.

“Vision rehabilitation”

  • “Vision rehabilitation” is the process guided by certified rehabilitation trainers to best use residual sight and learn alternative ways of living.
  • “Orientation and Mobility” Training” (OMT)”, getting around safely and independently using a low-cost long white cane or guide dog. Orientation refers to the ability to determine one’s surroundings to reach a physical goal, in home or on streets. Safety and eventual ease of movement are paramount concerns.
  • “Active Daily Living” (ADL)”, denotes a set of skills that enable cooking, paying bills, organizing things, gaining entertainment, etc. Examples: using stick-on raised dots to mark microwave oven buttons, a form for writing signatures, remote controls that work.

disability barriers

  • “Universal design”, the concept of considering all factors of human abilities along with design goals and constraints to make the designed thing work well for everybody. A corollary is the “curb cuts” principle” that often an adjustment for persons with disabilities benefits everybody. Note that a safe curb cut must still specify a street boundary and a safe crossing space.
  • “Assistive Technology” provides alternative ways of getting information and performing tasks. Examples: listening instead of seeing for reading, breathing into a straw to signal a keystroke, sign language to replace hearing, generally using alternative senses and activators.
  • “Accessibility” means designing things to make assistive technology work well when people are properly trained and have necessary skills.
  • “Web accessibility” applies to principles of designing for web page navigation, form filling, picture understanding, and text clarity, as prescribed by the W3 standards.
  • “CAPTCHA, for Completely Automated thingy to tell humans from automata”. These squiggly lines and garbled speech are used to avoid extraneous comments, account requests, and user entries. They also read as “NO BLIND WANTED”.

“Medical Model” versus “Social Model”

  • In the medical world, the PwD is deficient, requiring medical fixes under Medicare and insurance treatments. Doctors often tell patients when treatments fail that “nothing more can be done”, ignoring vision rehabilitation and assistive technology.
  • The social Model looks at what is wrong with buildings, street signs, reading materials, etc. and ass how these might be designed and built differently to equalize the PwD with every other person. The social model also applies to ways vision loss adaptation is funded, by government agencies, charities, and out of pocket personal expenditures.

Summary: Medical says “fix the person”, social says “fix the environment”.

Community Support

  • To join the Twitter “accessibility water cooler”, check the #a1y or #accessibility hash tag. Attend an accessibility bar camp or Tweetup to meet some really great technologist and blind folks.
  • Podcasts from individuals, consumer organizations, vendors, and media organizations distributed around the Internet exemplify the social mode of learning and advocacy. Check out AFB (American Foundation for Blind), ACB (American Council for Blind), NFB (National Federation for Blind), MDSupport (Macular Degeneration Support), NLB (National Library for Blind, Digital Talking Books), BookShare.
  • A well-connected “oral culture” distributes excellent podcasts, e.g. “Eyes On Success”, “AppleVis”, “Blind Bargains”, “Hadley Institute”.
  • Good books are “Universal Design for Web Accessibility” by Chisholm and May and more Web Accessibility booklist from Webaxe.
  • Tutorials are frequent fromAccess U from
  • American Disability Act, ada.govfederally mandates city and commercial infrastructure that facilitates education and problem solving involving disabilities. Cities must have identified and capable Disability Coordinators, a complaint procedure, and publications to citizens regarding their rights and recourses. See
  • Note: Sally’s Disability Explainer derives from a blog “As Your World Changes blog and assistive technology advisory group “Catch the Vision”.

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