Appendix 2: Disability 101 Explainer

A sidebar from the novel “A Chip On Her Shoulder”. Sally’ Disability Primer derives from “As Your World Changes blog.

Disability Terminology


  • TAB (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.

  • “Medical Model” versus “Social Model”.

    • In the medical world, the Vision Loser is deficient, requiring medical fixes and unlimited Medicare and insurance treatments, if possible. 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 Vision Loser 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”.

“Vision rehabilitation”


  • the process of guidance by certified rehabilitation trainers to best use residual sight and learn alternative ways of living. This requires about 3 months full-time residential living and training for the full course or a steady progression of courses in a local facility over months and years. Podcasts exhibiting the social model may substitute for direct training.
  • “Orientation and Mobility Training (OMT)”, getting around safely and independently using a low-cost long white cane or expensive 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)”, 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.

Erasing disability barriers


  • “Universal design”, the practice 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”, 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”, designing things to make assistive technology work well when people are properly trained and have necessary equipment. 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” signs.

Community Support


  • To join the Twitter “accessibility water cooler”, check the #a1y or #accessibility hashtags. 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 on the Internet exemplify the social mode of learning, a well-connected “oral culture”
  • Good books are (1) by Chisholm and May and (2) by Horton and Quisenberry. Tutorials are frequently offered by AccessU from Knobility (Austin TX) and CSUN (held in San Diego).
  • A.D.A, the American Disability Act, federally 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 notices to citizens regarding their rights and recourses. See http://ada.gov.