Hamlet and George Carlin

28 Mar

I got a bit a of a smack this week and was forced to rethink my definition of “disability”. According to Joe Clark and Mark Pilgrim, I’m a disabled computer user. I have a hard time seeing black text on a white background, and a lot of dark text on darker backgrounds. I need a softer difference between the two. On the one hand, it’s good to know I’m not alone. On the other hand, I feel denser than usual for not considering issues with viewing color as a disability. It never occurred to me that people who are red-green colorblind would have issues with things like horizontal stoplights – although it made complete sense the moment I thought about it. My idea of using an image to represent various links needs a little rethinking and a good bit more underlying structure to work for a disabled user. I also need to remember that bandwidth is still an issue in most places – not everyone lives with a tech worker who needs high speed Internet access at home. I need to recognize that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy. (To paraphrase Hamlet.)

That being said, I also refuse to fall into the very trap that has captured me repeatedly this semester – over-analysis paralysis. While Clark made me wonder how much I can really understand the needs of a disabled user, Pilgrim provided great instruction for making websites more accessible. I will have to consider which techniques to implement and which to skip, but there is a lot of room for improvement in my site’s accessibility. Frankly, I found the simulation appalling – is that the best there is? REALLY? That’s terrible. But the most that I can do is to make my site more readable for the screen-reading technology that’s available.

And really, when we discuss audience, design, and information architecture, aren’t we already talking about accessibility?

*As a George Carlin fan, I had a major feeling of deja vu. While Carlin rails against the softening of language and its corresponding erasure of humanity, he’s also railing against excessive political correctness. The section from 4:15 – 5:30 covers his thoughts on disability terminology. (Beware – this is Carlin, although a cleaner version from an album, rather than a recording of a live show. Mildly NSFW for language after the selection.) But no matter who says it, it’s important to remember – terminology does matter. I just wish I could be half as funny.


Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Project, Readings


6 responses to “Hamlet and George Carlin

  1. Alexa Potter

    March 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Congratulations on your self-awareness. Regardless of how you define it, you telling me that the colors of my original website were difficult for you to see inspired me to change it, and to work with the font size and spacing to get it to a point that seemed reasonable for someone with visual impairment.

    One of the most interesting conversations I ever had was with the architect Michael Graves following his illness and confinement to a wheelchair. He hadn’t given much thought to accessibility in his previous designs; once in a wheelchair, he found that his own office, and many things he had built, were now unnavigable. He described the massive sea change his impairment had created in his work as an architect and designer, and his commitment to creating adaptive and beautiful environments and products for people in need. I suppose this might serve as an inspiration for making websites that are both beautiful and accessible.

  2. Carrie Tallichet

    March 29, 2011 at 7:48 am

    I can definitely relate to your “over analysis paralysis.” It may be that we never fully understand the needs a person with a disability may have when it comes to the internet, but there are some very practical steps that we can implement to improve our site. It may be that I don’t grasp how important some of these changes may be, but I can still apply them to my design and trust the site is more accessible for it.

  3. SashaCA2

    March 29, 2011 at 8:24 am

    As Alexa noted in her comment on Laura’s post about who Clark’s language was maybe designed to “inspire” us to immediately state that we have disabled friends this has been something I have been aware of for a long time. I have two cousins who are “disabled.” My first cousin, Elizabeth has a mild form of CP and while it is not as bad as it can be, last year when she was looking at Universities to go with, I had discussions with her and her parents that certain schools were automatically out of the running because of their poor design and lack of ramps (at the best of times, she still needs a walker and cannot go far on her own after going up stairs). My other cousin has been confined to a wheelchair from birth and I do not believe has ever said a word. Yet, she is a hilarious girl who’s personality shines through her. Despite this, I too have never really thought about what to do to my website to accomidate these users and have fallen into Zayna’s “over analysis paralysis” myself. These issues and design elements are definitely something we all need to consider and apply to our websites, but does there come a point when we sacrifice design or the goal of our site for these changes? Maybe there’s always a way, I don’t know. I just want to throw the question out there of where do we draw the line if the line needs to be drawn?

  4. Clayton Farrington

    March 29, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Thanks for bringing Professor Carlin (yes, professor, because, after all, why else would his bread and butter for all the years of his career have come from college campus tours?) into the discussion as a counterpoint to Clark. I have an excuse for having had limited experience with disabled people and that comes from the career I recently finished. I found that the military world, particularly when deployed, is populated almost exclusively by people who are almost super-enabled (can drink all night and still make it to work the next morning, after running three miles before work), and did I mention that they are almost all annoyingly young? It is a world from which the old and infirm have been eerily sanitized, and the physical standards the services enforce constantly keep people on edge.
    At the same time, the disabled people I did meet from the DoD civilian side were almost uniformly tougher than the people I was mostly around, and I may be overreaching, but I would venture to say that many of them would cast a skeptical eye at some of the language used to compartmentalize them. I posted a salient experience I had with one of them as a response on Laura’s Blog.

  5. eelvander

    March 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Thanks Zayna for the Carlin post! The English language grows and expands and its refreshing to hear it used for all its worth. And the opening bit about Shellshock to PTSD hit home for me, as I work at an office that’s designed to deal with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (, and if anyone is curious — I get all the uplifting diseases). Service members and veterans don’t want to be stigmatized and victimized by language, but they don’t want to be mollycoddled by them either. They don’t want to hide their disabilities or experiences, but they don’t want to have to constantly apologize for them or have them define them. Carlin and Clark are both refreshing in their discussion of how we describe someone who has physical and / or mental/emotional impairments without demonstrating our fear of them or pity of them.


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