BlindSpeak:Is It Always Understood

There are some words that we use within the blind community that do not make any sense outside of that sphere. Accessible is one such word.


When used within the blind community accessible relates to technology which has some form of text-to-speech system built into its interface. We regard smart phones and tablets as being accessible if they have an application such as talkback installed. This also applies to talking microwave ovens and anything else that is voiced that helps blind people use it easily.

However, if you look for the dictionary definition of accessible it means something totally different. If something is accessible it is within reach, attainable, or reachable. It could even pertain to a person being easy to talk to even if they were in a position of power. This can lead to a lot of confusion if you’re talking to somebody in a call centre and you are using the blind definition of accessible and they do not really grasp what you mean. This happened to me recently when I was discussing a smart metre from my energy company and I immediately used the word accessible expecting it to be understood that the metre would have some kind of voice feedback but a customer support agent thought I was using the word to mean that I wanted a smart metre that I could place in a position where I could reach it easily. There was a bit of confusion for a few minutes until I realised I was being misunderstood. So be careful when using this term so you do not reach a confusing situation like the one I was in.

Audio description

I thought this term would be easily understood, especially when I was communicating with people in the media but I soon found out that some people had no idea what I was talking about. To enjoy a television programme as a blind person the programme has to have audio description but when listening to TV reviews on the radio they never tell you whether it’s going to be audio described or not, with the exception of RNIB connect radio.

One week I decided to email a few radio programs that I knew did reviews of forthcoming television programmes and I asked if they could mention whether the programme was going to be audio described or not as I believed a lot of blind people would really appreciate this information as the TV reviews would otherwise be totally meaningless. I got three replies, one stated that the review was an audio description of the programme and that they did not know what I meant, one apologised and said they would look into providing this service in the future andthe third came out with the classic comment that they didn’t realise sublime people watched the television.

Screen readers

This often gets mixed up with audio description even though they are totally different. A lot of people do not know that they exist and if you try to explain that a button on a company’s website is not labelled for a screen reader to read you can get yourself into a real mess trying to explain what you mean as they will swear blind that the label on the button is there and it doesn’t say button, which of course unlabelled buttons do say via a screen reader. After my bank redesigned their website recently I called to say that my screen reader was having trouble with the pop-ups and that some of the fields where information had to be entered just stated required information and not what the required information was. Her first question was regarding if the screen reader was specialist software sent to me by the bank and when I said no she said that it was not the banks problem if third-party applications did not work with their website. I responded with the fact that it is the job of their software developers to work within the web accessibility guidelines otherwise say will be open to disability discrimination. She then entered a polite discussion about the problem.

The thing is to remember that a lot of people have never met a blind person and have no idea what technology is available to help us navigate the world we live in. Therefore they have no idea about accessible phones, kitchen equipment, audio description and even talking glasses that help us read signposts and newspapers.