Friday, September 18, 2009

Accessibility is more than technology

I am using this space to "rant" a bit about the technically sophisticated but "content and organizationally-challenged" website for the Social Security Administration -- and since the term "accessibility" is on the blog, I'm going for it.

The SSA website is accessible -- in fact, more accessible than most -- with options for users with vision impairments (larger text), Spanish language, and alternatives including phone. Even high-contrast (black text on white) with color used to support navigation.

The big, embarrassing issue is content organization. I have a simple question: "Are my kids eligible for survivor benefits?" The question is even found on this page, and it appears that I need to apply. But when you get to that link, there's nothing about survivor benefits. I did not expect a direct answer on a website since my one child is a survivor and has a disability.

So I tried the phone system, with a speaker phone so I could do some work while waiting on hold. Not only did I wait, but the system -- not a person -- hung up on me -- twice.

My father worked for the Social Security Administration, and now I realize the value of his work. The sad part is that his job could have been more productive if he had computing tools that should exist but did not in his day.

I suspect that the existence of an "accessible website" has convinced the SSA that they do not need as many feet on the ground -- but are they wrong. In this case, a poor tool is worse than no tool since it seems I cannot connect, using 20th century technology (i.e., phone), with someone like my father for help.

Thanks for letting me vent a bit.