Left in the dark
I am a student, a dreamer, and a young Filipino. I am also blind.
My world is shrouded in darkness, but that has never stopped me from pursuing my goals and aspirations. In this modern age of technology, I have found solace in the digital realm, where information and opportunities are plentiful. However, my journey has been marred with frustrations and struggles, as many major apps in the Philippines are inaccessible to visually impaired individuals like myself. The question begs to be asked: If global tech giants like Microsoft and Google can implement accessibility, why can’t our local developers do the same?
In my daily life, I rely on assistive technology like screen readers to navigate the digital world. This software reads the contents of a screen aloud, allowing me to access websites, emails, and apps. However, when apps are not designed with accessibility in mind, my screen reader encounters barriers, rendering the app virtually unusable.
I remember the day I first tried to use the Shopee app. I wanted to buy a new mechanical keyboard, and Shopee seemed to be the go-to platform for online shopping. Excitedly, I opened the app, only to be met with a barrage of frustration.
Navigating the app’s interface was a nightmare. Buttons were unlabeled, and the screen reader could not decipher the items on display. I had to use the website, which was not any better, as there was no proper way for me to input a delivery address. I just gave up and asked my parents to order it for me. It was a sobering experience, a stark reminder of the limitations imposed by my disability. Sadly, this was not a new experience for me. Time and again, I face this barrier to enjoying the benefits of certain apps.
My struggle is not an isolated case. Thousands of visually impaired Filipinos face similar challenges daily. In a country where the internet is a vital tool for communication, education, and business, the inaccessibility of these apps is a major hindrance to our full participation in society.
Accessibility should not be an afterthought. It is a fundamental right and a necessary component of an inclusive society. The Philippines is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which explicitly recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to access information and communication technologies. However, despite this commitment, our local app developers have been slow to implement accessibility features.
Furthermore, web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG2.0) were already published in 2008. These guidelines are a set of recommended design principles published by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative, that when followed make web and app content more accessible to persons with disabilities (PWDs). There is no reason for local app developers to ignore these standards, as they have already been adopted by most websites around the world.
It is high time that the Philippine government takes meaningful action to address this issue. We need stronger laws that require app developers to prioritize accessibility features and adopt the WCAG2.0 standard, ensuring that no Filipino is left behind in the digital age. If we truly want an inclusive society, a society that recognizes all of our differences, then we must take meaningful action by taking this first step.
I urge our lawmakers, app developers, and society as a whole to recognize the importance of digital accessibility. We must work together to create an inclusive digital environment that enables visually impaired individuals to enjoy the same opportunities as our sighted peers.
If the likes of Microsoft and Google can make accessibility a priority, there is no reason why our local developers cannot do the same. I truly have faith in our developers to follow these tech giants’ footsteps in the strive to make their services accessible for PWDs. Let us break down the barriers that hold us back and build a brighter, more inclusive future for all Filipinos, regardless of their abilities.
In the end, it is not just about making apps accessible; it is about empowering visually impaired individuals to live a life without limitations. Because, after all, we, too, have dreams to chase, goals to achieve, and a world to explore—even if it is one we cannot see.
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Lorenzo Juan A. Atencia, 17, is a Grade 11 student studying at Keys School Manila. He has a passion for technology and how it affects the lives of people. He dreams of a more inclusive Philippines.
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