A for accessibility: descriptor preferences of people with accessibility needs




Perlow, Ellen Jeanne Ilana

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This study explored the preferences and perceptions of fellow self-identifying adults with accessibility needs concerning American English accessibility-related descriptors, particularly in terms of the positively or negatively defined quality of the terminology. Participants quantitatively evaluated preference, or lack thereof, for sets of randomized researcher-provided and self-selected accessibility-related descriptors, and responded qualitatively to two open-ended questions about the research. As highlighted in a review of interdisciplinary literature and class member writings, the class continues to be detrimentally affected by the historic negativity of accessibility-related descriptors.

Informed consent involved participant voluntary self-identification as an adult, age 18 or older, with an accessibility need. Nature of accessibility need and other demographics purposely were not asked. Participant documents were available in multiple formats, including standard print, large print, Braille, electronic files including text-only versions, audiotaping, and sign language interpretation. Accessibility and protection of participant safety, comfort, privacy, and confidentiality were primary concerns. Quantitative data analysis measured participant descriptor rating and preference frequencies also in terms of descriptor negativity-by-definition, people-first language construction, descriptor culture, and intimated participant culture. Qualitative analysis employed grounded theory to generate common themes.

Participants' quantitative and narrative responses articulated a recognition of and lack of preference for numerous negative-by-definition current American English accessibility-related descriptors. A consistent pattern emerged between evaluations of researcher-provided and participant-generated descriptors. Negative-by-definition descriptors tended to be rated negatively and not preferred. More positively defined (not negative) descriptors considered euphemisms generated an expressed ambivalence, but if self-selected, received more positive ratings. Descriptors in people-first language [PFL] generally were preferred over not-PFL constructed terms, except in the case of not-PFL terms (i.e. "Deaf, blind"), self-selected by certain cultures. Common qualitatively analyzed themes were recognition of the overall negativity and disparaging impact of many class descriptors, the usefulness of the research, and a desire to change the status quo. In addition to replication of this study, continued accessibility research both by and for members of the class and proactive implementation of accessibility and universal design policies, the researcher recommended class application of health education's social marketing model to facilitate incorporation of positive standard American English descriptors, and thus positive imagery, into accessibility-related discourse.



Health, Linguistics, Health and environmental sciences, Language, literature, and linguistics, Accessibility, Descriptor, Health literacy, Informed consent, People-first language