71.2 May 2024

Review of Three Books on [Resistance to] Accessibility

By Gregory Zobel

Administrators, bureaucrats, and service providers determine whether people with disabilities are given equal access to meaning, spaces, places, transit, and jobs. Compared to this power, accessibility policies matter little. People with disabilities are valued less than people without disabilities. This negative portrait is painted and substantiated in two of the three books on accessibility and technology that I reviewed. Their point is clear: there is much work left to do. Fortunately, accessibility practices are not Dorian Gray; all is not lost. Despite the serious problems covered, all three books offer multiple solutions for overcoming individual and institutional resistance to providing meaningful accessibility.

More than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech

Meredith Broussard presents a well-articulated argument that technology is not just occasionally flawed but fundamentally biased. She argues this bias reflects society’s inherent bias; those who create technology often embed their own biases, whether consciously or not, in that technology. Broussard moves beyond observation and dives deep into the technology’s systemic issues. She critiques multiple fields, including AI, policing, medicine, and education. For educators, each chapter is a stand-alone exploration, making the book a valuable reading resource across different disciplines.

Technochauvinism is Broussard’s central concept and frame. This idea critiques notions of technology’s inherent superiority and neutrality; it challenges the assumption that technology, being “data-driven” and crafted by scientists, is free of human bias. Broussard forcefully argues against this throughout the book. She highlights that technology developers–usually homogeneous groups of computer scientists and engineers—carry their own, often unquestioned and unacknowledged, biases and limitations.

On accessibility, Broussard highlights that new technologies are seldom designed with all users in mind. She shows that making technology accessible is often an afterthought, not a priority. This approach reveals a lack of commitment to solving real problems faced by users, particularly those with disabilities. Rather engineers and scientists focus only on addressing issues they perceive as problems. Thus, the designers ignore the needs of a broader user base. Exacerbating the problem, Broussard states, is most engineers’ and computer scientists’ limited to nearly non-existent ethical training.

Broussard’s work is valuable for accessibility professionals because it helps frame how accessibility challenges and problems are not stand-alone. Rather, accessible technology problems are just one of many symptoms created by technochauvinism and its low-to-no ethical standards.

Broussard proposes several solutions to these systemic issues. These include designing with the aim of solving real problems faced by people, especially those often marginalized. She advocates for a focus on designing for justice, meaning inclusivity should be integral from the beginning rather than an add-on. Understanding and acknowledging technology’s inherent problems is another critical step. This involves working closely with diverse communities to understand and address their specific needs.

Accessibility Denied. Understanding Inaccessibility and Everyday Resistance to Inclusion for Persons with Disabilities

Hanna Egard, Kristofer Hansson, and David Wästerfors’ edited anthology takes a critical look at the Nordic countries’ treatment of accessibility. These countries are often idealized for their strong economies and social welfare systems. The collection dispels this myth by highlighting persistent accessibility and inclusion issues for people with disabilities, despite these countries’ adherence to the Convention on Rights for People with Disabilities (CRPD) and their national legislation. (The US has still not signed the CRPD as of November 2023).

The book’s detailed explorations of daily life challenges for people with disabilities is its strength. It offers specific examples, such as the analysis of customer complaints regarding transportation accessibility and the efforts of “citizen detectives” to address local accessibility issues. Faces, lives, and places impacted by denied accessibility become real. These granular views of lived individual and collective experiences of people with disabilities move the discussion from abstract to concrete realities.

These views help concretize the tangible gap between policy and practice. The chapters show various types of damage done despite progressive policies and inclusive public statements. For example, in examining living arrangements and group homes for adults with more significant disabilities, the authors show how lives are often shaped and directed not by their own volition, but by the logistical needs and personal preferences of caregivers and service providers. This mirrors Broussard’s point that technology solutions are often developed based on the creators’ perspectives and needs rather than those of the users.

The book shows that, while policies may exist, implementation is frequently lacking: accessibility is treated as an add-on rather than a right. The research also underscores when there is implementation, the accessibility efforts’ are often tokenistic. This mirrors Broussard’s observations on technology, where accessibility features are often retrofitted rather than integrated from the start.

Many solutions are included, be that proactive resistance, self-advocacy, or citizen activism at the local and micro level. The book demonstrates the editors’ commitment to accessibility because it’s available for free as an Open Access text. Holistically, the book includes multiple theoretical perspectives and robust academic language—thus it is most suitable for academic researchers and graduate students. That said, people working within large organizations—especially government—would benefit from reading at least one or two chapters. This could, perhaps, increase understanding that while having an accessibility policy is better than no policy, that policy needs to not just be acted on—it needs to have people who own responsibility and accountability for enforcing it.

Guide to Digital Accessibility: Policies, Practices, and Professional Development

Rae Mancilla and Barbara A. Frey’s collection is a significant exploration of digital accessibility in higher education. The book is divided into four sections, covering accessibility’s background, policy, course development, and professional development. The use of quick-response (QR) codes to provide additional resources and the book’s accessible style set this collection apart for its ability to be both practical and useful.

Most of the 23 chapters offer solid advice for improving digital accessibility, such as detailed methods for enhancing closed captioning in university courses. Multiple chapters describe various tools for making digital content more accessible. This offers multiple starting points for people who want to enhance their tool sets or get started increasing accessibility now. The professional development (PD) section is particularly relevant. While several chapters address the need to increase accessibility’s social validity among faculty and staff, a key component in creating a more inclusive campus environment, they also offer numerous approaches and ways to offer PD for staff, faculty, and administrators for institutions of varying sizes and climates.

This book could be used by individual contractors, instructional designers, faculty, and trainers for an array of situations. Whether it’s to offer concise explanations to professionals new to accessibility, developing relevant focused training, or skilling up as an individual—that content is here. Additionally, at least 15 chapters could easily stand on their own and be used in advanced undergraduate or graduate courses.

Despite the book’s toolkit approach to the core facets of digital accessibility, it ignores accessibility’s most important issue: funding. There was not a single significant reference, discussion, or suggestion on how to persuasively argue for, or obtain, funding for increased accessibility work. Those working in related fields of inclusion, disability services, and accessibility know how readily many organizations speak about these issues and develop policies but provide little or no funding. This leaves most of the material and emotional labor to be done by a few: usually people the policies are meant to support and include. This must be addressed. It’s disheartening to see so many suggestions or offerings, yet no indication of how to fund or make them happen.

The editors and authors of this book are not alone. There was also little to no discussion of effective advocacy methods and strategies for increased funding in any of the books reviewed. It’s not clear if that’s a sign of few people having success obtaining funding for accessibility or if those who have succeeded just have not had the time or ability to share their insights, resources, and approaches.


Broussard, Meredith. (2023). More than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech. MIT Press. [ISBN 978-0-262-04765-4. 242 pages, including index. US$26.95 (hardcover).]

Egard, Hanna, Kristofer Hansson, and David Wästerfors, eds. (2022). Accessibility Denied. Inaccessibility and Everyday Resistance to Inclusion for Persons with Disabilities. Routledge. [ISBN 978-0-3676-3730-9. 218 pages, including index. US$52.95 [open access version available] (softcover).]

Mancilla, Rae and Frey, Barbara, A, eds. (2023). Guide to Digital Accessibility: Policies, Practices, and Professional Development. Stylus. [ISBN 978-1-6426-7453-8. 319 pages, including index. US$39.95 (softcover).]

Table 1: Accessibility books compared

About the Author

Gregory Zobel is an associate professor of educational technology at Western Oregon University. He directs a Learning Design & Technology graduate program that emphasizes accessibility.