What’s the issue?
Too many history apps and projects are wildly inaccessible to the disabled, despite having all the right tools for creating an accessible, usable app that includes people with a wide range of disabilities. This is especially true of digital tools focused on the LGBTQ community: far too many rely on utilizing simplified, text-and-photo methods for their content, and those with on-site elements often forget the limitations of mobility issues and access many in the LGBTQ community have.
According to the National Institutes of Health, non-heterosexual-identified individuals are more likely to be disabled, and are more likely to experience bias and bullying. As a result, any effort to create public-facing community deliverables must address the disabled community. These considerations should be made honestly and at the fore of any project and should not be limited to general acknowledgement of certain high-profile disabilities.
One high-tech but immensely informative project that seems promising is the Shipwreck Alley app. This app, utilizing the TourBuddy platform and various data triggers called ibeacons, allows visitors to experience various shipwrecks while having these wrecks described to them. For those who need accommodations, the app also offers a voiceover mode. The app works fairly well, and although it’s not exactly one to criticize on colorblindness levels as its color scheme is fairly accessible, that is one consideration to make when reviewing an app.
qAccess would utilize existing queer histories in various cities to create accessible, functional histories. Using either GPS or the ibeacons, the app would allow users to plot out a path to various important sites, interesting histories, and varied narratives within the community. For those that are mobility impaired, the options would include a virtual tour that narrates the tour on a google map “flyover” with captions, a listing from point to point to allow direct access to the locations, and a note identifying which locations are not accessible by mobility device.
For the visually impaired, voiceovers and large text captions will be made available, as well as zoomable pictures of the locations. For the hearing impaired, captions, transcripts, and full-text articles will be made available. For those vocally-impaired, useful text/audio buttons to allow quick communication at historic sites. Those with mental and learning disabilities would also be presented with listings of those sites with interpretive specialists that fit their needs (such as National Parks Service sites). The app would be compatible with alternate input devices, including wand, puff-suck, and eye movement, methods that are already within most iPhone and Android devkits.
To make the project more functional, having a good outreach relationship with historic and civic organizations within cities is vital. Establishing a good rapport with, for example, the Rainbow History Project and Brother Help Thyself would allow for a great history of the leather scene in Washington, DC to be produced for such an app. It would also lead to community promotion, and perhaps, ultimately, media.
Success of such a proposal is probably only measurable in the number of community members positively impacted, rather than the acclaim and notice it gets. For this project, the proof of concept is in how historians and the community at large respond to the needs of the disabled community and their desire to also be educated on their local history, therefore, the more historians adopting methods that acknowledge the disabled community, the better.