How does the value chain concept relate to accessibility? Consider how accessibility usually works. In some cases a mainstream product provides an accessibility feature, and the user just needs to activate and use that feature. In other cases the mainstream product does not have the necessary accessibility feature, so the user connects a piece of assistive technology, and the AT product provides the necessary accessibility feature, working in conjunction with the mainstream product.
An example of the mainstream approach is the zoom feature in a word processing program. The user can set this to “200%” to see the characters twice their usual size. Success here requires the user to know about the zoom feature, be confident enough to change the setting, have a screen that is capable of displaying the document effectively, and still be able to navigate through the document. There are many possible pitfalls here: the feature may be documented poorly and not show up as a default on a menubar; the user may not seek out this feature, or may worry whether changing the setting will”break” the computer; the screen and the application window may not work well together under the enlarged setting; the user may now be lost in the document, unable to see a whole line at a time.
The main point here is that we cannot assume that the job of providing accessibility is done as soon as the feature exists in the word processing program! The word processing program, the program’s documentation, the display, and the user are all part of the accessibility value chain. There may be other people in the chain as well, who guide or advise the user, or manage the user’s information technology.
An example of the assistive technology approach is a screen magnifier. Instead of using the mainstream application’s “zoom” feature, the user has a separate program whose main purpose is to provide a greater level of magnification, along with other features for low vision users. The screen magnifier becomes another link in the accessibility value chain. In some cases the video card of the computer must be considered a link as well, for not all video cards support all the features found on a given screen magnifier.
Assistive technology may have contradictory effects on the human element of the accessibility value chain. Because it’s a specialty product, a screen magnifier is going to have much better documentation about features for low vision users than a mainstream word processing program will have, and of course the documentation itself is going to be accessible. On the other hand, acquiring the right assistive technology requires much more from the user: information about AT is harder to find; evaluations and word of mouth can be scarce; prices may be high. Some of this is true of any specialized, smaller market; some of it is based on the “clinical interventions” and funding programs found in the AT environment, where the end users may not control selection and purchase. So the AT accessibility value chain may include both more technical interoperability links and human links.