When people think about the tools of accessibility, they usually conjure up images of ramps and elevators and possibly sign language interpreters. Those are all great examples, but accessibility is about a broader goal — making it possible for a person with any disability to obtain what non-disabled individuals do as a matter of course.
Think about it this way: You, a person without a print-related disability walk up to a table and pick up some pieces of paper that give you lots of useful information. I, as a blind person, approach that same table and leave with no useful information, unless I have access to a willing sighted reader or certain types of technology.
The assumption that someone who does not read print has access to methods making it possible is often not true. It also strips away independence by making help a required part of information access. Relying exclusively upon print materials assumes that everyone can pick up the page, look at the words, and understand their meaning. For a person with a print-related disability such as blindness, dyslexia, or quadriplegia, this is not the case. In light of this, continuing to solely utilize print materials sends the message to anyone with a print-related disability that it does not matter whether or not they have access to the information.
While people with a wide variety of disabilities are blocked from information access by the barrier of print, the largest subset have a visual disability and often myths surrounding vision loss perpetuate lack of information access. For example, most people who are visually impaired are not totally blind making it possible for them to read large print. Therefore, one excellent way to provide accessible materials is simply to enlarge the text to 18-point font.
In the visually impaired community, only about 10% of the population read Braille, so it’s not an optimal way to provide materials if the goal is to make materials accessible to the largest segment of the community. (Deaf-blind people are one of the subsets of the population who frequently utilize Braille.)
Audio recordings of print material is among the most universally accessible formats, but costs money and resources. If you can manage it, however, it works for many with print-related disabilities, Deaf-blind people being the notable exception.
The most economically feasible and easily achievable way to provide accessible print materials is electronically. Many people have computers able to turn the visual into auditory using a category of software known as screenreaders. Additionally, there is software that can enlarge text on the screen for those with usable vision. Braille displays can be attached to a computer for deaf-blind individuals. People with mobility issues can often more easily manage a computer interface to print than the traditional paper/book method.
These days most documents exist electronically, so burning multiple files onto a CD is easy and makes accessible materials as portable as a piece of paper. It is also possible to email files to an individual. From an environmental conservation perspective, either solution has the additional appeal of saving trees from the fate of paper mills.