What the accessibility world needs is Stephen Fry to get a poke in the eye

And a darned good one, at that, so that he’s temporarily unable to use the seemingly endless collection of gadgets that he is so renowned for owning. But why should I say such a mean-spirited thing? Isn’t this person a national treasure whom I’m suggesting doing a frightful mischief to? And why, pray tell, is the very way that I am writing this post somehow being imbued with the very embodiment (oh that I should be so bold) of Mr Stephen Fry? If I’m not mistaken, I can even hear him saying these very words in my ear as I type and picture him mouthing the sentences that appear to be spewing forth on to the page. I’m not quite sure if I can keep up these linguistic gymnastics.

I’m referring to the wossy effect and by that I mean that after Stephen Fry appeared on Jonathan’s return (inaugural?) Friday Night show discussing Twitter, he is now the darling, nay the poster boy, of microblogging service Twitter. He was, by all accounts, a must-follow celeb long before that TV appearance - and one who does really seem to get what he’s talking about. When Stephen Fry talks, 84,000+ people listen (at the latest count). Or read, if one is to keep the pedantic nature of this blog post up. Or do they all read? Perhaps there are people who hear Stephen Fry’s tweets, albeit from a rather robotic voice that really doesn’t do the chap’s fine speaking voice the justice it truly deserves. Of course, there are such people - blind users, primarily, but perhaps others with less severe vision impairments who may also need some other form of assistance also. But I am rather going off the point here, that being that Stephen Fry has, by design or by accident, become a rather unlikely voice for the technorati of the world. Who would have thought that this mellifluously-voiced thesp could, with just a small handful of (sub 140-character) comments (to wit: "shockingly bad") about a mobile phone cause such a worry to the marketing people at Blackberry? Just as well that another much-followed Twitter user is able to counteract the negatives with his apparent love for said device?

Getting back to my point - not that it’s clear I even have one yet! - what I’m alluding to in the headline is that if someone like Stephen Fry were to suddenly lose the ability to use one or more of his much-loved gadgets, laptops or whatever, his frustrations with inaccessible devices and web sites would very soon become very public knowledge; he would, I’m sure, soon be explaining to the world at large exactly what these frustrations are and would possibly even have a solution or two up his tweed-clothed sleeve.

We may have our ‘web accessibility rock stars’ who have their respective followings, but it is still somewhat akin to me saying “I’m world famous … in Swindon” (also not true). Outside of this little bubble, we have no real power to speak of and can quite easily go about our shopping chores without being bothered for autographs. Even bona-fide web standards gods like Jeffrey Zeldman are unknown to the vast majority of people, shocking as it may seem to some, making it a genuine surprise when ‘normal’ people recognise them!

Stephen could talk about accessibility issues and 84,000 people, at least, would listen (or read). And perhaps some of those 84,000 people would the re-tweet what they learn, others might go and investigate further. A large majority would still ignore it and carry on searching for the next Twitter-spawned link to that day’s YouTube must-see funny, but the message of what it is to be denied access to information on the web would spread further. It wouldn’t be the first time that Mr Fry has found an unfortunate injury get in the way of using some piece of technology or other (I believe this broken arm caused some problems in getting together an episode of his podcast, or ‘podgramme’ as I believe is the moniker he prefers).

So, what I’m saying is if you see Stephen Fry, give him a poke in the eye (preferably both) but after you do, ask the good chap if he wouldn’t mind awfully conjuring up a blog post (or blessay) about the dashed awkward consequences of this terrible eye-poking incident.

Want to help? Share this link, Twitter it, pass it on however you see fit. If Twitter is, like Mr Fry, your cup of Earl Grey, please add this hashtag: #accessiblefry

Legal bit - of course I’m not suggesting anyone actually harm him! Stephen - if you want to skip the injury part, that’s cool, but we’d really love it if you were able to spread the word about web accessibility on different devices/platforms.

Credit where it’s due - Henny had this idea at the beginning of the (Chinese New) year, and I was just inspired to put a little something together that might, with any luck, go some way to achieving one of her New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by Ian on Thursday, January 29, 2009


  1. Eloquently put, but I fear @stephenfry’s followers may already be more than aware of the need for accessibility - preaching to the converted somewhat.

    Added January 29, 2009 at 11:31 am

  2. So says Ian

    There is some truth in that … but, still, not all techies are accessibility twonks. Most techies I know still wouldn’t know an alt attribute if it jumped up and bit them on the nose. Maybe we should get @katieprice on the case instead? Heck, she has the blind son and is on the front cover of Hello magazine almost every week! [[For those who don't know who Katie Price is, Google for it ... but not at work. And then you'll realise that I was being a little sarcastic there. She's not exactly the responsible spokesperson type, in my humble opinion!]

    Added January 29, 2009 at 11:59 am

  3. So says Henny

    Mmm, I’m not so sure. Out of 84,000 plus followers I think there may be one or two who aren’t familiar with accessibility.

    Added January 29, 2009 at 11:59 am

  4. So says Tim West

    @trcwest Interesting post and beutifully written. I think he is great for taking up Twitter.

    Added January 29, 2009 at 12:04 pm

  5. So says Matt Robin

    Excellent point Ian! I suspect Stephen Fry probably has some awareness of Web Accessibility issues (someone as smart as him, online as much as he is - has to be right?!) but he hasn’t voiced this publicly.

    You’re right, of course, most of the gadgets that he promotes would quickly fail under accessibility scrutiny, so maybe we do need to give him a quick poke or two…in the eyes….maybe (without poking him in the eyes).

    I wonder if anyone will forward this post to the man himself and ask for his worldly-wise, reasoned reaction? ;)

    p.s. Who wants to be World-famous in Swindon anyway? Hehe! :D

    Added January 29, 2009 at 2:53 pm

  6. So says Phil (Instine)

    I think this is a great idea and if he’s willing could be a wonderful boost to awareness in parts other initiates can’t reach. Good luck with this one Ian and Henny (and anyone else involved…)

    Added January 29, 2009 at 3:04 pm

  7. So says Steven Clark

    Interesting idea, but it could probably be said that anyone really really famous could do the same thing. Of course, stephen fry is a lot more articulate than the average Britney Spears lol… :)

    If you could get him to care, that would be a great bonus. But he’s obviously having his own career and we would need to earn that blip on his radar. We all live in cloistered bubbles, even Stephen.

    But you do make some good points… true.

    Added January 29, 2009 at 11:16 pm

  8. So says Ian

    p.s. Who wants to be World-famous in Swindon anyway? Hehe! :D

    In my defence … I moved there for a job. I’m a Southampton boy, born and bred, Swindon’s just where I ended up :D

    Added January 30, 2009 at 12:14 am

  9. So says Matt Robin

    Ah, a follow-up comment from me (it doesn’t always happen!)…just spotted this a moment ago: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/7859227.stm

    How about having Stevie Wonder as the famous voice for accessible users? (Or is that too obvious?)

    Ian: Hey, Southampton - now you’re talking…I lived there for a year (about 3 years ago), one of my best friends still lives there, so I know it quite well actually! ;)

    Added January 30, 2009 at 1:07 pm

  10. So says Ian

    Good find, Matt! How timely. Consider it Twittered :-)

    Added January 30, 2009 at 1:21 pm

  11. So says Tara

    I saw this article on the New Scientist website on enabling Braille through touchscreens. http://sn.im/exeua

    Added March 31, 2009 at 1:23 pm

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