Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

‘Disabled People Shouldn’t Need to Justify Their Right to Live’

Steven Aquino, Forbes:

The political attitude towards Amazon is not necessarily wrong. Big Tech surely ought to be held accountable for their actions; indeed, holding those in power accountable vis-a-vis accessibility reporting is to call them out when warranted. The problem with such a binary, either/or stance is it ignores any gray areas. In this case, what lies in the gray is accessibility and the real needs of disabled people deserving of amplification.

The fact of the matter is Amazon is a godsend for countless scores of disabled people. The canonical example is the super popular Prime delivery service. Not everyone with a disability can afford the $119/year service, but for those who can, the accessibility gains can be substantial. For those whose mobility is compromised, for instance, the ability to order paper towels or even groceries online and have items arrive at their doorstep in days (or hours, with Amazon Fresh) is hugely empowering in terms of survival, but also independence and self-reliance. Rather than possibly burden family and friends to help run your errands all the time, you can instead use the Amazon app or website to shop for yourself. Especially for something like grocery shopping, having a gallon of milk or a carton of eggs brought right to your door frees someone with a disability from having to deal with navigating a store and wrestle with logistics on how to get stuff home. Maybe a person can’t even literally get to a store easily, for travel or health reasons. Thus, Amazon to the rescue. The bourgeois idea people should shop locally instead of on Amazon is nice and romantic, but it’s also steeped in privilege. After all, not everyone can get out to a farmer’s market or corner store to get food.

Aquino’s argument is very strong: the failures of Amazon’s internal policies — or those of any large company — are beyond the responsibility of any individual consumer to bear. It is a little bit like arguing that we should avoid air travel because of its impact on climate change — our individual efforts pale in comparison to the kinds of policies that can be enacted by governments and industries. Amazon needs to do better by its workers, and regulators need to do their jobs, so that services that are mere conveniences to some but absolute essentials for many are not delivered with feelings of guilt or unethical behaviour. I do not think it is necessary to create a binary choice between ethics and services, especially not when many people find there is not really any choice in using those services.