Far too often we equate disability with physical or visible injuries – especially when it comes to veterans. This oversight is compounded by an all-to-familiar propensity to see accessibility as a physical challenge – but access isn’t only about navigating physical obstacles; it also includes the digital world.
For this reason, it's important to dispel the stereotypes about the injuries and challenges that come from service, especially in the face of the PTSD and other challenges so many vets experience.
All of us need to look for new ways to include veterans in the future, both online and off.
We’ve teamed up with Co-founder and President of Leashes of Valor Danique Masingill to shed some light on the life of servicemen and women, the challenges they face, and how we can help make the world easier to navigate – in their lives and on the web.
Danique, please Introduce yourself and tell us about Leashes of Valor.
I am Danique Masingill, a U.S. Navy veteran, Syracuse grad and a founder and president of Leashes of Valor (LOV). We are a national nonprofit organization founded by veterans working to help veterans, headquartered in rural Virginia. We specialize in rescuing and training dogs from high-risk kill shelters to be service dogs, and we provide them to veterans free of charge. One leash saves two lives: K9 and veteran. Warriors and their professionally selected service dogs go through a 16-day, in-house training program located on the LOV farm.
The environment we provide fosters the opportunity for each warrior going through our program to be part of the solution to their recovery. As you can imagine, this is very empowering.
PTSD is not a disability that is “worn on the sleeve.” What would you want people to know about working and living with veterans with PTSD/TBI?
Veterans with PTSD and or TBI are not dangerous individuals. TBI is often associated with speech and memory issues and some cognitive processing. PTSD can often manifest itself through being easily overwhelmed and frustrated.
You mention that PTSD can showcase itself as frustration. Is it fair to say, then, that by making websites and apps as easy to use as possible reduces frustration for all users, but can be especially helpful to those with PTSD?
Yes, ease of use and simplicity in finding necessary information is key. Websites that don’t transition to handheld devices well are often an issue and source of trouble. This particularly affects post-9/11 veterans, who are from a demographic that does many tasks via their cellphone and not a desktop version of a website. Brain injuries affect processing of what feels like standard information. Simple icons that are difficult to process or over-complicated websites can be overwhelming.
Symmetry or flow of information is also important. Getting hung up on searching the interactive part of a page and dead links can be a source of frustration. Applying the “less than 3 clicks” rule to get to any information is very helpful.
Can you provide a few examples of your experiences using the web, both positive and negative? What were the outcomes, and how have you overcome some of the negative or unhelpful experiences?
Amazon is a great example of simplified program applications. Both the app and its web counterpart are click friendly, meaning users won’t get lost opening page after page. *
Our own website has had bad experiences. For instance, our recurring donor signup brought you all the way to the end – and then the payment would not process. This is perfect example of situations that increase frustration and will bring a user to leave the site and not complete a purchase.
In working with veterans with PTSD/TBI, have you heard from others in the community about their online experiences or accessibility barriers on the web?
We know that most websites are not vision impairment friendly. Often, there is a lack of audio or even a lack of captions for images – instead, they are only described with text. iPhone is notorious for its lack of vision impairment inclusion. Again, Amazon is a great example of a well-known, user-friendly site. *
What would your ideal online experience be like?
Like many web users, the following functions would help veterans:
As we move toward creating more accessible spaces, both online and offline, are we leaving some people behind? How can we do better?
Receiving and listening to user feedback is key. As long as there is active engagement with end users, we will continue to make leaps and bounds in helping everyone access the myriad of information right at their fingertips.
If you had one thing you could tell the people who read this, what would you want them to know - about you, the organization, your experiences or those of veteran life?
For businesses, please take the time to learn as much as you can about accessibility. Knowing the finer details will be extremely beneficial as they refine usage, design sites and prepare future content.
In what way do you see progress toward making the web more accessible to veterans – also, are there any enhancements or developments that are helpful but aren’t being adopted?
How can people help support your organization?
Please visit the Leashes of Valor website – https://leashesofvalor.org/ – and follow us on social media on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Sharing our posts on social media costs nothing and could help a veteran find the support they need. We have an Amazon wish list to help provide veterans the supplies they need for their service dogs. LOV provides the dog and supplies free to veterans, so we can always use any support. Visit our website and follow LOV on social media to discover several ways you can help veterans with PTSD and TBI. We appreciate your support!
What would you say to a veteran who is struggling to navigate the web?
Frustrated or not, you need to find a way to embrace the web or you will not be able to do many things in this world. There are many tools that can make life simpler. And please, reach out to Leashes of Valor for any assistance we can provide.
Thank you, Danique, and Leashes of Valor, for your insights into veteran challenges.
Please join Danique, Leashes of Valor, and others in supporting veterans.
*Note: User1st has not tested any company websites, apps or devices mentioned for full web accessibility. We are not promoting one service or website over another. Our goal is to share the perspectives of our U.S. veterans.
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Written by Raegan Bartlo