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We focus a lot on what we can objectively measure, not enough on what people subjectively perceive. The term “subjective accessibility” appears sometimes in the literature, and it gets at this to some extent, but I think it lacks true decentering from the analyst to the individual. It also accounts for perception errors and miscalculations which are important, but somewhat different cognitive biases. At best, it is imagining what people might perceive, or asking them in a structured survey. But given the mysteries of the human mind and how people actually perceive and value the world, (evidenced by the really low R-squared on any individual-level behaviour model with more than a few choices), it is far from complete.
In the context of people's perceptions of accessibility, "psycho-accessibility" could be defined as “How mental or cognitive factors influence an individual's perception of how accessible a certain product, service, or environment is”. For instance, a person with anxiety might perceive an environment to be less accessible due to perceived social barriers, even if there are no physical barriers present. Likewise, an individual's mental representation and understanding of certain places or technologies (shaped by their lifelong development and experiences) could impact how accessible they perceive them to be.
Physical Psycho-Accessibility: In terms of architecture or city planning, psycho-accessibility might deal with the psychological effects or perception of physical spaces. Are certain locations perceived as more accessible due to factors like lighting, crowd density, or general ambiance, and how do individual cognitive or emotional factors influence a person's sense of ease or difficulty navigating them? Expanding, it embraces topics like:
Physical Design: For example, certain architectural designs might be physically accessible with ramps, wide doors, or elevators, but if a person doesn't perceive these features as welcoming or if they evoke feelings of segregation, the design might not be considered psycho-accessible. It's not just about providing access, but also about making sure people feel comfortable and included.
Perceived Safety: Another example could be the psychological impact of lighting in public spaces. Even if a park is physically accessible, it might not be perceived as accessible if it's poorly lit at night, making people feel unsafe.
Crowd Perception: Similarly, perceptions about crowd density can influence the psycho-accessibility of a space. A shopping mall might be physically accessible, but if it's perceived as too crowded, (generally a sign of objectively relatively high accessibility) individuals with social anxiety or claustrophobia might perceive it as inaccessible.
Signage and Directions: The clarity and positioning of signs can also influence psycho-accessibility. If signs are confusing, hard to see, or non-intuitive, individuals might perceive a space as more difficult to navigate, regardless of its physical accessibility.
Sound Environment: The level of noise or type of sounds in a location can affect the perceived accessibility. For individuals with sensory processing issues, a noisy environment might make a space feel inaccessible or overwhelming, despite no physical barriers.
By considering psycho-accessibility in addition to physical accessibility, city planners, architects, and designers can create environments that are not just physically easy to navigate, but also psychologically comfortable and welcoming to a wide range of individuals.
Of course, there are accesses beyond the physical accessibility domain in which I and probably a disproportionate number of you work in. So we can enumerate some other domains of Psycho-Accessibility:
Digital Psycho-Accessibility: Users' psychological responses to digital interfaces. For instance, does a user perceive a website or app as accessible based on their previous experiences, cognitive biases, or anxieties?
Social Accessibility: The perceived accessibility of social environments. For example, how does a person's mental state (like social anxiety or introversion) affect their perception of social situations?
Cognitive Psycho-Accessibility: The accessibility of complex information or ideas. How does an individual's cognitive abilities or mental models impact their perception of how easy it is to understand new concepts?
Empathic Psycho-Accessibility: The ease with which one can access or understand their own or others' mental processes or states. Theory of Mind plays into this. This could potentially be an area of study looking at how we can make complex psychological concepts more understandable, or it could involve researching ways to improve introspection and self-understanding.
Educational Psycho-Accessibility: How students perceive the accessibility of learning materials or classroom environments. Factors such as learning styles, previous educational experiences, or certain learning disabilities might affect their perception. Teachers and educators could use this understanding to make their teaching methods more psycho-accessible, ensuring that their lessons are understood and retained effectively by a diverse range of students.
Workplace Psycho-Accessibility: Employees' perceptions of the accessibility of opportunities within the workplace. For example, an employee might perceive certain roles or tasks as inaccessible due to implicit biases, past experiences, or workplace culture. Understanding these perceptions could help in creating a more inclusive and equitable work environment.
Public Policy and Law: Psycho-accessibility might play a role in the public's understanding and engagement with laws and policies. Complex legal language or bureaucratic procedures might make certain policies seem inaccessible to the general public. Lawmakers and policy advocates could use this concept to make their work more understandable and accessible to the people they serve.
Mental Health Services Psycho-Accessibility: How individuals perceive the accessibility of mental health resources. Stigmas, misconceptions, and personal fears might make these services seem less accessible than they are. Understanding and addressing these perceptions could be key to increasing the utilization of mental health resources.
Psycho-accessibility as a concept bridges the gap between objective accessibility measures and individual subjective experiences. These perceptions might not always align with actual accessibility, but they undoubtedly influence a person's willingness or ability to engage with different environments, platforms, or social contexts. We should try to measure this. We are unlikely to capture anywhere near all of it.
[This post was inspired by a mistake in Siri voice recognition. As usual, it was assisted by ChatGPT4. The author remains solely responsible for its content.]