I moved house about a week ago and, wanting to make the actual move as painless as possible, I tried to do as much as I could in advance; including selecting an Internet Service Provider and broadband package so that I could resume work as soon as I was unpacked. In spite of my preparations, however, my only way of connecting to the internet until yesterday (and the arrival of some powerline adapters) was with my laptop on a table right next to the router.
For those who have recently shopped for an ISP in the UK, this situation might provide a stark contrast to the promises they offer of "wi-fi in every room". The truth of the matter is that my desktop does not have a wireless adapter at all and, while my laptop is more than powerful enough for most day-to-day tasks, it is a little old and only recognises a wi-fi signal when right next to it. For many people this would at the least necessitate buying a usb dongle, but for me it really isn't a priority; some of the reasons for which I will explore in this post.
Convenience is about trade-offs.
I suffer from chronic back pain, and having an ergonomically laid-out workspace is of critical importance to me. If I try and use a laptop from a chair or sofa for more than about 5 minutes it becomes physically painful. As a result of this, I spend about 99% of my time working from the same location. For me, the things that are inconvenient are not being limited in where I can work, but having a slow connection that regularly drops out.
The main selling-point of wi-fi (and other wireless networking technologies) is that, not requiring cables for a connection, they allow devices to be positioned anywhere within their range, and even moved about while maintaining a stable connection. This greater portability is not free, however, and comes at the cost of reduced speed and reliability, and increased power consumption and risk of unauthorised parties gaining access to your network.
For many applications, being able to move is of paramount importance, but where this is not the case the downsides to wireless networking may well outweigh the advantages. At my previous place of employment, all of the computers in the office were connected to the internet via wi-fi. This was great for allowing those with laptops to take them to meetings without having to unplug them, but did mean that our connections went down several times a day as the wi-fi temporarily dropped-out. Most of the time a loss of connection for a few seconds would not be noticeable, but in the technical team where we were regularly uploading files to live servers it could be critical.
Before this I worked as a member of the KnowHow team at PC World. One of our main duties was setting-up customers machines and installing Office and Anti-Virus software etc. It was standard practice to connect a customer's machine to the shop wi-fi connection and perform the downloads via that. One day, shortly after I joined, another member of staff pointed out that the ethernet ports cleverly hidden behind rows of laptops awaiting setup were connected to an ultra high-speed internet connection. When I switched over to this the remaining time on the download I was doing immediately dropped to a quarter of what it had been over wi-fi.
Everyone has different needs and priorities.
A few months ago, the internet connection where my parents live was finally upgraded from the old 1.5mb/s ADSL connection we had been using for the last few decades. After getting a new fibre router installed we got in touch with the ISP to find out how to disable the wi-fi connection on it. Their technical support team's initial reaction was one of complete disbelief: why would we want to turn the wi-fi off?
The answer, of course, was that we weren't using it.
When we first got broadband at the house routers did not come with wi-fi as standard, so we ran ethernet cables out to the few devices we had. As more devices were added, we simply ran out more cables (and eventually added some powerline adapters too). When the old router eventually died its replacement had wi-fi built-in but, as the house is old and has thick walls, you could only connect in the rooms directly adjacent to the router. By this point my mother had become concerned over the possible health implications of wi-fi, so we simply turned it off. We weren't using it, so why would we waste power having it on?
Accessibility is about choice.
When the same situation arose again a few months ago, the Service Provider's support team, rather then telling us where the option was buried in a menu, attempted to convince us that using wi-fi would make our lives easier. When you're already physically plugged in, of course, switching to wireless would actually be a step-backwards.
Attempting to force your users into a particular way of working will never be good for accessibility. Everyone is different, everyone has different needs and ways of doing things. For some people a certain feature or option will be of vital importance; for others it may well be a hindrance.