On Thursday May 28 2020, the Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group (A11ySIG) hosted a webinar “When rhetoric meets reality: Digital Accessibility, Persons With Disabilities and COVID-19”. This webinar brought together digital accessibility experts and people with disabilities to discuss the digital accessibility outlook beyond COVID-19.
It was our hope that this webinar would share and offer a variety of ideas from different disabilities and different parts of the world. Below are a couple of perspectives that relate to North America and elsewhere.
David Berman gave the keynote focusing on how governments can integrate accessibility into their web presence. He talked about the efforts that Canada and others are doing on accessibility issues. People in health care designed special masks for deaf people. They have a clear shield so people can read others lips to communicate. However, everyone benefits when we can see each other’s mouths when we’re wearing masks, whether we’re hard of hearing or whether we’re deaf and using sign language which of course the faces a key part of the communication, everyone finds it easier to understand each other when we can see the emotions and the movements that make up more of the face. It is an example of the overall goal that all should have. We need to design for the extremes and in this way benefit everyone. This principle is a core of the experience in design that we need to focus on. If we can make sure that all websites are accessible and follow WCAG guidelines than Governments will save money as they would not have to hire special firms to answer phone lines and have special lines that read people texts and walk people through the forms. People could self-serve. If we make sure everyone can self-serve, we’re actually able to save millions of dollars. This type of thinking, what we like to call the accessibility dividend when we do things to include everyone, we get benefits for everyone.
The webinar included seven panelists representing different disabilities and countries. The panelists highlighted a number of issues related to digital accessibility including: If an approach can work in one small community, it can be replicated in many other local, regional, and national governments. The right ingredients need to be in place. That’s policy, practice, and people. Formulating right policies with inclusion of people with disabilities and then practicing those with people centric approach could be a winning strategy. This is where rhetoric meets policy. Once people understand why digital accessibility is important through direct contact with persons with disabilities there’s a greater incentive to make a change. We need more disability awareness training.
Another speaker, Peter Crosbie, focused on cognitive disabilities and how they are often overlooked by companies who instead just focus on visual or hearing disabilities; there is often no mention anywhere of what specific cognitive access measures they have incorporated to help out people with cognitive disabilities. He mentioned that Zoom calls with many speakers and participants are in actuality very inaccessible for many people with cognitive disabilities. There’s just very little understanding of what cognitive access is or how it works.
The goal of Accessibility SIG in this webinar was to discuss and raise awareness of these issues. We will have six other webinars in this series, so stay tuned.