Category Archives: Accessible Engagement

Digital for life

Like most problems disabled people have to face, the problem of digital inclusion, or exclusion, is complex. Those who have a stake in the remedy/ies often don’t grasp the full extent of the complexity. We are left with the problem being addressed in fragments, with little connection between the fragments, and little involvement from the people whose stakes are highest, the disabled technology users. Defining digital inclusion narrowly so it is “doable” may result in inadequate and untenable solutions. Those of us who have worked in this area for many years feel as if we are running on the spot making limited progress.

Last week I attended a meeting about digital inclusion. I experienced some of the above. This is not about criticising people who, like disabled people, have been struggling to gain traction on a wicked problem. But one size of solution won’t fit all, and the problems are compounded by intersectionalities among the groups most digitally excluded.

The barriers to digital inclusion for disabled people are:

Cost – This goes well beyond the cost of the Internet connection. While the cost of assistive tech is nothing like the enormous cost it used to be, it still costs money, even the accessible out-of-the-box tech, like iPhones and iPads. Everything costs something and many disabled people and their families are among the poorest in New Zealand. There is also a constant need to update and upgrade. People are expected to be more responsible for their own personal technology in education and work, never mind everyday life. Technology is an added cost to an already high cost of living with disability. For example, a person may be able to use a regular smart phone, but may need a top-of-the-line model to meet their particular access needs

Access – following on from financial cost is the policy assumption that access to the digital world relates solely to education and work – an outdated view that does not take into account how connected our world is, and how socially isolated many disabled people are. Digital inclusion relates to nearly every facet of 21st century life. Exclusion can create problems as fundamental as establishing identity in formal settings such as banks and government departments.

What’s the best assistive tech for me? – Older disabled people may not have used much digital technology. Families with young disabled children are still struggling to get to grips with their changed lives. Many disabled people are poorly educated and may have limited access to information about technology choices. As in many other areas of disabled people’s lives useful information is hard to find, particularly if your service provider is not focused on digital access, and there are many disabled people with more than one impairment, while others receive little or no disability support service

How do I get the best out of the technology? – Skilled help with assistive technology is hard to find if you are not part of an impairment group with access to specific help. People don’t always know how or who to ask for help.

Do I have the right skills? – Some groups of disabled people may miss out on acquiring good skills using regular technology such as web and other applications, Word, Excel etc. Their education may have been poor, and as adults they have had no access to training using assistive technology in conjunction with regular software and applications.

Compatibility – A person may have the appropriate assistive technology, but connection with the technology in education or workplace settings can pose problems of compatibility. There may be a reluctance to modify either on the part of the employer, or even the IT service provider. I have had personal experience of the latter in a very senior role, and have talked to many other disabled people who have faced similar difficulties, preventing them from doing their job properly, limiting their opportunities and career prospects.

Mainstream research excludes us – Disabled people are often excluded from research projects, either because of an inaccessible methodology and process, or because the researchers don’t know how to contact them or communicate with them.  They may be seen as a “different” or “atypical” group, or just too hard. But at 24% of the population they are far from insignificant, even though they are diverse.

Little consultation – Disabled people of all ages need to be closely involved in deciding what technology will work for them, and how to use it. They also need to be included in consulting on and setting “big picture” policy and other decisions made about assistive technology. Involving a few “geeks” and disabled specialists is not enough. While I have seen meetings and forums about transport, employment, equal education, I have never seen an open access digital forum specifically for disabled people.

Technologists, policy-makers and researchers don’t know enough and don’t share or co-ordinate their work – It’s not enough to know about the technologies and their applications. Digital inclusion, and the knowledge to create it requires a more holistic approach, and knowledge sharing. The disability world is complex and intersects with other disadvantaged groups, for example, disabled Maori, disabled parents.

The battle for online accessibility, where the technology can be more important than the end-user experience, is a case in point. While this is possibly true for all user experience, for disabled people it is more critical as there is less choice for information access. The technology should never come before the people.

This is a human rights issue, and the underpinnings for this are little understood by those working in the field. Articles 9 and 21 of the UN Convention on the rights of disabled people are particularly relevant. Accessibility is Outcome 5 of the revised Disability Strategy and has a focus on Universal Design. What this means in practice requires thorough exploration alongside disabled people.

Digital inclusion is now huge. We are expected every day to interact and transact online with banks, insurance, businesses and retailers of all kinds, a variety of government departments, local government, health service providers, travel and entertainment bookings, education and work. There are eftpos terminals, ATMs, self-check-in kiosks, news, entertainment of various kinds and social media to navigate, and the technologies all change and update frequently. New opportunities arise in areas such as the arts. This is all likely to increase. Disabled people will continue to be seriously disadvantaged in many areas of life if digital inclusion is not tackled seriously.

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Filed under Accessible Engagement, Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, Information Accessibility, Web Accessibility

Disability Pride Week 2 Claiming our place

Disability Pride Week launched at Te Papa in Wellington on Sunday November 27th. As part of the ceremony created and led by accessible celebrant Wendi Wicks, a declaration she wrote was shared. While the ceremony acknowledged and celebrated the inclusive space of the Te Marae at Te Papa, it symbolised a wider claim to place. The declaration deserves to be shared with a wider audience, and other disabled people who want to claim our place.

A Declaration for Disabled People Claiming our Place

Today we disabled people here in Wellington say “this is our place too”.

We say to you this house has made a space for us to step forward to claim our place.

We will aim to live out our place in the community of humanity, proud of who we are and how we are, and in all of our diverse ways of being disabled.

We do not back away from that word in fear, in shame, in a feeling of being lesser.

We call on others in the community in which disabled people are part to include, trust and respect us, to not tell us how inspirational we are for doing everyday things. We want a fair go and a decent job.

Live with us not in fear or contempt, but in peace and harmony. It is our world too.

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Disability Pride Week

Disabled people have been increasingly self-assertive this year, through Me Before You protests, a vigil following Japan’s disability mass killing, increasing arts activities and participation, LitCrawl, “outsider” art exhibition, book publishing etc, great success at the Paralympics, a learning-disabled New Zealander chosen for the UNCRPD committee and the Disability Strategy reviewed at long last. There’s lots to celebrate in the week leading up to the International Day of Disabled People on December 3.

I’m no Pollyanna, and recognise there is still much to be done before Deaf and disabled people achieve true equality, but a pride celebration can promote change, strengthen community, and simply be some fun together.

A group of Wellingtonians have picked up the concept of Disability Pride, first formulated and celebrated by a group of public servants in the late eighties. We said “who we are is OK, What happens to us isn’t” – in short the social model of disability. It separates a person’s impairment from the effects of a disabling society. We celebrated with a festival of film, debate, theatre and other events. Add to that a human-rights-based approach to disabled lives and a celebration sounds good.

Disability Pride is about valuing our whole selves and our experience, however we frame our identities, taking our rightful and equal place in the world, and drawing strength from one another.

Taking stock of the journey, celebrating what we have gained and looking forward to future change is a good way to finish up a shaky and tumultuous year.

Disability Pride Week begins this Sunday at Te Papa, claiming our place.

Disability Pride Week, claiming our place is written in large white letters on a square pink/purple background.

Disability Pride Week events 2016

All events are in accessible venues with audio describers, hearing loop, NZSL Interpreters present.

Sunday 27 November 2016 2pm
Launch of Disability Pride Week
Te Papa Marae (Level 4 marae)
All welcome.

Thursday 1 December
Tape Art Mural 10am – 3pm
Created on the window of Asteron Centre by disabled artists using tape
(Opposite Wellington Railway Station)
The Mural can be viewed by anyone for 5 days.

Saturday 3 December
Wellington Through our Lens 10.30 – 12.30
Odlins Plaza, Wellington Waterfront (near Mac’s Bar)
Open to disabled people and our allies.
Our open conversation about living in Wellington as disabled people will be captured by live illustrators.
Wellington City Councillors and the council Accessibility Advisory Group will be present.

Saturday 3 December
An evening of music and entertainment
Where: City Gallery, Civic Square
When: 7pm Saturday 3 December 2016
International Day of Disabled People
$10 per person RSVP Door Sales available.

Other events taking place:
Arts Access Aotearoa Auction
Thursday 1 December
CQ Hotel Cuba St Wellington
Doors open 5.45 Auction begins 6.00
$20 tickets from Arts Access Aotearoa.

Capital Support Morning Tea
A meet and greet with sharing of information
Friday 2 December 2016 10:00 – 11:00am
Conference Room in the Education Centre, Kenepuru Hospital
Parking: There are disabled car parks near the front entrance. If you don’t have a disability, please park in the public park on the left at the top of Hospital Drive
RSVP: For catering purposes or if you need support, please contact Nadine Martin: Email: capital support, (one word) at  CC DHB.org.nz; or Phone: 04 two three oh six four oh four. Space is limited, so please RSVP.

Check the Disability Pride Facebook page for updates.

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Let’s fix the process

If you need New Zealand public sector websites to be accessible to use them satisfactorily then the “2014 Web Standards Self-Assessments Report” published in November 2015 won’t give you much comfort.

The good news, such that it is, is that the report’s authors appear to be circling in on the root causes of the problem.

“…NZ Government websites are designed and developed in a manner that tends to overlook the range of ways that people access and interact with web content.”

One has to wonder what goes through the minds of website owners, designers, developers and content creators if they “overlook the range of ways that people access and interact with web content”. Isn’t that the very meat and potatoes of the whole web development process? Accessing and interacting with content is the point of a website – and from a range of people. Quickly exposing desired content to an audience and protecting them from overload or unnecessary navigation is the nub of web design. It’s not primarily about creating a pleasing graphic and balanced palette (although that doesn’t hurt). And, it’s most definitely not about slavishly adhering to egregious visual excesses in the name of “branding”.

There is another puzzle here. Commercial (private sector) websites in general have some sort of sales intent. Their purpose is to in some way persuade the user of the value of their business or more specifically to try and sell the user some products or services. The public sector doesn’t have that sales drive: its purpose is to provide service and enable access and interaction using the convenience of the internet. In short, for public sector websites, it’s all about engaging with web content as part of providing a service to the public at large.

So what or where does the deficiency lie? The deficiency is in overlooking “the range of ways”.

In web design, the responsibility to cater for the range of ways that people access or interact with web content is within the scope of the user experience (UX) designer. A usual technique is to create personas. Personas are fictitious composites that are created to represent broad classes of the types of people who are expected to access the website. For example, the Ministry of Justice might expect lawyers, jury members, media representatives, litigants and judges to access its website. A persona could be created for each of these and through the design process the needs of each persona is factored in. The design can be subsequently validated by matching how well it is expected to deliver against the stated needs of each of the personas.

So far so good, but this is the point where I believe that the process fails. Why? Because in the development of the personas it is unlikely that consideration is made of potential impairments. Hence, the potential access (accessibility) needs aren’t embedded into the design process. In the development of some sites, some sort of accessibility review may take place but it is generally too late to make changes. The design signoff processes in the public sector can be so involved that the idea of repeating that process just looks too difficult, let alone having to make the explanations of why it wasn’t right the first time. (As an aside, in the time I’ve been consulting for AccEase I’ve never been asked to review the personas. I’ve checked wireframes, checking off against a range of ways the site will be accessed but pretty much always in the certainty that the range of ways of accessing a site hasn’t been designed in and certainly not included in the personas.)

The notion of developing personas including people with disabilities isn’t new. Shawn Lawton Henry, a renowned web accessibility expert,  has even provided example personas.

The “2014 Web Standards Self-Assessments Report” identified three types of people (personas?) that are not properly considered:

  • people who don’t use a mouse and instead rely on a keyboard or other input device and software to interact with web content
  • people with impaired vision
  • people who use special software to help them interpret and understand the structure and relationships between different bits of content on a web page (e.g. what’s a heading, what’s a list item, etc.)

It is up to User Experience designers to ensure that the full range of users are properly catered for.

Where else in the web development lifecycle would it make sense for accessibility to be addressed? Any time later is at severe risk of missing out a design consideration for a range of users. The classic approach is to “test it in” by doing an accessibility assessment once the build is complete and then apply the recommended changes. As noted above, this approach fails as designers are often unwilling to make changes and signoff procedures too cumbersome to achieve meaningful change. This approach also consigns “accessibility” to being an inconvenient afterthought, an encumbrance.

Process vs Technical change

Generally, the resolution to achieving a better state of web accessibility is considered to be the application of the technical elements that afford accessibility. However, I contend that it is a process change that will lead to a better state of web accessibility in our public sector websites. The technical elements do, of course, need to be applied but at present that fails to happen as there are often no explicit requirements generated in the user experience design.

In simple terms, let’s first think of the user (the ends) and then of the standards (the means).

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