To say that accessible information goes beyond web sites would seem to be obvious to the most unthinking, yet this is sadly not true.
Recently I was involved in running a meeting where presenters were asked to ensure their presentation was accessible to a mixed disability audience. I did not have time to advise so trusted the presenters to do their best, which they did.
The results were mixed. Everyone had obviously given the matter some thought. No one used PowerPoints, although one presenter had prepared one and helpfully distributed large print copies which everyone except the blind people could access to some degree.
Presenters talked through their presentations and the meeting was lively and participatory, and I think successful. We had hired Sign interpreters, and the day was carefully structured and facilitated, but we probably all could have done more to make the information conveyed completely accessible. Jargon is something to be watched, for example.
It is always a challenge meeting the information requirements of a diverse disabled audience at meetings and other events.
- The process begins with finding a venue and physical access considerations.
- Presenters need to be able to work with Sign interpreters, (not difficult to learn, even for fast talkers like me.) They must be able to communicate often abstract and complex ideas to an audience with the usual range of understandings of any given topic and different cognitive and sensory impairments.
- As well there are all the peripheral things to deal with such as external noise, room temperature too hot or too cold, people who donâ€™t turn off their mobiles etc etc.
But it is a challenge I enjoy. I feel passionately about the right of disabled people to have access to information and the range of democratic processes, and it is an area where you can always learn something. Sometimes I feel frustrated though when public bodies have done the right thing at one level, but still donâ€™t know why they have done it and donâ€™t really â€œgetâ€ this diverse communication thing.
For example take a particular consultation, and I wonâ€™t name the organisation â€“ my object is not to shame them but to help them and others learn. They dutifully put their consultation document on their web site in another more accessible format than pdf, as required for good reason by the government web standards, and good on them, but they then undermined their own efforts and sent the pdf only to a disability organisation.
Fortunately, the intrepid recipient followed the link back to the web site and retrieved the situation, but what a waste of effort, and so easily done, with good PR as a spinoff.
Another public consultation which is critical for disabled people to know about was not so easily sorted. Some of the information was available in accessible HTML. Sadly the crucial bit was only available in what Jakob Nielsen so aptly calls the creature from the black lagoon! The dreaded PDF. We tried printing it off, and it was without doubt one of the worst print documents I have ever seen. An arrangement in grey and white and barely readable it looked like the printer had run out of ink. It hadnâ€™t.
Perhaps we do need a public name and shame campaign before those with responsibility to communicate properly with all New Zealanders will â€˜get itâ€™. What price mandatory government standards for web sites?