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Accessibility and the Public Interest

Technology is the great equalizer when it comes to people with disabilities. Regardless of how accessible the technology is however, it is only as accessible as the underlying infrastructure. If web sites, apps and content are not designed to be accessible, it does not matter if your personal access technology is.

The absence of accessible information, communications and technologies deployed in support of programs and services will often result in inaccessible outcomes.

there are plenty of examples of inaccessible information, communications and technology deployments, but I will provide just a few to make the point.

In the case of Information...

Information is content. Documents can be produced using Adobe PDF, however it is important that the PDF is designed to be accessible as a text PDF file. Initially, PDF files were designed as image only, which is a picture of the document. When this happens, the text in the file cannot be rendered as sound.

In the recent announcement of Library and Archives Canada on the digitization of information is most worrisome, as without accessibility as mandatory criteria, LAC may choose to digitize information content as images and not as text, making the resulting files inaccessible to people using screen reader technologies.

In the case of Communications…

This includes advertising and other channels for promoting information about initiatives in the public interest. An example of communications that closes out people with disabilities, is a television ad which ran a year ago. There were no spoken words to advise listeners about the content of the ad. There was a period of silence, followed by something that sounded like a coin falling and hitting a hard surface, and then nothing else. The ad was for Canada Savings Bonds and provided a phone number to advise Canadians where to call for more information. There have been other ads such as this since then.

In the case of Technology…

We have been witness to the deployment of technologies in the form of kiosks to encourage self service initiatives. Mostly these systems are not accessible to people who are blind, as there is no provision for delivering the message in sound for blind folks. There are many examples where the call for technology to meet the diverse needs of the public such as:

  • Inaccessible Point of Sale devices used at Government sites;
  • Inaccessible computers used at Service Canada;
  • Inaccessible Government of Canada web sites and "Apps" for delivering program and service information;
  • Inaccessible promotions to advise blind Canadians that they have the right to ask and receive information in alternative formats;
  • And more.

Everyone has the right to communicate with Governments and regulated institutions. As all levels of Governments move an increasing number of programs and services online, it becomes even more imperative to consider accessibility as a requirement of initiatives, else the millions of people who have been enabled by technology will see access reduced because accessibility has not been considered and as a result the implementation of programs and services may not work for people using adaptive devices such as screen readers and dynamic braille displays.

With the advent of new technologies such as those produced through Apple Corp, accessibility is part of the operating system. This feature simply needs to be turned on. Out of the box MacBooks and mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads and iPods are providing customers with accessible computing at costs that mirror mainstream pricing. When updates are required they are part of every update provided by the company. How great is that?

Technology is the equalizer, but only if it is considered at the planning stage of new initiatives.

In the world of technology, the absence of accessibility criteria is damaging to innovation in Canada, and to the many companies in this market space. In the United States, accessibility is required when selling technologies to Governments and to other regulated institutions. If Canadian technology companies are not informed about this reality, we will be unable to compete in the export market for our products and services. This reality is well understood in the American education system. Amazon was closed out of this market opportunity because the Kindle did not support the need for text that could be rendered as sound. Apple was the first to understand this opportunity, and responded appropriately by leveraging these features when promoting system capability.

It is always good for Governments and businesses to remember, that blind, deafblind and partially sighted people are customers and voters when designing products, programs and services. Corporations and Governments that remember and accommodate the diverse information, communications and technology needs of the public would be wise to remember, that we are the most loyal employees, customers and voters. And if you fail to remember, you can be sure that, we will!

For more on the position addressing accessibility as a requirement of procurement, and adopted by the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, please visit http://www.blindcanadians.ca/news/correspondence/2013-02/2619-letter-minister-public-works-and-government-services-about-accessib#content

Disclaimer:

This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.
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