The disability community has long called for societal changes that promote inclusion and participation in all aspects of society.
There is substantial work under way throughout the world to advance the inclusion agenda through technology. Information and communication technologies (ICT), in particular, play a significant role.
The Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict), for example, is a project of the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development. Initiated in December 2006 by the Wireless Internet Institute, G3ict is a public-private partnership dedicated to the world-wide implementation of the Digital Accessibility Agenda defined by the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010. But there is much work to be done in getting from Convention to convention.
Despite the value of information and communications technologies, their wide-ranging use and adoption inadvertently can create problems at the same time. Gary Birch of the Neil Squire Society points out that many of the new technologies coming onto the market are not inherently accessible for a large number of persons with disabilities. These new forms of equipment unintentionally act as barriers to − rather than enablers of − participation.
The Neil Squire Society convened a series of focus groups involving persons with mobility, hearing and vision impairments to learn more about the challenges they face. There was consensus that wireless technologies had promising potential to enhance inclusion because they are not rooted in a single place and enable mobility. But sometimes their design creates barriers that no one is articulating, let alone addressing.
Gary’s team at the Neil Squire Society set out to explore the problem. They carried out a study on electronic payment, including the automated machines used in banking, buying tickets and providing information. Electronic payment was selected as the subject of investigation due to its widespread use by industry and its emergence as a primary mode of transaction
The report identifies various obstacles embedded in current technologies, including voice menu systems that do not provide sufficient time for users with mobility impairments. Most voice menu systems do not have a text-based alternative to allow access by users with hearing impairments. Most web-based systems do not adhere to all the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which make these systems largely unusable by persons with vision impairments.
The Neil Squire Society proposes three strategic approaches to tackle the problem. First, the non-profit sector, which has expertise on persons with disabilities and technology, must engage actively with industry to help business understand design challenges and potential solutions.
Second, the disability community must be involved in formulating regulations and standards that shape the design and use of accessible technology.
Finally, it is essential to ensure that postsecondary students who will be responsible for the development of new technologies, including engineers, computer scientists and industrial designers, learn the principles of inclusive design as a compulsory component of their curriculum.
The design of inclusive information and communication technologies right from the get-go is a crucial step in reducing reliance on regulation and compliance. Ideally, in future, ICT products will simply be created in a way that contributes to the solution of accessibility − rather than adds to the problem.
May 17, 2012