Disability Inclusion: Should the media practise and propagate accessibility?

By Shruti Pushkarna

May 19, 2022 marks the eleventh edition of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). Founders, Joe Devon and Jennison Asuncion teamed up in 2012 to initiate the famous GAAD movement following a blogpost (by Joe) and a thread on Twitter (spotted by Jennison).

The objective is to raise awareness and know-how on how to make the digital environment (products and services) accessible for one billion people across the world, who live with some form of disability.

Through various events, talks and hackathons, everyone gets talking, thinking and learning about digital inclusion and access. India has been an active participant in the movement. But other than the usual suspects, including disability advocates, potential beneficiaries of accessible ecosystems, accessibility testers and consultants, most of us don’t really care about this annual observance.

In fact, unless one is aligned to the disability sector in some way, the term GAAD is probably alien.

Before we (society and media) can propagate the removal of barriers in access, it is imperative to understand the problem and its magnitude.

Imagine not having access to online services like banking, food delivery, social media, maps, search engines. Feels strange, right?

In the digitally connected world, we cannot fathom making physical trips to the bank, telecom provider, grocer, fruits and vegetable vendor, chemist et cetera for essentials.

It’s almost paralysing to think of a life without our handy gadgets: smartphone and computers.

Persons with disabilities live with physical, mental or sensory limitations. But technology can enable them to lead less crippled lives.

Here are just a few scenarios citing how digital inclusion can alter the rules of engagement.

1. Booking flight tickets online

A person with hearing or speech impairment, vision impairment or locomotor disability can access travel booking apps or websites using computers and assistive technology (or devices). However, an inaccessible audio or image Captcha can prevent them from independently closing the transaction.

2. Internet banking

A disabled person confined to his or her home because of the barriers in the physical environment, can avoid the hassles of visiting a bank for financial transactions. Most of us are empowered by the ease of digital payments today. Persons with disabilities can also use payment gateways, online banking and mobile wallets to seamlessly transfer money. Again, the platforms need to be compatible with assistive tools and technology.

3. Ordering food, medicines, other essentials

Persons with disabilities don’t have to depend on another for everything. There are a lot of daily activities and needs that can be met independently. Like ordering groceries, medicines, vegetables, fruits or scrumptious food, using popular websites and apps that deliver stuff to the doorstep.

4. Reading

Whether it’s catching news updates or reading fictional accounts, e-publications and audio books make reading easily accessible for a larger population, including print disabled. Needless to say, this impacts inclusion in educational institutions as well as the workplace.

5. Social engagements

Access to social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram helps expand a disabled person’s social circle. They can interact with a wider and diverse group in a virtual setting, without being constrained by their disability.

So why should we care about ensuring access to this section of the population?

1. The numbers are huge.

We are talking about 15 per cent of the world’s population that faces challenges in accessing websites, mobile applications, or other digital products, if developers and designers don’t adhere to accessibility guidelines. And these include people who are educated, employed and even taxpayers.

2. Disabled folk are caught in a vicious cycle of marginalisation.

Excluded from opportunities of education, employment and entertainment, persons with disabilities continue living on the margins. Access to digital services, especially in a world driven by technology, can help them attain personal and economic independence.

3. Equal access implies increased participation that helps in refuting stereotypes.

Picture an inclusive classroom where students with and without disabilities can access books and lessons through computers, smartphones or assistive devices. Quality education can reduce the burden on reservations and benefits, with more and more disabled folk pursuing jobs based on merit and aspirations. Gradually belying the stereotype of lifelong dependency.

4. Seeing the disabled as active citizens.

The ability to attend school, work a job, participate in an online forum, make financial investments, argue and opine on social media, transforms the disabled from an invisible majority to active citizenry. A natural progression towards ‘person first’ narrative follows, where disability becomes inconsequential.

5. Untapped human resource can impact the economy.

The International Labour Organisation suggests that including persons with disabilities into the workforce can positively impact the GDP by 3 to 5 per cent.

Accessibility not only paves way for an inclusive society but also makes perfect business sense to make products and services available to a wider pool.

Source: https://www.mxmindia.com/2022/05/disability-inclusion-should-the-media-practise-and-propagate-accessibility/

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