Advocate for Accessibility

The pandemic has made all of us much more aware of and dependent on the internet for daily activities. This includes work, school, shopping, entertainment, and connection. Hopefully it has also opened your eyes to the importance of all  these resources being available to everyone, including people with disabilities. This includes people with:

  • People with motor impairments
  • Blind or low vision
  • Deaf or hard of hearing
  • Cognitive and intellectual disabilities
  • mental illness and more.

An inaccessible website or lack of inclusion can prevent people from activities of daily living. We all need to advocate for better accessibility and inclusion. You don’t need any special skills. Here is a guide to get you started.

Be Vocal

Follow the mantra of “see something, say something.” Start within your own organization. Review your company’s marketing presence and materials. Are people with disabilities and diverse backgrounds represented in those images? If not, do some digging and email a manager or director in the marketing department to point this out. I did this. I received guidance and access to the image resource and found appropriate images for inclusion in the company’s catalog.

Does your company offer live, virtual training seminars or a speaker series? Do they have live transcription? If not track down the organizer and point out why live transcription is necessary. It is critical for the Deaf and hard of hearing. It aids people whose native language is different from the speakers’ and folks who are visual learners.

Insist that recorded sessions have captions or at the very least, a transcript. Make certain all employees can use and benefit from the information. Don’t let cost be an excuse! If a corporation is paying for speakers, they can certainly include the cost of live transcription. There are affordable captioning services as low as $1.25/minute. Help to educate the organizers and promote inclusion.

Review websites for basic accessibility. Learn the basic keyboard commands to navigate a website. If you are sighted, check for a visual focus outline on all actionable elements. If there are problems, let the site owner know. Most websites have a method to contact the owner or to leave comment. Use that to point out the lack of accessibility.

Live your commitment

Don’t use or endorse companies with inaccessible websites! Don’t just tell them about the issues, let them know why you won’t use their products or services. If it is a small company or non-profit, take the time to educate them about why accessibility is critical. Unfortunately, many people are still unaware of what it means to be accessible and why it matters. Offer to help if you have the skills.

Make all of your social media posts accessible. Many social media sites have a mechanism to add alternative text to images. At a minimum you can describe your image in the text or comments. Do this every time you post. Every. Time. Add captions to all of your videos. There are tools to help you do this yourself or use a transcription service. You put time and energy into your posts, make sure to share them with everyone. Advocacy and support begin with individuals. Be that individual.

Refuse to speak at virtual conferences that do not provide live transcription. Just say no, and explain why. I’ve had to struggle with this one a bit. I spoke at a conference by a small non-profit, volunteer organization that used automatic transcription. Before agreeing I verified that the service was able to transcribe my voice with very good accuracy. I will not make that concession to a for profit organization, especially one that pays its speakers. If they can afford to pay for speakers, they can afford live transcription!

If it is an in-person conference verify that the venue itself is accessible to people with disabilities.  Ensure people can request accommodation such as sign language interpretation or dietary needs. Are personal assistants allowed at no additional charge? Are seats reserved up front for visual and hearing-impaired individuals and others who require accommodation? Demand a diverse speaker lineup. If these basic requirements are not be met, decline the invitation and explain why.

Call to Action/It Begins with You

As the world is finally beginning to embrace diversity and inclusion, we must exemplify our values and commitment. If everyone who cares about accessibility takes these simple actions, we can make a difference. Lead by example and share your passion for a more inclusive world. What steps are you taking to make a difference?

Resources:

Becky Gibson, Guest Author

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Becky is a recognized expert in the field of digital inclusion and enabling accessible solutions. Her extensive career as a Software Engineer and Accessibility Architect has impacted products, customer strategy, and industry standards. Becky continues to participate in the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) working groups in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) helping to develop standards for web accessibility. She is passionate about making Web and mobile applications usable for people of all abilities.

Becky is currently employed as a Sr. Accessibility Product Manager at UKG. Opinions expressed are solely her own.

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