Accessibility update

In 2018 I had the fortunate opportunity to co-create our university’s first accessibility for graphic communications course. Since that time of intense research and deep understanding, I feel I’ve lost touch with key accessibility insights and trends. This gap in knowledge led me to produce a six-part podcast series in the fall 2021 to learn from accessibility changemakers – persons with disabilities, as well as allies and advocates for persons with disabilities – all making the world a more inclusive place through their creative leadership. Below you’ll find six important trends and insights from these conversations.

Understanding the models of disability 

In speaking with Kevin Shaw, an entrepreneur who lost his vision entirely at the age of 19, he reminds us of the ‘medical model of disability’ versus the ‘social model of disability.’ While the medical model represents traditional thinking that ‘the individual is broken and must be fixed’, the social model is a more contemporary framework that focuses on the ways in which environments are disabling through physical or digital barriers.

Why it matters: Armed with this knowledge, a big part of trying to make products and services more accessible is to determine barriers and remove them. Reframe the problem to create more meaningful solutions.

Greater enforcement of AODA legislation is on the horizon

In speaking with Lee Eldridge, a workflow automations specialist who has a long history of helping facilitate accessible communications solutions, he believes that governments will start reacting more frequently to accessibility non-compliance. As we creep ever closer to the AODA-compliance deadline of January 1, 2025, the global pandemic has given us a glimpse into the ways the government handles non-compliance of communication enforcements.

Why it matters: The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) affects companies of all sizes in Ontario. Understanding what you and your clients must do to become AODA-compliant is more important now than ever.

Accessibility is Not a Checklist 

In speaking with Josh Skinner, a senior product designer who’s passionate about equity and accessibility, he reminds us that accessibility is not just a checklist of items. Instead, define what accessibility means to your project from the outset and build appropriate functionality from day one.

Why it matters: Remembering that there are humans on the other side of the screen or printed page is critical to defining and working towards accessibility goals unique for each project. 

“You don’t know what you don’t know”

In speaking with Mel Sutjiadi, a QTPOC multi-disciplinary creative director, designer, illustrator, developer and educator, he reminds us that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” If we don’t have a disability, it’s difficult for us to understand the needs of these individuals. There are many built-in tools, websites and apps to help us understand how different people see the world (i.e. colour filters on iPhones). You can very quickly assess if something like colour contrast is making your visuals unnecessarily difficult to interpret, for example.

Why it matters: Free and low-cost tools readily available on a range of devices allow us to literally see through the eyes of others to help better understand what users need.

More accessible social media is easier than you think 

In speaking with Theresa Mabe, a visually-impaired higher education marketing professional with a degree in digital media and web technology, she reminds us that widely-used social media tools often hold a treasure trove of accessibility features sitting just below the surface, that can radically improve the experience for many. This includes alt-text and live captioning, among others.

Why it matters: If your organization prides itself on inclusivity, practice what you preach by understanding how to promote yourself on social media in a way that’s accessible.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) won’t solve all issues surrounding accessibility

In speaking with Kelly Dermody and Adam Chaboryk, both university accessibility specialists, they remind us that while AI can assist with helping to remove barriers, it’s not 100% effective because accessibility is dependent on human experiences, which is difficult to achieve using AI alone.

Why it matters: There will be a continued need for human intervention in inclusive communication efforts for the foreseeable future.

Accessibility and inclusion are fundamental in all communication efforts. As industry leaders, it’s ultimately our responsibility to educate ourselves about why and how to make our offerings more accessible. We owe it to our clients and to our societies to make accessibility a priority.

Diana Varma
Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.

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