The Urgency of Accessibility

This week’s newsletter is continuing the tradition of inviting members of our community to write From The Curator’s Desk, and for this edition, I’m happy to hand it over to Mark Renja, who works at the intersection of media, technology, diversity and accessibility.

I’ll be handing over this section of the newsletter to guest writers from time to time, please do reach out to me on chris@barazalab.com if you’re interested in writing this section and you have something of interest to share to our community — a trend you’ve noticed or something you’d like us to think about. 

Five million people in the world now have long Covid. For many, this is their first experience of having a disability. They now join the one billion people already living with disabilities and it’s likely that, as the pandemic continues, more people will end up with the lingering effects of this disease.

As we continue to imagine a radically different digital ecosystem, how do we intentionally and meaningfully include those of us in this growing group of those living with disabilities, who have needs that are so often overlooked?

One of my disabilities — a visual impairment — has been part of my life since childhood. Living with this disability involves navigating various structural inequities every day, ranging from the general inconvenience of struggling to see things designed for people with better vision than mine, to the stinging humiliations inflicted on those of us with non-conventional features. While the online world has granted many a freedom that the physical world withholds, we also encounter obstacles that replicate the injustices of offline life.

The good news is that there are many things we can all do to contribute to a more inclusive digital future. Captioning and text-to-speech are already widely used on TikTok by a generation of creators that understands universal accessibility better than almost any other. Podcast platforms are working on transcription tools for their content, expanding their audience to include people who are unable to hear. And there’s an ever-growing collection of free resources to help understand the needs of disabled users.

It doesn’t take much to make work more accessible. Make sure your website can work without the use of a mouse, because many assistive technologies rely on keyboard-only navigation. Include alt-text on all images, so that screen readers can “read” the picture. Enable resizable text so that text flows dynamically on your site and doesn’t break your design. Use strong enough contrast in your colour choices, which is especially important for those with colour blindness. And include closed captions on your videos, and don’t rely on YouTube’s automatic closed captions – those are frequently gibberish, but fortunately there are companies and apps that do a much better job.

So before you upload that video, share that image, publish that podcast or build that website, take a moment to consider who you’re excluding. Then do whatever it takes to fix it.

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote on this subject: “Accessibility isn’t more work, you were just cutting corners before. The work was incomplete.”

By Mark Renja


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