Reducing Barriers: A Recap of the Webinar on Digital Accessibility Thumbnail
Growing the Internet 31 May 2019

Reducing Barriers: A Recap of the Webinar on Digital Accessibility

Gunela Astbrink
By Gunela AstbrinkGuest Author

Accessibility for persons with disabilities isn’t just for people who are disabled. It benefits everyone – and there’s even a business case for it, too. That was the key message of the Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) event organized by the Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group (A11ySIG). The webinar was A11ySIG’s very first, only a month after its formation!

The purpose of GAAD is to get people talking, thinking, and learning about digital access and inclusion (including web, software, mobile, etc.) and about people with different disabilities.

The webinar “Digital Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities” was facilitated by A11ySIG’s president, Muhammad Shabbir Awan. Dan York, the Internet Society’s Director of Web Strategy was a guest speaker together with the founders of A11ySIG.

Joly MacFie, A11ySIG’s admin, outlined the historical context of the Special Interest Group, which grew from the Disability and Special Needs Chapter, the first non-geographical Chapter. Joly paid tribute to the Chapter’s Cynthia Waddell, who was a pioneer of web accessibility and an inspiration to many.

Dan York reinforced the Internet Society’s vision “The Internet is for Everyone” and stated its goal for accessibility across its websites. He explained that the work being done includes:

  • Accessibility audits
  • Triaging specific issues
  • Identification and implementation of appropriate new tools
  • Training for content creators

Dan emphasized that content development is the main challenge for ongoing web accessibility and needs to be baked into the DNA of a website. He added that designing for mobile devices brings challenges and opportunities.

Gunela Astbrink, A11ySIG’s vice president, spoke about the double disadvantage faced by women with disability who also have to deal with cultural barriers and discrimination. Through video and wikis, women with disability build a stronger voice. For creators of content, the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG), and the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) have an important role to play to increase accessibility in content, social media platforms, media players, blogging tools, and content management systems.

Judith Hellerstein, A11ySIG’s secretary, discussed how these WC3 guidelines make web content more accessible for people with disabilities and specific needs. The WC3’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) develops web accessibility standards for the different components: WCAG and ATAG address web content and are used by developers, authoring tools, and accessibility evaluation tools; UAAG addresses web browsers and media players. Web accessibility depends on several components working together and improvements in specific components could substantially improve web accessibility. It is essential that several different components of web development and interaction work together for the Web to be accessible to people with disabilities. The main problem is that the implementation of these guidelines varies among countries. While some websites that belong to government entities require standards to be implemented, this is not true for websites belonging to the private sector which are often not covered by legislation.

People from many parts of the world took part in the webinar. Naveed Haq, the Internet Society’s regional development manager, Asia-Pacific, offered his perspective on accessibility in the region and discussed how bringing developers together with people with disability helps issues to be understood better. This year, a project in Pakistan will use this method to help make five government websites accessible.

Participants discussed that devices and software such as screen reading programs are not affordable for people with disability, especially in developing countries. Open source software and discounts on commercial software make a difference. Device manufacturing in some developing countries can bring down prices significantly. However, these devices can be less accessible compared to high-cost devices. It was indicated that local production of devices was a good sign and it was hoped that soon these would be accessible, too.

It was also pointed by the participants of the webinar that if a website, device, software, or content is made accessible for people with disabilities, it also benefits people without disabilities. Moreover, with about 15 percent of the world population consisting of people with disabilities, building in accessibility offers immense business opportunities, too! To reap the true advantages of accessibility, it has to be made part of every process. It should be part of planning and design right from the start – and not added as an afterthought or piecemeal.

Watch the captioned webinar and stay tuned as A11ySIG plans future webinars.

The Internet is for everyone! Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how you can contribute to a more accessible Internet and join A11ySIG!

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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