Why is accessibilty seen as an after-thought, or at worst an expense to help a handful of disadvantaged people?
Have you ever tried using a website or app on your smartphone whilst riding a bus when the sun is streaming through the window? You probably have. How did that work out for you?
…the internet was no longer being consumed solely on a desktop, viewing through a large monitor perched on a desk whilst in a comfortable chair. The iPhone broke a barrier. The web would start – and continues – to push its way into every moment of our day, regardless of what environment (surroundings or situation) you happen to be in.
microsoft inclusive design impairments
It’s lunch time at the Accessibility Scotland Conference and I take a stroll up the road to grab a soda. I find a shop and low and behold a 10cm step. With the challenges that wheelchairs users have fresh in my mind, I looked down, shook my head and walked on in.
The 10cm step
On my way out a ramp appears! “Well that solves that”. I am then greeted by a delivery man with a trolley full of supplies for the shop. The ramp belonged to him. He finished his delivery, threw the ramp in the back of his truck and drove away. Leaving me with the 10cm step. So not only would consideration help those we would often think to require the support (those in wheelchairs, those with limited visibility or even those with prams) but it would help the main function of the shop – getting supplies in both quicker and easier – but also be less intrusive to all users.
So, what’s the digital equivalent of the 10cm step?
There’s a few. For example, the contrast between text and background. Dark colours on a light background work well for users with visual impairments but also work well for “able-bodied” users reading a phone with bright sunlight glaring off the screen.
What about the move towards ‘smart homes’ and the invisible interfaces such as Alexa and Siri? How accessible are they? Users that are mute (permanent impairment) or users with laryngitis (temporary impairment) will struggle to communicate with them. But also those, like myself, with a strong accent (situational impairment) that will struggle with these new technologies.
How do we take this forward?
Our first project that we have embarked upon is called The Community Ramp Project.
With material donations from community hardware stores and volunteer labour from inspired community members businesses with single stepped storefronts are invited to participate and have a custom ramp made at no cost.
The brightly coloured ramps do not present a perfect solution to the problem however they create curiosity and get people talking about this huge design issu.
The project has introduced many to the human right to equal access and has broadened the conversation on this topic.
You don’t really know the meaning of accessibility unless you use a wheelchair or hang out with someone who does. I only started to understand one fall evening while wandering the streets of downtown Montreal with my friend André, in search of a bar or restaurant where he could get his wheelchair through the door.
It took us 45 minutes to find a place, by which time I was feeling quite indignant. How could so many places not bother to make the small ascent to their threshold – usually just one step up from the sidewalk – manageable for people with disabilities? André seemed to take the hassle more calmly, because he had been dealing with it for years.More recently, I went with Omar Lachheb and his girlfriend, Luz, to a Montreal sushi restaurant that we knew had no way of allowing his wheelchair in. But they had brought the solution with them: a wooden ramp, custom-built for that very doorway.
It was one of 20 that Lachheb had arranged to supply to businesses in Montreal since September. A waiter laid down the ramp and voila! – instant accessibility.
Lachheb’s not-for-profit program is called the Community Ramp Project, and its initial goal is to get customized portable ramps around town and into public consciousness. The brightly coloured ramps not only get people in the door, they make visible a problem that’s often easy for the able-bodied to ignore.Laccheb’s approach to most businesses is direct and dramatic. “I knock on the door or the glass, and just wave and say, ‘Hi,’” he said, during a chat in his condo. “I can’t go in, so I have to wait outside.” By the time someone comes out, they know, if they didn’t before, that there’s a problem with the doorway. Rather than complain about it, Lachheb offers them a simple fix, and a clear business motive for doing it.
“Accessibility is a social issue, about equality and dignity for people with disabilities,” he said, “but it’s also about considering people with mobility issues as customers. They have jobs and money to spend. Having a ramp and being accessible is a smart choice for businesses.”