I am currently writing this month’s article sat in a little café overlooking the cathedral and canal in the beautiful city of Strasbourg. To set the scene a little further I am sat beside someone who is currently composing music, humming to himself and writing musical notes on a score and a lady who is engrossed in The Book of the City of Ladies. It would all be perfect, except for the fact that I can’t seem to get a cup of tea anywhere and anyone who knows me knows what a big issue that is!
Anyway, I am going off topic a bit. In case you are wondering why I am here, I am honoured to have been asked to speak at the Round-table, 6th meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee of Experts on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, run by the Council of Europe – phew that’s a mouthful! My presentation was all about Website Accessibility. I can almost hear you groan and see your eyes glaze over now … Yes, I know that the subject is a little dry, but it’s incredibly important.
Let’s think about it further. When people talk about accessibility they are often focusing on physical access, are there ramps for wheelchair users, loop systems for hearing aid users and appropriate signage for visually impaired people? At Enhance the UK we are always talking about the importance of attitudes and people having had appropriate training. One thing that we talk about less, but which is just as important is access to information. Knowledge is power they say, but if the information isn’t accessible to everyone then we are disadvantaging people further.
It’s an exciting time at the moment; technology is changing our lives in ways we could never have predicted. Who would have thought 15 years ago that ¾ of my friends would meet their partners on an app such as Tinder? Or that telephone banking would be pretty much replaced by Internet banking? Or that I could book my doctors appointment online? Yes, I know I am showing my age, but if you think about it, it’s pretty incredible.
Technology has potential to totally transform the lives of disabled people. Smart phones, text messages, Skype and various other apps have meant that Deaf people can communicate with each other easily, for example. But the danger is that it also has the potential of disadvantaging us. If accessibility isn’t a central part of all development then disabled people are disadvantaged further.
I have lost track of the number of times when training with organisations that they say that they don’t get many Deaf and disabled people accessing their services and that there obviously isn’t a need. Errr hello, newsflash .. disabled people have the same rights, wants and needs as everyone else. I don’t accept that this is the reason. There are a number of factors but one is quite obviously about accessible information. If a business isn’t advertising their services and providing information in an accessible way then they have already put a barrier up before people have even got in the door.
During my presentation, I spoke about the advantages to businesses of having an accessible website. There’s a long list of reasons why it makes good business sense, not least because it improves your google ranking and you have access to the purple pound. One of the debates afterwards was related to whether we should talk about business sense or if we should purely focus on human rights. Personally, whilst in an ideal world we wouldn’t have to speak about business sense, and would accept that morally everything should be accessible to all, I think we are a long way from that at present. Until legislation changes and enforcements are in place then we need to take the approach that works whatever that might be.
So yes, I accept it’s a little dry, but I for one will talk about the importance of website accessibility every chance I get!