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World Disability Day: Digital accessibility in online..ndependence, greater privacy to the differently-abled

World Disability Day: Digital accessibility in online..ndependence, greater privacy to the differently-abled

Srinidhi RaghavanDec 03, 2019 09:05:33 IST

One fine evening, you scrolling through your Twitter timeline, like you usually do. A static image appears on your timeline and it has some 1,268 retweets and another 39,567 likes. But you have no idea what the image is. You are blind and the image is not described.

You turn to a non-disabled person (or a sighted person) next to you and ask, “So what is this picture all about? Why does it have so many likes?” The person has to explain it to you. This is a common experience of a blind user on the internet. Sometimes, when I scroll through my timeline, I wonder what if all the images I am retweeting and liking or the memes that I laughed out loud to, were images that were not described.

World Disability Day: Digital accessibility in online space lends independence, greater privacy to the differently-abled

Scrolling through Twitter, liking and retweeting should be an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Around two to three percent of India’s population is considered disabled according to the census. But since disability, in general, is under-reported, it is hard to know what the actual numbers are. Accessibility is among the most discussed topics in the disability community. Digital access has come to the forefront as we have been discussing both digital India and accessible India.

What is digital accessibility?

Accessibility is built into the design and not just a tick box. Accessibility that is warm and brings us closer. It is not just the act of “helping” someone but the actions of building a world where everyone is welcome, where everyone’s needs are discussed — even if not understood fully. What does digital access mean for people with disabilities? It means so many different things.

Imagine that you are in a mobile application (Tinder/OKCupid/shaadi.com) trying to swipe left or right but you cannot tell where your action will take you. Heck, you have no idea what button you are clicking – whether it is a ‘like’ button, a ‘reject’ button or even a ‘super like’ button. What do you do? Do you continue to navigate? Do you ask someone else for help? Do you simply not try? (Watch this video to understand what it is life to navigate an inaccessible website with a screen reader.) A screen reader is assistive software that visually impaired people use to navigate phones, laptops).

Accessibility is an important part of the digital experience. It improves navigation and usability not just for disabled people but for everyone. For instance, did you know the vibration mode on the phone was actually an accessibility feature? Which one of us doesn’t increase the font size on a page sometimes? Or turn on the dark mode? Or watch a movie with closed captions? These were all accessibility features that many of us now use as part of our everyday internet experience.

A few more examples of digital accessibility — images described in the ‘alternative text’ so the screen reader reads the description instead of an image; videos should be captioned; the website has the ability to increase or decrease font size; all buttons or navigation systems are labelled.

Accessibility takes different forms depending on where we are located and in what part of the world we live in. There are many different ways to make our online experience accessible — here are some guidelines that can help you help us better.

One of the other examples where external support is required is while navigating banking apps. A fairly regular process for many of us. Also, a private process where sharing of passwords are often not advised. But when the system itself is inaccessible, often a person with a disability will have to outsource their banking to another person and hence compromising on their privacy and increasing dependence.

Inaccessibility to online space can make differently abled people feel very alone.

Inaccessibility to online space can make differently abled people feel very alone.

Why is accessibility important?

People with disabilities have said repeatedly that access to digital spaces improves their mobility, their ability to connect with others, enhances their independence, allows for greater privacy and expands access to different kinds of information without any kinds of restrictions. This is not to say that all people with disabilities have access to the internet but the lack of accessibility online makes those who do have access, unable to utilise it to its full potential. Whether people with disabilities go online to access information or shop, we should all be allowed the same joyful experience. This is only possible if we make digital spaces accessible.

As an organisation (Rising Flame) working on disability, accessibility is at the core of our work. One of the many things we discovered, during the process of our work, is that when accessibility is built into the initial design, it makes maintaining accessibility easier. Disability rights activists have been saying for a long time that accessibility in the digital space and the offline space is not meant to be an add on or tokenised. In our own small way in our digital presence, we ensure that all images are described, all videos are captioned/subtitled and our website itself is accessible across more than one disability. It gives us pleasure to be awarded the National Award for the Most Accessible Website in under a year of creating it. This gives us hope that when access is placed in the centre, no matter the team size, it can be achieved. However, we do believe as a team that accessibility is not something to be rewarded and we hope that such an award will be unnecessary.

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Written by Abhishek

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