Nancy Waite, Coordinator of Library Accessibility Services at McMaster University describes accessibility as “levelling the playing field so that everybody has access to the same content and is able to participate.”
Information, activities, and environments created with accessibility considerations are functional and available for those with disabilities. Waite believes businesses should plan for accessibility from the beginning of a project and make their work and products usable by as many people as possible.
Rob Harvie, Founding Director of Inclusive Media and Design shares Waite’s desire for a more inclusive society. “It’s the right thing to do,” Harvie says.
From an economic standpoint, Harvie highlights that having an inclusive workplace that creates accessible content is attractive to potential employees and important for maintaining healthy consumer relationships with Canada’s ageing population. He explains that this group has massive spending power but increasingly experiences age-related limitations.
Currently, one in five (22 percent) Canadians aged 15 years and older were recorded as having one or more disabilities in the 2017 Canadian Survey of Disabilities. “Businesses should have an interest in making sure that a group that is as big as the disabled community is supported,” says Waite.
Accessibility starts with managers who are dedicated to creating a culture and an environment that supports those with disabilities. According to Waite, a negative attitude is one of the largest barriers the disabled community faces. It is important for company leaders to model accessible behaviour and be proactive in their approaches to support workers.
Qualified workers with disabilities can be deterred by inaccessible job postings and biased interview structures during the hiring process.
Sandy Feldman is a freelance web designer and developer who works with Inclusive Media and Design and has her own web design studio. Feldman says leaders should ask three questions to those experiencing accessibility barriers: “What’s the problem? How can we help? What can we do now and how can we fix it in the future?”
Feldman helps remove digital accessibility barriers by creating websites that work with assistive technology, products or systems that support and assist individuals with disabilities, restricted mobility, or other impairments. One example of assistive technology is screen magnification software.This software lets the user zoom the screen and change colour contrast to customize readability.
“Digital information is like water. It can morph to suit whatever user agent is looking at it,” Feldman says.
Some basic tips for creating accessible websites include:
1. Fix the “low-hanging fruit” first
2. Only provide accessible files for download from your website
3. Use testing groups before releasing a website to the public
4. Don’t use ‘quick fixes’ to address accessibility issues
Waite emphasizes that by “baking accessibility into the process” and starting to create accessible content from the beginning with assistive technology, all communities benefit.
“It’s not an ugly, painful and expensive experience to make your site accessible,” Harvie says, “It’s more of an empowering and profit-boosting practice in the long run.”
Powered by Magnet, the Discover Ability Network (DAN) is a knowledge-hub where organizations can access resources and best practices to foster inclusive workplaces. Learn more here.
Additional resources you can use to create accessible content: