Ontario Digital Inclusion Summit
Inclusive Accessibility as an Economic Opportunity
Table of Content
- Presentation Overview
- The Business Need For Flexibility
- Product And Service Standards
- Innovation And Collaboration
Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) is a national grassroots, peer support organization speaking with one voice for more choices in creating an inclusive society. Our Mission is to increase awareness of rights and responsibilities that will improve employment and quality of life. As a leader advocating for blind, deaf-blind, and low vision Canadians, we collaborate with all levels of government and businesses.
- Speaker: David Best, Accessibility Information Technology Specialist and Advocate
I am a member of the AEBC Board Of Directors, and an Appointee to the Ontario AODA advisory team. As an Information Technology Specialist, an Accessibility Consultant, a Digital Inclusion Advocate, and an Assistive Technology user, I have experienced the digital divide, confronted workplace challenges, implemented best practice inclusion strategies, mentored peer support group initiatives, facilitated web design workshops, and promoted emerging technologies that inspire independence and confidence. I will share my experiences in navigating the digital world from the perspective of a blind citizen.
I believe the global economic and social trends, that are merging man and machines, can close the prosperity gap for persons with disabilities. However, despite good will and best intentions, the digital revolution has marginalized those people with sensory disabilities, who now have the highest rates of unemployment and poverty in the country. We need to understand the economics of disability and the attitudes of innovation to reverse this trend.
I provide accessibility support training to software development teams. I provide AODA management training. I support innovators of wearables and navigation technologies for blind persons. I live in the Niagara region, and enjoy traveling, hiking, and gardening.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- PowerPoint: Speaker slide
- MP3 Audio: Audio speaker presentation
- Live streaming: Ontario Digital Inclusion Summit Day 1 (YouTube)
- Photos: Ontario Digital Summit Photos (Flickr)
- Topic: The Digital Accessibility Blind Spots
The AODA is an Ontario economic growth strategy that elevates social behaviour expectations for a fully inclusive society. However, Ontarians that are blind, low vision, or deaf-blind have not shared in this prosperity strategy. Rates of unemployment and poverty has steadily increased for this group of people, over the past two decades.
What are the knowledge and systemic gaps that keep blind citizens from accessing and benefiting from the digital world? To understand the accessibility mystery and the shocking truth for disability disengagement, we need to look at the global economic and social trends that impact productivity and business growth. Understanding the digital divide that differentiates business success or failure, will help us understand the digital accessibility gap of availability, affordability, and usability, that excludes Ontarians living with vision loss, from the digital world.
Inclusive accessibility is about:
- A greater level of understanding in the business need for flexibility and community engagement. sustainable growth in revenue, return on investment, and profitability is not just about legal compliance.
- A greater appreciation for product and service standards. A competitive advantage is built upon talent and market growth.
- Motivate to embrace change, and create a business model that enables people. Innovation and collaboration is at the intersection where humans and machines connect.
The Business Need For Flexibility
Prosperitytechnologies have transformed how business operates, how people manage their purchasing and finances, find and carry out jobs, access public services and participate in communities, and how they experience learning, culture, leisure, social networking and entertainment. However, digital inclusion demands that everyone has the potential to be engaged with the economy and society. Investing in accessible and usable technology products and services, workplace environments and facilities opens up new markets, increases productivity and liberates talent, and enables innovation. The message that "providing accessible and usable technologies to all is fundamental to an organisation's core business objectives" must come from the top of the organisation. Accessibility no longer means compliance. It has become a mainstream requirement that can transform the business. Therefore every part of the organisation should be involved in creating a holistic strategy for embedding accessibility across various aspects of the entire enterprise; From processes to product development to the culture, including partners and suppliers, in order to better manage compliance, improve the user experience, and create an inclusive workplace environment.
The AODA legislation has established a new baseline standard for societal behaviour expectations, and is Ontario's economic prosperity growth strategy through full inclusion, built on new digital products and services to drive revenue growth, and new ways to acquire and develop talent, to shape the corporate enterprise of the future.
Key Business Goals:
- Reach new markets
- Maximise employee engagement and productivity
- Provision high quality products and services
- Improve supply chain management
- Build partner and community relations
- Minimise risk of legal action
Our senses transduce information from the physical world to the realm of our mind. In our rapidly changing world, our senses tend to get overloaded, and some messages get distorted or even lost.
- To inform and create increased awareness
- To entertain and gest
- To train and educate
- To persuade and influence
- To deceive and mislead
A human sensory system consists of sensory receptors, neural pathways, and parts of the brain involved in sensory perception. Commonly recognized sensory systems that transfer information to knowledge are:
- Vision: In many ways, vision is the primary human sense, and critical for Facial perception in perceiving the identity of an individual, and facial expressions such as emotional cues.
- Hearing: Hearing is the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations, and involves the complex task of separating out the sources of interest, often estimating their distance and direction as well as identifying them.
- Tactile: Haptic perception is the process of recognizing objects through touch, and involves a combination of somatosensory perception of patterns on the skin surface (edges, curvature, and texture), and proprioception of hand position and conformation. Note, this may also include taste and smell senses.
PerceptionEver wonder why smart, well-intended leaders sometimes make poor decisions? We as humans are heavily influenced by our biases. The unconscious mind is a repository of past experiences that includes perceptions, intuition, and subliminal desires. Although these influences rarely reach our conscious minds, they play a significant role in governing our decisions. lying is an unavoidable part of human nature, and is a form of deception, but not all forms of deception are lies. Lying is giving some information while believing it to be untrue, intending to deceive by doing so.
- A lie communicates some information.
- The liar intends to deceive or mislead.
- The liar believes that what they are saying is not true.
Profit and power are two motives that generate lies among many leaders. Fear of disgrace and loss of power are some negative drivers for lies. The moral value of telling the truth is a learned value. Many people claim many things are true, but one must learn to question, research, compare, and think independently of mere claims.†This involves critical thinking, an essential skill to learn what is true and false. the effects of unconscious bias is shaped by our learning, memory, expectation, and attention. For instance, how someone perceives what unfolds during a sports game can be biased if they strongly support one of the teams.
Attitude ImpactIt has been identified that cultural attitudes toward persons with disabilities is one of the major employment barriers in Canada. Studies report that most disabled people prefer not to self-identify as a person with a disability, but unfortunately, this is not an option for blind adults. The work environment of insecurity and self-preservation, has had a major impact on the employment and career development of disabled people. As we transition from the industrial to the knowledge based economy, the unemployment rate for blind Canadians has steadily increased. In the 1970's there was an 80% employment rate, and today there is an 80% unemployment rate of Canadians living with vision loss. Sustainable business growth is a major challenge in our era of global digital economic transformation, and Accessibility is at the heart of success in a highly competitive business environment. Accessibility is less about Disability and more about Productivity. Accessibility is about breaking down barriers of Cultural Arrogance and Systemic Blindness. Bridging the digital divide is about closing the gap between leadership understanding of Accessibility, and management implementation of Accessibility. When organizations integrate User Experience Design into their work environments, the need for employees to request individual accommodations through a separate process is reduced, which creates a more similar and equitable experience for everyone.
The digital revolution has imposed unprecedented pressures upon organizations, and has disrupted the traditional management model. The struggle for competitive advantage has forced organizations to respond to the rapid changes in technology innovation and human rights demands. Organizations that do not understand these global trends will not succeed in the digital age. This paradigm shift is having a profound impact on workplace productivity and organization infrastructure stability. The ability to use new emerging technologies is currently at the heart of social inclusion, with those excluded being left out of many work, entertainment, communication, healthcare and social benefits. Business leaders that do not understand the digital transformation are at risk of alienating groups of employees and consumers. Typically, business leaders try to understand complex systems indirectly through mental models defined by advisors, and then perform actions based on these models without any appropriate understanding of real life experiences.
This is evident in the failure of large successful companies over the past decade. Business studies show that ineffective management strategies, refered to as "Systems Blindness" and "Culture Of Arrogance" was at the root of these failures. Culture of arrogance felled telecom giant Nortel, The Globe and Mail is one such example. The collapse of telecommunications giant Nortel Networks Corp. was caused by "a culture of arrogance and even hubris" that led to numerous management errors and weakened the firm's ability to adapt to changing customer needs. Systems Blindness: The Illusion of Understanding By Daniel Goleman occurs when leaders implement a strategy to solve a problem, but ignore the pertinent system dynamics, for short-term relief with the problem reappearing worse than before. There are none so blind as those who will not see, but there are also those who simply cannot see the wood for the trees, which is why so many organizations unknowingly suffer from a severe form of corporate dyslexia known as Systems Blindness, which has had an impact on productivity. The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) reports that the total cost from mental health problems and illnesses to the Canadian economy is significant. studies report that the economic cost of lost productivity to Canada is at least $50 billion per year. In any given year one in five people, about 21.4% of the working population in Canada, experiences a mental health problem or illness and it affects almost everyone in some way. Mental health problems and illnesses account for approximately 30% of short and long term disability claims and are rated one of the top three drivers of such claims by more than 80% of Canadian employers.
Product And Service Standards
StandardizationStandardization is often ignored and misunderstood, but is critical for continuous improvement, and should not be neglected. Continuous improvement is measured by user satisfaction, and is what people expect. However, it is often perceived, by leaders at the higher levels of the organization, as something that is fundamentally burdening, unexciting and boring, but necessary for success. Standardization processes will allow for more transparency and greater efficiencies, But more importantly work becomes more stable and predictable, which translates into greater satisfaction. A standard describes the level of excellence, and is something that you use in order to judge the quality, using a set of defined policies; Criterions, Measures, and Guidelines. The Ontario economic inclusion strategy is based on two primary guidelines:
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) legislative requirements, as defined by the integrated accessibility standard guidelines, establishes the level of expected societal behaviour for all Ontario organizations for:
- Customer service standard to help remove barriers for people with disabilities so they can access goods, services or facilities.
- Information and communications standard to help organizations make their information accessible to people with disabilities.
- Transportation standard to make it easier for everyone to travel in the province.
- Employment standard to help make hiring and employee support practices more accessible.
- Design of public spaces standard to help organizations make new and redeveloped outdoor public areas accessible.
- The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a globally accepted web content standard with four basic principals, was developed by organization in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world:
- Perceivable, information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Operable, user interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Understandable, information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
- Robust, content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
DesignDesign is the bridge between information and understanding. Design is all around us, but for the most part, the design reflects the perception of the designer, which is why the visual appearance of a product is so important. However, more recently, due to standardization (WCAG and AODA), designers have stretched their creative powers to include hearing and tactile features. The design of products and services is based on either Accessibility criteria (technology capabilities), or Usability functions (human social qualities).
Universal Design (Wikipedia), often refered to as inclusive design, is about broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce products and services that are accessible to older people and people with disabilities. The 7 Principles of Universal Design can be used as a guide to understand the characteristics of more usable products and services.
- Principle 1: Equitable Use.
- Principle 2: Flexibility in Use.
- Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use.
- Principle 4: Perceptible Information.
- Principle 5: Tolerance for Error.
- Principle 6: Low Physical Effort.
- Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use.
Human-Centered Design (Wikipedia) Human-centered design (HCD) is a creative approach to problem solving based on the user physical attributes. It is a process that starts with the people you are designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Support and help-desk costs are reduced when users can understand and use products without additional assistance. Typically, human-centered design is more focused on methodologies and techniques for interacting with people in such a manner as to facilitate the detection of meanings, desires and needs, either by verbal or non-verbal means. Using the 3 HCD step process will improve quality; Inspiration Phase (you will learn directly from the people you are designing for as you immerse yourself in their lives and come to deeply understand their needs), Ideation Phase (you will make sense of what you learned, identify opportunities for design, and prototype possible solutions), and Implementation Phase (you will bring your solution to life, and eventually, to market, while keeping the very people you are serving at the heart of the process).
- Increasing the productivity of users and the operational efficiency of organizations.
- Being easier to understand and use, thus reducing training and support costs.
- Increasing usability for people with a wider range of capabilities and thus increasing accessibility.
- Improving user experience.
- Reducing discomfort and stress.
- Providing a competitive advantage, for example by improving brand image.
- Contributing towards sustainability objectives.
Standards ImpactThe second most significant barrier for persons living with vision loss is in the information communications technology infrastructures that are designed for specific tasks, but have little regard for the needs of the people that use it. Without appropriate standards and guidelines, product development, workplace procurement, management processes, and leadership strategies, the disability inclusion provision is forced to depend upon accommodation requirements and creative solutions. Those with vision loss have been marginalized by the digital transformation because communication systems have been designed by the sighted for the sighted. Although government offers funding for assistive technologies and on the job training, to employers that hire disabled persons, there is no direct support for disabled people or to fix the broken infrastructures. In recent years many companies have dismissed blind employees, because the IT infrastructure challenges were overwhelming and dismissal is an easier solution. In most cases management is too distracted to care about accessibility concerns, and the blind employee without support resources is too fearful to challenge the employer. Thus, the current government accommodation strategy is not a workable solution for blind persons.
We all have accessibility issues to some degree, but is only a major problem when the design fails your need. In the race to innovate quickly, accessibility is often an afterthought, left aside in the rush for a later release that never comes, but when it is integrated into the design phase, it ensures consistent tools and services for all citizens. The accessibility challenge is the deficit gap between the Disability of the user and the System capabilities. The goal is to bridge the Accessibility Gap, through User Experience Design, that will create the best possible interoperability of System components to achieve the desired User experience. In the past two decades there has been an important paradigm shift affecting the development of new legislation and policies concerning persons with disabilities (PWD), from segregation to integration, from institutionalization to mainstreaming, from the medical model of disability being viewed as a condition to be treated, to the social model of disability focusing on the removal of disabling barriers in the environment that hinder full participation in society. The introduction of legislative and accessibility standards has shifted the cultural attitude in the way people view design. User Experience Design principles have traditionally been applied to architecture, product design, and the learning environment, but these principles are highly applicable to the work environment as well.†User Experience Design for the Workplace puts the focus on the accomplishment, quality, and timeliness of the work, instead of how, when, and where it is performed. The Value of barrier-free design considerations in the Workplace are at the discretion of individual organization culture and standards interpretation.
The development of ergonomics and human factors, and their application in industrial design and engineering, greatly influenced the focus of the User Experience design principles. Accessibility, usability, and inclusive design are all part of the User Experience design, but differ in techniques and goals. the modernist and functionalist design trends of the 20th century began to consider the day-to-day needs of individuals, which gave way to the Universal and Human-Centered design concepts. Accessibility efforts and the fundamental values of the disability rights movement formed the foundation on which the User Experience design concepts were built. User Experience design extends beyond the confines of accessibility to usability, which creates the inclusion of all persons through the integration of mainstream products, services, and environmental features. However, there is a great deal of confusion around Accessibility, and for the most part information technology Specialists are self-taught in the art of Accessibility techniques. This has resulted in a digital communication gap between business leaders understanding of Accessibility and the actual blind user experience. Skilled accessibility experts do not necessarily comprehend the user real life experience.
Universal design and Human-Centered design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. However, Universal Design starts with a technology and shapes it for human use, while Human-Centered design starts with a human need and creates a technology solution to overcome a human challenge. In the past, the roots of research and development (the telephone, GPS navigation, optical character recognition, text to speech synthesis) were to resolve a human disability challenge, but eventually became mainstream products for all to enjoy. However, more recently digital technology innovation is designed to persuade and influence human behaviour (social media) to create a new market of needs, and is eventually adapted to support disability challenges. This has been driven by the race for corporate market control and profits, and has resulted in marginalizing people living with vision loss. While Usability implies Accessibility, the contrary is not necessarily true, as Accessibility is a subset of Usability. Usability is concerned with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction through multiple means of representation, multiple means of expression, and multiple means of engagement. That is, cognitive considerations for visualization and the information interface design, are important for making products and services accessible and usable. Although Accessibility is an important part of the design process, but it is only the first step in the User Experience design.
Innovation And Collaboration
Global TrendsDigital communications is not just about organisations that deliver digital products and services, but rather a digital organisation is one that can operate effectively in our digital age; which means leaders at all levels of the organisation must have a basic level of digital competence. Becoming a digital organisation is not just about recruiting a digital superhero as your chief digital officer, and digital accessibility is not merely about greater use of technologies by persons with disabilities, but rather it is about transforming information-based policies and the information communication technology ecosystem. Failure to get it right by government is not just about a commercial loss, but failure means marginalised citizens, not unhappy consumers. Democratic governments live in the tension between two often competing ideas: The will of the popular vote, and the constitutional rights of the individual. For digital government to work, it must not just be for the masses, but for everyone. We are crossing a new frontier in the evolution of computing and entering the era of cognitive systems. scientists and engineers around the world are pushing the boundaries of science and technology to create machines that sense, learn, reason, and interact with people in new ways to provide insight and advice. The emerging Digital Business has shifted the relationship between man and machine in three primary areas that will highlight the idea of human-machine cooperation and growth:
- Transparent interfaces:
A blend of voice, body, and object positioning capabilities will make it possible for users to interact with data, software applications, and their surrounding environments. Although such functionality will develop further in the coming years, it can already make interfaces seem much more natural. Interface devices can be made more transparent through software that adapts control systems to user needs. Designers should leverage technology and focus on developing systems that can adapt to user behavior, instead of adapting user behavior to the system.
- Ubiquitous access:
Much like we enjoy with mobile devices today, in the future Digital Reality will provide an "always on" connection to the Internet or to the enterprise networks, but instead of reaching into our pocket for our phones, we will have wearable digital gear. Advances in digital technology design is giving rise to a new generation of comfortable, self-contained digital devices free of tethering wires and bulky battery packs. Ubiquitous Access represents the ability for a cloud service to be widely accessible and support a range of devices, transport protocols, interfaces, and security technologies. To enable this level of access generally requires that the cloud service architecture be tailored to the particular needs of different cloud service consumers.
- Adaptive levels of engagement:
In the near future contextual capabilities will engage data feeds to user preferences, location, and activities, for a more intuitive interface. As the ways in which we interact with technology evolve, new adaptive levels of engagement will extend beyond the tapping of icons under glass.
There are two global trends driving the digital economy by seamlessly integrating machines and people.
- Human Rights: People connecting together through a vast network, are closing the gap in cultural differences and levels of education.
- Technology Innovation: Machines connected together through a network, provide big data analytics and artificial intelligence, for economic growth.
Human Social Development:
- In the 1960's we measured people ability by their IQ, intelligence.
- In the 1970's the women's movement promoted EQ, emotional ability to build relationships and value people.
- In the 1980's a shrinking world (increased air travel and telecommunications) forced us to think SQ, social ability to understand and accept people of differing values and perspectives.
- In the 1990's governments legislated standards and policies for PQ, political correctness in speech and behaviour.
- In the past decade, we shifted toward Cultural Intelligence (CQ), engaging and interacting with people around the world.
- This decade may be known as the Digital Intelligence era (DQ), the merging of people and machines.
Innovation and Technology Development:
- In the 1970's disabled people were beginning to use GPS, OCR, voice recognition, and digital technologies.
- In the early 1900's assistive technologies were stand alone devices.
- In the latter half of the 1900's digital communications was primarily character based.
- In the past decade Graphicl User Interfaces (GUI) were increasingly in use, creating new barriers for disabled people.
- In the past decade assistive technology support began appearing in mainstream products.
- We now see a movement toward minaturization, cloud sourcing, and wireless devices.
- We now see an increasing network of connecting machines.
Breaking The Digital BarrierIt is estimated that more than 30 billion devices will be wirelessly connected to the Internet Of Things (IOT) by 2020. IOT is changing the whole way we think about the division between the virtual and the physical, and the Programmable World is automating activities we normally do by hand and putting intelligence from the cloud into everything we touch. Currently, over a billion people including children (or about 15% of the world's population) are estimated to be living with disability. The lack of support services can make disabled people overly dependent on their families, which prevents them from being economically active and socially included. The Internet of Things can offer people with disabilities the assistance and support they need to achieve a good quality of life and allows them to participate in the social and economic life. One of the first and most obvious ways for IOT to impact the disabled is to extend their reach. People with mobility issues often have a great deal of trouble doing everyday things from turning on a light switch to opening a door. However one can equip a light switch to turn on or off remotely. A door could be fitted with a device that can open it with a tap on a smart phone. Accessible, usable and inclusive digital communications will link virtual and real life experiences to achieve greater levels of productivity and satisfaction.
Augmented RealityVideo games have been entertaining us since the early 1970's, but Computer graphics have become much more sophisticated, and innovators are integrating them into real-world environments to stimulate our senses. This new technology, called augmented reality, blurs the line between what is real and what's computer-generated by enhancing what we see, hear, feel and smell. Virtual reality creates immersive and computer-generated environments to simulate the real world, while augmented reality is closer to the real world experience. Augmented reality adds graphics, sounds, haptic feedback and smell to the natural world as it exists. Augmented reality is changing the way we view the world, and particularly for blind persons. Picture yourself walking or driving down the street with an augmented reality display, which will eventually look much like a normal pair of glasses, informative graphics will appear in your field of view, and audio will coincide with whatever you see. These enhancements will be refreshed continually to reflect the movements of your head. Similar devices and applications already exist, particularly on smartphones like the iPhone. As both virtual and real worlds harmoniously coexist, users of augmented reality experience a new and improved natural world where virtual information is used as a tool to provide assistance in everyday activities. Emerging technologies, like smart phone devices, are enhancing the life experiences of blind persons.
An enhanced version of reality, through direct and indirect physical real-world environment information, augmented with superimposed computer-generated images and sounds over the user's real-world experience, enhances one's current perception of reality. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) recent report, global spending on augmented reality products and services was about $11.4 billion in 2017, and Worldwide spending on augmented reality products and services will surpass $200 billion by the year 2021. This is a rapid growth market as augmented reality apps will not be limited to conventional mobile apps, like smart phones. There will be new markets of wearable technologies that will open more forms of development and use. This is evident with the growing demand for emerging technologies in sports, health care and disability assistance. Currently there are many smart phone apps to assist blind persons with detecting colour, light, distance, and way finding. One of the most widely implemented applications of augmented reality is GPS, which is also called location-based or position-based way finding. The GPS augmented reality makes use of smart phone features like a digital compass, velocity meter, accelerometer, altimeter, and can be enhanced with camera visualization and speech output, to provide environmental data, based on your location. The Artificial intelligence (AI) revolution is well underway, and recent significant milestones show that AI can improve the lives of people with disabilities. AI is changing the way we interact with one another, conduct business, travel, and earn a living, which will have a profound impact on society. In early 2016, Facebook released its groundbreaking automatic alternative text feature that describes images to blind and visually impaired people; Apple implemented facial recognition as the new way to unlock the next generation of iPhones; and Google launched its Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) system, which removes the language barriers by automatically translating web content. what does this mean for accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities in the digital space?
Access ImpactThe third, and most significant, barrier for people living with vision loss, is the access to emerging technologies. Despite the flood of innovative technologies onto the market, very few blind persons have the means to obtain them. Many early adopters of emerging technologies are now in their second or third iteration of product or service design, and over the next couple of years, the digital reality trend will gain momentum as more companies pilot use cases. However, although accessible forms of communications is important for the participation of blind persons, this group more than any other group have been marginalized in the digital transformation process. High unemployment has placed digital communication technologies out of reach for most blind persons. There is no government innovation program to connect emerging innovations with the disability community, and there is no government insentives for early adopters in the business community. Government employment inclusion strategies, and government open citizens forums, have not kept up with emerging digital accessibility solutions. Inadequate digital information systems, despite the availability of advanced communication technologies, has limited the access to transportation, employment, education, and government services.
Digital accessibility is a civil right. The right to participate in all that is offered on websites, mobile applications, and through other technologies. However, for the most part, the focus of innovation is now on global economic control, and collaboration is by invitation, creating a highly charged competitive environment. Today, access to online information and services is a critical requirement for successful inclusion in society, but many digital resources are still not accessible to people living with vision loss. There is a lot of talk about the importants for an open collaboration in the digital transformation process, to create an opportunity for networking and meaningful conversations, but does Open Collaboration mean the same thing as Inclusive Collaboration? In open collaboration anyone can contribute and anyone can freely partake in the sharing and interacting of the group activities, but only if the mode of communications and the format of interaction processes are accessible to all people.
The idea of creating accessible and flexible workplaces is another common theme among digital strategists. Emerging technologies, such as desktop virtualization and cloud software, enable Canadians to work remotely in secure and accessible ways. many Canadians are choosing remote work to avoid traffic, reduce travel expenses, maintain a healthy work-life balance, and to increase productivity; But is this an option for Canadians living with vision loss? With collaboration taking place within the social media framework and with workplace engagement software tools that are inaccessible to blind users, the productivity challenges are overwhelming. Accessibility is a measurement of productivity not disability, and the Digital Service strategy must become more inclusive with productivity techniques. There are many innovative accessibility solution for workplace challenges, but government tends to overlook these in preference to collaborating with large corporate vendors. Accommodating instead of integrating employees with disabilities into the workplace, tends to be the current business model for government.
Canadians demand a digital experience that is optimized, integrated and diversely client-centric. Employees in a modern workplace need digital tools that promote collaboration, information sharing and increased productivity. Should people living with vision loss expect anything less? There is agreement that government, across all levels of operations, must adjust more quickly to rapid digital communication developments and the accessibility needs in our society. Alex Benay, the Chief Information Officer for the government of Canada, stated, at the November 2017 FWD50 Canadian Digital Services Conference;
A fundamental change is required in our public service to keep pace with this new world. We must adjust to meet both traditional needs and new realities in modernizing the public service technology landscape for the benefit of all Canadian citizens.Unfortunately, it seems for the most part, government accessibility conversation focus is primarily on accommodating disabilities rather than inclusion strategies of enablement. Topics about security, privacy, open information requirements, and artificial intelligence, takes precedence over accessibility. Accessibility is always discussed in the framework of disability not productivity. Positive actions of collaboration must ensure people with vision loss are an integrated part of the design and development of digital services, and not just a participant in the delivery of digital services.
What are the knowledge and systemic gaps that keep blind citizens from accessing and benefiting from the digital world?
As a global innovations leader in wearable and mobile technologies, it is a mystery as to why the Ontario government has not implemented an accessibility program to integrate emerging technologies into the lifes of those who most need digital information. The accessibility mystery is that we have the innovators, the technology, and the market, but lack leadership understanding, vision, and the will power to take action. The shocking truth for disability disengagement is that blind Ontarians have not been invited to the digital dialog as an active participant, because open government processes are not accessible. The global economic and social trends, that impact productivity and business growth in Ontario, has created a digital accessibility gap of availability, affordability, and usability, for those Ontarians living with vision loss, and without an effective innovation strategy they have been marginalized from the digital world.
As we approach the intersection of people and machines (through automated processes,digital communications, augmented reality, and cultural understanding), we will close the design gap between sighted and blind with the removal of systemic barriers. Human-centered design that encompasses knowledge for both the physical and cognitive characteristics of people, will close the gap of inclusion. We have less than seven years to achieve the Ontario goal of full inclusion by 2025, and this will only be obtained by embracing emerging technology as an integrated component of ongoing progress. That is, it is not just about the delivery of digital services, but more about the inclusive design and development of digital services. The Ontario government
must shift its cultural attitude of colonialism to a multicultural attitude of modernism, by encouraging open, transparent, and inclusive citizen participation;
must be more accountable for their responsibility of implementation and enforcement of legislative standards and regulatory requirements, so as to sustain a position of global leadership; and
must take positive action, through an open and inclusive range of measures, that will encourage and train people from under-represented groups to help them overcome disadvantages.
The digital communications divide, that is marginalizing the blind, low-vision and deaf-blind community from the economic prosperity in Ontario, is an inflexible systemic paradigm that needs new ideas with adaptable leadership. Recognizing the history of discrimination against persons with disabilities, the province of Ontario established legislative Accessibility Standards for a more inclusive society, but shifting cultural norms is a slow and deliberate process, and Ontario must take decisive action to bridge the divide for a more inclusive society. A compliance model that has no measurable impact is of no value to anyone. That is, to ensure a successful transition, we need effective digital communication channels to disseminate best practice knowledge and to support stakeholders involvement, between policy makers, practitioners, innovators, business leaders, and end-users. We are surrounded by new and exciting emerging technologies every day, and yet there is a serious lack of vision for the future. The current government inclusion strategy lacks implementation goals, measurements of success, and has a major disconnect between organization programs and the people they serve. We talk about innovation, but do not implement innovation that will nurture the digital transformation in promoting dignity, independence, integration, and equal opportunity.
Digital Blind Spots
Employment and EducationAccording to the Wynne Government Special Accessibility Advisor, former Lieutenant-Governor David Onley, proclaimed at Queens Park on November 28, 2014 that "the unemployment rate facing people with disabilities is not only a national crisis it is a national shame," Ontario is failing on accessibility goals, Toronto Star. Despite Ontario prosperity and low unemployment rates, people with disabilities continue to struggle in the job market. However, when you look at the different disability groups, those with sensory challenges have a much higher unemployment rate. Unfortunately, there are no reliable statistics that can reveal the truth about employment challenges for blind persons.
Government services, like the Assistive Devices Program, by design is paternalistic, out of date, and no longer relevant in providing independence in the digital age. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce Discover Ability Program, web page states: "of persons with disabilities do not require accommodations in their workplace." This program supports accommodation and not integration, does not support disabled persons but rather assists employers, and does not support disabled entrepreneurs or older persons with disabilities seeking employment. These are well menaing programs, but simply lack digital knowledge skills and strategies of independence, required by blind persons in the digital age. Although K12 students at very early grades are given the opportunity to learn computer skills, blind students in Ontario are not given the training resources to prepare them to compete in the digital economy.
Government leaders must close the gap in their understanding of the difference between physical and sensory disabilities. We meed programs that promote independence and confidence in blind persons. A fully inclusive society means equipping people with digital knowledge skills, and creating opportunities to compete in the job market. Currently in Ontario, there is no innovation or employment program that can support the digital communication and information needs of blind persons. Systemic barriers and lack of understanding are preventing emerging communication technologies from being integrated into society that is needed for the inclusive participation of blind persons. This strategy will not achieve full inclusion.
Inclusion And AccessibilityAt one time sidewalks with curb cuts was hotly debated, but once done it was discovered that all citiznes enjoyed the benefits, except for blind persons, as it introduced a safety risk. So, the designers had to go back and adapt the curb cuts with tactile indicators. We are repeating history, as the design of buildings are ignoring the digital information needs of blind persons for safe and independent travel, Ryerson University's $112-million Student Learning Centre poses safety risks for people with disabilities, Toronto Star. Designers must think beyond the visual appearance and functional components of a building, and consider digital information infrastructures that provide beacon, QR codes, and GPS navigation services.
As of January 1st of this year, businesses and non-profits with 1 to 49 employees are required to meet requirements under the Accessibility Standards for the design of public spaces when redeveloping or constructing new public spaces, but the Information and Communication Standard must also be considered. Inclusive public spaces must be planned and designed with both physical and informational accessibility in mind. However, this is not being done, and despite information and communication standards, legislative requirements, and the flood of emerging technologies, the Ontario government has no inclusive implementation strategy. The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (ADO) is responsible for developing and enforcing the AODA legislation, but has taken no leadership role with implementation guidance. In 2013 the ADO found the SharePoint collaboration platform to be unusable by blind persons and shut it down, with no effort to find an accessibility solution. The Ontario Public Service (OPS) refused to engage in a dialog to investigate possible third-party solutions in preference to vendor consultation. The ADO Enabling Program provides grant funding to Ontario organizations developing AODA training and information services, but never validates the accessibility compliance of the end products. For example, the Web page and content for many of the initiatives like GAATES Design of Public Spaces On line Course and AccessForward Learnography are not WCAG2.0 compliant.
Many Ontario organizations have been victom to Accessibility Consultants who do not deliver, and others have been lead to believe that a third-party speech-enabled self-voicing Web Accessibility Application like BrowseAloud and eSSENTIAL Accessibility will solve their website accessibility compliance requirements; Which is far from the truth, as these products were not designed to replace screen readers. Utility companies across Ontario are implementing smart home strategies with digital meters that are not accessible to blind persons, and several cities are implementing smart trafic signals without any engagement from the blind community. This unguided implementation of digital infrastructures has marginalized blind persons from participating in the Ontario society.
Information and communications is a key component in modern society, and yet the inclusion strategy has been left to chance. Government has allowed large corporations to market emerging technologies without providing any investment to integrate the innovation into the lives of disabled persons. Government has failed to take leadership in defining the baseline of accessibility implementation and expected human behaviour in Ontario, but instead has allowed market forces to define inclusion. Our challenge is not in the availability of technology, but rather with the lack of accountability and responsibility in mandating government initiatives. Government leaders and department managers must be given digital skills training, and a mandate with common goals for inclusion.
Engagement And ParticipationWe now live in a digital world where the majority of people are accessing information systems through mobile connections, and the physical and virtual worlds merge reality and perception. The internet and information communication infrastructure ecosystems have grown increasingly complex, and access to data has become increasingly valuable, in our multicultural modernistic society. The modern digital ecosystem is built on three pillars; security, performance, and accessibility. However, which of these pillars take presidence and who makes the decisions, will have an impact on the effectiveness of an inclusion strategy. Today, security vulnerabilities has become a major concern, and with the pressure to quickly develop and deploy code, security often takes presidence over accessibility. More than ever before, User Experience designers need to make a stronger commitment to inclusive design by understanding the blend of these three pillars. As the accessibility of technology increases across the global community, users are becoming more diverse and nuanced than ever before, and the goal for User Experience designers should be a stronger commitment to inclusive design that puts the user first; Creative design for those with disabilities and everyone else too, Lifestyle from CTV News.
If the engagement process is not accessible, then an individual cannot participate, and the inclusion of that initiative is falsely represented. The government inclusion strategy is falsely represented, because blind, low-vision, and deaf-blind Ontarians cannot engage, and thus are overlooked in the accessibility design policies for disabled people. Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (ADO) does not utilize state-of-the-art communication technologies in their consultation processes with disabled persons, which puts those with sensory disabilities at a disadvantage in the dialog. The ADO has no process to investigate accessibility complaints, no digital skills to engage early adopters of emerging technologies, and no aptitude to shift policy from accommodation to integration. The Public Policy Forum website is not usable by blind screen reader users, and thus are excluded from engagement opportunities and participating in open forums. However, the Ontario government is commited to the delivery of accessible digital services, and early in 2016 created the Ontario Digital Government Office with the mandate to build a digital infrastructure. despite best intentions to build an open, transparent, and inclusive digital environment, the inaccdessible engagement processes have excluded blind people from full participation in the design and development phase. Over the past two years, the Digital Government office has partnered with organizations (like Medium.com and Code For Canada) that have no meaningful accessibility strategy, have conducted consultation session that did not consider the communication needds of those with sensory disabilities, and hire top digital talent with internship, co-op, and fellowship programs, that are not accessibly available to blind Ontarians; Let's Get Digital - Accessible or Not?.
The pervasive government mindset is obvious; "We will build it and you can use it." and "We will accommodate and you can innovate." Has there ever been a time when separate but equal was a legitimate treatment? Despite the ready availability of technology to enable people with vision loss to access digital information on an equal footing as sighted consumers, the prevailing practice continues to result in their exclusion, because although legal rights are defined, clear technical implementations are not yet established. We need more than a government commitment to the delivery of accessible digital services. We need a positive action plan that can identify and remove accessibility barriers immediately. We need government leaders that understand the global trends, that have the ability to integrate emerging technologies into processes, that are not dependent upon corporate influence in making policy decisions, and are accountable through citizen engagement. We need a Innovation Center that can connect innovators, service organizations, and disability communities, in promoting technology excellence and availability. An Innovation Center can advise government Ministries, and support accessibility and digital talent training.