What did the Paralympics teach us?

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2012 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

Now the Olympics and the Paralympics are over what have we learnt that is relevant to ICT accessibility?

The paralympics proved to anyone who doubted it that although the elite paralympic athletes have disabilities they are all able, capable, driven, passionate, and fun loving. In fact no different to their Olympic counterparts. If we add to that the the supreme intellect of Stephen Hawking and the grace of the disabled dancers during the opening ceremony, and the consummate musical skills of the paraochestra during the closing ceremony, we must surely want to ensure that everyone with a disability is included as an equal member of our society. Finally we saw the benefits of well designed assistive technologies: Cheetah blades, wheelchairs for rugby or marathons, boccacio slides, blind footballs on the sporting side, plus Hawking’s voice and special instruments in the paraorchestra.

So why is it that so many disabled people are not using ICT at all and so few are fully engaged?

The first problem is the perception of ICT suppliers and companies that use ICT to provide goods and services to their clients. There is still a perception that disabled people are incapable and uninterested in using ICT and therefore there is no point in making it easy for them to use. Hopefully one of the legacies of the paralympics is that people with disabilities will now be seen as capable and keen to do everything and no barrier should be put in their way.

Second is a blindness to the number of people with disabilities and therefore the size of the market opportunity. What the paralympics has shown is the huge number of elite athletes, and that is only possible because there is a very much larger pool of people with disabilites. With estimates of 20% of the population with some form of disability the business community must surely now understand the importance of including everyone as a potential client and working to turn the potential market into a business reality.

Hopefully the paralympics will have raised the importance of inclusion with the business leaders and they will now be demanding accessibility in all parts of the business especially ICT. This will put pressure on the ICT community that is still not geared up to provide inclusive design of ICT products and services. To meet this extra demand I think there are two primary area to consider: understanding and tools.

To quickly improve understanding of ICT accessibility at all levels of ICT from commissioning through design to delivery I would recommend two starting points:

  • The BCS now provide an e-learning course Digital Accessibility: Web Essentials, which, in a couple of hours of training, will provide the basic understanding needed. It should be a standard part of training for anyone involved with ICT.
  • ‘BS 8878: 2010 Web accessibility code of practice’ is the British standard that outlines a framework for web accessibility when designing or commissioning web products. This should be essential reading for any organisation creating a web presence.

The tools that are used to create ICT solutions do not make it easy to create accessible solutions. Tools for creating web sites, apps and content should all produce accessible output by default and give assistance to the designers and developers to ensure this happens. Tools at the moment vary from not providing any facilities to create accessible solutions through to those that make it possible; unfortunately very few make it easy to create accessible output by default. Hopefully pressure from business leaders and ICT users will ensure that tools improve quickly so that much of the complexity of providing accessible ICT is removed.

I hope that one of the legacies of the brilliant paralympics will be that accessible ICT will quickly become the norm and that by Rio all ICT will be accessible.