COVID-19 showed digital accessibility is critical. Advocates don't want you to forget


Videoconferencing apps such as Zoom have expanded access to many users during the epidemic. Experts say it’s important to continue adding more accessible features to those platforms.

Over the past year, Jennison Asuncion has seen apps such as Zoom, which is a lifeline during the epidemic, expanding accessibility features such as automatic closed captioning. The messaging app Slack, another important communication tool, has also become more compatible with its screen reader, which speaks louder on its phone or computer. Now Asuncion, which is visually impaired, can access its messages more easily.

“At those companies, I was hoping that there was a light-on moment that said, ‘We’re now developing products that people will really need to be fully productive,” said Asuncion, co-founder said Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Which takes place on May 20, with the goal of promoting digital access and inclusion. “I hope they keep that mindset even after the epidemic.”

It is hoped that many people in the disability community are getting more and more people worldwide vaccinated against COVID-19 and as businesses and offices reopen. While portions of the population are eager to resume travel, socialization and pre-pandemic work life, there are also some who want to see accommodations such as distance work and learning – the adjustment of the requested disability community years before the pandemic – Be the same

Such measures would be helpful to people like accessibility consultant Joel Issac, who lost his eye light six years ago. In his previous job before the epidemic, Isaac faced countless dangers each time he walked from his office or from his office in downtown San Francisco. A few years ago, he accidentally walked to a construction site and, about an inch away, a woman nearly fell into a pit before stopping him. After that, he told his company that he needed a remote work option.

Before the epidemic forced large sections of the population to work from home, study and shop. In the past year, everything from food delivery apps to e-commerce sites to good-to-essential services have been made for those wishing to reduce the risk of COVID-19. They became particularly helpful for people with disabilities who already had trouble accessing physical locations or for people with underlying health conditions who were more likely to develop more severe cases of COVID-19 when infected. May be at risk.

“The feature’s apps have become the apps of necessity, providing businesses with the tools to build and manage applications,” said Sarah Fatz, Director of Developer Relations at Progress Software. “We need to have an accessibility mindset first, because on technology This dependency is here to stay. ”

Having the right intention

Several epidemic-induced adjustments have undoubtedly helped members of the disability community. But Lucy Greco, a web accessibility evangelist at the University of California, Berkeley who is visually impaired, notes that she was not hired to help people like her, who had long asked for these measures.

“[Working from home] We were not given as accommodation, “Greco said.” It was given to us as everyone else had. ”

She noted that many disabled people were not asked what equipment or training they might need for various videoconferencing or remote work technologies.

“Nobody is thinking of leveling it on the playground,” he said. “They are thinking about what works [and] How to get the job done, and that’s it. “

Unless companies and organizations recognize that certain housing and equipment are important for people with disabilities to live their lives to the fullest, he said, the risk of a population is left behind when a “normal” life is resumed.

Greco said some platforms should improve their offerings to ensure that everyone is getting the resources they need. For example, although Zoom rolls out automatic closed captioning on video calls, she notes that it would be ideal for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to have a human captioner Reduction of errors made by automated technology. If there is a question or comment about a presentation or meeting, people with hearing loss can communicate directly with the captioner. Research on its methods is also underway at Queens College. Animate text online in american sign language.

Other platforms have too much work to do. Greco said she used the online event platform Hoppin while speaking at a conference in September. Her husband had to stand on her shoulder to make sure her screen was projecting and attendees were sending her to read any chat. “It was outrageous,” he said.

In response to Nerdshala’s request for comment on the incident, a Hopin representative stated that the company is “conducting a full accessibility audit to ensure that our platform continues to work consistently with industry best practices, including Web content accessibility guidelinesThis includes creating a task force of engineers, designers and digital accessibility experts working to make the platform more accessible.

Thanks to disability rights organizations and advocates, companies and employers are increasingly becoming aware of the changes they need to make them more inclusive. But there are many more things that need to be done.

“On the surface, yes, some things have gotten better,” Greco said. “But systemic problems – the whole idea of ​​thinking about access, cooking in reach, talking to people with disabilities and employing people with disabilities to help fix the problem – they are buried under that surface.”

Navigating Our Changed Reality

In some parts of America, More than half of the population has been vaccinated Against COVID-19. Social disturbances and mask requirements are still being implemented in some states as infection remains a threat, even with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that people with fully vaccinated are now No need to wear masks indoors or outdoors. But the slow return to normal creates concern for people with disabilities who are still learning to navigate this changed reality.

Greco said she went to a grocery store for the first time last month since the epidemic began, and wondered if the people around her were wearing masks and living six feet away. Late last year, Apple released a People Detection feature, which allows blind and low-vision users of the iPhone 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max and iPad Pro to know how close someone is to them. But those devices mark the premium level of Apple’s expensive lineup, with iPhones starting at $ 1,000, making them a cost-prohibitive option.

Other changes may place a burden on the disability community. Erin Loridson, San Francisco’s Access Technology Director Lighthouse for visually impaired and blindSaid that he is concerned that if more businesses opt for the contactless option or self-service kiosks, the accessibility component can be overlooked, making it harder for him and others who are visually impaired to visit these locations Can navigate. He said that it is important for companies to manufacture these devices with ease from the beginning.

But there have been some benefits during the epidemic. With restaurants limiting high-touch surfaces, many now place plaques on tables with QR codes that diners can scan to find menus. Often (but not always), those menus are accessible to Loridson’s screen readers, so he no longer needs to open delivery apps to find out what a restaurant serves.

Loridson also hopes that telework and digital conferences will coexist after the epidemic, which will help level the playground for people with physical disabilities. In September, Zoom introduced a feature that lets users pin an interpreter’s video next to a speaker, building on the app’s accessibility offerings.

When it comes to navigating physical locations, Lauridson would like to see better digital communication about the COVID-19 protocol. For example, moving the entrance backwards such as having additional information in Google Maps or Yelp about store changes could mean this. Right now, she notes, a lot of information is shared on the wall or on the floor as signs that are not accessible to everyone.

Elementary education and implementation

Software engineer Meenakshi Das, who focuses on accessibility, said that it is not enough to have more ways to connect to each other and use different services. “Those methods need to be accessible.”

Das points to the example of the clubhouse, the audio chat room app that skyrocketed in popularity during the epidemic. An ability is open to blind users when connecting via audio to the phone, she notes the app Not fully accessible with Apple’s VoiceOver screen reader. App with contestants Twitter spaceCan also Exclude people with hearing loss.

To address these ongoing issues and to ensure that our post-pandemic world will not leave anyone behind, Asuncion said, in order to understand products and services specifically for angel investors and startup funders Important, and do not give your money to anything that is not accessible. He said that educating the startup community about accessibility is important.

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