In today’s age, we’re increasingly dependent on information technology and the Internet. This is especially the case with the COVID-19 pandemic. But, are these services accessible to everyone? E-Accessibility refers to the easy use of information and communications technology for all members of society, especially persons with disabilities.
When it comes to websites for example, E-Accessibility ensures online platforms are easy to perceive and operate. Therefore, when presenting online content, it is important to use simple language that can be understood by all. It’s also important to have the ability to adjust the font size, the ability to adjust the color contrast, and ensure all content is compatible with assistive technology, including screen readers, which convert visual content into audio.
As for video or audio content, it should either be written in closed captions or interpreted in sign language. Digital content must also be structured in a logical sequence for the site map to facilitate navigation from one section to another and enable easy navigation through the keyboard.
The importance of social inclusion
Disability can be understood as a social construct. It is not a medical condition, but an interaction of individual and functional characteristics with a surrounding environment. Hence, it becomes the responsibility of society at large to ensure that this surrounding environment is inclusive and accessible. This includes both the physical and digital environment.
Persons with disabilities are as diverse as humanity at large. They are not a monolith group but young and old, male and female, mothers and fathers, have different educational backgrounds and live on different continents. They contribute different experiences, different abilities, different languages, different skills to our common human endeavors.
Role of the start-up community in Bahrain: As an entrepreneur or software developer, what can you do?
- Consult with organizations of persons with disabilities
In Bahrain and in the Arab region, there are various civil society organizations that represent persons with disabilities. They are called “Organizations of Persons with Disabilities” (OPDs). Some of these organizations in Bahrain include:
- The Bahrain Association for Parents and Friends of the Disabled [Instagram]
- Bahrain Deaf Society [Instagram]
- Bahrain Mobility International [Instagram]
- Friendship Society for the Blind [Instagram]
- Gulf Disability Society – Bahrain chapter [website]
If you consult these organizations, they could guide you to certain problems or challenges with existing digital products or might even inspire you to create new ones!
- Involve persons with disabilities when you test your product
One idea is to test your pilot product with persons with disabilities. If your app is focused on educational tech, let different kids try it out including those with learning difficulties. Get their feedback as you move to your next phase. Simple added features to increase E-Accessibility, could make a world of difference for the end-user.
- Check out available resources on E-Accessibility
The main resources that website and app developers can check out is the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)”
“Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is developed through the W3C process in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, with a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.
The WCAG documents explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Web “content” generally refers to the information in a web page or web application, including:
natural information such as text, images, and soundscode or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.”
Another helpful resource is the United Nations ’s Accessibility guidelines for websites, which follow the P.O.U.R. principles, (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust) of accessibility.
In 2020, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA) also launched the Arab Digital Inclusion Platform (ADIP) to support policymakers in developing and improving their national policies and guidelines for enhanced e-accessibility. You can keep an eye at UN-ESCWA’s website for the upcoming launch of the platform, and access useful resources on ensuring digital inclusion.
Lastly, ensuring E-Accessibility is seen as a human right that should be upheld. At the same time, there is a “business case for digital accessibility”. Start-ups and private sector companies who ensure their products are accessible can enhance their brand as it reaches a wider audience. Many accessible applications not only benefit persons with disabilities, but also older persons, think about your grandmother or older relative, and the recent smart phone or tablet they got.
E-Accessibility opens the door to drive innovation to help remove barriers through technological solutions, and the start-up community in Bahrain is starting an important conversation around it!