When we explore the topic of communication there are many forms of expression and reception. These forms allow us to interact with the world; everything and everyone in it. Without these various forms of expression and reception we might not even survive. In order to survive, and thrive, we must be able to engage with the learning and development required to understand and practise these different forms of expression. We then have an opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge that allow us to exist and grow. Accessibility is therefore key to surviving and thriving. But what is it?
Accessibility, Web Accessiblity or eAccessibility are terms used to highlight how easy it is for a person to access information, experiences, and resources. The things trying to be accessed could be physical, mental, or emotional.
Accessibility is typically associated with people that have some form of physical disability. However, the broader reality is that accessibility can be used to identify anyone who is at some sort of a disadvantage, when compared to a typically healthy person, when it comes to accessing information, experiences, and resources.
So, what types of things are we talking about?
Physical, mental, and emotional accessibility
When it comes to engaging with any information, experiences, or resources the physical, mental, and emotional abilities of the user should be considered. Perhaps the most commonly understood area of accessibility is physical. Wheelchair users for example struggle to get up and down a flight of stairs. So, in order to support accessibility, and their ability to experience and engage, wheelchair ramps and lifts can be installed.
Similar equipment and mechanisms can be put in place to support people that have mental and emotional needs. Someone, that is forgetful for example could be provided with simple and clear information and guidance in the form of mnemonics to support information retention. Likewise, someone that struggles to read, process, or express different emotional states could be supported in a creative way through mediums such as music, singing, dance, art, crafts, sculpture, photography, or film.
Accessibility is fundamentally about providing people the the information, resources, and experiences that they need in order to be able to engage. The concept of accessibility can also be supported through a better understand of equality vs. equity.
Other accessibility factors
Keep in mind that there are a whole range of reasons why these apparent accessibility barriers exist. Not everything is to do with how we are born and our natural state. Some of it is down to religion and belief. Some of it may be down to finances. Some of it could be down to how we were raised and educated.
Be cautious and mindful when trying to ‘fix’ accessibility barriers. Some users may not wish for them to be ‘fixed’.
What is Web Accessibility or eAccessibility?
Web Accessibility and eAccessibility are specifically about making the experience of using technology, computers, software, and the internet more accessible to a range of users. This could be done in a range of ways such as having access to functions that allow for font sizes to change, volume to be adjusted, brightness and tone to change, screen readers to help explain what is on a webpage, or even translation into different languages.
How can we improve accessibility for users?
Engage with them.
The best way to develop people’s ability to access your products and services is to engage with them. Yes, you can surmise what it may be like for someone with a disadvantage to participate in an activity. You might even assume correctly. But a better process is to actively engage with the people you are trying to provide a product or service for.
Providing you gather feedback in a respectful and considerate way, the information and feedback you will get from someone who embodies the disadvantages you are trying to support will be much greater than trying to guess without what it must be like for them.
Objectively analyse and criticise your product or service
Objective analysis and critique is one of the most complex disciplines that humans are capable of. So much so that arguably it can’t be achieved.
Why is that and what is it?
Objective analysis is the process of analysing something in a manner that is free from human bias. It’s basically a way of being brutally honest and hard on yourself or your work. This is why it’s hard and practically impossible to achieve; because whoever or whatever is conducting the analysis will almost certainly have been influenced by the actions of a human.
So, you might think that your product or service, in this case approach to accessibility, is great. But is it? Or could it be better?
Identify and scrutinise as many elements of your product and service as you possibly can. Can you find any physical, mental, or emotional obstacles that are hindering the progress and could be refined? If so, then find a way to refine them.
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