I’ve been really concerned about the impact of the global Pandemic on the more vulnerable, especially the partially-sighted or blind community that UKAAF was set up to help support in terms of accessibility. And when I opened a recent article in The New Yorker that dared ask the question playing at the back of my mind… I knew I was far from being the only one:
‘Who Is “Worthy”?’
The author of this brilliant, intense piece, Robin Wright, goes on to detail the fear among deaf-blind Americans in particular that feel so exposed by this terrible virus—”the estimated 2.4 million Americans, and millions more across the globe, who, like her, rely on touch to communicate, navigate, and care for themselves. ‘When you don’t have vision or hearing or both, you rely heavily on other senses… For us, that other sense is touch.’ But touch is now the most prevalent means of spreading COVID-19”.
I would never want to feel I or anyone in my family was possibly “unworthy” of being looked after. But it’s a terribly stressful time for not just able-bodied people like me, but people who need support to access possibly life-saving information. This great piece in a publication out of Johns Hopkins University in the States explains why: “[The Pandemic’s] impacts are especially acute for people living with disabilities, who may struggle with challenges like finding reliable and safe in-home care, or physically adapting to enhanced hand-washing guidance… getting information can be more difficult for people with vision, hearing, and even cognitive disabilities, as popular news sources may not be accessible, especially when information is changing quickly. Keeping all of us informed is key to the COVID-19 public health response, but information is not always accessible to the disability community, leaving us sidelined.”
Access to health information, yes. But we need to keep on top of brands who sell much more everyday things, too, as we’re all of us now so dependent on online shopping: with online shopping at an all-time high, you have to have accessible digital shopping, so as this overview from The Next Web reminds ecommerce managers, ‘In the age of COVID-19, you can’t skimp on web accessibility’ but some corporations are: “The shift to online purchasing isn’t just hurting select businesses, it is also causing many individuals with disabilities to get left behind due to a lack of web accessibility… Someone who is blind will depend on a screen reader to navigate a website. Deaf individuals rely on closed captioning or transcripts for audiovisual content [so] if a website doesn’t have provisions to address these and other access needs, the website can become essentially unusable.”
The story goes on to quote pretty shocking stats from the US that suggest of 100,000 sites looked at, a completely unacceptable 98% had noncompliant menus, 89% had popups that interfered with basic access needs and the majority still have accessibility issues with forms, icons, buttons and images. But there’s also some positive news coming through around the ‘Net and accessibility that we have to acknowledge, too. I was very cheered to note that in Northern Ireland, its local Department of Health has launched an online version of the COVID-19 NI app to help people across the Six Counties stay informed, and even better the website widens accessibility to the app’s content, serving those who do not have a smartphone but are able to use a computer or tablet device.
A great start. But we’re all sick of great starts when it comes to accessibility. Let’s make this the norm, not the exception, please.