Users at the centre: Building a case for e-accessibility

 How do you design programs for kids with disabilities? Get them to help.
How do you design programs for kids with disabilities? Get them to help.

Imagine you have a visual impairment – how do you use a bank machine? How do you check-in for your flight or buy your bus ticket at the machine? What hardware and software would you need to search for jobs online?

Highlights

  • When it comes to accessibility, the goal is to ensure that everyone can use, benefit from, and enjoy ICT tools, resources and content.
  • The UNDP office is preparing guidelines on creating and implementing e-accessibility action plans, which ensure that people of all abilities and backgrounds can access ICTs.
  • UNDP recently partnered with the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to make all State level public institution websites fully accessible according to web content accessibility guidelines.
  • An example of putting users at the centre of services is UNDP’s recently developed educational software for children with autism (available free of charge). It was tested in “EDUS-Education for all”.
  • An important step will be to educate the public and service providers to the benefits and need for e-accessibility, and the growing legal imperative to uphold the human rights of people with disabilities.

What if you have a hearing impairment – how do you access the information that everyone else gets on TV or from the radio?

Not only do online tools have the potential to promote the rights of people with disabilities, and in some cases, compensate for specific disabilities – but when it comes to accessibility, the goal is to ensure that everyone can use, benefit from, and enjoy ICT tools, resources and content.

Fortunately, information and communication technology (ICT) ministers from nine countries in Southeast Europe have already committed to modernising public services to include people with disabilities.

To assist governments in meeting their commitment, the UNDP office is preparing guidelines on creating and implementing e-accessibility action plans, which ensure that people of all abilities and backgrounds can access ICTs.

Working towards e-accessibility should never be viewed as a technical activity, in which the goal is to conform to regulations, legal requirements or standards; it is part of the much wider issue of putting people who use a service at the centre of service design and delivery. The UNDP project, as part of a wider regional initiative, is supporting people-driven (not technology-driven) web-based solutions.

Putting users at the centre also means engaging with them about their experiences, listening and collecting feedback, and enhancing services accordingly.

Based on this principle, UNDP recently partnered with the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to make all State level public institution websites fully accessible according to web content accessibility guidelines. Financially, it doesn’t cost much, but it does require understanding and political will.

By using a locally-sourced speech recognition software, a person with a visual impairment tested the accessibility of Government websites, and identified various accessibility flows which are currently being corrected.

Another example of putting users at the centre of services is UNDP’s recently developed educational software for children with autism (available free of charge).

Putting kids at the centre of their own education
Putting kids at the centre of their own education

It was tested in “EDUS-Education for all” classrooms with kids from two to thirteen years old – both with and without disabilities. Not only is it the first educational software in the Bosnian language, but it is based on a cutting edge methodology developed at Columbia University and shared with UNDP by local experts.

The software is based on “learning frames,” and has to do with the way teachers and students interact, while teacher and computer feedback take the central role in facilitating learning.
The software has proven successful in teaching children with autism, and other developmental delays – because it puts users at the centre, and uses interactive features to help build early cognitive abilities, school readiness skills, and basic computer skills.

Teachers reported to us that all students were highly motivated and that this was the first computer game they could understand.

Another important observation is that children were able to apply the skills they learned in different life situations and environments.

What’s next for e-accessibility?

UNDP’s regional study on e-accessibility makes a compelling case for urgent and comprehensive action on e-accessibility.

To date experience has pointed to several principles that should be kept in mind when developing e-accessibility policies and plans, including:

  • Using a design for all approach that promotes solutions that everyone can use
  • Putting users at the centre of service design and use (rather than institutional needs or technology imperatives)
  • Making sure that people with disabilities are involved in developing policies, action plans, and their implementation

An important step will be to educate the public and service providers to the benefits and need for e-accessibility, and the growing legal imperative to uphold the human rights of people with disabilities.

Additional by adopting a regional approach, the added benefit of exchanging experiences, sharing costs of translation and of tools and resources would be gained. Exploring the full range of resources available in the region and in the European Union (EU) would also be useful – from evaluation and monitoring methodologies, to free software or policy guidelines.  Technical approaches are well documented and guidelines are already readily available and free of charge for everyone to use!

A first practical step might be to carry out benchmark research on the size and nature of the challenge, and develop the mechanisms to monitor progress.

What experience can be gained from within the region and elsewhere that might assist in developing e-accessibility policies and plans?

What practical assistance and ideas can be offered to governments seeking to develop them?