Accessibility, Independence and Dignity

This week we welcome Dr. Scott Hollier, the CEO of the Centre For Accessibility (CFA) Australia, to the Moderator's Corner. Scott specialises in the field of digital accessibility and is the author of the book "Outrunning the Night: a life journey of disability, determination and joy". To check out Scott's work at CFA, visit

As a person who is legally blind and CEO of the Centre For Accessibility (CFA) Australia, digital access is a subject of passion for me both professionally and personally. In recent years it’s been exciting to witness great progress in this area with most computers and mobile devices now having a suite of built-in accessibility features which simply wasn’t the case until recently. If, for example, a blind person wanted to use a computer in the early 2000s it would have been necessary to purchase a high-end computer and expensive screen reader software. Today whether its Windows, Mac, an iPhone, iPad or an Android-based device there’s great accessibility features in all of them. This includes screen readers, screen magnifiers, high contrast themes, switch key support for people with a mobility impairment, captioned video support and a range of free or low-cost mobile apps. One of my favourites is BIG Launcher on Android which changes the complex launcher user interface into six big buttons that still provides me with access to everything I need. ​​​​​​​

However, having great tools on the device of choice is only one part of the story: to ensure that these tools work, websites and apps need to be built to accessibility standards, and this is where the battle is fought at the moment. Researchers throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including my own PhD studies, have consistently found that when we get access right, we are able to harness the potential of my favourite equation:  

Technology + accessibility = independence.

There is little argument now, especially considering our reliance on the Internet during COVID-19, that access to online content is not just essential but a fundamental human right. I was recently involved in the development of a survey regarding the impact of COVID-19 on people with neuromuscular conditions, and one of the questions asked about the preferred method of communication during COVID-19. The survey asked which choices people preferred including remote meeting software like Zoom, social media, e-mail, text/messaging and or the more traditional phone call. The answer was overwhelmingly ‘all of them’. Whether its entertainment, work or simply keeping connected, the internet is far more than the sum of its parts for people with disability: it truly represents independence – providing it is accessible.

While the benefits are clear, there are accessibility challenges which can significantly impact on the independence and dignity of people with disability. To ensure that content is accessible it is necessary to create websites and apps to conform with the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standard with the current version being 2.1. The standard includes 13 guidelines which ensure that content works with the assistive technologies used by people with disability, with most countries including Australia featuring policies to encourage this to happen. The reality though is that this standard is often not considered.

A personal example of this issue is when I was trying to buy some tickets online for my two children. The website was difficult to use as it had not been built to the WCAG 2.1 standard and I ran into many issues, meaning it took me a bit longer to complete the form. After much perseverance, I got to the point where I could move to the checkout, only to receive the message ‘timeout’ as I had taken too long to complete it. Acknowledging my loss of dignity and independence, I reluctantly had to ask my 12-year-old son to purchase his own tickets as his demoralised father was not able to do it despite having several ICT tertiary qualifications. 

This is just one example of why ensuring websites, apps, documents and any other content online is made accessible and that the standards are followed. Without this standard being implemented, people who are Deaf wouldn’t have captions to watch their favourite TV shows, great technologies that help people with disability wouldn’t work and most significantly, the dreams and creativity that lead to exploration and active participation in the online realm are denied.

However, if there is to be a silver lining in the storm clouds of 2020, it is that there is the potential for new opportunities to be made available to people with disability as a result. One of the biggest challenges faced is the difficulties in pursuing education and in turn finding employment. Yet with courses moving online and people working from home, the conversation has changed: courses that could never be done online are now being made available and jobs which were considered impossible to be done from home 12 months ago are now available. This could open up a whole new world of opportunity for people with disability who have faced a stubbornly high unemployment rate for a long time now. Importantly, this opportunity is only possible if accessibility is considered.

So as a person with lived experience of disability and on behalf of my disability-led team at CFA Australia, I’d ask that the next time you consider building that website, creating that app or publishing that document, check its contents for accessibility. It will not only make it accessible, but it will also enable greater dignity and independence for all members of the online community.

Tags: Accessibility, Independence, Dignity, The Dignity Project

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