The shortest month of the year was crammed with activity and conferences, as organisations across the globe turned their focus to accessibility. The European Disability Forum met in Jurmala, Latvia, and emphasised that accessibility is as important as privacy and security when it comes to technological development. Noting how important technology can be to the everyday lives of people with disabilities, the conference demanded more accessibility in information and communication technologies for the 80 million people with disabilities living in Europe.
It’s a change that could come sooner than we think. The world wide web could be seeing an update for the first time in fifteen years as the United States Access Board invites comment from users with disabilities, acknowledging that “collecting feedback is critical to getting things right”. As computers and smart phones evolve and the internet becomes a major part of our daily lives, it’s important that the industry keeps on top of all this new tech, and the Board is keen to reform old accessibility standards in order to keep up with the shifting trends. The Board are also looking to bring American access requirements in line with the standards used in other countries, to reflect the now global nature of the technology market.
In Malawi, the popular mobile service provider Telekom Networks has donated K2.8 million to the Malawi Council for the Handicapped (Macoha) to set up inclusive school environments that will ensure children with disabilities access quality education and achieve self-reliance. There are approximately 70,000 known pupils with disabilities in Malawi primary schools, but only 650 teachers trained to work with Special Educational Needs students. Macoha are seeking funds to rehabilitate five schools in Lilongwe into accessible facilities, providing wheelchair access, assistive devices such as walking frames and hearing aids, and educational programmes aimed at students with learning disabilities.
But while some schools struggle to find the resources for accessibility, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, two private universities that receive multi-billion dollar endowments, are being sued for failing to provide closed captioning for online videos, podcasts, and educational programs. The National Association of the Deaf filed class action lawsuits in federal court, arguing that by not providing captioning, Harvard and MIT were discriminating against the 48 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing. The lawsuit does not claim monetary compensation, but hopes to bring about a change in practices, setting an example that hopefully all universities to follow.
But while organisations are opening doors to access, some amazing individuals are finding their own ways around barriers. Hu Huiyuan from AnHui, China, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at nine months old and has very little mobility. This prevented her from attending school as a child, but not only did she teach herself to read using television subtitles, she has now almost completed a novel typed entirely with her left foot. “I’m not a genius but I’m very focused. When you have a disability like this, you have to learn patience,” Huiyuan said, and so far, her fantasy novel has had good reception online.
Written by Rebecca Warboyes, Captioner