Three ways to kickstart a workplace discussion about access to information

Fri 28 September 2018

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. IDUAI 28 September International Day for Universal Access to Information. #IDUAI #AccessToInfo #RightToKnow


Technology for good or ill? Global concepts to help you start meaningful conversations about access to information and human rights. 

Today, September 28, is International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). It was declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to ensure the participation of all people in the global information society.

Access to information is directly linked to the enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms. It has the power to transform lives. For one billion people with disability in the world, access to information and technology provides an opportunity to enhance their social, political and economic participation and reach their full potential.

Every organisation has a role to play in improving access to information for people with disability, but many don’t know where to start. A lunch-and-learn or similar activity can often be a useful way to build engagement and understanding. Here are three key concepts you can use to start a meaningful conversation with your colleagues about access to information.

Human Rights and Technology

Like any tool, technology can be used for good or ill. For example, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can entrench or exacerbate inequality when used as a tool of ‘predictive policing’. However, it can also be used to amplify human capability and empower people with disability, as is the aim of Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility program.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has launched a major three-year project on the intersection of human rights and new technologies, which was launched at an international conference held in Sydney in July. AHRC President Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM encapsulated the impact of human rights and technology perfectly in her closing address, when she said ‘Security, responsibility, integrity, inclusivity, humanity’.

With real-world examples of how technology can advance or restrict human rights, as well as comprehensive information about accessibility, responsible innovation and the protection of human rights, the AHRC’s Human Rights and Technology Issues Paper is a valuable resource.

ICT Accessibility

The web offers the possibility of unprecedented access to information and interaction for many people with disability. However, many web products are developed with accessibility barriers that make them difficult or impossible for some people to use. Accessibility means that websites, applications, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disability can use them. In fact, access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is a basic human right.

Inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee said, ‘The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.’

The global standard for web accessibility is called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), currently version 2.1. They help web designers and developers make web content more accessible to everyone.

If you’re fairly new to the subject, a useful introduction is provided in our Beginner’s Guide to Accessible Content. The Centre for Accessibility also provides helpful information about how people with disability engage with content using Assistive Technology, such as screen reader software.

Inclusive and Universal Design

Inclusive Design and Universal Design ultimately means designing for everyone.

There are seven principles of Universal Design, which were developed in 1997 by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, led by the late Ronald Mace in the North Carolina State University.

In Mr Mace’s words, Universal Design is the ‘design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation and specialised design’.

The Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) in Toronto stresses three dimensions of Inclusive Design and defines it as:

‘Design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference’.

A great way to stay in touch with innovators and influencers who contribute to making the world a more inclusive place is through AXS Chat (pronounced Access Chat). This online community uses social media to share weekly video interviews and Twitter chats about the great work people are doing to improve access and inclusion.

Publications that address Inclusive Design in relation to a physical premises are provided by our consultancy partner, Design for Dignity.

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