IGF 2018 WS #217 I Can't Use This App: Closing The Web Accessibility Gap

Format: 

Panel - 60 Min

Organizer 1: Datta Bishakha, Point of View
Organizer 2: Gunela Astbrink, Women With Disabilities Australia

Speaker 1: Shadi Abou-Zahra, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Vashkar Bhattacharjee, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: Gerry Ellis, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Nidhi Goyal, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 5: Gunela Astbrink, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Relevance: 

A whopping 177 countries have ratified the global Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which makes it obligatory for states to "promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet." Yet more than 12 years since this convention came into being, web accessibility remains a distant reality for people with disabilities. This panel foregrounds the experiences, realities, needs and concerns of internet users who are disabled - and makes concrete recommendations for closing the accessibility gap. The panel embodies the CSTD Working Group's recommendation to "involve new stakeholders, in particular from developing countries and especially LDCs, and persons with disabilities and other underrepresented groups." Thus it is of direct relevance to internet governance at the global level.

Session Content: 

This panel will explore the accessibility needs of persons with motor, vision and hearing impairments through their own experiences of using digital devices. The focus will be on presenting new research such as a 2017 study on mobile phone and internet usage by people with disability in Vanuatu, and a 2017 demo video on the challenges faced by a visually-impaired user in India using popular messaging apps such as Wire and Slack. Building on state-of-the-art examples, the panel will present empirical data and evidence-based research on several barriers to accessibility at different levels, as per the W3C classification: • content - including ◦ natural information such as text, images, and sounds ◦ code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc. • web browsers, media players, and other “user agents” • assistive technology, in some cases - screen readers, alternative keyboards, switches, scanning software, etc. • users’ knowledge, experiences, and in some cases, adaptive strategies using the web • developers - designers, coders, authors, etc., including developers with disabilities and users who contribute content • authoring tools - software that creates websites • evaluation tools - web accessibility evaluation tools, HTML validators, CSS validators, etc. Based on these, the panel will make key recommendations for improving accessibility at all levels - and for further policy advocacy and public education on this issue.

Interventions: 

The speakers have been selected to represent diverse geographies, disabilities and stakeholder groups. They will provide a mix of perspectives based on personal experiences, programmatic interventions, and policy work. Nidhi Goyal, Point of View, India (civil society) is a visually-impaired woman who runs a program on gender, sexuality and disability. Based on her own experience, she will speak about the lack of solutions for the digital security needs of disabled internet users. Gunela Astbrink is an Australian IGF ambassador, and has been active in disability policy and research for 25 years. Coming from a library and information management background, she has led several projects and participated in developing roadmaps for accessible ICT and assistive technology research, and currently holds a senior research position at Griffith University. Shadi Abou-Zahra, W3C, Egypt (technical expert) is an accessibility, strategy and technology specialist at the WorldWideWeb consortium. He will discuss the policy barriers to ensuring accessibility across disabilities and how these can be overcome. Gunela Astbrink Vashkar Bhattacharjee, Young Power In Social Action, Bangladesh (civil society, government) is a person with visual disabilities who has been working as a National Consultant in developing web accessibility with the Access to Information (A2I) initiative in the Office of the Prime Minister. He will share personal and policy experiences of putting accessibility into practice. Ellis Jerry from Ireland (private sector) is an Accessibility and Usability consultant under the name Feel The BenefIT. He has worked for over 30 years as a Software Engineer with a bank in Dublin

Diversity: 

The speakers and co-organizers represent diversities of gender, geography, stakeholder group - and most importantly, disabilities. Of the five speakers, two are women, three are men. The two co-organizers and moderators are women. Of the five speakers, three are visually-impaired, one is hearing-impaired, one is motor-impaired. The five speakers are from five different countries - India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Ireland, USA, representing the following continents: Asia, Africa, Europe, America. The five speakers represent the following stakeholder groups: civil society, technical experts, government, private sector.

Online Participation: 

We will live tweet the whole session to ensure that the conversation does not just stay inside the room, or just at the IGF. This will also include provisions to take questions from the online participants via social media as well as from those participating remotely on the IGF platform. We will also set up a Sli.do page which will be promoted before and during the session to allow for more continuous inputs and questions from the participants, both onsite and remote.

Discussion Facilitation: 

There will be a question and answer, and input round after the speakers present. A mic will be passed around in the room for taking inputs and questions from the onsite participants. The remote moderator will read out the questions and inputs from the remote participants to the whole room so that they are a part of the discussion and not isolated from it.

Onsite Moderator: 
Online Moderator: 
Rapporteur: 
Report: 

- Session Type (Workshop, Open Forum, etc.): Workshop

- Title: I Can’t Use This App: Closing the Web Accessibility Gap  (WS 217)

- Date & Time: Tuesday, 13 November, 2018 - 09:00 - 10:00

- Organizer(s):
Bishakha Datta, Point of View, India
Gunela Astbrink, Women with Disabilities, Australia

- Chair/Moderator:
Bishakha Datta, Point of View, India (female)

- Remote Moderator:
Valentina Pellizzer, Association for Progressive Communications, Bosnia and Herzegovina (female)

- Rapporteur/Notetaker:
Baldeep Grewal, Universität Würzburg, India (female)

- List of speakers and their institutional affiliations (Indicate male/female/ transgender male/ transgender female/gender variant/prefer not to answer):

Nidhi Goyal, Point of View, India (female, Civil Society)
Shadi Abou-Zahra, W3C, Egypt (male, Technical Community)
Vashkar Bhattacharjee, Young Power in Social Action, Bangladesh (male, Government/Civil Society)
Ellis Jerry, Feel The BenefIT, Ireland (male, Private Sector)
Gunela Astbrink, Women with Disabilities, Australia (female, Civil Society)

- Theme (as listed here): Digital Inclusion and Accessibility

- Subtheme (as listed here): Persons with Disability

- Please state no more than three (3) key messages of the discussion. [150 words or less]

  • How accessible is the web for persons with motor, vision, and hearing impairments based on their personal experiences of using digital devices
  • What are the barriers to accessibility as per the W3C classification on content, web browsers, media players, assistive features and technology etc. according to empirical data and evidence-based research on the same
  • Some key recommendations which, if implemented, will improve web accessibility at all levels, including but not limited to web development, design, and usability features.

Please elaborate on the discussion held, specifically on areas of agreement and divergence. [150 words]

The session spanned from personal experience to policy and standards to solutions. The topic of accessibility was addressed by each panelists from their respective standpoint as stakeholders: civil society, policy making, technical know-how etc. It was noted that we need to facilitate access to online resources and offline infrastructure that pertain to libraries, banking services, dating apps and even something as commonplace as ordering food in a restaurant. One thing was unanimously agreed upon: technology creates a tremendously enabling environment for people with disabilities but at the same time the rapid growth of the web and digital infrastructure has not shown much concern for universal accessibility. An important point that was raised was that accessibility infrastructure also helps temporarily able-bodied people since everyone benefits from a larger font size, better roads and walking routes, text-to-speech and speech-to-text facilities etc. Often the burden to facilitate access and advocate for it falls on disabled persons, and the default solution is often to make special apps for only persons with disabilities instead of making mainstream platforms accessible.

 

Please describe any policy recommendations or suggestions regarding the way forward/potential next steps. [100 words]

The influence of the workshop was immediate: participants requested panelists for resources and more information on designing training modules on accessibility and disability. The suggested solutions involved individual actors in addition to policy improvements and infrastructure optimization. We must think about access as individuals in our own spaces. Organizations and stakeholders should go beyond procurement and user policy – understanding we are all temporarily abled – with a strict policy to engage with only those platforms that are accessible which will push developers to take these guidelines in mind when building tech. Accessibility is often an accident and the service is lost with the next version. It has to be a concerted, conscious effort.

 

What ideas surfaced in the discussion with respect to how the IGF ecosystem might make progress on this issue? [75 words]

As mentioned before, the workshop helped many participants gain knowledge and resource for their respective work on disability rights. A socio-legal concern was making online technology more affordable in countries where governments do not provide social security and the costs for accessible tools (online and offline) fall on the disabled person and their family. Development of online free resources with AV media and tactile materials would help young people with disabilities with a view to affordability and access.

 

Please estimate the total number of participants: 30.

Please estimate the total number of women and gender-variant individuals present: 18 (excluding the on-site and remote panel)

To what extent did the session discuss gender issues, and if to any extent, what was the discussion? [100 words]

An important point that was raised was that something as simple as a pregnancy kit may not be accessible for a blind woman. This means that they lose a certain level of autonomy with regard to their bodies. Especially in countries with strict abortion laws, inaccessible pregnancy kits jeopardize the privacy and dignity of blind women.

 

Long Report

- Session Type (Workshop, Open Forum, etc.):  Workshop

- Title: I Can’t Use This App: Closing the Web Accessibility Gap (WS 217)

- Date & Time: Tuesday, 13 November 2018 - 09:00 - 10:00

- Organizer(s):

Bishakha Datta, Point of View, India

Gunela Astbrink, Women with Disabilities, Australia

- Chair/Moderator: Bishakha Datta, Point of View, India

- Rapporteur/Notetaker: Baldeep Grewal, Universität Würzburg, India (female)

- List of speakers and their institutional affiliations (Indicate male/female/ transgender male/ transgender female/gender variant/prefer not to answer):

  • Nidhi Goyal, Point of View, India (female, Civil Society)
  • Shadi Abou-Zahra, W3C, Egypt (male, Technical Community)
  • Vashkar Bhattacharjee, Young Power in Social Action, Bangladesh (male, Government/Civil Society)
  • Ellis Jerry, Feel The BenefIT, Ireland (male, Private Sector)
  • Gunela Astbrink, Women with Disabilities, Australia (female, Civil Society)

- Theme (as listed here): Digital Inclusion and Accessibility

- Subtheme (as listed here): Persons with Disability

- Please state no more than three (3) key messages of the discussion. [300-500 words]

  • Instead of treating accessibility as a niche facility or a special component provided in any form of technology, we have to move beyond this ghetto mentality of making exclusive apps for disabled people. Accessibility is often present in most apps accidently and the service is lost with the next update. Accessibility should be a mainstream issue in the development of any technology. This should also urge people to think about access as temporarily abled individuals in their own spaces - at home, in public, and at work. Organisations and stakeholders should make a concerted, conscious effort to facilitate accessibility, hire disabled professionals, and should follow a strict policy to only engage with platforms that are accessible. This will push developers to keep accessibility guidelines in mind when building their products including the fact that every disability has different accessibility needs.

 

  • There is a need to educate IT developers and consultants on issues of disability and access. A large majority of IT professionals that graduate every year have seldom heard of disability or the need for inclusive apps and devices. These are people in charge of creating products that make life easier but there is an entire consumer base that they never build for. Additionally, from screen readers to larger font sizes, accessibility services are not just helpful for people with disablities but make life easier for temporarily disabled people too. Accessibility must be addressed from end to end - accross production, functionality and till the user end.

 

  • Discussions around disability and access often boil down to making out discussions around internet governance more inclusive of these issues too. Since the IGF allows massive global reach and cooperation among stakeholders, we must do more to bring more voices from the disabled community to our IGF sessions. This includes supporting them in attending the IGFs either in person or remotely. Creating opportunities for disabled activists and professionals to participate in the IGF space is vital for sound internet governance.

 

- Please elaborate on the discussion held, specifically on areas of agreement and divergence. [300 words] Examples: There was broad support for the view that…; Many [or some] indicated that…; Some supported XX, while others noted YY…; No agreement…

The session spanned from personal experience to policy and standards to solutions. The topic of accessibility was addressed by each panelists from their respective standpoint as stakeholders: civil society, policy making, technical know-how etc.

Nidhi Goyal and Vashkar Bhattacharjee noted that we need to facilitate access to online resources and offline infrastructure that pertain to libraries, banking services, dating apps and even something as commonplace as ordering food in a restaurant. One thing was unanimously agreed upon: technology creates a tremendously enabling environment for people with disabilities but at the same time the rapid growth of the web and digital infrastructure has not shown much concern for universal accessibility.

An important point that was raised by Shadi Abou-Zahra was that accessibility infrastructure also helps temporarily able-bodied people since everyone benefits from a larger font size, better roads and walking routes, text-to-speech and speech-to-text facilities etc.

Reflecting on how and where responsibility to facilitate access is located, Nidhi observed that often the burden to facilitate access and advocate for it falls on disabled persons, and the default solution is often to make special apps for only persons with disabilities instead of making mainstream platforms accessible.

Gunela Astbrink talked briefly about overcoming sociocultural barriers in different countries in the global south. She described a pilot project in Vanuatu which conducted interviews to collect data on how disabled people use ICTs. This further led them to develop modules for training ICTs developers to develop products that can be accessed by disabled people. A highlight was including disabled people in the conceptualization and running of these training programs.

 

- Please describe any policy recommendations or suggestions regarding the way forward/potential next steps. [200 words]

The influence of the workshop was immediate: participants requested panelists for resources and more information on designing training modules on accessibility and disability. The suggested solutions involved individual actors in addition to policy improvements and infrastructure optimization. We must think about access as individuals in our own spaces. Organizations and stakeholders should go beyond procurement and user policy – understanding we are all temporarily abled – with a strict policy to engage with only those platforms that are accessible which will push developers to take these guidelines in mind when building tech. Accessibility is often an accident and the service is lost with the next version. It has to be a concerted, conscious effort.

 

- What ideas surfaced in the discussion with respect to how the IGF ecosystem might make progress on this issue? [150 words]

As mentioned before, the workshop helped many participants gain knowledge and resource for their respective work on disability rights. A socio-legal concern was making online technology more affordable in countries where governments do not provide social security and the costs for accessible tools (online and offline) fall on the disabled person and their family. Development of online free resources with AV media and tactile materials would help young people with disabilities with a view to affordability and access.

The IGF should make efforts to bring more disabled people to the floor and take cognizance of the access/assistance issues this entails.

 

- Please estimate the total number of participants.

30

- Please estimate the total number of women and gender-variant individuals present.

18 (excluding onsite and remote panel)

- To what extent did the session discuss gender issues, and if to any extent, what was the discussion? [100 words]

An important point that was raised was that something as simple as a pregnancy kit may not be accessible for a blind woman. This means that they lose a certain level of autonomy with regard to their bodies. Especially in countries with strict abortion laws, inaccessible pregnancy kits jeopardize the privacy and dignity of blind women.

- Session outputs and other relevant links (URLs)

Session Time: 
Tuesday, 13 November, 2018 - 09:00 to 10:00
Room: 
Salle III

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 678