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Access for All: Breaking Communication Barriers in the Digital World

Startup Group

A dyslexic and a blind lady walk into a cafe… it sounds like the start of a joke, but access to effective digital communication it’s no joke for over half of the Australian population that is now living with some form of impairment.

So what do you get when a dyslexic and a blind lady meet up for a chat? With absolutely nothing in common except for the desire to put humanity back into business and just treat people like human beings?

A blog, and a YouTube video. Content created with the use of AI and existing technology that is freely available to make life easier and grow small businesses. But most people don’t know how to use it.

Startup Group
Startup Group
  • Video recording: Samsung A34 phone
  • transcript: YouTube
  • Captions: Clipchamp
  • Blog editing: ChatGPT

Interviewer: I’m here with Narelle Gatti, and I’d like her to explain her role.

Narelle: I’m actually a digital accessibility auditor, and I work with digital access solutions and assistive technology to remove communication barriers on websites, digital content, and various documents.

Interviewer: Is this similar to SEO?

Narelle: It’s different from SEO, but it complements SEO efforts. We focus on websites, PDFs, emails, and computer-generated documents. We provide techniques and strategies to ensure that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can access and understand these documents and make informed decisions.

Interviewer: So, it’s about inclusivity for all, not just those with disabilities?

Narelle: Yes, exactly. We consider a wide range of users, including those with zooming, hearing, sight, and cognitive impairments, as well as brain injuries and neurodiverse individuals. Many people rely on captioning tools, and if documents aren’t designed with accessibility in mind, these tools can’t be used effectively.

Interviewer: So, in terms of accessibility, it’s not just about accommodating people with disabilities. It also benefits search engines like Google.

Narelle: Absolutely. Following digital accessibility guidelines not only helps users but also benefits search engines like Google. They rely on text-based content, so by incorporating descriptive text, we help Google understand and index content, even images. For example, a simple description of an image can make it accessible to Google’s algorithms.

How did you get into this field?

Narelle: It’s an interesting journey. I used to work for a company called Spark Solutions about 15 or 16 years ago. I was diagnosed with a severe eye condition, which eventually led to significant vision impairment. About four or five years into the job, I started struggling with accessibility. We sought help from Vision Australia, and that’s when Mark Muscat, co-founder of our business, came in to teach me assistive technology tools. However, these tools were limited by the structure of documents, which is where our focus shifted.

Interviewer: So, it’s not just about having the tools; it’s about structuring documents correctly?

Narelle: Exactly. Having tools is essential, but they rely on well-structured documents. If a document’s structure isn’t suitable, even the best tools won’t be effective. It’s like having a chair with a missing leg.

Businesses have a fear of using technology and AI. Why do you think that is?

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Narelle: It often comes down to a fear of change. Many business owners are of a certain age and might not be tech-savvy. They see AI as a significant change and are hesitant to embrace it without a clear strategy.

Interviewer: So, businesses need to understand that accessibility isn’t just about accommodating people with disabilities but also about good communication and structure.

Narelle: Absolutely. Accessibility is about ensuring that all customers, regardless of their abilities, can access and understand information to make informed decisions. It’s not just a matter of sending information via email; it’s about structuring that communication effectively.

Interviewer: You mentioned that the tools for accessibility are already present in software programs. Is it a matter of people not knowing how to use them?

Narelle: Yes, exactly. These tools are readily available, but many people don’t know how to use them effectively. That’s where we come in, providing guidance and expertise to make these tools work for everyone.

How to approach accessibility

Interviewer: So, rather than creating specific programs for individual needs, your approach is to create a program that can address a wide range of situations.

Narelle: Yes, that’s correct. Instead of reinventing the wheel for each situation, we aim to create a program that can handle the majority of cases effectively.

Interviewer: You also mentioned standards and guidelines. Can you elaborate on that?

Narelle: Certainly. In Australia, there are established digital accessibility standards and guidelines maintained by Standards Australia. These are backed by the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992, enforced by the Human Rights Commission. Ensuring accessibility also aligns with international human rights conventions.

Interviewer: So, accessibility is not just a matter of inclusivity; it’s also a business imperative?

Narelle: Precisely. Accessibility benefits everyone and is essential for businesses to thrive and meet their obligations.

Why would someone visit a place if they can’t read the menu? They can’t make a decision about what to eat. This could be due to the choice of fonts used. For example, a menu with dark text on a background with insufficient contrast can be hard to read. When menus are difficult to read, customers tend not to return. It’s almost as if they are no longer thinking outside the box; they have become the box that you have to fit into.

Who does accessibility affect?

Business owners networking scene photo

Narelle: I’d love to know the percentage of people with perfect vision, hearing, touch, smell, and mobility. I believe it’s a very tiny percentage. When you know someone who works with accessibility, like Mark and this company, it’s because you’ve encountered accessibility challenges. People might suggest solutions, but if you’re content with the way things are, you might resist change. However, it’s not about more effort; it’s about doing things differently.

Think about how technology has evolved. We used to highlight entire words and go through a process to copy the text. Now, it’s as simple as Ctrl+C for copy. Similarly, email and mobile phones have become everyday tools. Starting a business or adapting to technology isn’t as challenging as some may think. If you can use email, Facebook, and Google, you have the tech skills needed for many aspects of business.

Even if you don’t want to start a business, it’s essential to learn about digital accessibility standards. For instance, if you have an image, right-clicking to view alt text and describing the image in under 100 characters can make content more accessible. However, many businesses are reluctant to invest in accessibility, often due to perceived costs. However, the cost of not making content accessible is lost sales, a significant detriment.

Changes to business due to COVID

Interviewer: During the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses couldn’t afford to go online, which emphasized the importance of accessibility. But you can build a website with fewer formatting skills than creating a PowerPoint presentation. SEO practices are essential because search engines like Google rely on text-based content, and accessibility helps them understand content.

Narelle: One critical aspect of accessibility is proper grammar and punctuation in captions. If someone with a hearing impairment relies on captions, incorrect grammar or misplaced punctuation can change the meaning and message, making it crucial to double-check captions.

When it comes to people, we’re all different. Treating everyone with respect and acknowledging differences is essential. We may have varying needs and opinions, but we can agree to disagree respectfully.

Confidence in being oneself is crucial, and it’s something that takes time to develop. Making mistakes is part of the learning process, and it’s essential to learn from them and move on. Additionally, it’s crucial for both parties to acknowledge and accept mistakes, fostering understanding and growth.

The world has changed, with the introduction of AI and assistive technology. However, assistive technology has been around since the birth of computers. While it may be new to some, having empathy and understanding for these changes is essential. Learning how to adapt to new technologies and the evolving business landscape is part of the journey.

Failing forward

Interviewer: Errors are a part of learning, as Narelle mentioned. It’s essential to admit when something isn’t accessible and learn from it. Consider starting with a clean slate when rebranding, launching new functions, or releasing new products. Follow a startup process, like the seven steps, and reach out to Narelle to learn how to make it accessible.

Narelle: Once you know how to do it, it becomes as natural as using Ctrl+C.

Starting with the end goal in mind is crucial. While accessibility may stand out for some, others might not notice it until they need it. It’s not a matter of cost for some but a challenge to change habits. We hope that people develop accessibility as a habit.

I heard about the Matildas, who have a deaf player, playing soccer. She’s not letting anything hold her back, and that’s fantastic.

Contacting Narelleā€¦

Interviewer: It’s been great chatting with you, finding common ground, and learning from each other. If you want to get in touch with Narelle, click her name for the link. She’s passionate about accessibility and eager to connect with others who share her passion. It’s all about making life easier. Thank you very much for your time!

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