Creating an Accessible Digital Future | Judy Brewer | TEDxMIT

Creating an Accessible Digital Future | Judy Brewer | TEDxMIT

in my vision of the future everything is
accessible including the digital world over a billion people in the world have
disabilities and a lot of us are online gaining access to online information can
feel incredible for me when the web became available I could go anywhere I
could study the science and technology and I could travel all over the world of
ideas in the online world we have a seemingly infinite amount of information
available but we’re still putting barriers in front of some people we can
change that you’re probably familiar of the concept of accessibility from the
physical world the design of products and communications in environments so
that they work for people with disabilities if you picture a building
and there’s a flight of stairs going up to the entrance not everyone can get up
those stairs but if you add a ramp there’s an accessible way in but then if
you think of accessibility from the design stage forward you could design a
level no step entrance and everyone could come in the front door that’s
Universal or inclusive design I work on accessibility in the digital world
and I want to tell you about some things that can make it easier for everyone to
use the web including people with disabilities and also things like
building accessible virtual worlds here are some things that you can do on the
web if you have images or video and you embed descriptions then everyone can
access the information in those images even if they cannot see well or see at
all if you add captions to audio everyone can learn what’s being said
even if they can’t hear well or hear at all if a website works well with voice
recognition then everyone can interact with that
website even if you can’t use your hands and if you design the navigation menus
in a consistent way then everyone can find their way around the site more
easily including people with intellectual disabilities or people who
might have memory impairments perhaps due to aging digital accessibility goes
well beyond the web it includes the design of mobile phones online games
digital books telepresence robots and more digital accessibility enables us to
capture the creative contributions of everyone the Steven Hawkings and the
Stevie Wonder’s as well as the creative contributions of more ordinary people
with disabilities so how do we build an accessible world what elements are most
important awareness is a very important piece of the foundation a colleague of
mine invites all the new hires at the tech firm that he works at to come to
the accessibility Center that he has and he surveys them to see who might have
already heard about accessibility issues and technologies as of a few years ago
it wasn’t any more than 10% and any group of visitors that would come to the
center we have an awareness problem there’s a history of exclusion of people
with disabilities going back centuries millennia and it’s only gradually
starting to change and some disabilities are not necessarily visible such as
hearing impairments and so awareness of disabilities is actually much lower than
the reality and many people including people who design technologies haven’t
gotten a lot of exposure to this dimension of human variation and
ironically we then go and design technologies and environments that are
inaccessible and that perpetuate that exclusion we could be teaching people
about the diverse user needs when we prepare people for careers in
engineering and design so awareness is one thing rights are another very
important element the United Nations Convention on rights of persons with
disabilities has been ratified by 177 countries that’s an international
consensus and it establishes important rights such as access to education and
to civic participation and more including accessibility of information
and communications technologies and around the world many governments have
laws and regulations that require web accessibility and accessibility of other
technologies but sometimes getting people to implement accessibility feels
like the hardest part so I want to tell you a story back in the physical world
for a minute I ran into a friend a few years after the Americans with
Disabilities Act had been passed in 1990 she was a longtime advocate for
accessible transportation and I asked her enjoying finally having our civil
rights it seemed like a safe question to ask but she said no she said she’d been
waiting at this bus stop and a bus came by but it didn’t have a lift on it so
she couldn’t get on and then the second bus came by and it had a lift but it was
broken the third bus came by and the driver said well I haven’t had any
training on how to use it yet and the fourth bus came by and the driver said
I’m running behind schedule I don’t have time to run this lift for you and the
fifth bus just zoomed right past her and so there were some teens who had been
watching her for a few hours as she was waiting and they came over and mugged
her so in the physical world inaccessibility has consequences the bus
company was away and my friend had rights but something
went wrong in the implementation and accessibility didn’t happen
implementation also matters in the digital world so a lot of times products
get shipped without the accessibility bugs fixed and sometimes critical new
accessibility features get postponed to the next version and the next version
and the next version blind friends tell me that one of the most frustrating
things is they will go all the way through filling out an online form and
they’ll go to hit that submit button to confirm and that button wasn’t coded
right to work with the screen reading technology that they rely on and what if
that button was at the bottom of an online job application and you really
needed that job or what if you’re deaf in a rural area and you need to talk
with a specialist over a telemedicine platform and what if nobody got around
to figuring out how to integrate captions into that telemedicine platform
implementation matters here’s the good news
digital accessibility is getting better tech firms are starting to declare
accessibility as a public commitment some are starting to appoint chief
accessibility officer so that accessibility is considered in
management decisions accessibility bugs are sometimes getting showstopper status
meaning fix the bugs before you ship the product and accessibility is sometimes
being included as part of corporate social responsibility and inclusive
design is increasingly getting recognized as an innovation driver and
we’re starting to see some exciting accessible products and services as a
result of all of this so there’s another thing that’s changing
as well there’s a lot more resources to explain how to make technology
accessible think of an online shopping site for a moment and let’s say that all
the items on sale are only differentiated by the color red now
there’s a lot of people who have colorblindness
and they’re not going to be able to tell just from that one distinction which
items are on sale so what our group does is we develop guidelines and we have an
internationally recognized standard called the web content accessibility
guidelines that explains how to fix that as well as many many other things that
it that are covered in that and what you can do is you can add a bit of text or
some kind of icon to indicate give a redundant indication of what was
indicated in the color and then people can make their choices and buy what they
want – another thing that those guidelines do remember that confirm or
the submit problem that I mentioned a few minutes ago it will tell you how to
code that in a way that will work regardless of the assistive technology
that a person with disability might be using with your website and that way
everyone can apply for that job we have a lot of different introductory
materials as well as more technical materials that explain how to make
technologies accessible and another thing that’s changed is that there is
this large international community a wonderful community that is it that
includes people from industry in the disability community and research and
government building this expanding set of resources that explain how to make
technologies accessible and this is causing a ripple effect through the
whole field one of my favorite things is looking at the possibilities of advanced
tools and technologies to make accessibility easier to design and
develop and sometimes – even in on the accessibility in the physical
world let me give you a few examples of the possibilities
some people get a seizure reaction from photographic flash or strobing lights
now if you were to combine machine learning which is a type of artificial
intelligence or AI with video processing you can analyze the variations the
fluctuations in the brightness and you can buffer that before it’s displayed on
a computer screen or a wearable headset thus reducing the seizure risk for
people with color blindness or more properly a typical color perception you
can analyze the colors in a video stream and you can shift them to colors that
are more readily perceived by an individual and some people on the autism
spectrum have difficulty recognizing emotions in people’s facial expressions
and so you can use machine learning to analyze those emotions and to tag the
video stream once you start thinking in terms of accessibility you may see
opportunities everywhere think of automatic speech recognition the quality
of that the accuracy of recognition has improved immensely we’re using it on our
mobile phones and our digital assistants it’s not quite at a level of accuracy
accuracy yet that works for fully reliable captions but one of the things
that still quite difficult in speech recognition is recognizing the speech of
people of some people who are deaf and the speech of some people with speech
disabilities and artificial intelligence can also help us there because it’s
better at recognizing some of the subtle patterns and so that will eventually
enable us to more equitably transcribe and caption the speech of people with
different types of speech a colleague though has noticed that there’s some
interesting issues that come up with artificial intelligence and disabilities
you’ve probably heard of AI bias around for instance racial and gender
characteristics well similar things can happen with disabilities and she was
looking at speech recognition and noticed that it particularly the the
speech of people with speech disabilities and she noticed that the
accuracy of recognition was declining when the size of the reference dataset
was expanding because the recognition was weighted more strongly towards the
average pronunciations and then she started looking at autonomous vehicles
self-driving cars and that she was testing how well these were trained
against different simulated obstacles that might be crossing the street in
front of a car and she took video of people with certain kinds of wheelchair
users and she found that the simulated cars were hitting the simulated
wheelchair users and so she experimented with different transformations of this
reference data set and she found she had to do very radical transformations to
the data set not just amplifying the outliers the less frequent data samples
but actually taking out the entire central core of the database before she
could successfully train these vehicles not to hit the simulated wheelchair
users so advanced technologies can help us design accessible environments if we
use them mindfully and back to that thing I mentioned earlier about creating
accessible virtual worlds think of all the different senses and information
across all the different functional capabilities with different kinds of
disabilities that you might be able to take advantage of for instance haptic
output that includes vibrational effects and that includes a gravity well that
kind of pulling sensation you can get in space there’s always different kind of
modalities you can rely on to help make technologies accessible and
in doing so to make environments that work better for everyone so when I talk
about digital accessibility a lot of times people feel like there’s nothing
that they can do I want to challenge that sometimes it’s a simple matter of
looking as looking at a situation and thinking have people thought about
accessibility have people considered that and asking questions
for instance the school website there’s probably parents who have
disabilities and want to be able to catch up with the school events and if
your town has online emergency preparedness training materials and an
emergency notification system that’s life or death information how about we
all make sure that that’s accessible in the physical world there’s still ongoing
work to make everything accessible it takes many hands given the pace the
accelerating pace of Technology change we need even more hands at the table on
accessibility so that means that all of the tech courses all of the science labs
the maker spaces where you can fabricate 3d objects all need to be accessible and
in making those accessible we’ll probably come up with some interesting
new innovations as well so if you’re a mobile app developer you can build
accessible apps anywhere you work in the tech or science field their thing
there’s there’s a role that you have where you can help if you’re a quality
assurance tester you can get the tools and the training to test for
accessibility if you’re a developer with a disability in a country with no
accessibility businesses yet you can be the first one to open a business if
you’re a manager you can prioritize inclusive design as an innovation driver
but you can all so ensure a reliable baseline of
accessibility of all your products and services if you’re a recruiter you can
pursue inclusive hiring including at the management and board levels so that
accessibility is considered among other aspects of diversity in improving
everything you do and if you speak other if you speak multiple languages you can
help us get the word out around the world I want to welcome you to join us
in building an accessible digital future and particularly in asking questions
when you notice places where others might not have thought of accessibility
thank you

7 thoughts on “Creating an Accessible Digital Future | Judy Brewer | TEDxMIT”

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  2. I don't understand the awareness problem. I've been a developer for 15 years and I was taught about accessibility rules from my first day at work. It's built into the laws of every EU country. It doesn't matter is the average layman knows the rules as long as the developers building the websites know them.

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