Including everyone—the first time around

Ever gotten wind that all your friends have made plans but somehow the invite never reached you? You rationalize to yourself that they probably didn’t mean to exclude you but it just so happened that you didn’t cross their minds when they made these plans. Haven’t we all experienced the feeling of being excluded at some point in our lives? It’s not a good feeling and receiving the invite after the fact just isn’t the same.

For some of us, feeling included doesn’t particularly cross our minds in our everyday activities. But for others, as more of our day to day shifts online, it's the little things—reading the news, checking our emails, shopping—that can create this same feeling of exclusion. The barriers can be exhausting and so we must be mindful of making our content inclusive, and accessible for all.

It’s about us

My colleague and I head to meet with Julius Tanyu-Nganji, a Web Information Architect at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, to discuss web accessibility and usability. He greets us with a big smile and a warm demeanor, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from someone passionately working on accessibility.

“It’s about empathy. We must empathize with whomever we are designing for.”

“When we talk about accessibility, it is about the people themselves and how we want to communicate with them,” he says. Often times, when people write messages and develop products, they don’t think about all the users that will be digesting the information. Accessibility awareness is all about creating a mindset that keeps persons with disabilities at the forefront and designs inclusive content that can be digested by the greatest amount of people. When we design with this mindset, it ensures that everyone receives the same message. “It’s about empathy. We must empathize with whomever we are designing for” he says.

No lost invites here

“Any ’small‘ thing towards accessibility that people do, should never be thought of as something small. They are contributing to something bigger. It all adds up and creates an inclusive environment.”

The most considerable challenge that Julius has faced throughout his career in Web Communications is that a lot of people don’t understand the need to produce accessible and inclusive content. “Often times, people see accessibility as an afterthought” he states. This reminds me of that invite I never received... Ok sure, they felt bad and included me afterwards but it was about the fact that they forgot to include me in the first place. Julius explains this further by adding, “people will often create and publish content and it is not until they receive complaints that they will go back and redo it to make it accessible.” He believes that this bad habit can be improved through education and communication to help people better understand why things should be produced in an accessible and usable way the first time around. He goes on to explain that when it comes to accessibility awareness, every small thing counts, and his goal is to instill this awareness in others. “Any ’small‘ thing towards accessibility that people do, should never be thought of as something small. They are contributing to something bigger. It all adds up and creates an inclusive environment.”

Web accessibility is so crucial, as it ensures that everyone has access to the same information but more importantly, it allows us all to communicate without barriers and experience the world in a common way. Julius acknowledges that there is more and more action being taken on accessibility, but he raises another point, “often times when people think accessibility, they think designing for the visually impaired. But the reality is that accessibility encompasses individuals with various disabilities and we must not forget that.” This way, nobody is excluded, everyone is sharing the same experience and important information is reaching us all. This is the feeling of getting that notable invite, right off the bat. Channelling my inner Oprah, all I can think of in this moment is “You get an invite! You get an invite! Everybody gets an invite!”

A barrier-free future

“Accessibility awareness starts with us. It comes from us as individuals, working together, sharing knowledge and transferring it to others. We need to spread awareness” Julius explains. The more we keep ourselves informed about the importance of accessibility, the more we can contribute to change for the future. What would an ideal future look like for Julius? “By default things would be made accessible and we would have people designing for accessibility, not because they have to, but because they inherently know that it is the right thing to do. We would create a barrier-free environment for people with disabilities because people would already have accessibility at the top of their mind.”

As we conclude our interview, I can’t help but feel motivated to spread awareness about accessibility. I think we can all agree that being excluded is not a good feeling. When it comes to inaccessible web content, we unknowingly create a barrier between ourselves and important information. Designing inclusively from the get-go allows everyone to get the invite, the first time around.


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