How do we make sure we leave no one behind?
How do we make sustainability more accessible to disabled people, and more inclusive to all people?
How do accessibility and inclusion fit into sustainable development?
And what impact do they have on climate action?
I’m going to try to provide an answer to these questions over the next 15 minutes.
Hi, I’m Jon.
I run a company called Dotjay Ltd, and a new project called Greener Digital.
I’m passionate about accessibility and sustainability.
What makes me qualified to talk to you about sustainability and accessibility?
On the surface, not a lot.
I call myself a digital accessibility and sustainability consultant.
I’ve been working in accessibility for nearly 20 years.
But I think more importantly, I also have my story as a human being to tell. And… [NEXT SLIDE]
Accessibility has been shown to drive innovation and can solve unanticipated problems.
Some of the earliest typewriters were built to enable blind people to write letters. In fact, enabling a blind Italian lady to write to her lover, the inventor of the typewriter.
Many other innovations have been driven by a desire to be accessible and many accessible technologies benefit us all:
Telephone and email were technologies inspired by hearing loss.
Drop curbs in our pavements for wheelchair access benefit cyclists and parents pushing buggies.
This was my first experience of accessibility and of using technology to enable someone with a disability to do something that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.
This is a Ross digital talking alarm clock.
I got it as a gift when I was a kid because I loved gadgets.
A couple of years later, when I was a teenager, my mother lost her sight.
I was able to give this to her so that she could tell the time.
In my work, accessibility is defined as being about making things usable by disabled people.
I find it funny that this influence didn’t occur to me until I’d already been working in accessibility for 10 years.
I have a passion for music. I play the guitar, sing, write songs…
At university, I got to work with disabled musicians to develop accessible music software.
This software enabled disabled musicians who may not be able to play traditional musical instruments to compose and perform music.
This lead to me beginning a career in digital accessibility.
What about sustainability?
I guess I’ve always been an environmentalist.
I haven’t always called it that.
I’d summarise my sustainability credentials as “I give a damn”.
I’ve been increasingly changing my behaviours at home and work as my awareness grows.
Okay, so I care about the planet and sustainability.
What’s this got to do with accessibility?
You may look at me and think, he’s not a disabled person.
I don’t think of myself as being a disabled person.
I wear glasses
I have Auditory Processing Disorder (dyslexia for hearing)
I currently have chronic back pain
And disability has affected my family:
My mum went blind
My dad had Alzheimer’s disease
My brother has developed a spinal condition and often uses crutches or a wheelchair
I have friends who are disabled people (and not just through work)
Disability and accessibility is very likely to affect all of us or our loved ones in our lifetime.
Actually, many of us don’t realise that we experience accessibility on a daily basis, from telephone and email, to the drop curbs in our pavements, to… [NEXT SLIDE]
Photo: Jon at Gaia, touring artwork by UK artist Luke Jerram
Small text that can be hard to read
Small screens that can be hard to operate.
Difficulty pressing buttons.
Touch screens that don’t work in the rain.
Missing calls and texts due to noisy environments.
We might call these “situational limitations”.
Many of these issues can be considered accessibility issues.
And many of the solutions we use are assistive technologies. For example:
Using a voice assistant while driving.
Vibrating alerts for phone calls and text messages.
I don’t know about you, but everyone I know is ageing.
In fact, we have a growing, ageing population.
Many disabilities are acquired with age.
It is estimated that by 2060, there will be twice as many older people than younger people.
So, as we look to the future, our idea of what it means to be inclusive and sustainable is likely to shift.
We don’t know what the future holds, or what the needs of future generations will be.
This relates to the ‘people’ pillar of the triple bottom line and the definition of sustainability: “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.
It’s not just our planet we are concerned about.
We are concerned about its people, too.
Inclusion is about all people.
It's about understanding people and the barriers that they face.
An example of this may be cultural inclusion:
Language; not everyone understands English.
Colours have different meanings or associations all over the world. Red is often associated with stop, mistakes, or passion in Western cultures. In China, red can relate to celebration or good luck.
Accessibility is about understanding disabled people and the barriers that they face.
It’s not about accessibility in the sense of availability.
But this definition can include appropriate, inclusive, accessible communication.
To be accessible means equity.
Disabled people can:
Perform the same functions
Receive the same information
Participate as producers and consumers
Accessibility is integral to diversity and inclusion, which are measures of social sustainability.
And… [NEXT SLIDE]
Leave No One Behind.
This is one of the core principles of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
If we exclude people in our work, the output will be less sustainable – whether it’s products, services or solutions to climate change. If something does not work for all people, it is prone to risk and not sustainable.
If we think of sustainability beyond its typical focus of environmental issues, we need to be not just saving our planet, but changing it to be one that is built for all people and one that nurtures all people. Sustainability addresses other global challenges relating to inequality, poverty, justice and peace.
Sustainability aims to add a long term perspective and take into account the interests of everyone affected by what you do.
But if an effort does not take in all viewpoints, it is lacking.
If we exclude people in climate action, we are not listening to all voices and cannot create a truly sustainable future.
We must listen to different voices and learn from different points of view.
Taking different voices into account helps avoid biases and assumptions – however unintended – that can cause us to miss pieces of the puzzle.
Diversity and inclusion give strength and therefore help build resilience, a fundamental aspect of sustainability.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development gives us the UN sustainable development goals.
Disability is explicitly mentioned 11 times in Agenda 2030, and relate directly to 5 of the UN sustainable development goals.
How do accessibility and inclusion fit into sustainable development?
As I say, they are embedded in the definition of sustainability and are measures of social sustainability.
Disability is important in:
4. Quality education
Access to knowledge and awareness.
8. Decent work and economic growth
Access to employment.
10. Reduced inequalities
Social, economic and political inclusion for disabled people
11. Sustainable cities and communities
Accessible human settlements
17. Partnerships for the goals
Data and monitoring of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
And accessibility impacts on yet more of the goals:
Access to health services, for example.
Inclusion is encompassed by yet more parts of the goals and their targets and topics:
Saving our planet is a team sport.
Around 1 in 5 people have a disability. We need to include them. We need their help.
Here in the UK, more than 20% of working adults have a long term illness, impairment or disability. That’s around 14 million people. It’s estimated that more than two thirds have an invisible disability. Many more have a temporary disability.
At least one billion people – 15% of the world’s population, about 1 in 7 people – have a recognised disability.
If we’re making our voices heard on climate change and raising climate awareness, we can learn a lot from the disabled community. Disabled people have been campaigning, raising awareness and fighting for their rights for a long time.
Accessibility can solve unanticipated problems.
Diversity and inclusion are measures of social sustainability.
They give strength to our efforts and help build resilience in our solutions.
So, let’s include the stories of the one billion disabled people on our planet.
Let’s listen to everyone’s story.
Let’s Leave No One Behind.
How do we make sustainability more accessible to disabled people, and more inclusive to all?
Well, I could talk for a lot longer than 15 minutes on this, but here are some actions to get you started.
I've included more tips and links to resources in the slides, which will be sent around to you all.
More detail on these actions:
If you don’t already have a broad definition of sustainability, consider changing that.
Both accessibility and sustainability benefit from being considered from the start. Poor planning filters through into activities we undertake and leads to inaccessible and unsustainable practices.
Listen to all voices. That in itself is social justice.
Connect with local disability groups
Colour use and contrast
Help male text more readable for everybody, particularly people with low vision.
I spot this a lot, particularly with text over the top of images.
Add text alternatives to images
So that people who cannot see them can perceive and understand the image.
Most software applications let you do this, PowerPoint, social media
How we communicate is important:
Be clear, concise, consistent
Use plain language, short sentences and simple words
Be respectful in how you communicate.
Our websites, presentations, PDF documents, email, social media posts… they can all be made more accessible.
More on inclusive language:
Learn about inclusive language, ableism, and disability etiquette.
Be aware of stereotypes and common misconceptions, and don’t reinforce them.
Learn about Identity First Language and Person First Language
Don’t use collective terms, like "the disabled”.
Avoid ableist language. Keep an eye out for words and phrases like "crazy", "idiot", "special needs”.
Use gender neutral words and phrases. Respect a person’s preferred pronouns.
If you aren’t sure, ask. Don’t worry about getting language wrong or being politically correct; language shouldn’t be a barrier to your learning.
More information for reference:
Experts recommend keeping sentences to between 20 and 25 words
Consider breaking long sentences into two
Prefer shorter words to long words
Words with fewer syllables are better
Talk by @FriendlyAshley: http://bit.ly/ableistlanguage
Online events accessibility guide:
Accessible social media and comms:
Communicating with small businesses on sustainability:
Accessibility, diversity and sustainability:
Accessibility and disability communities:
Bristol Disability Equality Forum: http://bristoldef.org.uk/
The West Of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL): https://wecil.co.uk/
Bristol Inclusive Design & Development meetup: https://www.meetup.com/Bristol-Inclusive-Design-and-Development/
@AXSChat on Twitter hosts a community of people discussing accessibility and inclusion, and occasionally discuss sustainability. https://twitter.com/axschat
Sustainable technology communities:
ClimateAction.tech: People working in tech meet, discuss, learn and take climate action. Many people in the community are interested in accessibility, too. https://climateaction.tech/
Green Tech South West meetup: https://www.meetup.com/GreenTech-South-West/
Accessibility advocacy groups with information on sustainability:
I hope you've found this interesting and useful.
I'm actively researching and working on accessibility and sustainability, particularly as it related to our digital world and small businesses.
I'd love to connect with you and continue the conversation.