Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Building accessibility into what your organization does

Art in the Starbucks signing store in Washington, DC
The other day I heard about a fireman's carnival that used imaged of the different drink that could be ordered, so people could point at what they wanted. That was useful for those who are Deaf and, since the environment was quite noisy, it was useful for everyone else. It also meant the staff could cross out anything that was no longer available, which was helpful for those ordering drinks. That was an easy accommodation that benefitted everyone. It likely didn't take a lot of time to create and probably saved time and frustration during the carnival.

Today I was in a diner where two Deaf friends were ordering breakfast. The server was having a hard time understanding a detail about their order, which meant that ordering took a bit longer. That made me wonder if the menu could be formatted differently not only to help with communication, but also in understanding food options. How some restaurants changed their menus and food ordering during the COVID pandemic tells me that the answer is "yes." Some restaurants used the pandemic to narrow (focus) their menus. Others simplified options available. Still others added online ordering and payment - even if you're sitting in the restaurant - as a way of limiting exposure to COVID and deal with not having enough staff, while maintaining good customer service. Yes, some of these changes did increase accessibility depending on how they were implemented.

BTW the image above is from the Starbucks on H Street in Washington, DC which is known as the "signing Starbucks." Everyone who works there - both Deaf and hearing - are proficient in American Sign Language (ASL). There are also digital tablets available for anyone who needs to write their order rather than sign it. When you give your name to the server that is used to signal on a digital board that your order is ready. (I'm sure their ordering system will accommodate someone who is Deaf-blind, although I didn't see in action.) Everyone is welcome and everyone can have a Starbucks experience.

With all of that in mind...How has your organization - library, museum, archive, whatever - built accessibility into its daily operations? Not "we can be accessible if asked", but being accessible as a default.

  • What did you learn about accessibility during the COVID pandemic when you perhaps moved programs online? 
  • When you made adjustments in your physical space, how did those changes increase access for those who use assistive devices? Did you make signage easier for everyone to read? Is your layout more obvious?
  • Have you implement captioning for your recorded videos and live video presentations? 
    • Automatic captioning is useful, but it can produce errors. If you are using automatic captioning, please take time to go through and make corrections, including adding in some punctuation. (Having a 10-minute run-on sentence, for example, is not helpful.)
  • How have you made your website more accessible, no matter the type of device being used to view it?
  • Who tests your accessibility options so you know you are truly accessible?
  • If accessibility isn't part of your daily operations, then why not?
  • Where is accessibility on your list of priorities?
  • How has your accessibility efforts made your organization a preferred place to work?
I have had blind students in my classes, have friends and family with mobility issues, and now have friends who are Deaf, so I perhaps think about accessibility a bit more than most people. If you have accessibility as something that is always part of your thinking, you will be surprised where you will see the need for changes, perhaps even in your own organization. I encourage you to makes changes, even small ones at first. Every change you make on the path of being full accessible will be worthwhile.

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