Philip: I’m speaking with Dr Scott Hollier, the Digital Accessibility Director for Media Access Australia, and author of ‘The Cognitive Disability Digital Accessibility Guide’. First up Scott, why was this guide created?
Scott: The reason for this guide is that there’s a lot of information more broadly around accessibility and how to support people with disabilities with computers and the internet, but not much information specifically relating to the needs of people with cognitive disabilities. And as such, it was an idea from the former CEO of Media Access Australia, Alex Varley, and some awareness from responses we’ve had from clients to say that really, there is a need for some specific information around cognitive disability. So as such, we started to embark on creating some resources and the result is this guide.
Philip: Fantastic. So have a number of organisations brought this up as an area that just wasn’t covered in the broader context?
Scott: Look, they have, and it’s interesting that it has been particularly in recent times that this has come about, and I think a big part of this is that there is a lot more awareness of cognitive disability, particularly about people which have difficulties in terms of things like memory, problem-solving, the ability to lose attention easily, and also around reading, and the web is certainly a big reading resource. And so I think there’s been a lot more awareness that there is this group which are finding things challenging, and it’s important to support them and while the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, that we talk around a lot around accessibility are key to supporting this group, often the specific cognitive things aren’t addressed. So it really became clear that there wasn’t a lot of information out there for this group and we needed to create it.
Philip: Actually, that leads me to ask you, what are some of the conditions that are classed as ‘cognitive’, and just how prevalent are some of these within society?
Scott: Well, we’re looking at a very broad range of conditions; we’re talking about things like autism, we’re talking about acquired brain injury. There’s a whole umbrella that comes under “cognitive”. Sometimes there is some debate over what conditions those are, but really, there are those key characteristics that we can look to, and certainly in terms of reading is a really big issue for people with a cognitive disability, and the comprehension of information. We’re also talking about things like maths comprehension, so being able to understand basic sums, and as we’re saying, the web is such a big resource and it focuses a lot on being quite visual and text-heavy, and that comprehension, that need to read quite a lot of information and attention, it’s certainly a big issue. So the more we can do to make that easier for people, the better.
Philip: The booklet is full of practical guidance, but just how easy is it for organisations to make sure that their communications don’t actually discriminate against those with a cognitive disability?
Scott: Well, that’s a great question, and certainly I’m sure there’s no specific intent to prevent people from using information, but it is easy if there isn’t that awareness within an organisation for information to be produced in a way that doesn’t effectively support people with cognitive disability, or perhaps the marketing area have sent out emails which are difficult to understand, or perhaps there’s not an awareness of the specific technologies used by those with a cognitive disability, or maybe the website itself is not compliant with standards that could help people with cognitive disabilities. So really, the need for an organisation to look at this issue is important, and not just in terms of it being an IT issue or just for people working at the coalface; it really is an issue that needs to be an awareness across all aspects of an organisation, and this guide endeavours to support that.
Philip: So what kinds of people are going to get the most benefit out of this guide?
Scott: I think anyone who works in an organisation that is specifically trying to support people with cognitive disabilities could really benefit from this guide. We look in the guide across a variety of different roles; we focus certainly around the people who need to be aware of relevant policies, and also IT people who need to ensure that relevant parts of the ‘Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, Version 2’ or WCAG 2.0 as we call it, that that standard is applied, particularly the parts which aren’t always acknowledged that relate specifically to cognitive disability. And then it extends into supporting people in marketing and communications, content producers preparing documents in an accessible way, and also people at the coalface in terms of what technologies are often used by people supporting others with cognitive disability. So the guide endeavours to provide a lot of information in a very practical way on what needs to be done to address these issues.
Philip: Well, thank you so much Scott for taking us through ‘The Cognitive Disability Digital Accessibility Guide’.
Scott: It’s been my pleasure, thank you.