Q&A: Improving inclusive and accessible design

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Tuesday, 8 July 2014 12:09pm

Media Access Australia spoke with Linda Leung, Associate Professor at the School of Software Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at the University of Technology Sydney, ahead of her presentation on inclusive and accessible service design at the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) conference in Melbourne.

The conference, being run at Swinburne University’s Hawthorn campus from 9-11 July, tackles a diverse range of issues in the media and communication space, including issues around disability and media access.

Media Access Australia: Your presentation will be on “possible interventions in inclusive and accessible service design”. Firstly, and for those unfamiliar, could you explain what inclusive and accessible service design entails?

Linda Leung: I discuss inclusive design as an approach which considers the needs that are most often excluded, and which examines some of the commonalities of that exclusion across minority groups. I attempt to move concepts of accessible design and accessibility beyond disability discourses, in order to be inclusive of other groups and communities.

To return to the first half of the title, why is there a need for intervention?

Traditionally, minority groups are studied in a silo-ed manner in order to understand their needs and wants, and then the design caters to those. The interventions I am referring to are about looking across different groups and communities to understand common experiences of exclusion, rather than focusing on a particular minority. By taking into account a cross-section of minority groups, the design of services is no longer about accommodating certain minorities, but can make a sound case for being inclusive.

What sorts of interventions might these be?

Interventions can be made in different ways at various levels. There is the ethical case for intervention, that is for the design of services to be inclusive and accessible. There is also a business case, as inclusion means that services are designed to be accessible to as many people as possible. Regulatory interventions are also possible, similar to that of a Universal Service Obligation. And there are also legal interventions, in the same way that adherence to web accessibility guidelines is enshrined in law through the Disability Discrimination Act. I argue that there could be something similar that does not address a specific minority group, but is premised on making services inclusive and accessible to all.

Who would be responsible for these and how might they take place?

At the various levels described above, it requires designers to advocate and persuade, the business sector to be convinced that inclusive and accessible design makes good business sense, regulators to take on redefining a Universal Service Obligation, and government to rethink inclusion and accessibility as part of anti-discrimination legislation.

What are the potential barriers to more accessible and inclusive service design?

They are:

  • Universal geographical availability
  • Non-discriminatory access in terms of users and platforms
  • Reasonable costs

How can these barriers be overcome?

There needs to be an acknowledgment from all the above stakeholders that availability does not equal access and affordability. Making services available is the easiest part. Making these services accessible—in terms of accommodating the diverse literacies of the community, both language, technical and financial—are the more difficult components to address. We have a long way to go before this is even recognised.

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