Philip: I’m speaking with Naomi Rezzani who’s the Accessible Information Service Coordinator at Scope's Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre. Scope is a not-for-profit organisation that supports people with physical, intellectual and multiple disabilities achieve their goals in life. Naomi was the official reviewer for the Cognitive Disability Digital Accessibility Guide, authored by Dr Scott Hollier, the director of Digital Accessibility of Media Access Australia. First up Naomi, what was the scope of your work when you reviewed this booklet?
Naomi: As you said Philip, I coordinate our Accessible Information Service at Scope, and our services include document conversion into plain and easy English, we also do consultancy, training and consumer testing with the aim of producing information that supports people with limited literacy skills.
Philip: And how did you get involved with this project?
Naomi: We’ve been talking to Media Access Australia for a little while now about how we get the digital media space to address the needs of people with limited literacy. It’s often looked at from other areas of accessibility, such as vision impairment, and it’s just as important in our services to meet the needs of people who need things also laid out very well, who also need information simplified, and images can often help as well.
Philip: Yeah, that’s right. What kinds of specific conditions are covered by the broad category of cognitive disability?
Naomi: As you said, it is quite broad. The things that people might think of immediately are disabilities like acquired brain injury, autism, developmental disability is something we commonly work with, and that might be something you think of like Down syndrome or a lifelong intellectual disability, ADD or attention deficit disorder, and even some learning disabilities in general that can impact on their ability to process information.
Philip: Up until this guide was produced there doesn’t appear to have been much information available that relates to the digital accessibility needs of people with a cognitive disability; what are some of the fundamental issues and factors that influence how effective communication with these people can be?
Naomi: I agree, there wasn’t a lot of information at all, but the difficulties that we find for people with limited literacy is that there’s not a good understanding of the need, so as in the information is often still too complex, even if it is produced with a person with limited literacy skills in mind. And we address this by ensuring that we consumer test everything we do at Scope to check that it is as user-friendly as we think it is, and it is a really good reminder often of how much more simplification we need to do. Things are also written in this day and age for multiple audiences, so that means that in the way that we’re trying to meet multiple audience needs, we often don’t meet the needs of people with limited literacy. Information is often produced online only, and that’s extremely problematic for many people in our community who don’t have good access to online information. And people often also need support to read information, whether it’s the actual act of reading it or making meaning from it for their individual needs, and comprehending that information. So that’s often a missed step in there’s an assumption that you put information out and that people will be able to access it without support. So we often assume that someone will need some support to read information.
Philip: What’s the biggest fail you see most often in regards to communicating to a person with cognitive disability?
Naomi: I think that one of the things that we see a lot is the use of images, and those images include text. And when those images are meant to do a job around conveying information, whether it’s to support the text that they sit with or helping someone recall information, by having written words within that image, for someone who doesn’t read well it’s actually not a very effective way of using those images. So we try to avoid that and we find that using good, strong iconic looking images is a much better way of supporting people to read, understand and recall that information.
Philip: Rather than embedding words within an image?
Naomi: Correct. By putting words or literacy within an image it’s actually defeating the purpose of putting that image in there for someone who struggles with reading.
Philip: Right, so perhaps someone holding up a bit of paper with the word “plan” in it, there are some people that won’t be able to get that.
Naomi: Exactly, yeah, that’s right. We’d prefer to find a good, iconic representative image that maybe someone may not know the first time they see it, but it’s easy to teach, to learn it, and to recall it.
Philip: Brilliant. The Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre where you work has been helping a wide variety of organisations with advice and solutions; how does what your organisation does complement the digital accessibility focus of Media Access Australia, in your view?
Naomi: It’s absolutely complementary. We have many speech pathologists on our team, so picking up the discussion before about images, we have a huge amount of experience around how symbols and images can be used to best effect. And also our knowledge of supporting people with cognitive disability means that our significant experience in presenting information with that simplified format, language, grammar, and those images, is a really nice fit with the broader accessibility experience that Media Access Australia has, and we’re certainly learning more about how we present our information in a more accessible way online, and I feel like that’s a huge area that all of us need quite a bit of support with.
Philip: It’s a fruitful two-way street. Thank you very much for your time Naomi.
Naomi: It’s my pleasure, thank you.
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