As organizations that include hundreds and thousands of members, associations have a responsibility to make sure they are accessible to all groups of people – including people with disabilities. The Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) and the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) – two Smithbucklin clients whose missions are centered on disability technology – stress the importance of inclusion and take deliberate steps to ensure that they are accessible as possible to people with disabilities.
One of the key steps that RESNA and ATIA take to maximize accessibility is ensuring that their websites are accessible for everyone. Both associations’ websites include alternative text, or “alt text” – a short written description of an image that can be read aloud to blind users on a screen reader. The websites also include hyperlinks, sans serif fonts, and contrasting colors – all providing an easier reading experience for people with vision impairments. Both websites feature an accessibility statement and a contact that people can reach out to if any aspect of the website is not accessible for them.
Both ATIA and RESNA noted the importance of maximizing accessibility within one of today’s most useful pieces of technology – Zoom. ATIA and RESNA utilize the closed captioning feature, which is free to all Zoom users and provides people who are deaf or hard of hearing with live captions – even noting which person on the Zoom call is speaking. Both ATIA and RESNA have the closed captioning function on at all times, and ATIA stressed the importance of having the captions turned on before individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have to ask – a more proactive than defensive approach to inclusion.
Designing accessible events – both in-person and virtual – is another imperative step to creating an inclusive organization. RESNA and ATIA budget for and use live transcription in lieu of the automated captioning for virtual events. Automated captions are provided by artificial intelligence software and are often inaccurate, therefore making live transcription a much better option. ATIA also budgets for and uses American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters at its virtual events for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Steps can be taken to maximize accessibility at live events as well as virtual. To assist attendees who are blind, ATIA creates textured pathways, blocks off certain areas, and provides sighted guides to help attendees get through exhibit halls. ASL interpreters are also present at events, for comprehension purposes as well as the equally important social aspect. ATIA event staff are required to take disability sensitivity and awareness courses, which include training as well as the important piece of knowledge that not all people with disabilities need or want to be assisted – it’s up to the individual.
RESNA and ATIA agree that the inclusion of people with disabilities is not a one-step process – it involves doing research, gathering feedback from members, and analyzing the accessibility level of current technology and software. With the world rapidly evolving and technology advancing rapidly, it is vital for associations to continue developing accessibility knowledge and take steps to ensure that all members are included.
Georgie Seago is in the Corporate Marketing unit at Smithbucklin.