In an era when we are physically separated from family, friends and peers, technology is helping to bridge the gap and encourage social connection at a distance.
While checking social media platforms, browsing the Internet, and browsing video and audio streaming services are considered normal interactions, they also open doors of accessibility for others.
For Steven, a deafblind man, Facebook and email connect him to the outside world. “I communicate online because I like talking to people … it’s faster and easier [for me] communicate. “
Deafblindness, a combined loss of hearing and vision, has an impact on access to information, communication and mobility. Born with rubella, also known as German measles, Steven is deeply deaf and blind in the left eye. He is legally blind to his right.
Professional stakeholders connect people with deafblindness, like Steven, to other people and their community as a communications partner. Amy, one of the interveners who supports Steven, has been working in the field for 17 years; 12 of those with DeafBlind Ontario Services.
Amy and Steven take a total communication approach, which uses as many communication methods as necessary to facilitate the exchange of information. Steven uses Signing Exact English (SEE), a manual communication system that strives to be an accurate representation of English vocabulary and grammar. He also uses Braille and large print, as well as large print notes for those with little experience with the sign. In recent years, Steven has benefited from technological advances, particularly in communication.
He uses an iPad and laptop daily to send email, share on Facebook, converse via Facebook Messenger and chat with family, friends and caregivers. Steven also surfs the Internet to find areas of interest, coordinate plans and set his weekly budget.
According to Amy, “Steven likes various ways of communicating with his friends and family who do not live near him. Without the Internet and social media, Steven would not be able to socialize as often with everyone in his life and stay connected. “
Today more than ever, these mediums are an integral part of Steven. “I can’t go to the grocery store or buy the essentials for my apartment … I order everything online. My sister can’t come to visit me [because of social distancing]. Since I can’t use the phone to talk to people, my iPad and laptop are important so I can stay in touch. “
Steven also uses his laptop and iPad to stay informed about COVID-19.
As Steven’s world is enriched by these media, accessibility barriers can also prevent people with disabilities from engaging online.
An obstacle is anything that prevents a disabled person from participating in the social or economic life of our communities. Technology-wise, this can mean websites, apps, PDFs, and videos that are inaccessible to assistive technology.
In these difficult times, we must ensure that people with disabilities like deafblindness are protected. This means accessible media communication that is available when information is provided, official information about COVID-19 in accessible formats, as well as accessible or made accessible digital media upon request.
Thursday, May 21, 2020 marks the ninth annual World Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). This day aims to raise awareness of people with disabilities about digital access and inclusion (web, mobile, software, etc.).
“Digital innovations continue to reshape society on many levels; their potential to progress and impact daily life, as for Steven, is undeniable. However, more than 15% of Ontario’s population is disabled, whether visible or not, including more than 40% of people over the age of 65. This number will only increase with the aging of the population. We must strive to make technology accessible and usable by people with disabilities, ”said Executive Director, Roxanna Spruyt-Rocks.
DeafBlind Ontario Services, which is based in Newmarket, offers residential and personalized support services accessible throughout the province. Their holistic approach to stakeholder services enables people with deafblindness to achieve their goals and dreams. To learn more, visit deafblindontario.com and celebrate GAAD on May 21 using the hashtag #gaad.