Updated: Jun 15, 2020
If that fact is the only thing this post makes you aware of, I will still take it as a win! That said, I hope you’ll stick with me a bit longer – especially if you work in the arts and culture sector or produce any form of art or media intended for an audience.
Before work-from-home orders came into effect, I was already curious about and in the process of researching how to make arts and culture programming more accessible. The access to art which I have enjoyed in my lifetime thus far has enriched my life beyond measure and I can’t imagine my life without it. Though I do not personally experience any barriers to access at present, I am aware that that can change at any time. For that reason, I am committed to raising awareness and advocating for equal access for all.
According to the World Health Organization,15% of the world’s population (an estimated 1.1 billion people) identify as having some form of disability. This represents the world’s largest minority, and the only minority group that any of us can become a member of at any time. (Source: easterseals.ca)
Often when people think of accessibility, we tend to think of ramps, automatic doors, wider doorways, and accessible washroom stalls. That is to say, the focus is often placed on the physical spaces we exist within and effort is spent to remove physical barriers to access. Could you imagine if those physical spaces were built with accessibility in mind to begin with?? But I digress…
While physical barriers are an important element, they are only one aspect of accessibility. Once an individual can enter a physical space, then what? How is the art inside of that space accessible to them? Rewind a little further and you might start to consider all that happens before an individual gets to the building that room is in. What are we doing to ensure that our communications regarding art and culture are accessible?
In my research so far, I have found a few truly excellent resources which I am taking the opportunity of Global Accessibility Awareness Day to share.
A guide to making art spaces accessible, created by Humber College in partnership with Tangled Art + Disability. It offers an introduction to and recommendations for incorporating accessibility features into aspects of exhibition design, such as: exhibition content; label design and text; lighting; image description; audio description; transcription and captioning; language usage; and access symbols.
The above is a great guide to presenting art in an accessible way within the context of a museum or gallery, for example. As we know, the world changed in a significant way a few short months ago which has forced art and culture institutions to close their doors and cancel all mass-gathering events in an effort to "flatten the curve." Interestingly enough, it appears that one benefit of this pandemic is that some individuals with disabilities now have more opportunities to participate in art and culture as presentations and performances have moved online. Google Arts & Culture, for instance, has compiled a list of over 500 virtual museum tours that folks can enjoy from the comfort of their own home.
Similarly, some artists with disabilities are welcoming the global change of pace. Some are finding that they are ahead of the curve when it comes to using some of the technologies to which many others have only just been introduced as a result of having to work from home.
Though it’s been great to see ASL interpreters accompanying politicians as they deliver updates and information about the pandemic on the news, it is still uncommon to see interpreters or even captioning on living room live streams for instance.
Another resource I have come across in my research pre-pandemic offers a free and accessible course on how we can go about making media accessible. Making Accessible Media: Accessible Design in Digital Media
Designed for post-secondary institutions, broadcast media professionals, and all Canadians, this fully accessible open-access online course, offered in both French and English, focusses on the representation of disability in media, video captioning, audio transcription, described video and live captioning for broadcast, alternative text for image description and tutorials on how to make accessible documents and presentations.
With so much art and culture being broadcast online, it’s hard not to notice just as many barriers to access that exist across the world wide web. Even if an artist or arts organization employed the use of described video or captioning or arranged to have ASL interpretation available during live broadcasts, oftentimes the host websites themselves are not accessible – even though it’s the law.
In Ontario at least, we have something called the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) which requires that “all public websites and web content posted after January 1, 2012, must meet WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 Level AA.”
You read that right. 2012. WCAG 2.0 is an internationally recognized standard for web accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which means it applies beyond Ontario. The purpose of the guideline is to make web content easier for users to see, hear and navigate.
Incredibly, there is a tool available that can increase a website’s compliance with WCAG 2.0 AA (and beyond!) for free.
The world’s most advanced AI-based auto-remediation technology that ensures your brand and your customers have an accessible digital experience that meets strict governmental regulations. We do this by delivering an integrated RAAS™ (Remediation-as-a-Service™) solution that measures, monitors and fixes accessibility violations without requiring changes to your website's existing code.
Curious about how this widget works? I've got it installed on my website so go ahead and try it yourself by clicking on the universal web accessibility icon which should appear at the top right corner of this screen (though, it can be moved to a few other spots on the screen per your preference).
If you work for an arts and culture organization, I hope that you will make use of these resources and/or take a moment to share these resources with your colleagues so that they might make use of the learnings they contain. I would absolutely love to see more organizations add the free UserWay widget to their websites. Doing so will help improve the user experience for individuals with disabilities and for all of us. That way, even more people can enjoy the art and culture programming we all work so hard to produce.
Have you come across any resources or guides for how to make art more accessible? If so, please share them with me by getting in touch!