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With increasing reliance on online meetings and digital tools, experts are calling on businesses and organizations to ensure their online spaces are accessible to all. 

The need for improved digital accessibility was the focus of this year’s Globalfest Human Rights Forum, an annual event focused on topics based on UNESCO’s Coalition of Muncipalities Against Racism and Discrimination.

Niesa Silzer, who organized the panel held Monday, June 7, said the goal was to create more awareness in terms of digital accessibility at events. 

“The problem is that there is an apathy,” she said. “And we think we know, but so often we don’t know.”

Digital accessibility is the need for digital content to be easily read and understood by anyone who uses it. The problem faced is this issue is often overlooked, said Silzer.

Assistive technologies such as mouse alternatives and screen readers are tools used to aid those with disabilities navigate the digital landscape. Unfortunately though, these technologies are in high demand as well as they are not very effective. 

“It is so much more than turning on Zoom’s closed captioning,” Silzer said. “There is always more we can do.” 

According to an Accessible Canada Act report, more than 6 million Canadians aged 15 and over, identify as living with a disability.

Guest speaker Sam Evans, a certification manager at the International Association of Accessibility Professionals, said access is a human right and that’s the primary reason why it matters.

“Making materials and content accessible makes for equity and fairness in information distribution and opportunity,” said Evans.

The United Nations passed the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006 — the most quickly passed human rights convention that has ever been presented at that forum. 

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Canada signed the CRPD, as well as many other countries. They make sure that people with disabilities have their rights to access not just in the physical environment but also in a digital space, Evans said.

“The audience for digital media is not just people with disabilities,” she said. “We also have people with situational or non-permanent impairments — injuries, migraines. If I lost my glasses, I would really need to turn the zoom up on my computer screen.”

Evans urged organizations to analyze their current online content and rebuild it to accommodate those with needs. 

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) — an international community where member organizations, along with full-time staff and the public work in tandem to develop web standards —  currently has  Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1), which covers a wide range of ways to make content accessible.  

“Some of it may seem technical, you don’t need to be a tech wiz to understand it but the tenants are: things should be perceivable, operationable, understandable, and robust,” she said. 

The sorts of things organizations can do to be more inclusive can be as simple as clear typography and fonts, use of headings, and color and contrast. Additional suggestions Evans made during the forum included using plain language, using graphics and avoiding flashy content.

“Some of the top things you can do, make sure to include alt-text for your images with graphics, make sure you caption your video content, make sure to list what you can do to be inclusive.”

The Globalfest Human Rights Forum will be back again June 22 to continue promoting change within Canadian communities.