Accessibility in Tech – Genevieve McLachlan | “Accessible technology should be the norm, not an afterthought”
Over 1 billion people globally live with some kind of disability and 70% of disability is invisible. At some point in our lives we are all going to have an access need and these needs should be catered for at work. “If you’re not designing Accessibility in, chances are you’re designing it out” says Minnie Baragwanath, CEO & Founder of Be. Accessible. As we will be exhibiting at The Canterbury Tech Summit in September, we wanted to create a conversation around the topic of Accessibility in tech. We caught up with Genevieve McLachlan, Managing Director of Wellington based company Adaptive Technology Solutions to talk about the importance of assistive technology and how this can be made more accessible to everyone.
Tell us about Adaptive Technology Solutions and what you do?
Adaptive Technology Solutions Ltd was born from a long-held dream of mine, to establish my own business enhancing the lives of people with disabilities and older people.
I work with individuals who struggle to use their computer, read print or who may prefer dictating rather than typing by offering assessments, training and support.
What made you want to be part of the tech industry?
Personally, I use assistive technology daily to enable me to run a successful business. Having lived my whole life with the effects of disability, I relate well to others and am able to assess their needs with compassion and experience. Because of my own experiences using assistive technology and having been through the process of working with multiple agencies who only work with one aspect of a person’s disability or impairment, I wanted to provide a holistic approach for people with multiple disabilities or impairments, like myself needing to access assistive technology.
How do you feel technology has helped those with disabilities?
Technology has opened up the world for people with disabilities and impairments, by allowing them to participate in training and employment opportunities, therefore increasing independence and increasing their contribution to society as a whole.
Do you think technology has become more accessible?
Yes, technology has become a lot more accessible with manufacturers like Apple and Windows including accessibility features like magnification, speech and voice dictation into their Operating Systems. There will still be a need for specialised assistive technology for some people for whom the in-built accessibility features will not meet their needs. For me, this has meant I have been able to stop using specialized magnification software and use the in-built magnification within Windows 10. This in turn will decrease the cost of assistive technology and make it more accessible for everyone.
How important is it that everyone has access to technology for digital inclusion?
Access to technology is important for everyone to create a truly inclusive society where there are no barriers to inclusion. Accessible technology should be the norm, not an afterthought.
Tell us about the work you have been doing with Wellington’s Cable Car?
Through my work with Be. Accessible, a social change agency shifting New Zealand from disability to possibility, I work with businesses who want to progress their accessibility journey and who are looking at the overall picture about accessibility benefiting a whole range of people, not just those with physical disabilities.
As part of this process, the Cable Car was initially assessed in 2015 and received a Gold accessibility rating. I’ve recently reassessed them and was delighted to be able to present them with their Platinum accessibility rating based on improvements they had made since the initial assessment. Platinum is the highest accessibility rating available and means that Wellingtonians and tourists alike will be able to use the Cable Car with complete ease, regardless of any access needs they may have.
If Employers wanted to invest in assistive tech, where should they go?
People with disabilities and impairments who are working or studying and need specialised assistive technology because of their disability, may be eligible for Government funding to cover the costs of specialised assistive technology that is specific to their disability, e.g. magnification or speech screen reading software because of blindness or low vision. The employer would be expected to provide the same technology as they would for any other staff member, e.g. laptop, phone etc.
What type of assistive technology is out there?
There’s lots of different technology out there but it can be broken down into three main categories:
Low Vision, which includes:
- Screen magnification software for computers
- Electronic magnifiers, either portable or desktop
- Blindness, which includes:
- Screen reading software for computers
- Refreshable Braille displays
- Text to speech for reading print
Learning Support, which includes:
- Learning support software for computers
- Speech recognition software for computers
- Text to speech for reading print
How do you feel tech can be made more accessible for everyone going forward?
Developers like Apple and Microsoft are already including accessibility into their Operating Systems which is one-way technology can be made accessible for everyone going forward. For those who still need specialized assistive technology, cost is an issue as there is limited funding available and only if you are working or studying. Unfortunately, this puts assistive technology out of the reach of a lot of people who need it.
If you want to learn more about Accessibility in Tech, watch this short video by Microsoft here