Making Technologies Accessible

 

Personal computers. Bank machines. Cellular phones. The Internet. Online learning. These and a multitude of other information and communication technologies (ICTs) are an increasingly pervasive part of the lives of most Canadians.

For people with disabilities, many of these technologies offer new opportunities to work, learn, shop, communicate and participate in democratic, cultural and community life. But many ICTs also create new barriers for people with disabilities.

The Disability and Information Technologies (Dis-IT) Research Alliance is working to change that.

The Dis-IT Research Alliance is a partnership of over 30 researchers and organizations seeking ways of making ICTs more accessible to people with disabilities. This three-year research alliance is led by Deborah Stienstra of the University of Manitoba and is funded by the Initiative on the New Economy program of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Retail and Public Services
Each day, Canadians conduct millions of transactions with banking machines, retail point-of-sale terminals, ticket dispensers, information kiosks and other public information and communications technologies (PICTs).

Unfortunately, the design of many of these devices makes them difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to use.

Working in partnership with companies like the Royal Bank and NCR Corporation, Gary Birch of the Neil Squire Society is leading a research team that is examining how wireless devices similar to “Palm Pilot” personal digital assistants customized to individual abilities and preferences could give people with and without disabilities better access to bank machines and a multitude of other public information and communications technologies.

E-Learning
Web-based courses provide enhanced educational opportunities for people with disabilities, but can also create new barriers, particularly for people who require assistive or adaptive technology to use computers. Catherine Fichten of Montreal’s Dawson College is leading a research team examining: 1) how e-learning activities in Canadian universities and colleges are creating new learning opportunities for people with disabilities; and 2) how new obstacles that e-learning technologies create may be eliminated.

E-Democracy
Information and communications technologies have become increasingly common in consultations conducted by governments and NGOs. Deborah Stienstra is leading a team that is studying ways that online government consultations can be more inclusive of people with disabilities. Stienstra’s research team is also examining how the Canadian disability community has used e-consultations for policy development, and how it can make better use of information and communications technologies in the future. This part of the E-Democracy research includes a recently launched a website on Disability-Related Policy in Canada (www.disabilitypolicy.ca).

Workplaces
A research team led by Aldred Neufeldt of the University of Calgary is examining how Canadian employers are using new technologies to create accessible work environments for workers with disabilities, and how accessible technologies present compelling opportunities for innovative companies to market their products to non-disabled consumers and workers in Canada and around the world.

For more information, visit www.dis-it.ca or contact Gary Annable at ine@ccdonline.ca or (204) 947-0303 (voice), (204) 943-4757 (TTY).

UPCOMING EVENT
Dis-IT will hold its second annual research institute in Winnipeg from May 10 to 12. Its theme is, “How do we simultaneously address the needs of industry and people with disabilities in the development of information and communications technologies?” The technology industry and Dis-IT’s researchers and partner organizations discuss ways of developing information and communications technologies that are accessible and profitable. See www.dis-it.ca for more information.

DIS-IT PARTNER ORGANIZATIONS
– Adaptech Research Network
– BC Institute of Technology – Living Laboratory
– Canadian Association for Community Living
– Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education
– Canadian Centre on Disability Studies
– Council of Canadians with Disabilities
– GLADNET
– IDEAL Group Inc.
– Industry Canada – Assistive DEVICES Industry Office
– Industry Canada – Web Accessibility Office
– NCR Corporation
– NEADS
– Neil Squire Society
– Nelson Thomson Learning
– Royal Bank of Canada
– Simon Fraser University – School of Interactive Arts and Technology
– Université Laval – CIRRIS
– University of Toronto – ATRC

 

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