Nordicity Insight: When minor accessibility adjustments lead to major research results
Posted by Emily Macrae and Julie Whelan in Toronto on Sep 29, 2016

We at Nordicity are thrilled to celebrate the launch of ScreenAccessON: The Employment of People with Disabilities in Ontario’s Screen-based Industries, a study prepared for Lights, Camera, Access! (LCA!) with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation, CBC Accessibility, Inclusion and Diversity, OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre, Accessible Media Inc. and ACTRA Fraternal Benefit Society. We believe that this research has the potential to catalyze new approaches to accessibility for people with disabilities working in film, television, broadcasting and digital media.

We wanted to take a moment to reflect on what we learned over the course of this project, as far as integrating accessibility into our own consulting practice and research processes, from engaging with stakeholders to formatting the final report.

Words Matter

From the outset, we were aware of the barriers created by language and the misconceptions perpetuated by common words and phrases. For this reason, although the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act offers a comprehensive definition of disability, we invited survey respondents to self-identify using language that reflects both personal preferences and community activism among people who are Deaf and individuals with disabilities. For example, we avoided the language of impediment and other medical terminology used by the AODA that does not account for the social context of exclusion. Moreover, since 18% of survey respondents selected “other” when asked about the nature of their disability, the results confirm that discussing disability involves intensely personal decisions.

Accessible by Design

We developed an accessible online survey to collect information about the employment experiences of people with disabilities working in Ontario’s screen-based industries. Our survey platform complies with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Level AAA, an international standard that ensures content is easily navigable for users with disabilities. For instance, some question formats can be needlessly complicated. Rather than relying on 3-D matrix type questions for ranking challenges and opportunities, we asked respondents to rank statements with numbers (i.e., where 1 meant “not at all a barrier” and 5 represented “a significant barrier”). We also offered confidential surveys over the phone upon request.

Community Engagement

We held a roundtable discussion with approximately 20 participants to identify opportunities for change based on the personal stories of people with disabilities working in film, television, broadcasting and digital media. OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre provided accessible meeting space for the event, which was a huge success. This success was thanks to participation from people working in all sectors of the screen-based industries and familiar with a range of roles both on screen and behind the scenes.

In organizing this event, we learned that asking the simplest questions can prove to be the most effective way to encourage full participation for people of all abilities. For example, when we sent out the invitation for the event, we asked attendees to let us know how we could make the event more accessible for them. As a result, we were able to plan for ASL interpretation and attendant care during the roundtable. On the day of the roundtable we also learned to avoid line-ups that are uncomfortable and inconvenient for people with limited mobility, to provide lots of room to maneuver wheelchairs, walkers and scooters, and to expect the unexpected in terms of pick-up and drop-off times for accessible transportation services.

Sharing the Results

Once we compiled our results into a final report, we wanted to ensure compatibility with screen readers and other assistive technologies. From an accessibility perspective, having a report template that complies with best practices is a great starting point as certain features can enhance navigability. For instance, maintaining set styles for text and tables contributes to a more organized document. We also learned how to add alternative text (or “alt text”) to explain the content of charts and tables for readers who may be blind or partially-sighted. When we converted from Word to PDF we also designated some logos and other design elements as “decorative” – that is to say not needing an alternative explanation, in order to reduce the clutter of information and maintain the flow of the primary text. We want to say a special thank you to one of the project funders, Accessible Media Inc. for providing guidance on this process. 

We look forward to using what we have learned working with LCA! to design accessible, inclusive research processes, consultations, and reports in the future. In the meantime, join the conversation about the screen-based industries on social media with #ScreenAccessON.

Emily Macrae is a Research Analyst at Nordicity’s Toronto office. Although she is always on the lookout for features of barrier-free design in public spaces, she wishes she remembers more of the ASL she learnt in kindergarten!

Julie Whelan is a Manager with Nordicity. She is learning more and more about diversity and inclusion through her current work with Accessible Media Inc., and LCA! and her past work with Women in Film & Television - Toronto.