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One major goal of Adelante DiverseIT is to make technology more accessible to all. The program especially works with people who have been traditionally excluded from the technology field. For example, people of color, women, people with disabilities, and seniors. DiverseIT trains people in these target audiences. But, people in training at DiverseIT also educate the entire team. 

A great example is Shawn. He’s a junior at the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and also a DiverseIT intern. Shawn excels in technology thanks to some tools and accommodations that help him work in the IT field. Through his work, he’s done some exercises with the rest of the DiverseIT team, to provide insights on the experience of blind people using IT equipment. The goal was to let more people understand how accommodations work for people with visual impairments in regard to computer applications and also assistive technology in general.  

A man knells down and smiles next to two students working on computers. He is helping train them on technology.
Making technology more accessible to all different kinds of people helps close the “digital divide.” Accessibility for people with disabilities is part of this.

1. Learn about accessibility applications and work with disabled colleagues to properly implement them.

First, different assistive technology applications are available for computers and electronic devices. It’s important to know they exist and the basics of how they work. That helps support access for people with various disabilities from an IT point of view. Jordan, the DiverseIT program manager, learned that a lot of assistive tech for visual impairments is freeware. Moreover, from his observations, it actually appears more efficient and effective than what sighted people utilize. One example is Narrator, Microsoft’s screen reader. 

Using Narrator, Shawn installs Windows independently and can do whatever needs to be done, like type in licenses for Microsoft Office. Because DiverseIT is a Registered Microsoft Refurbisher, installing this software is important. After all, Adelante wants to provide people with quality, functional computers. Shawn notes that Narrator’s function is not complicated. “If the computer reads ‘task bar,’ [Narrator] is going to say ‘task bar,’” he said. These tools help Shawn in his work, as he and his coworkers install hardware and software.

One of the most common difficulties visually impaired people have is distinguishing different colors. As a result, it is important to keep color-blindness in mind when choosing colors for a website or other tech. Putting together a color palate with effective contrast is something not everyone thinks about. Of course, good contrast is important for seniors and everyone else, too. There are several free tools online that allow designers to test the contrast of different colors.

2. Learn how disabled people make adaptations and look for ways to improve these universally.

Finding out how to make flexible adaptations and creatively implementing them involves the needs and strengths of a variety of people. Everyone works differently. That is especially true for people with different kinds of disabilities.

For example, before Shawn starts a work project, he makes what Jordan calls a “mental map.” This gives him a full idea of the locations of a computer’s components so he can work most efficiently. “He’s feeling the device. He traverses it through his hands. That way he knows where the RAM, or the power button, or anything that he’s engaging is.”

Shawn sits down and reaches into a bag of screws to find the best size for the computer he's assembling.
Shawn’s initial planning actually allows him to more effectively and efficiently work on computers.

Jordan noted this is not just an adaptation, but an enhanced skill set. Proper planning is essential for all successful projects. Shawn thoroughly planning out how he is going to work in advance makes him efficient. Furthermore, Jordan noted that, even with his experience on computers, he likely couldn’t do the same thing with such ease. “It’s just fascinating the ability to do something that [sighted people] kind of take for granted.”

We can adapt similar processes to suit the needs of more individuals, allowing for a more inclusive and productive community.

3. Center on accessibility.

Considering accessibility makes spaces easier for everyone to use. Think about the fact that, prior to focusing on accessibility, all bathroom doors were closed, large and heavy. That was especially troublesome in heavily trafficked areas like event centers and airports. Today, instead of doors, which were very difficult for people with disabilities to open and close, there are hallways that wrap around. They still offer good privacy and are easier for many people. People with disabilities, people pulling suitcases and parents pushing strollers all benefit from this design. Therefore, applying these ideas and focusing on accessibility in other areas, including IT, makes life easier for the whole population.

Shawn, for example, took time to advise Adelante’s marketing team on effectively writing alt text for blog photos. His insights were helpful.

When it comes to alt text, make sure to explain the context and purpose of an image. If the photo has people working in a certain environment, then it’s important to point that out.  One picture Shawn advised us on was of an intern holding a bag of bread. It is important in this case because the photo highlights the nature of work discussed in the article it accompanies. Whether the people in the image are wearing red or purple shirts, however, doesn’t matter as much. On the other hand, color may be important if the picture were of people dressed as a rainbow. Thinking about the message you want to send through the photo will help create the best alt text for readers.

Thanks to Shawn’s input, our website is more accessible and yours can be, too. 

4. Understand that a disabled person’s experiences with accessibility may be different than yours.

If we don’t utilize a certain assistive technology, we may not understand why someone uses something in a different way. We also have trouble empathizing when someone experiences obstacles.

Many of us ask questions like: “Why on earth are there instructions in braille on drive-through ATMs?” This looks strange to those of us who are sighted, but this is an able-bodied person’s perspective and not that of someone who actually reads braille. Tommy Edison, a film critic and YouTuber who happens to be blind, explains why banks have braille on drive-through ATMs. Blind people could take a cab or rideshare, or perhaps ride in a friend’s car to visit an ATM. Just like sighted people, blind people want to keep their personal information, like a PIN or account number, private as well. Making the drive-through ATMs accessible allows everyone to use them conveniently.

Shawn also demonstrated how he texts on his phone. He uses an app that types like a Perkins Brailler, a form of typewriter used for writing braille. This looks impressive and cool, but it is simply how he types.

Several years ago, there was a ramp at the University of New Mexico with an angle that was technically ADA-compliant. Many of its regular users, however, found it dangerous, especially when using a wheelchair with a higher center of gravity. A person with full mobility likely would not have noticed this. As a result, UNM built a new ramp with a safer grade.

Conclusion

To Shawn, the overall answer to better accessibility is straightforward. “There are things that I have to learn. There are things that everyone has to learn. Not just blind people, but everyone. We all have to learn something.” Therefore, we all must learn more about how assistive technology can positively affect our community.  Stay flexible and keep and open mind.

A woman smiles and points to a computer. A man to the left looks at the screen and smiles. She is teaching him something about technology.
We are educating the community on issues like accessibility in technology, and expanding tech opportunities for people with disabilities at DiverseIT’s new training and repair center.

If you need a computer, or know of someone who does, request one via www.DiverseIT.org. Additionally, if you need computer training or affordable repair services, you can use the website or call (505) 881-TECH to reach our new DiverseIT Computer Repair & Training Center.

For more information on accessibility in design or to watch the YouTube video mentioned above, visit:

https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2017/10/nailing-accessibility-design/