What can we do to make the digital world more accessible for people with disabilities?
As churches reopen after the pandemic, it’s been encouraging to hear that some of the technological steps taken to make worship or meetings more accessible are planned to continue. That’s good news for people who for one reason or another couldn’t attend in person even before the pandemic.
Universal design—the idea that making spaces or products or experiences more accessible is good for all of us—embarrasses me a little. Why should something have to be better for me before I support improving it for someone else?
Technology by itself can do wonders—and has. If you want to read a good story, The Verge has written about the evolution of screen readers—the devices that allow a person with a visual impairment to read web pages (“The Hidden History of Screen Readers,” bit.ly/3oPjvgH).
However, like a ramp that allows someone to get into our churches, full accessibility requires more. I suggest starting by talking to people who might not enjoy full accessibility. (A maxim used by many marginalized groups, “Nothing about us without us,” is helpful here. That is, decisions about practices and policies affecting any group of people should not be made without fully including those people in the decision making process.) These conversations might be awkward to initiate, but I guarantee that if you listen well you will walk away with a better understanding of what works and what’s a waste of time and money—and you might even make a new friend.
The CRC’s Office of Disability Concerns has provided a video of one such conversation in which Cara Milne, chair of the executive committee of Disability Concerns Canada, has a delightful conversation with Debbie Karambowich, an elder at River Park CRC (Calgary, Alta.), about her experiences attending meetings via technology (bit.ly/3BBOvs7).