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People Are the Most Important Part of Any System

Our Beliefs, Posts

Just like many places in the world, in Ontario we are figuring out how to level the playing field at work and play. We all want to have equal opportunity for an education and to enjoy life. We want to use our talents and knowledge to the fullest to earn our living. We want the same for our children. One recent initiative is the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).   Ontario has accessibility standards in several areas and businesses large and small must comply. Application of AODA is complex and far ranging: all forms of disability and most aspects of daily life.

This is not a them-and-us issue. At some point, each of us, one-way or another, will meet some barrier to fuller participation in some aspect of our lives. Many of us see disability as someone else’s challenge, not our own. Or, that accessibility is mostly a matter of ramps, wider entrances to the buses and taxis we use, or brail on elevator panels.

Think again. Injuries at work and sports. Age related effects on endurance, cognition, mobility, hearing and sight. Mental health issues. Limits imposed on family caregivers of the young or frail. Differences in cognition, memory, attention. Improved medical techniques have resulted in greater survival rates after severe injuries. (Ironically, that might bring down homicide rates, but increases the number of survivors with disabilities.) Better health and longer lives means older people will soon form the majority of the population. Ending of compulsory retirement ages and the wish or need to continue working using hard-won and sought after skills and knowledge means accommodating a greater range of abilities at work. We will all meet accessibility barriers in one form or another that affect our ability to take part in some aspect of daily life.

Ah, you think – this is just a matter of definition of “disability”. Well, you’d be right in some ways. Meeting the needs of 100% of individual differences will always be a challenge. Should it by 80% or 90%? Who gets to choose?   Standards can only go so far. Custom designs may be needed to meet the needs of many falling outside a standard. Using existing know-how and enough cash, we can probably get close to 100% (although possibly never all the way to 100%). There’s a lot we can do and falling short of perfection is not a reason for doing nothing. Improving accessibility for all should be one of the goals of human integration for every technology we use – at home, at work, at school, for recreation. Be inclusive – not exclusive.

Don’t think of this as helpful for only a few people struggling with extreme challenges. Not at all. If we approach design with greater awareness of the needs of all users, we can overcome many of the negative outcomes of the known variation in human abilities : physical, sensory, or cognitive. This may be through better use of existing technologies or by inventing something completely new. By making information on vehicle dashboards accessible in different ways. By customizing tablets for infants to meet critical developmental goals. By providing hearing loops for the hearing impaired at wickets and in taxis. Simple or complex, we are starting to understand and integrate the needs of all people with our technologies more thoughtfully and more inclusively. That will benefit us all – this generation and the next, young and old. The pace of this change is accelerating. We at HSI® believe that people are the most important part of any system. Do you?

Bob Webb