Digitization and accessibility - Opportunities for disabled Persons

Sighted persons must love paper: they print mountains of it, send it back and forth, scan it, print it out again, file it away never to look at it again.

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Loving Paper

Authorities in particular have a soft spot for sending paper, even if it is not about legally secure information and the e-mail address is clearly known. The otherwise tight-fisted authorities seem to have a penchant for spending money on postage and printer ink.

This shows how far away we are from digitization. Only 20 years ago it would have been unthinkable that the majority of persons would do their work from home: there was a lack of technology and internet access. But we could also be much further, as countries like Estonia show. However, this article is about the opportunities of digitization for persons with disabilities.

What's going digital?

Of course, we were not prepared for a global pandemic. On the other hand, since Fridays for future at the latest, we have been encouraged to look for more ecological solutions. The EU traveling circus between Strasbourg and Brussels is such an embarrassing example. But we don't have to look that far, we find similar nonsense between the old and new capitals in Germany. Tens of thousands of persons fly back and forth between A and B for short appointments.

But even those who understand something about it have a hard time with digitization. The German Republica, for example, it likes to call itself a large internet or digital conference. But they find it difficult to set up an online conference, even though the logistical effort is much less than for a face-to-face conference. Technically, this is certainly a major challenge. But it is still much less effort than a face-to-face event with several thousand persons.

Smaller events like Beyond Tellerrand could, I dare say, be digitized without any problems. Of course, the concepts have to be adapted. Giving presentations in front of a screen definitely takes some getting used to. But it's not rocket science either. The O'Reily publishing house, for example, recently announced that it only wants to hold online meetings.

Incidentally, this would solve a major problem: many events take place in the middle of nowhere, meaning you have to change trains once or twice from the next major train station. This is a challenge for disabled persons and at least a nuisance for healthy persons. But the big city is significantly more expensive when it comes to accommodation and event space. This means that low-budget events in particular cannot take place centrally if they cannot find generous sponsors.

Break down mental barriers

The resistance to digital communication is enormous. I have often found digital meetings to be more productive than face-to-face: the agenda is followed more strictly, there are fewer abrupt changes of topic, less alpha male posturing, the meetings are usually shorter and more disciplined. Of course there are technical problems and the 3-year-old babbles in between. But at face-to-face meetings everything always runs smoothly, the projector works right away with the notebook, everyone is always there on time and there is never any loud construction work...

Of course I know the value of personal encounters. Yes, personal contact was, is and will always be important. XING, Facebook and Co. will not make this contact superfluous.

But, and this is a big but: personal contact is not everything. It must be weighed against the personal, economic and environmental costs. Hardly anyone found their joie de vivre at a train station, in an airport or in a hotel room. Six or seven-figure travel budgets certainly don't improve the balance sheet. Incidentally, I'm surprised that the otherwise so stingy public coffers finance this traveling circus. And of course the environment, which is also being damaged by more and more air travel, rail routes, roads and the traffic that takes place on them. An organization cannot seriously call itself environmentally conscious if it allows this nonsense. Atmosfair is like slapping someone in the face and then handing them an ice pack for the swelling.

I maintain that the resistance to digital solutions is primarily mental and that a large part of today's face-to-face appointments can be handled digitally.

Let's take a vivid example: Gamers have already anticipated this digital revolution. Ever since digital networking has existed, they have been communicating globally. Anyone who can reasonably speak English - or wants to learn it - plays one of these online games. Curiously, these persons have the fewest problems following #stayathome, they probably wouldn't even know there could be a problem. Friendships are formed through this, although the persons concerned will probably never meet in person.

What does this have to do with accessibility?

A lot, of course. Live streaming is a nice way to catch something from home. But watching and being there are two different things.

Let's talk about non-digital barriers: money is one of them, distance, travel time and overnight stays in foreign places is also a barrier. Many disabled persons are therefore unable to attend face-to-face events.

Communicative barriers are also an exciting topic: Digitization makes it possible for the lecture to take place at location A, the deaf participant to be at location B and the sign language interpreter to be at location C. The same applies, of course, to translations into easy-to-understand language.

Opportunities of digitization for disabled persons

Many persons with a mental or chronic illness are unable to do regular work. They have bouts where they can't work and nobody can say when such a blip will come. However, this is not compatible with regular working time models.

For them, working from home would be an opportunity to pursue a regular job. For example, they could agree on a specific workload that they will complete when they feel good.

Working from home is also an opportunity for other disabled persons. For blind persons, for example, commuting by public transport is a challenge, just like for other persons with restricted mobility.

And let's not forget the group at the forefront of COVID19, the persons with weakened immune systems, for whom a small infection can mean long illness or death. I doubt that they felt particularly comfortable in fully occupied intercity trains or planes even before the Corona crisis.

A degree or vocational training could also be completed in this way. Unfortunately, the state has so far lacked the necessary flexibility; it is this cult of physical presence that is slowing down innovation.

Or let's stay with my favorite topic: paper. You can now do a quick scan with your smartphone. Nevertheless, as a blind person you never know what you are actually signing. Handling the whole thing digitally would take away a lot of this concern. And there are countless other examples.

Of course, the prerequisite is always that the conditions at home are right. The technology must be sufficient, the internet fast enough, and a suitable room must be available.

Of course, the technology used must also be accessible if the person is dependent on it. Unfortunately, many of the conference solutions and tools for accessing the company infrastructure are not.

Corona is an opportunity

I'm not a fan of slogans a la "crisis as an opportunity". That would not be appropriate given the Corona crisis and its dramatic consequences for those affected.

Nevertheless, it remains to be hoped that the crisis will give digitization a boost. Because so far Germany has lagged far behind other countries and is thus also slowing down accessibility.

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