When we speak on inclusion or inclusivity, we are speaking of an emotion of authentic belonging, writes Jessica Anabor CCP SSA, student member of BCS.

According to Wikipedia, inclusivity is the practice or the policy through which access is provided for equal resources and opportunities for the individuals who otherwise may be excluded for being disabled - which includes that of physical and mental disabilities alongside those belonging to minority groups. This is an effort which is embedded in an organisation’s character in which every individual is not only socially but also culturally accepted irrespective of their varying backgrounds or differences.

Disabilities can be visible or invisible; something an individual is born with or acquired at a certain point in life. Disabilities include, but not limited to, vision and hearing difficulties, chronic illnesses, mental health and intellectual disabilities.

When there is inclusivity in tech, there is an equal treatment which brings about a favourable environment. It was described in the 2018 report of Innovation Through Inclusion: The Multicultural Cyber security Workforce, that through diversity, equity and inclusivity within the IT department, a more systematic approach is able to be created. With that said, it is necessary to consider the differences within an organisation in order to determine what inclusion in technology means for both the employees and the employer. These differences include age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, race, religion, disabilities or socioeconomic.

There are numerous other significant aspects of inclusivity, such as participation, respect and encouragement. The moment there needs to be an implementation of an inclusive strategy paired with disability, the employer’s goals ought to be narrowed down to the aforementioned aspects (participation, respect and encouragement) and the values they are bound to bring forth. A safe, comfortable environment is created within a tech organisation the moment every individual is treated with the same level of respect and paramount, wherein their works are appreciated and valued. There is no unethical criticism of perspectives and motivations.

Designing for inclusivity and accessibility

There are five barriers to accessibility for individuals with disabilities: systematic or organisational; attitudinal; architectural or physical; information or communication; technology. With IT companies, the letter of the law is followed often by the tool but little initiative is taken towards implementing the needs of inclusivity and accessibility for the individuals who non-median users are aka failing to practice what they preach.

Several reasons exist as to why accessibility or inclusivity is neglected by organisations with an example being that of accessibility being unduly lengthy for organisations to execute due to lack of understanding the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and / or cumbersomeness in extra efforts of providing training programmes for individuals with disabilities. There is therefore the need to keep in mind the fact that it is not possible for all software designs to have perfect inclusion oversight. This is not even envisaged by the great technologists of our time.

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However, there are some steps which can be taken. For example, providing a company’s aims on having accessibility achieved; there needs to be the hiring of disabled designers or developers with the required expertise, after all who else better to design for disability than those individuals with it? The steps which could be taken include either enhancing the user research or taking on a disabled consultant, with the required expertise. There needs to be empathy when looking at disability. Being disabled is merely a characteristic therefore it is of utmost importance for designs to not only be made for disability but also made with it.

The use of assistive computer technologies

It is necessary to keep accessibility in mind while designing inclusive hardware that supplements the software. Although accessibility hardware for individuals with disabilities is the keyboard, mouse, and monitor, there is the need to have alternative adaptive hardware and software developed. A way to go about this is to enkindle assistive computer technologies in order for individuals with disabilities to perform functions that might otherwise be impossible or difficult.

For visual disabilities there should be the implementation of screen readers and magnifiers, speech recognition, refreshable Braille displays. For physical disabilities there should be the implementation of head pointers, track balls, joysticks. For hearing disabilities there is the automatic transcription software.

With the enhanced dependence on touchscreen technology for communication, (with average users spending 950 minutes a week on their smartphones alone, thanks to this technology), organisations can embark on ensuring that the products’ designs address how it can be facilitated by the software and when necessary adjustments can be made.

An adaptive hardware and software technology that can be implemented more by organisations is that of OCR (Optical Character Recognition) systems. This is a technology used towards distinguishing printed or handwritten text characters within digital images of physical documents, such as a scanned paper document; aiding individuals with blindness or visual impairment to have the ability to scan printed text and afterwards have it saved to a computer file or spoken in synthetic speech.

We all should therefore strive towards delivering meaningful innovations which will aid in recognising the needs of disability diversity, thereby contributing to the individuality of the individuals being enhanced through this; and thus giving rise to the voices of inclusivity on the table of IT offering a way through, rather than around, the preventable issue of the exclusion of disabilities.