DEEP Access: Highlights from “Designing Enabling Economies and Policies”

Toronto ViewIn October, I took part in two separate and very different events dedicated to accessibility. Each had its highlights and in a later blog post I’ll tell you what those were for the second of the two: Freedom Scientific’s Annual Accessibility Showcase. I want to dedicate this post to the first, though – DEEP 2014: Designing Enabling Economies and Policies.

The two-day event took place from October 16 to 17 at OCAD University in downtown Toronto, and was sponsored by Actuate, alongside IBM and the Government of Ontario. It focused on accessibility in both government and education environments, looked at new innovations, and discussed inclusiveness from a variety of perspectives.

As part of the program, I moderated a session on the Role of Data and Alternative Representations of Data, which also included Chris MacMillan from Information Mapping Canada illustrating how volumes of data can be more accessible and digestible by redesigning its visual display and layout, and Dr. Peter Coppin of OCAD U who highlighted the advancements, led by his efforts, made on representing data with sound. I did a segment focused on data-driven personalized PDF communications like financial, health and benefits statements and notices, and showcased how Actuate’s technology uses automation to dramatically speed up the generation of high volumes of accessible PDF documents.

The Program

DEEP had a range of other panels and presentations too, ranging from “What Does Ontario Need to Do to Get Back on Schedule for Full Accessibility by 2025?” led by David Lepofsky, Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, to “Building Capacity in Education: A discussion of new programs in inclusion and new approaches to inclusive content and credentials” and “Creating Inclusive Communities Through Public Engagement.” There were also small group sessions dedicated to policy, education, innovation, entertainment, etc.

One of the biggest highlights for me, though, was the keynote address by Gregg Vanderheiden, a professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and co-director of Raising the Roof – International and the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure Project (GPII). GPII is the specific program I want to discuss here, though. In fact, I was so interested in their advancements, that I immediately emailed Gregg to see how I could get more involved in GPII, and was graciously invited to be the “watchdog” for accessibility of their web and documents!

GPII and a New Way of Creating Inclusive Content

GPII, basically, aims to make the Internet accessible to everyone, whether they’re disabled, illiterate, digitally illiterate or aging. The group behind it works with existing technologies to help make them easier to use for individuals who might experience these inherent accessibility barriers.

Gregg used the case of a digitally illiterate grandmother to demonstrate. Even if her grandkids tried to explain to her how to send or receive an email, she wouldn’t understand because she doesn’t see the world the same way they do. But what if the screen popped up and instead of a traditional email scenario, it looked like a letter waiting to be written? What if all she had to do was click on that “piece of paper” to write, then press on a mailbox icon to send it, just as she might a physical letter? What if a virtual mail truck then came and picked it up, to bring it to the recipient? This type of interface would be more intuitive to her, because it’s based on what she knows. And this is the type of solution GPII is looking to offer, with different alternatives for the visually impaired and other accessibility issues. It would all be available on the cloud, compatible with existing technology.

For me, that presentation was an eye-opener and one of the best moments at DEEP. And I was pretty thrilled to hear back from Gregg to find out I might be able to get involved with the project myself.

For more information on DEEP, visit deep.idrc.ocadu.ca/agenda/, and to learn more about GPII, visit gpii.net.

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