This post was written by Bettina Liang (UTS graduate and Digital Accessibility Ambassador).
The LX.lab has recently released Students Explain Digital Accessibility, a suite of videos about making your learning and teaching accessible. These videos were created in collaboration with UTS students who have a lived experience of disability – our Digital Accessibility Ambassadors. In the fourth part of a series of posts accompanying the videos, Digital Accessibility Ambassador Bettina Liang writes about the need for digital accessibility to be built into online communication.
Crappy internet connection, choppy audio, heavy accents, and noisy backgrounds. These were now daily challenges I had to deal with and adapt to during the global COVID-19 pandemic last year with all communications moving online. Face-to-face no longer viable, I had to adjust to this new normal. Fast.
Digital accessibility during lockdown
Hi, I’m Bettina, a recent graduate from a Bachelor of Technology and Innovation from UTS. I had just started my first full-time job as a Project Manager when the pandemic hit. I remember meeting some members of my team on-site and then the lockdown happened. It was a challenging year for everyone but for those with access needs, it really forced us to tackle new challenges and think of new ways to deal with daily tasks in order to access our work.
Working through the challenges
For me, the biggest challenge was the online space and meetings. As someone with a profound hearing loss and bilateral cochlear implants, it was already a struggle to watch movies in the cinemas without subtitles, but then this challenge shifted to a critical area of my life – my job. Having only been in my job for about 2 months and barely used to the work I was doing, I suddenly had to do it all online, with no-one within arms reach to help me. I rely heavily on lip-reading and prefer face-to-face communication, but Skype and Zoom were my best options. I had to find a way to understand the projects I was working on. Time differences with engineers, and cultural differences overseas were only some of the issues that everyone faced but for me, it was a different challenge. Majority of people had their cameras turned off during calls, messy hair, pyjamas, and I was the same too. But this meant no lip-reading, and I had to find a different way.
Tips for digital accessibility
Here are some things I’ve learned along the way that were very valuable and I urge everyone to consider.
- In a meeting try and set out an agenda or overview just so everyone is on the same page. For me, this provided clarity and structure and helped me feel less anxious in case I got lost and could not hear.
- Another tip, turn on video camera, not only will deaf people or people with hearing loss be able to hear you but it provides a more personal element and people will not feel like they’re speaking to a black abyss of nothing.
- There are also platforms that provide live captioning like Microsoft Teams – research what you can provide for all participants.
- If there are no captions available, I would ask for someone to take notes as the meeting proceeds and share their screen. These notes can then be shared to all participants as meeting minutes.
More than anything, empathy, patience, and understanding was what provided me with the strength to open up to my co-workers and ask for help.
Feature image by Compare Fibre.