How accessibility for people with disabilities can improve the lives of us all in the time of Covid-19
These days, Israel invests a lot in the improvement of the digital services of public organizations; Access Israel works to make sure that these services will be fully accessible for people with disabilities. It is time for our country to pay attention to the inclusivity and accessibility of people with disabilities, not just because of social reason but from a socio-economic perspectiveFrom Yuval Wagner Chairman of Access Israel
When people talk about accessibility for people with disabilities, they talk about adaptions to buildings and physical adaptions, adaptions to technologies and services given by organizations to costumers, so that people with different disabilities can use them and participate with everyone else with equality and independence.
It is said many times that accessibility benefits the entire population.
Examples of this are text and Whatsapp messages; the technology was originally developed for people with hearing disabilities as an alternative to speaking. And these days everyone uses it.
Another example is the STT Speech to Text technology, which turns writing into speech – these technologies are made for people with visibility disabilities and these days they are widely used for transcribing, smart homes, and many other applications.
When it comes to construction, examples can be shown like entrances to buildings with stairs as opposed to ones without. It is obvious that the former example is better not only for people with disabilities, but also for parents with baby strollers, children with bikes and grandparents that find it hard to climb the stairs.
Another example are the various services for people with disabilities meant mainly for people with mobility disability that use wheelchairs and ones that use other aids; we (sadly) see a phenomenon where people without disabilities use these services because of convenience and not because of a need due to their disability.
Because of these reasons, many of the global tech companies as part of their research and innovation activities challenge themselves to find new solutions to the everyday problems people with disabilities face.
For the last years in Israel and in the rest of the world, there have been attempts to convince the legislators and general decision makers to do more for the promotion of accessibility. This is done not only because of a social commitment to the world's largest community which consist of 18% people with disabilities and 11% elderly people, but also for different communities that don't fit the definition of "people with disabilities" but definitely need accessibility accommodations, for example illiterate people.
What is fascinating about the development of accessibility for people with disabilities during the time of Covid-19, is that the entire country is in quarantine, and that caused that for the first time the citizens have gotten a taste of the feeling that is very familiar to people with disabilities – wanting to do something basic that is a part of your daily routine, but being unable to do so.
The second very fascinating element is the understanding that there is a need to allow the entire population to do everything from their home, work and study, do errands, banking, shopping, and more.
Over the course of many years, Access Israel promotes the concept that accessibility and accessible technology benefits us all.
Moreover, below are a few examples that if these were done earlier with that outlook in mind, our country's financial situation during Covid-19 would have been completely different:
Automatic Doors: Good for accessibility, good for all of us, good during Covid-19.
Voice activated/ app activated elevators: Good for accessibility, good for all of us, good during Covid-19.
Faucets, light switches, app payment without touching it with your hands: Good for accessibility, good for all of us, good during Covid-19.
Wide roads fitting wheelchairs – also allows for social distancing: Good for accessibility, good for all of us, good during Covid-19.
And much more…
One of the subjects we tried to promote before Covid-19 was making all digital services that can be done remotely, accessible.
Everyone was worried about it and claimed that it would take many years until we would actually reach the point of being able to work remotely, study remotely, have remote medical service, have remote governing, have remote municipalities, and remote retail.
Today, a few months after the start of Covid-19 everyone understands that it is possible. If before the Corona Virus at least 80% of services were provided physically, today the situation is the complete opposite 80% of services are offered remotely from home.
15 years after the legislation for accessibility of people with disabilities, Israel has progressed a lot in everything related to accessible services to people with disabilities. However, the too sudden move without prior preparations to digital services brought people with disabilities back 15 years back in many ways.
People with disabilities that were finally able to integrate at work were now at home without a job because the technology used at work wasn’t accessible for the use at home.
In Israel, thanks to the advanced legislation, students with disabilities were already integrated into regular schools, colleges and universities, however, they too found themselves out of the system because of significant accessibility issues.
20 years ago when I founded Access Israel, I was asked in every meeting: "What is this word, accessibility? We never heard of it". The answer of course was that the word accessibility means to create accommodations and adjustments so that people with disabilities could arrive, use,and integrate into a place and a service in an equal way like everyone despite and in spite of their disabilities.
Recently the word accessibility is used in different connotations and mainly in the context of availability and ability to connect, this wide usage causes many misunderstandings.
These days, as a part of the lessons learned by Covid-19, the state of Israel invests a lot in order to dramatically improve the digital services provided by public organizations to citizens so that they could do everything digitally by using their computer or phone.
Access Israel is actively working together with the Equal Rights Commission for Persons with Disabilities of the Ministry of Justice, to make sure that all these efforts will result in solutions that will be completely accessible for people with disabilities, who make 30% of all sectors, the Jewish, Orthodox, Arab, the periphery residents, and immigrants.
It is time for the state of Israel to deal in advance with matters of inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities and not just as an act for the community but from a socio- economic perspective.
Especially now the subject of advanced accessibility is a commitment – we will save billions for the economy on one hand, and generate revenue on the other, and mainly reduce the large and expensive social gaps.
We will save financing costs of retroactive accessibility and reduce social gaps, instead of firing employees with disabilities due to inaccessible remote working technologies, we will enable accessible employment from home will be for people with disabilities, we will allow for accessible remote medical services and save expensive health care costs, develop accessible technologies, create jobs and create revenue.
It's time to learn from the lessons of the past, we need to always remember that 30% of costumers are people with disabilities and therefore every service offered needs to be accessible in advance and enable the inclusion of people with disabilities.
The state of Israel cannot allow itself to not investigate past errors and learn from the mistakes.