Accessibility Q&A with Sonali Marathe

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The Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities, of which the Copyright Agency is a member, will hold its annual conference in Melbourne from 2–5 May.

This event acts as a forum to share information about the latest accessibility developments; enhance dialogue between users and providers of information; and showcase examples of best practice in the provision of accessible information.

The Round Table itself is a cross-functional group consisting of alternate format producers, education, government, business, community and disability organisations across Australia and New Zealand. It was set up to encourage the production of quality alternative formats for people with print disabilities, a term encompassing difficulty viewing, manipulating or perceiving printed materials due to blindness, arthritis, dyslexia and other conditions.

Sonali Marathe is the Round Table President and the head of Alternative Format Publications at the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, spearheading the creation of new formats and materials with improved range and accessibility. We spoke to her about the upcoming conference, changes in the accessibility space and the importance of inclusivity in organisations.

What do you hope to achieve at this year’s conference?

The 2020 Conference of the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities (Melbourne, 2–5 May) will feature a program of high quality presenters from diverse backgrounds sharing the latest insights into their work around the theme Information Access – Innovation and Collaboration. Presenters and delegates representing government, education, business, community and disability organisations throughout Australia and New Zealand will have an opportunity to share knowledge around information production; distribution and sharing; new technologies; and access to education. We hope that this year’s Conference presentations and workshops will again inspire attendees to explore and improve opportunities for people with print disabilities in a rapidly changing landscape. The conference will also provide opportunities for networking, collaborating and learning.

How do you see innovation and collaboration fitting into discussions around accessibility?

In today’s world, technology, digital access and innovation bring opportunities to increase access for people with print disabilities, but can also bring new challenges. Collaboration between researchers, industry, organisations, educators, government and people with print disabilities is essential to ensure that innovation doesn’t leave anyone behind. That is the reason the Round Table and other disability agencies have partnered with Monash University to explore how 3D printing can help people with a vision impairment in orientation and mobility, as well as learning and education. Collaboration between developers of assistive technology, industry leaders, education partners, publishers and people with print disabilities can bring about change, and enhance inclusion of people with print disabilities.

Have you seen any recent changes in prevailing attitudes towards print disabilities?

Accessibility and inclusion appears to be more of a standard agenda item now for governments and organisations, as a result of public demand and increased awareness of the need for accessibility and equity of access. Member organisations of the Round Table have advocated for many years, and recently a number of great successes have been celebrated. Technologies that improve access for people with print disabilities often also enhance usability for the general public.

After the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty and subsequent amendments to Copyright Law, there has been a positive change in attitude from publishers. With the formation of the Australian Inclusive Publishing Initiative (AIPI) we have seen them embracing accessibility, with some committing to produce accessible ePub3 formats.

What developments do you hope to see in information access?

When new technologies appear, they bring opportunities but may also create new barriers — like the touchscreens, for example. We hope that through governance, social awareness and ongoing advocacy and research by the Round Table, accessibility for people with print disability will become a required, core, integrated aspect of innovation in technology, education, design and engineering.

Why is it important for organisations to embrace accessibility?

Inclusion is defined by the United Nations as a human right, for all people, including people with disabilities. Accessibility is an essential enabler of inclusion.

Along with an organisation’s corporate social responsibility and the associated social benefits, embracing accessibility makes perfect business sense. According to a report from Gartner, the disposable income of people with disabilities and their immediate friends and families is $8 trillion USD, so embracing accessibility improves your customer base and opens new markets.

People with disabilities can be valuable contributors to society if they have equal access to information and are effectively included in education, employment and social life. Organisations who embrace accessibility and diversity not only do the right thing by people with disabilities as employees and clients, but they will grow to become better organisations in the process.

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