Digital Works

Episode 003 - Robin Christopherson

March 12, 2020 Digital Works / Robin Christopherson Season 1 Episode 3
Digital Works
Episode 003 - Robin Christopherson
Show Notes Transcript

This episode focuses on accessibility and inclusive design as we sit down for a chat with Robin Christopherson MBE, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet (https://abilitynet.org.uk/). Robin is a really inspiring interviewee and has lots of insightful things to say about the impact of accessible products and services.

Robin mentioned a number of initiatives during our conversation including; the Tech4Good Awards, https://www.tech4goodawards.com/.

We were slightly beset by technical gremlins and Ash having to self-isolate after returning from a trip to Italy but we've battled on. This does mean the audio quality isn't quite as crystal clear as it usually is but hopefully that doesn't cause any issues.

Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the digital works podcast. My name's Ash. And today I'm joined by my colleague and friend Emily Childs. Em, hello, how are you?

:

I'm not too bad. Thank you. How are you? I'm good. I think for full transparency we should admit that this is the second go we are having at recording this podcast. And for the first go I was under a table, I can confirm he was under a table. To be fair , I tweeted a photo of myself under a table. Um, and the reason I was under a table is because I'm currently having to self isolate because I went on a holiday to Northern Italy. Um , and we returned just before the entire country went into lockdown. But we made my partner do now I have to self isolate for 14 days or on day four cause we have an open plan kitchen, living room situation.

Speaker 1:

I was trying to create a , trying to be clever and create an acoustically isolated little sort of pod under the table by covering the table in blankets . Um , but in doing so I ended up sort of bent over double cause I'm quite long and the table wasn't high enough and I was sort of pushing um , the microphone on my headphones into my mouth, which I think really resulted in quite a disgusting audio experience. So we are giving it another go this time I am not sat under a table, I'm sat in a different room in the house and hopefully this all sounds okay. Although we are having to do this remotely so it's not quite as neat and clean and tidy and professional sound news when we go into a studio. But I was keen to get out the next episode of the podcast this week rather than have to wait another two or three weeks for my quarantine periods to end. Anyway, that's a very long winded and probably mostly unnecessary explanation but I felt compelled to share that with everyone. So on today's episode we've got an interview with Robin Christopherson and Robin is an expert in digital accessibility. He is head of digital inclusion at ability net ability and that is an organization aims to support people living with disability or impairment to use technology. And a lot of Robin's work involves working with companies, with corporations, with institutions to help them improve the accessibility of their digital tools and services. Robin actually spoke at digital works nine and it was a very moving session that he gave. He did some, some really interesting sort of peering into the crystal ball and making some predictions about how he expects technology to , to evolve over the, over the coming years. But I think what I found most impactful was when Robin shares the , the effect that technology has , um , has had on his entire life on, on enabling him to live as full a life as he, as he has done. And by the end of the session he was in tears. I was in tears. Em, I think you're in tears. It was, it was incredibly moving. And I think there's nothing more effecting and powerful than hearing about people's personal experience. And Robin is blind. He has a guide dog called Hugo who joined him at digital works and that lived experience alongside his , his technical expertise I think makes him a really effective and engaging speaker on this topic. So we sat down and we didn't sit down. I spoke to him like home doing with Emily today over the internet just before Christmas. And we talked about a range of , of topics from where Robin expects technology to progress to through to characteristics of organizations that are doing digital inclusion and accessibility. Well , um, and we , we started our conversation digging into the concept that Robin introduced at the digital works event back in December, 2019. The idea that we're living in an age of extreme computing experiences. You know, when your stewards looking at the internet on your phone using one hand and the sun's streaming in through the window and you're on the bus and your, you know, moving around as the bus goes around the corner. That is an quite heavily effected computing experience. And if we start to think about accessibility or rather using Robin's preferred label of digital inclusion and our goal is to make our digital tools and services more usable and accessible for everyone. And I think you really start to get a real handle on a better way into this, this topic. I feel like the language around accessibility has perhaps been as much of a barrier as anything in the past. But I think Robin has a really interesting, highly informed and very personal perspective on all of this. So I hope you enjoy what he has to say. When Robert and I spoke last year, enjoy

Speaker 2:

the , the idea of accessibility, it feels that where it's less addressed, less engaged with, it's because people see it as a separate thing, an additional thing of bolt on. And I think the point that you made that, you know, the fact that everyone is using computing devices on the move, things have touchscreens , things have tiny screens, things have see-through screens. We're in an age where ambient computing interactions are growing. So that introduces a whole new array of constraints and possibilities. And I think thinking about accessibility in that context felt it just felt like people got it a lot quicker.

Speaker 3:

You know, platforms are only gonna proliferate and become more extreme, you know, you're not going to be able to assume that there'll be a screen involved, for example, or that people will be able to control the environment that they're in when they're accessing your services. So I think accessibility has got too much baggage really. So we almost need to , to , to kind of move away from it because people already know that it's hard and it's for, I think it's for disabled people only, et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, digital inclusion being the kind of better way of looking at it because then you're including everyone and it's not for those people over there, that's probably a useful point to get across. That is much more for every user on a daily or even hourly basis. And then when you think about, well, why do people want to do things inclusively, you know, which in effect is following the accessibility guidelines, you know? Um, so accessibility will , will feature whether it's , um, just in the kind of documentation that you're going to be dealing with or your companies might be dealing with to boil down into a smaller checklist that depending on your role is easier to handle. Because you know, an editorial person doesn't need to know everything that's in wikag say . They just need to know the stuff that's kind of relevant to them. And ideally it would be presented to you in a way that will make it easier for you to engage in that relevant or specific to the tools and processes that you use within your particular team or your organization. So accessibility will kind of still be a thing, but it will no longer be something that you have to justify in terms of the carrots or the sticks, you know , the carrots are, Oh, this, the purple pound and there's all those disabled people out there, et cetera, et cetera. It's the right thing to do. And the sticks are look at the legal requirements, you know , um, it's the law brand damage or that sort of thing. But all of those arguments are aimed at or in the context of disabled customers and or employees. And so whilst the carrots and the sticks are very, very compelling and should be enough in themselves, they're still only framed in the context of, of disabled users. So we need to broaden that right out. The carrots are much, much bigger and jucier it's not just to help people access your services is to make your products better for every single user who are accessing them in extreme environments. Not only that, they'll be able to successfully interact with them, juggling their phone one handed, but that it will be optimized. Um, UX, because that's part of the, you know, digital inclusion is that people ha have learning difficulties, cognitive difficulties. The, the usability needs to be of a sufficient level that somebody with those difficulties would be able to use them unsupported. And that's gonna make the UX better for everyone. So there's so many reasons why it's better. And on the legal side of things, you know, it's still predominantly about the disabled user, but the brand damage is the big one. Cause that's not just, you know, the likes of Domino's or Ryanair or someone who gets hit in the press for treating their disabled customers poorly. Um , so that kind of brand damage will carry on, but it's a much bigger one. You know, I, I think the X X app is pants because I can't use that . Have you ever tried to use that thing? You know, this thing pops up and it doesn't behave the way I want and stuff like that. All of those things on would hope had been run by end users before they go live. But what kind of end users? And certainly if you've got end users involved who had more extreme needs, then you'd get a product that was much better and more fit for purpose and just easier to use. So the argument on both side expands right out when you start taking it on , on board for granted that it's not just for disabled people and when it's seen as being table stakes , you know, to have a product that's fit for purpose in today's age, you've got to think about inclusive design. You know, it's just a no brainer. So hopefully it would get to that point at some point, the audience who are wondering how seriously do I need to prioritize accessibility? Hopefully those kinds of arguments I make will make them realize that, wow, we really need to start getting with this program because going forward it seems like it's going to be a necessary kind of skillset to have a basic skill set to have so that the stuff that we're creating isn't, isn't just rubbish for today's extreme competing age hour . And by the way, you'll get all of the kind of disabled and you know, impaired users, older users, et cetera, able to access them

Speaker 2:

as well. Yeah, you're preaching to the choir here. I , I don't need to be convinced, but I , I do think that just that that shift in language feels like it just moves the perspective enough that certainly, you know, when, when we had the event the other day at digital works , suddenly it felt like the penny dropped for a lot of people in the room. It wasn't just about wikag when it wasn't just about meeting a list of points of compliance because accessibility is a good thing to strive for. That's the thing that's going give them a mentum to the discussion is people, people really buying into this and driving it forward and not just being, as you said, a disabled person's priority is a priority about delivering excellent products and services for everyone. Um, because there's, you know, everyone is going to have a different level of ability to engage in their products and services depending on the context, depending on, you know, how , how they, how they are in that moment of interaction. Yeah. Are you seeing as , I mean you have these sorts of conversations every day with you know , numerous corporations and designers and people. Are you seeing a shift in, in language a shift in how people are engaging with this topic? It feels like maybe previously, and please correct me if this is wrong, but accessibility was a slightly separate strand of thinking or discussion or activity. And certainly with the more progressive designers that I speak to and , and, and know about. It feels like, as you said, it's, it's moved now from being, you know, design and then, Oh , we'll make it accessible as a secondary conversation to it being a conversation about inclusive design. It , does that feel like a shift that's happening or is it still,

Speaker 3:

yeah , but not , um , universally accepted and I haven't heard much in, you know, the broader tech arena about the argument that, you know, the kind of extreme computing age argument, I don't hear that much at all. Um, but certainly at texture pro last month , um, the accessibility leadership panel was all saying stuff that's real , relatively new. I mean, the problem with these events is that all of the people that are there, you're kind of talking to the converted, like you said a minute ago, you know, you're already, you're already on board. Um, but you know, the stuff that they were talking about is so new. It's not that you need to have an accessibility person or an accessibility team within an organization valuable as that is. They were talking in terms of an accessibility maturity model needs to be adopted within on an organization wide basis. And that would comprise, you know, C level buy in for accessibility or inclusive design, you know, call it what you will. But as far as the external kind of hearts and minds thing, I think accessibility is less useful. The phrased and inclusive design, cause we've been talking, you know, as we've been talking about a moment ago , but um, you know, to have a champion at sea level and lower levels to um, you know, within each team arguably you need to have , uh, somebody who kind of owns that. But then every single team member needs to have training on it, needs to have, you know , everyone that's touching digital. And that could easily even be as part of every single employees a CPD or whatever because they're sending emails internally, even just a , or doing a spreadsheet or something. And it's no longer acceptable to even put stuff around internally where disabled employees might struggle. So yeah, it's kind of a , the , the language has shifted even in the last 12 months or so towards now. Everyone needs to be on board , everyone needs to have a base level of awareness and that sort of thing. So that's new and that sounds hugely positive and I don't know widely it is, but I guess it has to start somewhere. And if you're observing that shift then you'd hope that that starts to gain momentum becomes a more widespread way of of talking about these sorts of things. Hopefully. Yeah. Even though the people in the room at TaxJar prey were all already on board, you know, they've got to go back to organizations that will be in various points along that journey. So they hopefully can take those kinds of messages back and try and get some buy in. And certainly the public sector rigs have been instrumental I think in certainly in the public sector anyway, making them engage with it much more than they did even though it's been a legal requirement for a long time. And that's an interesting point because certainly we've, we've seen it shoot up the agenda for, for clients organizations that we work with, both in America with the Americans with disabilities act. And then over here with the public sector funded , um , organizations , requirements that have come in in the last 12 months or so. Have you, I mean obviously that then suddenly puts it on everyone's radar because people don't want to be sued. Um, but do you think that that, to use your analogy, that stick, that quite big, heavy, scary stigma nails in , has that made people engage with this meaningfully or is it another tip box that they're just slightly more aware of that they need to go through steps one to 10 and then there will be compliant and it's put back and draw? Or has it actually kickstarted better quality engagement with this set of priorities? When we have clients, prospective clients approach us several years ago it used to be, okay, we've heard about this accessibility thing. What do we need to do? What's like , and after they come as the conversation unrolls it's like, okay, they basically want the minimum. So, you know, they don't care about it. They don't engage with it, but they know they've got to do it. So you know, and they end up not engaging us because they've got no budget for it. Um, that's no , that hasn't been the case for many years now. Um, people genuinely want to do the right thing. They may , might not have sufficient budget or they may or may not have made the right choices previously to make it possible to achieve compliance on a particular project. But so in the public sector , um, everyone that's approached us, it's definitely not been a box to King , um, engagement thereafter. Obviously there's, I don't know, 14,000 independent public sector bodies that , um, under this, you know, that they're affected by this legislation and only a tiny, tiny proportion have contacted us or kind of had stories in the media or whatever. So I can't comment about the rest, but it definitely seems like they're engaging now. It's bizarre because it has been a legal requirement for arguably two decades, but you know, it's only now they're really sitting up and listening. And I think the difference is because in this legislation for the very first time, there is details about how it's going to be enforced. So like you said, you know, it's a stick with some kind of neighborliness to it. Um, I'm not sure about nails because, so what's going to happen, I'm sure you're aware the EHS C have been named as the body for monitoring and the cabinet office potentially for enforcing, issuing fines and stuff like that. Um, it's all very up in the air as to how many they'll be able to review. They haven't published their methodology or anything like that and there is a massive number of organizations affected so, but that I think has been enough to actually name a buddy . I mean the HRC arguably has been the buddy that should have been enforcing the equality act since 2010 but they haven't been. But I think for the first time, this is now named as a , you know, they are going to monitor and because they're a public body themselves, they're subject to an FOI . So arguably that will, those, when they start that process, those things will be in the public domain if people just put in an FOA. Um , so there's a brand damage potential if not actual fines, but I'm hoping that there'll be fines as well. And um, there's been a lot of interest in other models like Norway and Spain and Australia that are being very proactive , um, in the enforcement and issuing fines, hefty fines and stuff. And that's seeing a definite impact there. So the public sector probably know about those cases as well and probably think that the HRC could conceivably come in at the heavier end. I don't know if they will. So that feels real to them and certainly this massive uptake in public sector organizations contacting us. And so, yeah, let's hope there's a shift there because digital government is a very real thing and everything's being driven. They're digital first, so they're gonna leave a lot of people behind if they don't get with the program. Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

Moving, moving away from the , uh, the topic of compliance. Really, I guess more to you . You've spoke about some of the events you've been to over the past, you know , year or so where they've been demonstrations of new tech. You know, you showed us photos of flying taxis, you've showed us pictures , you wearing

Speaker 3:

AR goggles, you know, being immersed in that world of emerging tech. What are you excited about as someone who is very much a super user of, of a lot of this new technology. What are you seeing that's coming to market or that developments that you've, you've observed that you're really looking forward to being able to use the rise of AI. So in all its different forms, whether it's being able to interpret an image that hasn't been given a label in Twitter or on the web or whatever, or that I've got as an app that I can point my phone at or whether it's in a smart speaker or built into glasses or whatever it might be. I mean, Amazon has created so many products that have the lady builtin . Not going to say a name. I've got one right here, even a ring, you know. Uh, so that is a really exciting thing. So that's one kind of manifestation of AI where it's only going to help people with disabilities for whom you know, even if the, the website or the app itself is accessible, it's still going to take longer to interact with it. Then able body people is just by the nature of the adjustment, it makes it possible, but it's probably not as efficient. The only exception of that is driving applications from the keyboard that have got really good keyboard support. You're inherently a much more efficient computer user if you're driving word or windows or whatever from the keyboard because you've done the hot key for it before. You've even half reach for the mouse, let alone grabbed it, moved it, clicked, it becomes back on the keyboard to carry on typing. So yeah, that I think natural language, natural interfaces, just talking to the air and getting useful information is going to be a big thing going forward. But also seeing AI in other areas like driverless vehicles that's going to really democratize private transport and not just for the people that can afford a car, can use, you know, have, could see well enough or um , have quick enough reflexes to, to pass a driving test, et cetera . So in the next 10 years say we're going to see a massive shift in car ownership from, I mean Uber's kind of starting the trend. A lot of people don't see the point in owning a car now when you can just call one and they might not have a parking space in a, in a city accommodation or whatever. It's just, you know, a bizarre concept to own a car in , in a London for example. And I think we're going to see that spreading out to everyone thinking how daft is to own a car when you're only using it for a tiny percentage of the time. And so AI in driverless vehicles in helping people hail them in keeping them entertained and informed when they're in the vehicle, helping them, you know, what their next step is when they get out of the vehicle. If they can't pull them exactly right up to the door of the destination, et cetera . All those kinds of things are going to be really useful at the moment. Blind people say need to have a human pair of eyes at the end of an app to help them with certain things. And I think AI is gonna nibble into that increasingly going forward. It already has done to a large extent with just plain text or to recognize a particular product or something. Um, but to the point where, you know, there'll be able to describe the meaning of a scene. So at the moment the software can recognize the loads of things that are in front of you, but they can't sort of look at the meaning of it and say, Oh yeah, that's the door you want over there or a watch out for that, you know, park bench or something that's coming up. You know, at the moment it's just a cluster of objects and there's no kind of real smarts behind that. So yeah, I think that's going to be really big going forward as well. Um, but all of these are going to be for everyone as well. They're not just going to be for disabled people, but because this age of extreme computing has arrived and you know, something like driverless vehicles are definitely going to be subject to that, then they're going to be inclusive as well. Because if you're picking up someone in driver's vehicle, it could be a child that's getting taken to school. It could be someone with , um, early onset dementia say who has driven 300 miles from their care home to see relatives that don't see very often and to be able to pop that person in the vehicle and know that they'll safely get to the destination without any reliance on that individual doing anything in the meantime. Or it could be that you're , you know, you're having your worst for wear after a good night out and you need to get a driverless vehicle back home or something. So there's loads of reasons why these services are going to have to be really inclusive and not reliant on the person having a certain technical ability or ability full stop really and disabled people who would just be scooped up in that and you know, benefit from it as well. So mainstreaming of inclusive design is a big thing going forward? Yeah, I mean

Speaker 2:

w what you've just described, there is a fairly significant shift in society really. It's what you've , you know, the future that you've described there is much more inclusive as you said, a democratization of how people can engage with, move around , um, interact with the world around them through technology, which, which, which sounds so exciting. But do you worry at all that we are reliant on sort of private, private companies developing these products and services and , uh, the design teams behind these products and services are not always as diverse and representative as they might be? Is that, is that a concern? Is that, you know, as everything shifts, if it's, if that future is being built by a certain type of person,

Speaker 3:

[inaudible] who doesn't

Speaker 2:

necessarily understand the truly transferable transformative impact that their thing could have on the world, that there could be opportunities missed.

Speaker 3:

Um, I think that certainly if you create products or services from it with a team that aren't themselves diverse, then you're going to get poor. What you're going to get embarrassing floors in the service or uninclusive exclusive products. I'm talking about AI. You know, there are some embarrassing examples of where early days, Google image recognition flagged black people. There's apes and stuff like that. So you know, Apple and they put out the iPhone four , you're holding it wrong. Antennagate thing. I don't know if I mentioned this on the thing cause I had done so many um, podcasts and uh, presentations and stuff. I have no idea if I covered this at the digital works thing. But anyway , um, you know, that Antennagate thing, it had perfect reception in [inaudible] in the California basin where there was loads of cell towers and it was all fine, but they never took it further than that. So they didn't realize that reception would be poor if you hold your phone, which obviously people will be holding their phone without a case, sometimes in areas where the reception wasn't as good as in California. So yeah, that was a problem. So , um, yeah, you need to have a much broader idea of how you wrote , you know, it needs to be extreme testing, extreme design , um, extreme , uh, personas that you use that you bear in mind when you're creating products and stuff like that. So yeah, we would definitely agree with that. Um, going forward, that diversity hopefully is , is a , an ongoing agenda that's, you know, the diversity agenda is much bigger than disability, it's gender, race, all that sort of thing. Sexual orientation, and hopefully that's going to help create better products, more inclusive products going forward as well. But am I worried about it just being kept to the corporates? Uh, I think traditionally they do it better than government. DARPA, I don't know. I mean that's obviously a , uh, American or U S government kind of agency and they've been responsible for almost all of the developments that we've been talking about, all created with military applications in mind. And yet we're benefiting from those advancements. So there's a , you know, you could say, well that's not a good provenance for those technologies and you know, technical advancements. But what can you say? Anyway , it is

Speaker 2:

actually the whole , as soon as you start pulling on the thread of technical advances come from, it quickly unravels into, into,

Speaker 3:

and, you know, face recognition I'm super excited about because it's going to help as soon as I can get a pair of affordable head-mounted , um, smart glasses with a built in camera that are socially acceptable enough. You know, I think there will be acceptance more broadly about head-mounted cameras, just as we're becoming more comfortable with having Mike phone's always on in our homes and stuff like that. So as and when that happens, you know, I'm really looking forward to being able to use AI to tell me a lot about what's going on. Uh , and facial recognition, object recognition, text recognition, all that sort of thing is part and parcel with that. But moved to China and you've got facial recognition, text recognition in the form of, you know, number plate recognition, all that sort of thing being used for really bad ends . So you know, there's like any tool that can be used for good oral,

Speaker 2:

and this feels like we're in a , a world where we're constantly treading this fine line between dystopia and utopia. In terms of specifically technology, I am always inspired when I hear you talk about technology and then as you say, you look at much of the same tech being used by repressive regimes and that is scary because it's the same technology in many cases just being used for different things.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I mean, yeah, we've got these annual technology for good awards tech for good awards because we think it's nice to have only good news stories in an event. It's kind of showcase a dozen really, really good new stories because tech is often seen as the bad thing, the bad guy, you know, taking over our kids' lives and harm online and all that sort of thing, so that's really good. We'd like to try and shift the agenda a little bit or balance, rebalance it

Speaker 2:

and a lot of the people listening to this will be people working in cultural organizations. I think, again, you'll probably appreciate to the choir with a lot of those sorts of organizations, they want to be reaching as many possible as many people as possible in a, in as meaningful a way as possible. They don't certainly don't want to be putting up barriers and actively working to remove them wherever they can. I wonder in your work with people like Barclays and other big corporations who have significant, I would assume resources to invest in this. Are there, you know, aside from the money and time and headcount advantages are that , what are the behaviors or sort of ways of thinking are the , are there any common themes across organizations that you work with that really get it? I would suspect that when they, when you're working with someone that understands why inclusive design is important and good thing that is probably married in lots of their other areas of activity. I'm just, what's the question I'm trying to ask? I suppose I'm trying to, is it mirrored in the organization more broadly

Speaker 3:

kind of thing? Yes, I think so. Like you know, what behaviors should people be trying to identify and develop in their institutions which is going to help serve this agenda and vice versa. I think trying to convey the passion about why it's important would help change hearts and minds. It's difficult to know how to go about doing that if you suspect that your organization really isn't kind of that far along the journey to being excited and passionate about accessibility and inclusive design and diversity and that sort of thing. I mean, I suppose if you look around your organization and you can't see too many groups, you know, pertaining to different categories of impairment or sexual orientation or you know, ethnicity, whatever, then you might think, well this organization's probably earlier on in the journey and in which case it's, you know, it is an uphill struggle and we would hopefully just point you at online resources like the texture pro sessions will all be going up on YouTube for people that weren't able to attend. And there there's two days worth of sessions and breakout sessions that hopefully will persuade anyone why this is important. But if you look around and you think, okay, our organization's already pretty engaged with diversity more generally, I think they will be receptive to the message that we've been talking about here. And you can hopefully start to get people on board. So how you get people to kind of engage on a daily basis in what they do, I think really needs to be quite a systematic approach. And it comes back to this accessibility maturity model. You know there's a lot of work being done on what good practice and good in embedded accessibility or you know , approach to diversity or digital inclusion looks like it's quite the quite a few strands or elements to it. And so that maturity model is something that I would invite people to the several of them and just to search for accessibility maturity model and you'll get some , you know they're all relatively similar, but they kind of break down what elements you need to have in place within your organization to really know that you're kind of covering the bases and when they're in place or when they're kind of forming, then you'll start to see the benefits of it . You'll start to see better documentation, better guidance, better training within those organizations to help you, whatever your role is in your day to day work. Be able to bear in mind and have the tools to hand to help you do things a bit better. Even if it's something as simple as turning on the accessibility checker or knowing where it is in office, say so that you can do a quick sanity check before you hit send on a particular PowerPoint or even email is a simple thing today and it's built into every version of office three, six, five, which most corporates are on these days. And whether the corporate policy is to turn that on by default that you know , that would be a massive step in the right direction. And yeah, once it's got the level of seriousness ascribed to it from the highest enough level, then proper decisions, you know, sensible decisions will be made about procurement. You know, you're not going to be purchasing the kind of cheapest option when it comes to a particular application or product or service. You hopefully going to be stipulating accessibility as well and everything will be moving in the right direction.

Speaker 2:

And then I guess my, my , my last question is maybe a personal one or not . Hopefully not in a bad way, but I think you know, if we look at performing arts organizations that we work with, for example, we work with lots of theaters and lots of them will have for example audio described performances and you know you'd be able to take Hugo, your, your guide dog into the, into the auditorium and experience the art that way and it feels like the cultural sector sort of understands how to deliver more accessible cultural experiences that way. But that is very confined to the specifics of the performance and being physically there as a blind man who has a guide dog and accesses the world through screen readers and a variety of other technical things. What's my question is that , is the fact that there's an audio described performance and enough if there are other barriers to accessing tickets to accessing information about the performance? I suppose my question is, are we as a sector, as a cultural sector is the fact that there have been moves towards making the art in inverted commas more accessible, not enough because it's clearly not enough.

Speaker 3:

Certainly core . If I am desperate to go and watch a particular performance at the RSC, which is I'm lucky enough to have just down the road, then we'll be all day described. There will be performances that I'll be able to go to that have the headset and audio description. So that's brilliant if the way of booking that, those tickets and in particular of of identifying which seat you want to sit up because that's particularly poorly done by many organizations where it's all very visual and click on this, you know, and the information about how far from the stage you are or you know, visibility. If you've got some vision, you know , uh, is very difficult. It's not well conveyed in an accessible way. If I'm keen enough to see the performance, then the main thing is that the performance is accessible and if there's flaws in all the stuff around it, then if I'm keen enough, I'll get eyes to help. Uh, that's the kind of at the core kind of cutting back to the absolute minimum. That's what I would say. For me as a blind person, I need to have audio description for S you know, if you're hearing impaired that need to be a signer or that need to be that live captioning on a little screen at the side of the stage or whatever. If you're in a wheelchair, then it's needs to be physically accessible and they don't want to be on the back row right at the back. Guys, they want to have a choice of places to go. My sister, if she ever wants to go to the local theater right at the top, right at the back, that's the only place that wheel chairs can go. But yet if the , the performance itself has those bases covered, then we can enjoy the art, the actual creative process and everything else can kind of be got around with some support. Obviously, if the performance itself isn't accessible, then we might as well not be there or we'd get very poor value for money or a very poor quality experience. But, but having said all that, there's absolutely no reason why the rest can't be accessible as well. This isn't rocket science, it's not going to cost three times as much. Two to 5% on a new build is what they reckon it would cost to build in accessibility from start to finish. And the return on that because you've got a much more inclusive product for all the things that we've been talking about earlier, all those reasons, the return were much higher than 5% so definitely it makes business sense. Yeah. So it's not, it's not an either or, but at the core of it you need to have, you know, and whether that extends to something like a , a written, I mean a, a spoken narration as people walk through a museum, each exhibit and stuff like that. If there's somebody there that's able to go around with you, then that's fine. That's a reasonable adjustment. But if there's a tech alternative, then you know it needs to be fit for purpose. So if I'm going around a museum and you've got the spoken track as well, then that's fine. You think that that would tick the box for a blind person. And it does partly, but it then says, now go to the neck , you know, now go to exhibit number 14 or you know, a particular, the next stage of the journey through the museum. But how do we get there as a blind person? How do we know when we've got there, you know, say to have just a spoken narration of what you're passing isn't enough for a blind person if they're going to experience that completely solo. So yeah, and that's where thinking around the butt out of the box and thinking around the problem and actually getting end users involved would be absolutely essential. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

That feels like sometimes that's the part of the conversation that's missing. It's a lot of, you know, creating experiences on behalf of other people rather than with the people that are actually going to be engaging with those. And actually having those voices as a part of the conversation feels essential. And I'm , I'm always surprised how how many people working in digital capacities in , in cultural organizations have never seen someone using a screen rate screen reader. Never understood what different types of colorblindness do to how your design appears on a screen. Um , suddenly all of your beautifully color-coded seat map is completely meaningless because everything's the same color.

Speaker 3:

Um , and just something like touch sensitive things, whether it's a touch screen or a touch panel in a lift or a touch sensitive flush thing or not even touch you don't, you know, you kind of wave your hand in front of it on there in a toilet are an absolute boon for people with the physical difficulty for example. But for a blind person is a disaster. So you need to get all the groups involved, make sure that they are engaged and make it happen. You know, talking about the lifts. An example would be braille on a, an otherwise flat kind of touch surface in the lift to choose your which floor you want to go to and the braille is to the left for example, of the area where you have to touch. Because visually there might be like a, I don't know, a white square around the thing that you have to press and it's just kind of painted on or it's underneath the glass or something. So they think, okay, let's put some braille on here, but we won't put the braille on the bit you have to press because you know, maybe it lights up or maybe it doesn't look good for sighted people. I don't know why. So they put it to the left and there's absolutely no indication to the, you know, it's otherwise a featureless piece of glass. You know, how do blind people know that the thing they actually needed to press is an inch to the right of the rail floor number. So things like that, you know , um , they mean well, but because it's not been road tested, it's just, you know, it's pointless. And I guess just just to finish maybe, how do you feel positive about how things are changing? Does it feel like the trajectory is towards making things more inclusive and better? Or are we stagnating? Are we patting ourselves on the back for a job that's half done or are things getting worse? I'm very, very positive, but also aware that there are huge challenges and anyone with a disability using the internet, I say in most general terms, you know, websites, apps, all that sort of thing. Living the digital life will no huge frustrations on a daily basis. So it's even in that context, I'm still really positive and really enthusiastic about what tech brings to us. But the development of certain things, the rise of touch screen enabled devices, which used to have physical buttons do present problems for some groups and opportunities for others. So it depends is the answer whether all the concepts that we've been talking about up till now get factored in as people create new products and you know, new things, new trends come forward. So yeah, the touch screens , you know, you can go to McDonald's and order your meal without having to go to the counter and talk to somebody. But at the same time you can go to the counter and talk to somebody, which is good, but it's as soon as things that aren't completely inclusive are the only channel. And we're seeing that with, you know, digital services or companies that provide services online where certain discounts are only available if you do it online or the service is only available full stop online. So if the Uber app or the Lyft app for example, weren't inclusive, then we're locked out of that whole revolution. So yeah, it's really important as new technologies, new trends, new advances arise over the next decade, say that we don't get left behind. I can't at the moment think about one thing that will , you know, that's a really worrying trend apart from maybe touch screens popping up everywhere. For blind people, I know we're a subset, a small subset of the disabled community in general, and the ability to have UIs on a lift or on an ATM or something which are touchscreen . So the buttons, you know, with the touch of a button, a virtual button, which is a problem. But anyway with the touch of a button on screen, the whole keypad could be made much bigger and much more high contrast and you could have symbols instead of text. All the capabilities that a touch screen provides still is a massive obstacle there for , for blind people. But the answer would be to make sure that all of those devices are able to be operated and interfaced with by another device. Like for example, your smartphone, which you've already sorted out the accessibility on and we're seeing that with white goods in the home, the new microwave you buy or washing machine or whatever might have a touch screen instead of buttons, but you don't actually have to ever use it if you don't want to. Cause you can ask the a lady to start a , you know, 60 degree whitewash or something or defrost chicken, three pounds or whatever, you know, you can do all of that or you could use the app on your device. Now, I know that means you've got to have those devices and there's a barrier there, but at least there's a proliferation of choices of technologies that are interfacing with these appliances and things while you're out and about. You know, hopefully we'll get to the point where it's not unusual that you could have a choice about how you interface with devices both at home and an out and about. And I'm looking forward to getting my first pair of a lady enabled sunglasses, for example, when those Amazon frames come to the UK. Because wherever I am, I'll be able to query all of her different services and smartness and if that means checking whether my front door is locked or if I've left the lights on, regardless of whether I'm at home or not, I'll be able to do that. So yeah, I think we live in exciting times. I think everyone's excited about one hour, can't say that. But a lot of people are very excited about technology and it's becoming more accessible from a kind of a simplicity and usability point of view. You know, you don't have to read a manual anymore to know how to use a product. You don't have to worry about keeping your antivirus up to date or anything like that. So they're becoming more intuitive and hopefully they're going to be inclusive going forward as well. And we're certainly in a different place today than we were 10 years ago where disabled people had to buy everything specialist at great expense. Now all of those are either built into the products off the shelf or you can get an app, there's an app for that. And so yeah, it's exciting times. If everyone listening is a bit daunted about the prospect of doing their bit and trying to, you know, engage or embrace or get to grips with inclusive design, then I would say don't go, don't, you know, think that you have to go it alone. Go to whoever in your organization is the person who is responsible, who wears that hat. Because the more people that ask for help with getting up to speed with it, the more those resources and energies will be put towards making, you know, empowering people within the organization. So yeah, don't feel like you have to do it yourself. Get somebody else to show you how to do it.

Speaker 1:

So that was Robin Kristofferson or rather we, I , I'm doing him a disservice because he has actually received an honor. Here's Robin Kristofferson MB and honor that he received for his services to digital inclusion. He's been named as one of the world's most hundred influential people in digital government. He has received special awards at the tech for good awards. He is a judge at the global mobile awards. You know, he is an expert and hopefully you can tell from the conversation that we just had an incredibly warm, lovely human being. I really enjoyed speaking with him. And um , I know you found his, his session at digital works last year, really impactful and hopefully you enjoyed listening to his two's interview. Then what's your perspective on what he had to say? What really sort of stuck out for you in terms of important things that you think people should take away or perhaps things that challenge preconceptions that you might have had?

Speaker 4:

Yeah. I enjoyed listening to him again actually cause his, his talk last year was just mind blowing. I really, it really made me realize that I'd sort of got everything a little bit wrong to be honest because I sort of went into it thinking that, you know, these, these products and services that people are designing aren't, aren't being designed for people with access needs. But actually to listen to him talk about navigating his day to day life and the difference that technology has made to his life just made me realize I had it all wrong. Like that. That's what's it's technology that's enabled him to, to navigate the world almost, almost completely unaided. And , and it was amazing and there's all sorts of apps that he was using to being his eyes. And I just, that that was the main thing that really struck me was that I, I had just completely got it the wrong way round . And I am a bit cynical sometimes with sort of the a lady and things like that where I think, Oh, it's just collecting data and spying on us. You know, technology is just making people lazy. And actually that's just me and my experience like for , for someone like Robin technology is giving him like a whole new like waiter to navigate the world and that, that was the main thing that I took away from it.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. No , I think that that last point that you made is perhaps most personal to I , the people I assume are listening to this podcast because I think we are all guilty of at times failing to , to be sort of able to, to understand things from anyone's perspective other than our own. And you know, when I spoke to Robin in the interview about what were the characteristics of organizations that did this sort of thing? Well it was interesting and actually on reflection, not surprising that he highlighted the , uh, the issue of diversity. Because if you have a more diverse group of people, you have a greater diversity of perspectives and experiences and therefore the , the perspectives that are being brought to bear on any one scenario or conversation are inevitably going to be broader and richer. And therefore you're going to be able to really see the value of of things like making your experiences fully accessible. You know, designing with inclusive principles in mind. However, if it's just a group of, you know, able bodied people who share a similar education or demographic background who all live in the same part of the world and you know, have similar lives, inevitably the outputs, the decisions that are made by that group are going to be constrained by the lack of breadth of experience. Yeah , I agree . I think both you and I am can see why sometimes areas like this perhaps don't get the attention that they should because you know, in this environment where funding and resources are ever diminishing, inevitably institutional perspectives switched to sort of short term survival. And I think that things like, you know, digital maturity, maturity around inclusion, true diversity of , of, of the workforce, all of those things are perhaps less easy to fix quickly and maybe organizations see the benefits of addressing those agendas and in very commerce as being less of an immediate priority. Then keeping the lights on. However, I think Robin did a really good job of explaining actually, you know, if your , if you're addressing all of these areas, if you're really taking advantage of digital tools, if you're really being truly inclusive, if you're really embracing diversity, then there are going to be commercial business benefits that are going to be reaped from that. And that's going to put the sector in a much more resilient to the arts councils. Phrasiology a much more resilient position for the long term than simply worrying about how are we going to keep doing what we do at the moment for the next six or 12 months.

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. I think that that , that would maturity is, is uh, something that we've, you know, you're talking about digital maturity and we talk about that quite a lot in that , you know, we've worked with teams where there's one person in the whole organization who's responsible for digital. And actually more recently we've seen who's met teams where that's no longer the case. There isn't one person to counter , um , digital because it's now being embedded across the organization. They're trying to think more digitally and , and have some digital maturity and digital works itself at the table. I was sat up, we were sort of talking about whether they were access champions and , and you know, the attendees organizations and, and those are split , uh , sort of 50, 50 split really of people who either said, no, we don't have anyone who's sort of responsible for, for accessibility. And then the other side of the table who were like, Oh, well we do. And it was either we have one person who champions it internally or we are all now responsible and we're building it into our, our day to day . And I think it's, as you say, it sort of comes back to budget constraints and time and things like that. Um , and , and there were a few people who'd said that actually with budget cuts, that was one of the positions that had got off, which was a bit of the same. Um, but yeah, you know, as a , as you say, you can kind of see why, why that happens, but it , but it's, that maturity is the key word . They really, because it has to be embedded across the organization for people to make it part of their day to day job.

Speaker 1:

And the , the slightly disheartening and frustrating thing is when I spoke to Robin at digital works last year and I was talking to him about which were the organizations that were doing this sort of thing best and the list of people that he shared, the list of what companies that he shared with me were perhaps not who you might expect. So he said Barclays were absolutely fantastic. He highlighted Spotify. He said that Facebook actually has some really good accessibility tools baked into the platform and you know, banks, social media and music streaming platform or perhaps um , not the types of organizations that you might expect to top a list of , of, you know, digital experiences that are really putting accessibility at the heart of the things they do. And it feels like a bit of a shame and a bit of a missed opportunity that for a such a sort of values driven and mission driven sector. The one that we all work in with people who are all looking to have a positive, meaningful impact on the world and society. That accessibility and inclusion isn't higher up the agenda for everyone. And I mean you and I would sat next to each other at the spectrums conference last year and we both um, listened to Jess, Tom give the fantastic closing , um , address at the , at the conference, which felt like something of a galvanizing moment for the people in the room. But , but I mean, what's your perspective? What's it going to take for , um, the organizations that we work with that we interact with that we love in this sector to be able to more meaningfully engage with, with this area of work?

Speaker 4:

I think it's sort of what you just said really it's a sector that is so driven by values and mission and maybe, maybe that's the problem is they've forgotten that because they're in is , it's the experience business, isn't it? We're all about experiences and we can't really talk about being about experiences if we're excluding a whole portion of the, of the Camino , uh, of the, of audiences. Because I can't quite remember the stats, but just Tom's session, I think she said something like 22% of people identify as having , um, access needs. I might have that stat wrong, but that's what I probably should check my facts first. But that, that's uh, what I remember and, and I remember being supposedly , Oh , that's actually quite high, but she sort of shocks everyone in saying, Oh, you know, it's almost impossible for someone with access needs to book on eight 80 or percent of your, of your websites. And I think if, if people want to start improving this in their organizations, I think it's that we have to stop thinking of it as a box ticking exercise. Um, and I think actually listening to Robin and wa and why he's so good is, is what you said at the beginning. It's, it's his personal experience and him speaking from a really personal point of view about just what a difference to his life. It makes implementing something which you need, we might not have thought of that, that that makes a massive difference to how he can use a website. The capture form examples are a great example where he was showing everybody in the room what his screen reader does when it finds a form with a capture, you know, one of those scrambled capture things on and it was virtually impossible to what, what was going on and he wouldn't be able to progress onto that website and you just think no one would think twice if they'd never heard that. About about having a capture form. Um, and yeah, I think, I think it's getting people in and, and remembering what their , what their values are, what they're trying to do and not just think , Oh, I've got these tick boxes. I have to tick this to my funding or all because the board have settled because it's now like legislation.

Speaker 5:

[inaudible]

Speaker 1:

yeah. And I think that that's, you'd hope that that shift in perspective, that shift in the way that people are engaging with this is going to lead to longer lasting change. But you know, you touched on there the fact that legislation now exists , um , to, to ensure that organization's digital experiences are meeting a certain level of compliance. There have been numerous examples actually more so in America of cultural institutions being successfully sued because their websites weren't accessible. Um, but, but again, it , that just feels , that feels like it shouldn't be that way. It shouldn't be that the threat of legal action is the thing that's driving the agenda. It should be the fact that, you know, we as a sector are trying to reach as many people in as meaningful a way as possible. And in the, in the digital space, the way to do that is by ensuring that your tools and services can be accessed by , by everyone.

Speaker 4:

And , and really di digital should be the perfect vehicle for that because you know, that anyone should be able to access something that's digital if they've got, you know , uh , access to the internet or whatever, you know, what websites you can get on your phone, on the bus or at home, and that, that really is the perfect place where you should really be putting access it at the forefront.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And I think coming back to the point we made earlier that it's, you know, unless you're using assistive technologies or you have a disability or you have an, you know, colorblindness or whatever, it might be a tremor that you have an additional need when it comes to accessing digital services. It can be difficult to fully appreciate all of the component parts that can impact on the quality of that experience. Um , and so I would sort of encourage everyone to experience what it's like to navigate your website or a website with a screen reader or check, you know, do all of your videos have subtitles? Even things like the internal choices that we're making around digital, I think a meaningful and impact for , I've have a direct experience of that. When I was first talking to Robin and the initial call that we had, I set up via GoToMeeting and rather embarrassing me , Robin then informed that go to meeting is really very, very difficult to use if you're blind. And because when you join a call, you're automatically muted. Robert and spent the first five minutes of our call trying to work out how to unmute himself, which is I felt terrible that I had inflicted day experience on him and you know, aye, aye. Aye. Aye. Quite simply hadn't thought about how is this going to be to use if you can't see and if you're, if you're using a voice assistant to access this piece of software. And similarly when I was sending information about the event to Robin and had fonts suddenly then after the go to meeting debacle, I was very mindful of the format of the document that I was sending him. You know, a word document rather than a PDF because PDs can sometimes be a bit, not, not play nicely with with screen readers and really this to be fully accessible, to be fully inclusive. It does need to impact all of your thinking, all of your actions, all of the choices that you're making. But to come back to Robin's point in doing that, I'm now being far more mindful about the way that I engage in my digital activity. And I think probably as a result there is a better quality to that activity.

Speaker 4:

Hmm . Yeah. And that ties back into what we were saying earlier about how there's a lot of similarities with , um , sort of representation because if you have people in your teams who perhaps do , do, have some of these access needs, then that's somebody who can, who can show you what that's like, you know, if , if you have people in your team who are not all the same as you, then they can prove to you how different their daily life is to yours. When the [inaudible] like you say, even just working and just jumping on it on a call or you know, reading a document with the screen reader like it does, it sort of goes hand in hand. Really.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And actually today , um, Chrome, the Google's browser have just released a whole new load of dev tools that called , so tools for developers, but they are accessible by anyone who's using Chrome and they allow you to simulate different types of vision impairment , uh , different types of colorblindness . Uh, the , the tools that the browsers are now building into their, their software , uh , around accessibility are increasingly sophisticated. So I would really encourage everyone listening to this to get to go and check those out because that starts to give you an insight into what it's like if you don't have perfect vision, if you are using some assistive tech Knology . And I think that, you know, with everything we've described here potentially sounds a little bit , um, a little bit daunting. You know, if you're not an expert, if you're not using assistive technology, then you might feel that you don't know where to start. But I think as Robin said, it's about acknowledging that and just trying to educate yourself and trying to make things better. One thing at a time. And inevitably there will be easy and quick improvements that you can make. You know, are you putting image descriptions on all of the images that you're putting out on social media? Are there meaningful out tags and all of the images on your website? It's just little things like that have a hugely impactful effect on the experience of, of you know, a not insignificant minority of your users. As you said earlier, there's a huge proportion of the UK population that has a disability of some kind and you know, again from a purely business sense it doesn't, it doesn't make sense to make it difficult for almost a quarter of your potential audience to interact with you.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, it is . Especially when fully know it , we're talking specifically about digital. For most of those people, their first interaction with you will be the website. So if, if the first interaction with you is that they can't engage with you at all, then you've just, you've lost them and probably probably deserved him really.

Speaker 1:

You know, this is an area that we're , I think both really passionate about and I'm certainly not sitting here as someone who knows it all. I've still got a lot to learn and I think that the pace of technological changes is obviously when you listen to someone like Robyn , hugely exciting and, but also I can appreciate from an organized organizational perspective. Yeah. That's also another, another daunting factor around all of this, but it feels like, you know, this is something that our sector has to engage with more meaningfully because there are only going to be benefits from doing that for everyone, from, from users, audiences, visitors through to, through to, you know, the bottom line. But I'm really interested here about people's perspectives on this. You know, what are the challenges that you're facing in your organization around starting to do more of this activity or do it better? Do you have a person or a team of people that are experts who can advise you on, on the choices that you're making around digital tools and activity? Is that a gap that needs to be filled by someone's, you know, servicing the whole sector? I , I don't have the answer to that. I'm interested in hearing people's thoughts. Um, and so now is probably a good time to share our social media details so you can , you can get us on Twitter. We're at digital underscore works underscore and I am on Twitter at big little things and Emily is on Twitter at Beverly . See Emily with a B at the start and a C at the end and if you want to find out about future digital works events, we have got one coming up on the 20th of May at the Gerta Institute in London where we'll be discussing digital storytelling. That is assuming that the Korean divider virus doesn't shut the entire country down, but at the moment it's still going ahead. There are a few tickets left and details of that can be found on our website@substrates.com forward slash digital hyphen works. But thank you for listening. Thank you to Emily for for the second time today, giving up a chunk of her afternoon to talk about this and thank you to Robin Kristofferson for so generously giving up his time to discuss this with us. If you want to get in touch with Robin , you can contact him through ability net, which is ability net.org.uk and he is also on Twitter at USA too . The number day USA today. And apparently there's a story behind the Twitter handle, but I forgot to ask him about it. So if you're interested, ask him the next episode of digital works. Uh , I plan to record once again in an actual studio once I'm released from my quarantined state, and that will feature an interview with Cottey price, who's head of digital at VNA. But until next time, goodbye.