Pictures and images are important. What we cannot imagine in our mind, we do not think is possible. When we see the upper body of a young guy on a picture, ball in his hand and in the movement of shooting the ball into the basket, we would never assume that he is sitting in a wheelchair. That is only one of many examples that Jo Spelbrink tells us about at the Accessibility Day in Vienna, Austria.
His second example: the old versus the new symbol for disability. The old symbol showed a person sitting passively in a wheelchair, waiting to be pushed by somebody. The new symbol shows a person leaning forward, pushing the wheels themselves and heading off dynamically to wherever they want to go. The two pictures convey very different conceptions of disability, but if we see them every day they influence how we ourselves see and interpret disability.
As Jo continues on with examples of where we are missing accessible story telling, he comes to speak of marketing and that consumers with disabilities are often lacking information. Our first assumption was that they are lacking information on the accessibility features of products and services - of course, that is what projects like the GARI database are trying to remedy. But actually no, that is not what Jo meant. His point was that the marketing itself was not accessible and that a deaf consumer like himself cannot know what commercials on TV are about if there are only plenty of nice pictures but no text. Consumers with disabilities do not only have to know about the accessibility features of products - they need to know about all the basic features and functions and properties as well just as any other consumer. Many of today’s brands and companies have not yet realised this need and potential.
Companies would also benefit from rethinking their definition of target groups. Jo is deaf himself, but he has many hearing friends and business partners. In situations where he communicates with hearing people, he needs solutions that work for both deaf and hearing users. The target group for a product or service in this case is a group of mixed deaf and hearing people, not just a group of deaf persons and a group of hearing persons.
A refreshing talk in Austrian Sign Language that made us aware of some of our own unconscious biases.