The Power of Asking the Right Questions
Accessibility checklists can get us to compliance, but in order to go beyond, we need to be asking more questions.
When I first started prioritizing accessibility in my work, I was obsessed with lists. I wanted to build myself and my colleagues one master checklist that would allow us to remove all possible barriers from our documents, meetings, and organizational procedures. Even as the list got longer, true inclusion felt more and more elusive.
Checklists provide some very important stepping stones. Without any accommodations or adaptations, people with disabilities face shut doors. Following accessibility checklists can help get people through the doors. But to make sure people feel like they truly belong, and to make sure they stay, we need to start asking more questions.
What questions should I ask?
Asking questions instead of building checklists ensures that we are putting people at the centre. People’s needs are nuanced and constantly evolving, so approaching accessibility through inquiry allows us to be more dynamic and responsive.
1. What am I already doing?
One of the simplest ways to improve accessibility is to describe clearly what you are already doing. Think critically about all the cognitive, social, and physical demands of each particular situation.
People with disabilities are the experts in their own experiences and they know best what is necessary for their full participation. Describing situations clearly lets people make their own informed decisions about whether they need further accommodations or not.
2. How can I build in flexibility?
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to accessibility. Two people with the same barrier may need completely different accommodations, so building in multiple options for participation is key.
When writing your agenda for an upcoming team meeting, think about ways to build out multiple opportunities for people to share their thoughts. Some people need to verbalize their thoughts to expand their thinking, and others need independent reflection time.
3. How can I get feedback on my accessibility practices?
Accessibility isn’t static. Committing to refining accessibility strategies is an important way of showing that our priority is to not simply tick boxes. Once you put accessibility strategies in place, getting continuous feedback can allow you to scaffold more options and move beyond compliance.
These feedback channels should centre and honour the perspectives of people with disabilities since they are the most impacted by accessibility barriers. This means providing multiple avenues for sharing feedback, giving ample time to respond, and communicating clearly how you plan to use the feedback that is collected.
By asking questions and challenging our status-quo processes, we put people at the centre of our accessibility mandates. We start to lead with empathy, curiosity, and a drive for continuous improvement. Given the September 1st compliance deadline for the Accessible BC Act, you and your organization have probably made incredible strides towards a more accessible future. So here’s my question to you—what’s next?
Nora Loyst is a University of Victoria graduate, with a B.A. in Health and Community Services from the school of Public Health and Social Policy. She brings skills in project coordination, program development and community engagement from her previous work in post-secondary education and on grant-funded consulting initiatives.
Nora is passionate about creating a more accessible future and working alongside the disability community to build more supportive programs and policies for everyone.