About a year ago – when we started working on our own website, we knew we had to make it accessible from the very beginning. It was very important to us that we live up to the accessibility standards we were advocating for and we put into practice the ideals of disability justice.
We envisioned this to be a space that could be accessible to people across disabilities without compromising on its design elements. Thus began the journey of making our vision a reality. We understood that the breadth of what counts as accessibility is very large since it means different things for different disabilities. Therefore, We wanted to ensure that universal design principles were maintained. We began working with HELM Social Design Studio to build our website. Several conversations and brainstorming sessions later, our website was live.
The result of this long and arduous process was a fully accessible website which was aesthetically pleasing too; something which many others see as exclusive to each other. It featured accessibility enhancing tools that allowed users to change fonts and colour schemes, and read everything with their screen readers. The colour, fonts, and design was not just for ease of navigation but also ensured that persons with dyslexia and other disorders could access it equally well. Every single image and graphic had descriptions and alt text available, and every video had subtitles.
Our first win as a result of our efforts was when people from within our networks started using the website and reached out to us, elated at being able to access every single feature and page. Blind friends called to say the photos were beautiful, deaf friends signed to us at events to say that the narratives in the videos were powerful, and some of them living with chronic illnesses said that the design was beautiful and neat to follow. Other national and global organisations saw this as an example to follow in their online and e-communications and spaces.
We just turned two and the website was less than a year old when we were chosen for India’s highest honour in disability rights- yes we were awarded by the Vice President of India the prestigious ‘National Award for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities 2019, for the Best Accessible Website’. We were jumping with joy at our work being acknowledged but feeling humbled and grateful to be recognized amongst incredible individuals, organisations and institutions striving hard to make the country more accessible and inclusive.
We often hear that accessibility needs more effort, it needs more money, it is for bigger and older institutions and organisations. But for our small diverse team and young organization it only meant having a commitment towards inclusion and a space for all.
We know inaccessibility means no access to information and that holds disabled people back from learning, engaging and leading from the front. As an organisation that focuses specifically on women and youth with disabilities, we’re always very aware of the fact that in order to empower our disabled communities, accessibility in physical and digital world are equally important.
Accessible spaces (both digital and physical) bring us a step closer to disability justice. They allow for increased visibility of disabled persons in these spaces. The more such spaces exist, the more disabled people will start accessing them.
Although we could not be more grateful to receive this award, we can’t help but wonder that the fact this is still a category that awards are given out for, shows how far we still have to go and how much work is yet to be done. We hope the day isn’t far when being an accessible website isn’t a phenomenon so rare that it has to be awarded. Instead, it’s just an unquestioned norm that everyone takes for granted because all digital spaces are accessible.