“It’s a golden ticket” – Accessibility!

Author: Robyn Grae Lee

As a new Director with Digital Gap Initiative (DGI), I find myself on a steep learning curve to become more aware of the increasingly complex world of accessibility to technology, in all its myriad forms. DGI stands for bridging the gap between those who are able to access daily technology easily and those who are not, for many and varied reasons. This is an enormous issue.

To make these changes, we believe that building, production and development standards need to be created to initiate changes and ensure that they are upgraded, to keep up with the continuous developments in technology. This may require legislation and it certainly requires the co-operation of business, industry and technology developers, service organisations and above all, us, the customer/client/purchaser.

There needs to be change in the perspective of many providers in order to appreciate just how vital technology is for everyone, but how inaccessible it is becoming for many. Furthermore, this perspective needs to encompass the fact that often accessibility to technology can be easily achieved.

This brings me to a very pleasing recent story of an example of this change of perspective. An article in ‘The Huffington Post’ reported a recent initiative by Coles supermarkets.

With the guidance and planning provided by Aspect (Autism Spectrum Australia), two Victorian Coles supermarkets, at Ringwood and Balwyn East, have trialled a “quiet hour”, or low sensory shopping experience for people on the autism spectrum.

Some who live with Autism Spectrum Disorder can become overwhelmed with a variety of sensitivities relating to smells, sounds, loud noises and voices, bright or disturbing light, crowds, busy movement and having to negotiate queues and unfamiliar social interactions.

The two Coles supermarkets, with planning provided by Aspect, committed to a new program designed to make shopping bearable and even pleasurable for those on the Spectrum. They implemented these following strategies – lowered the volume of Coles Radio, dimmed the lights by 50%, turned down register and scanner volumes to lowest level, removed roll cages from shop floor, avoided trolley collections and PA announcements (excluding emergencies), offered free fruit to customers and had trained team members available to assist customers.

A Ringwood mother was brought to tears when she saw the impact that this new program had on her autistic son. “Lachlan was provided with such a positive experience in an environment that is challenging,” Ms Dive said. “Kudos to you Coles for your Quiet Hour today, and acknowledging your environment for people entering your store can be a sensory landmine for many to navigate.”

The first quiet hour was a resounding success thanks to this program. The two Coles stores have committed to quiet hour once a week, from mid-August to the end of October, 2017.

Mr Peter Sheean, of Coles, told DGI that “we have received overwhelming positive feedback from both our team members and customers on this initiative and we are reviewing the learnings with a view to extending to other supermarkets”. Good news indeed.

Similarly, ABC news reported that an Adelaide supermarket has implemented a quiet hour with the advice and support of Cara Disability Support Service.

A customer, Ms Lester, said that to take her daughter, Juno, shopping was usually nearly impossible. “We only attempt it if we are really desperate, and then it’s in and it’s out and it’s meltdowns and a disaster.”

Mr Lester said the sights, sounds and smells that are just daily life for most people can, for his daughter, be overwhelming, because Juno has a sensory processing disorder.

“Juno is also vision impaired and she needs to start mobility and orientation training, which is using a white cane,” Ms Lester said. “We can’t start that until she’s able to go to public places, until she’s able and confident and comfortable in a space like this, and that won’t happen with all the usual noise, so a night like this is a golden ticket for Juno.”

Reports of similar programs around the country and in the UK indicate that accessibility, as a concept, is catching! In many situations, accessibility may be a matter of commitment and planning, rather than a giant obstacle to be hurdled.

Although, strictly speaking, this story is not about access to technology, but it is about access to the services and requirements that are a part of everyday life. And, invariably, technology is part of that access.

However, technology is created and programmed by the human provider, who needs always to be reminded to ensure that no-one is left out. Access to all for all.