Transcript of “Web Accessibility Matters: Now is the Perfect Time”

This is a transcript of the video Web Accessibility Matters: Now is the Perfect Time.

(Image of a computer keyboard with a wheelchair symbol on one of the keys. David Berman appears on screen and faces the camera for the duration of this video. David is wearing a dark grey suit with a black shirt and tie.)

So here we are living in the decade where online accessibility will become ubiquitous. And I think it’s amazing that after ten thousand generations of humanity we get to live in this decade. But the history of creating technology that helps people overcome disability and challenges actually goes back over a hundred years.

Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 was not trying to invent the phone that we all know him for; he actually was trying to create technologies that would help teachers in a school for the deaf in Massachusetts simply be able to do a better job. And in doing so he ends up inventing the microphone, the amplifier, the transducer, the loudspeaker all things that we take for granted and we find in so much technology today were all invented to overcome an extreme disability.

Now Alexander goes on to create Bell Labs and of course Bell’s still around today, but in New Jersey, Bell Labs in the 1930’s was continuing to work on helping people deal with challenges having to do with hearing and they had develop hearing aids which were an absolute wonder. But in in the thirties, a hearing aid was a big thing that you wore around your neck, it was heavy; the signal to noise ratio was not so great; used up a lot of power; it was very obvious you were walking around with kind of a small billboard on saying I have a challenge. And, so they were working on how to make a better hearing aid. In fact after the 1940’s, physicist at Bell Labs mashed up quantum physics and they invented something called the transistor. Now the transistor was invented as something to create a better hearing aid. They need a hearing aid that would be small; that would have a great signal to noise ratio; would take very little power. And so, they make their hearing aid in they create the
transistor and they figure they were done.

Except that then in post-war Tokyo this guy Mr. Morita decides to buy the worldwide rights for the transistor. He figures hey if people who can’t hear are enjoying the idea of being able to walk around with a device that can make it easier to hear, wouldn’t everyone like that? He comes up with the idea of a radio that you can carry anywhere. He invents the transistor radio. He invents a company we now know as Sony.

And although his family may have thought he was crazy to spend his life savings for the rights for this transistor of course the transistor goes on to become ubiquitous in all our technologies.

In the current version of Alexander Graham Bell’s phone which none of us… I’ll drive back home if I realize I’ve forgotten my phone and there’s millions of transistors in here. There’s transistors in all these devices we love so much: our tablets, …and our laptops, … and well transistors got us to the moon and back. And yet it all starts off with designing for extremes. And the key here is that when we design for the extremes everybody benefits. Considered these traffic signals I’m showing — typical traffic signals. These are some photos I took in Seoul Korea, but they could be they could be downtown Toronto at night.

(Two almost identical images, side by side of Korean streetscape and traffic lights at night. The image on the left displays green traffic lights, and the image on the right displays red.)

The key is that we have the standard signals for red for stop green for go and yet if I press my magic button I’ve simply removed all the colour for those lamps. And now you’re seeing the experience of someone who has a complete colour deficit. Now that’s what it looks like at night to approach a traffic signal. Slightly over 10 percent of men in Canada have some level of colour deficit; and the largest source of accidental death in our country is due to traffic accidents. And this is true all over the world. So it’s seems a little crazy to me that we have this system that relies solely on colour.

Now we have a made-in-Canada solution for this. In Quebec most of Quebec uses traffic signals that don’t rely solely on colour. There’s three cues: there’s the classic colour system green for go, red for stop, but also the lamps for stop are squarish where as the go are roundish and the caution is diamond-shaped; and as well there’s two lamps for stop and one for the others. So we have three cues. We’re using colour for the legacy users but we’re also using the number of lamps as well as the shape of lamps. And by giving people various ways of knowing information we don’t have to rely on just one sense, which is brilliant. And everyone prefers these lamps. As you come closer to the intersection just the parallax effect of the twin lamps being further apart as you come forward allows you to know how far away the intersection is at night.

We tend to think often of design as simply a matter of better decoration but in fact design can be life and death. The great thing is that we live right now in a time where it’s never been easier to make everything accessible for everyone. The technologies have never been less expensive the innovations are coming more and more quickly. And so I don’t want you to worry at all if you don’t know that much about web accessibility. Because frankly this is the perfect time to get involved. Even in the past ten years the amount of effort it takes to make a website let’s say or PDF file accessible is a fraction of what it was back then. So this is the perfect time to learn how to get this done.
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>>NARRATOR: Appointed a high-level advisor to the UN, David Berman has traveled to over 50 countries, inspiring professionals on how we can design a better civilization. Rated number one in North America as a speaker on accessibility he’s presented at the largest design conferences on four continents. David has audited websites of 40 countries for the World Wide Web Foundation. His book “Do Good Design” is published in five languages. Links to resources mentioned can be found at:

(Text on screen: Produced by David Berman Communications
Ben Armitage; Jennifer Beharry; Veronica Feihl; Simone Flanaghan, Cynthia Hoffos; Steven Kimball; Maciek Kozlowski; Khadija Safri; Justin Stratton.
Copyright 2014 David Berman Communications.
Sources and intellectual property rights available upon request.)

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