Improving accessibility with Brendon
When designing, building and implementing digital tools to support vulnerable communities, we believe it’s vital to consult with the people who will actually use them.
In 2021, we established our first Disability Reference Group (DRG) to help us better meet the needs of people with disability, their families and carers through our products like Ask Izzy.
DRG members bring to the table a diverse range of backgrounds, perspectives and experiences to help us improve the accessibility of our products and services.
In this blog, we’re excited to introduce you to DRG member and disability advocate Brendon Donohue.
Brendon Donohue is 28 years old and has been blind since birth, making him one of the 450,000 Australians who live with blindness or low vision.
Although he lives independently in South Brisbane, Brendon experiences first-hand how frustrating it is for blind people to navigate a world primarily designed by and for sighted people.
Things that most of us take for granted, like catching a bus or doing orientation at university present extra challenges for Brendon. Extraordinarily, he uses these experiences as his inspiration to strive for positive change in his community and beyond.
“I’m a disability advocate. I advocate for myself, but also on behalf of others who have the same disability. I also advocate for things such as climate change and communications in accessible formats.”
If you’ve been following accessibility issues in the news over the last couple of years, chances are you’ve seen Brendon’s name pop up.
In 2019 he was fired from his Government job for not meeting his KPIs, despite advising his managers that the systems provided weren’t accessible for someone with a blindness disability.
Brendon says in his experience, it’s not uncommon for organisations to hire disabled people without embedding the right tools and support systems that will allow them to thrive.
“People think they’re doing the right thing by meeting diversity quotas when hiring staff. But then, for example, I’ll be new to a job and get sent a document and the person who sent it won’t necessarily understand that it needs to be formatted in a structure that my screen reader can process to me.”
Brendon says that putting in place the right digital tools for all employees to access doesn’t just empower people who live with a disability, it makes things more efficient and improves ways of working for everyone.
“When you have to try to find somebody who can read something for you or write back to somebody and explain that you can’t use something because it's inaccessible, it leads to a lot of time-wasting,” says Brendon.
Having worked in a range of industries from retail to government, Brendon recognises that education is a big missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to using technology to support disabled people.
“A lot of the time, people who use things like email-based systems and word processing programs to create accessible content, don’t actually know that many of the tools needed to check if something is accessible or to add things like alt-text (alternative text descriptions) on images and heading styles on text, actually have these tools already built-in.”
One of the main reasons Brendon loves Ask Izzy is because the improvements being made are focussed on making it easier to use for people who live with a disability.
"My experience of using other digital tools like Ask Izzy has been very poor. To have all that information in one place in an accessible format for people who live with blindness or low vision and other vulnerable people is so important and that's why Ask Izzy is such an important tool," says Brendon.
In the short time that Brendon’s been involved in the DRG, he’s already helped us improve the wording throughout the platform, making information easier to understand by a wide range of people in need.
“I’ve completed a couple of surveys to help improve how the categories are explained and done some accessibility testing. It’s been really good to see that my feedback has actually been introduced on Ask Izzy,” Brendon says.
Brendon hopes that his advocacy work not only leads to more accessible digital tools, but that those who design tools and services start to centre more voices of people with disability like his.
“One of the things with social services is that we need more understanding of people's needs and requirements. We need to be more understanding of people's situations and we need to provide a more consistent approach to accessibility across the board,” he says.
We asked Brendon if he had any final words of wisdom for the Infoxchange community and he gave us this:
“The biggest thing is we have to continue the journey and stand up for what is right. We need to work together as a collective to get through to our leaders that they need to change their way of thinking about these things.”