The digital shortcut to inclusion

A thoughtful appeal to programmers, engineers and app developers

Photo of a screen shows lines of programm code.

Today I see two possible paths to inclusion, both are viable, however, one is slow inclusion which appeals to people's awareness and the adoption of values and habits of inclusive behavior. The other is fast inclusion supported by inclusive programming and artificial intelligence that learns accessibility. This second path is in the hands of the engineers, programmers and app developers, who I beg you to continue reading, please.

The present crisis of the Covid-19, beyond that it instills fear in us for our health, makes us feel terror of losing what we have earned. Terror of losing our job, a heritage, a certain comfort and stability, of losing our work routine, our vacations… Terror of losing what is known, that which we have fought so hard to build.

People with disabilities feel the same fear. Until a few weeks ago, blind people were living at the beginning of a promising stage for inclusion. This, largely, thanks to technology. I already mentioned this in a past article: the best time to be blind is today. Through technology we have access to reading, education, entertainment, and social networks. Through a computer with talking software I can work. Through accessible apps I can identify bills, colors and product labels.

It was an initial stage, and although we had achieved a certain inclusive level in some areas, for example certain social media, it was still not possible to translate into real full inclusion in the educational or work environment. But I am convinced that we were going in that direction. And I am convinced, although it may be controversial, that the virtual world can offer more effective, tangible and lasting inclusive strategies than the inclusive strategies that derive from human behavior and interaction with others.

However, today this initial stage is at some risk. As a consequence of the physical isolation we are experiencing, much of life and human activity is moving from the physical world to the virtual world. Surely you have received many invitations to join virtual sessions of all kinds: concerts, conferences, workshops, classes, storytelling, virtual work groups, meditations, yoga classes, parties, etc. I even heard of a virtual funeral!

Today the internet is home to many people and the ads, news, campaigns and communications are happening in this virtual context. Given this, some people with disabilities are staying out of the game. Blind people cannot see the thousands of photographs and images that are shared. Deaf people cannot access information in a podcast or video if it has no subtitles. Just to give a couple of examples.

I already commented in another article that a crisis like this can activate the “save yourself” mode, which entails forgetting values such as inclusion, empathy or compassion.

The philosophy of "save yourself " is easily transferred to the virtual world. When you share an image or a photo without description, or a video without subtitles, you unknowingly join the digital exclusion. When you receive important information digitally and do not share it with people who do not have access to these media, such as people without internet access or without technological knowledge, we are practicing an unconscious digital exclusion that increases discrimination.

Moving to the virtual world, as I see it, is here to stay, and despite the digital exclusion that is very easy to practice, this move can have a very bright side, at least for people with disabilities who have access to the internet. Those websites or apps that are originally designed in an accessible and inclusive way, give us access to online social, educational, work or recreational activity. Examples of inclusive apps are Walmart, Uber, Netflix, Amazon, zoom, Google meet, and some others; while Apps like Domino’s pizza (which was even sued by a blind person) and thousands and thousands more should get their batteries because they are currently not accessible, at least for blind people.

Sensitizing people to the issue of inclusion has taken many years, and it will take more years for people to digest these values and integrate them into their behavioral habits to build more inclusive societies. I'm not sure that I will be reincarnated after I die, so I would love, at least for a few years, to try the honeys of inclusion in this life, so , I propose, without neglecting the analogous alternative, to bet on the virtual digital shortcut towards inclusion.

I think there are two great advantages of virtual digital inclusion and that they can be triggered by an acceleration of inclusion: the first, when engineers or developers design in an accessible way from origin and update after update, apps or websites maintain their characteristics accessible and many of us benefit. The second advantage is in artificial intelligence and algorithms, since they will be able to learn the patterns and designs that make an app or a virtual service accessible, and without having to appeal to their empathy, compassion and good heart, they will be able to program and develop 100% accessible and inclusive products.

My patience is exhausted, and my desire to enjoy life with fullness and dignity increases, so my plea goes to all the people who develop technology, let's team up, please; Help us take this shortcut to an inclusive virtual world, and in this way the task of including ourselves will be more ours, for people with disabilities, because on the other side, in the virtual world, the table will be set.

By Pepe Macías, DSE Master Trainer and Dialogue partner for Mexico