I am enthusiastic about accessible information. I admit that I get very excited when I encounter accessible information in the community. I usually congratulate the bewildered shop staff and go on to preach the merits of communication accessibility and its place in universal access. To amusement of most, I photograph the example as a keepsake of the wonderful efforts that people have gone to, to increase accessible for everyone in our community.
I recently flicked through my collection of photographs as I was preparing for a workshop on “Making Written Information Accessible” later this month. I was struck with the number of examples of accessible information from petrol stations and multicultural restaurants. This led me to ponder the motivations of people to produce information in an accessible format and how a better understanding of motivations may enable CAN speech pathologists to increase their efficiency to facilitate organisations to become communication accessible.
So why petrol stations? Next time you are at a petrol station, take the time to have a look around. The safety signage (and even the advertisement!) at petrol stations are a brilliant example of the use of symbols to convey information. Perhaps the necessity of prioritising the safety information in the signage has enabled people to present information in accessible format. Or perhaps I am underestimating the motivations of sign’s authors and they instead where aiming to gain the status of communication accessibility.
And Dumpling Restaurants? I am sure that you, like I, have marvelled of the communication accessibility of the photo menus of many multicultural restaurants. A small dumpling restaurant in Lakes Entrance has a menu presented in an accessible format to rival any “Easy to Read” DHS document. Each dish is clearly photographed with the price, being perfectly communication accessible. Perhaps the motivation of the menu creator was to communicate a menu of delightful cuisine for which English words do not suffice, or perhaps it was to create an environment of communication accessibility.
Within my role as a speech pathologist in the Communication Access Network (CAN) I continuously spruik the value and need of accessible information. My motivation is to increase the participation within our community of people with communication disabilities. This is the core business of my role and is dictated by funding bodies. This motivation is of course perfectly valid and merit worth, however it may be more correct to think of in terms of universal access. Not in terms of “communication disability” but for participation for all of our community.
Perhaps an occupational hazard of working within the disability sector is that one can become disability focused. Universal access, of which information accessibility is a part, is not focused on minority groups within our society, it is focused on the whole of community and the commonality of humanity. To think in terms of universal access and focus on the commonality of needs, may enable our goals of participation to be more likely to be achieved. After all, I think that like me, most people could identify with one or more minority groups with our society, but we all share in our humanity.
So my point is to remember the commonality of needs within our communities and aim to highlight this commonality when facilitating community projects. Perhaps the safety signage at petrol stations and the photo menus at dumpling restaurants can remind us of our commonality in humanity.
By Mel Newcomen.