LIVE NOW! As part of Philanthropy That Transforms Month, BrazilFoundation, in partnership with Rede Comuá, is launching a videocast to highlight the importance of digital inclusion.
Brazil has around 45 million people with disabilities, most of whom face challenges in fully participating in today’s digital society.
Episode 1 – Digital Accessibility: why should we care about it?
The series, hosted by Mônica de Roure, Vice President of BrazilFoundation, features Simone Freire, the creator of the Web for All Movement, addressing digital accessibility, and Isabel Clavelin, a Ph.D. journalist and manager of the Black Entrepreneurship Fund and Gender Equity Fund at BrazilFoundation, discussing inclusive communication.
“There are various barriers on websites, applications, systems, and communication in general that hinder the consumption, education, access to information, and entertainment for a significant number of Brazilians. Through the videocast, we want to share tools and examples that can help NGOs optimize their efforts, reducing these obstacles for their diverse audiences,” says Mônica de Roure.
An initiative by Rede Comuá, Philanthropy That Transforms Month promotes community philanthropy and socio-environmental justice practices. The Rede Comuá is a space for independent funds that mobilize resources from diverse sources to support groups working for social justice. BrazilFoundation is one of the 16 organizations within the network.
Episode 1 Transcript
Monica – Hello, good afternoon, good morning, or good evening to everyone, all, and everyone. I am here today to talk about a very important subject in today’s world, which is the issue of digital accessibility. We now live in the digital world, in a digital economy, which means discussing digital accessibility, a topic that is often still neglected, is unfeasible?
I am Monica de Roure, the vice-President of BrazilFoundation. I have been working in the social sector since the 1980s, even during the time of dictatorship, when we were still very concerned about holding meetings. Anyway, I am a dinosaur in this sector, and we have seen how not only the world has evolved, right, Simone? But also how it has altered the lives and thinking of millions of Brazilians, millions of people worldwide. Issues of gender, racial, social, and economic inequalities that have historical roots in Brazil but now spread and converge globally.
I think this is a subject that is very rarely visible and discussed, and one that we need to address, right? I will start by introducing Simone, Simone Freire, the founder. Then, I will have to look at my notes. If we are going to talk about digital accessibility with Simone Freire, who is the founder of Espiral Interativa, a digital communication agency specializing in accessibility and social impact projects. She is also the brain behind the Web for All Movement, an initiative that brings together dozens of civil society organizations dedicated to building a more inclusive web for everyone.
Simone holds a degree in Social Communication, with a focus on Journalism, and has specialized in Management of Social Sector Organizations. She has served on the boards of Abradi (Brazilian Association of Digital Agents) and Insper-Inaptos and is a member of the Web Accessibility Working Group at Web W3C Brasil. In 2016, she was elected as one of the 10,000 Women, a Goldman Sachs award recognizing the most innovative and entrepreneurial women globally.
In 2018 she was an international case for this program. In 2023, she is one of the 15 entrepreneurs selected to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Goldman Sachs award in New York and Washington, USA. It is with great pleasure, pride, and satisfaction that I thank her for being here.
And this is exactly what it means in today’s world, a world that has gone digital, often through social media, imposing new standards of behavior and values, raising ethical questions. How do we, ourselves, think in this digital world? What does it mean to talk about accessibility for people with disabilities in this world when they are often made unviable, invisible, and inaccessible?
Simone – Monica, thank you. Thank you for this opportunity. I am a big fan of your work. After that opening, my goodness, what a responsibility! Speaking a little about the importance of accessibility in today’s digital world. If we stop to think about it. We wake up, and the first thing we do is pick up our cell phone. How’s the weather, right? Let me see how I’m going to leave the house. Let me check my schedule, talk to my family, my work, WhatsApp. Let me check the news. So, this includes banking, public services, everything we do nowadays.
If we stop to think, especially in the post-pandemic era, our lives have become much more digital than before. And then I stop and pose this question to those who are watching and listening. What if you couldn’t see? What if you didn’t have the use of your arms, for example, to access your phone, to do all of this? Things that typical people can do today through digital technology. And what if you had some cognitive limitation, some intellectual limitation, and needed simpler, more easily digestible communication? Perhaps an image is easier to understand than text.
So, when we think about providing information through digital means that is easy for all people to consume, this is called digital accessibility. I think it’s very important for us to contextualize this to kickstart the discussion because today, other forms of accessibility are already well-established in society.
If we arrive at a place, for example, with a person in a wheelchair, and there’s no ramp, no elevator, we say, “Oh, there’s no architectural accessibility, right?” If we arrive in a classroom and there’s a visually impaired child who needs Braille, and then we see that all the content is in traditional printed textbooks, we might look at it and say, “Oh my, it’s not there.” We’re talking about architectural accessibility, instrumental accessibility. When you arrive at a company, an organization to welcome an employee, and there’s a blind person, but there’s no screen reader on the computer they’ll be working on.
These are accessibility features that we can already see, at least to some extent.
Now, when it comes to digitalization… Not that we are perfectly adapted, we’re not.
Monica – Far from it, but it’s true. At least these issues are already visible.
Simone – Exactly. But when we talk about digital accessibility, as you mentioned in your opening, it is still very invisible, especially when focusing on people with disabilities. In our country, CENSO just released a preliminary report in July. We have almost 20 million people with severe disabilities here in Brazil. And when we bring this reality to the digital realm, it’s a reality where less than 1% of websites are accessible to people with some form of severe disability. We have a very large contingent of people for whom technology today is essential, regardless of whether they have a disability or not. And yet, we have a web that is entirely exclusionary, so I won’t give away too much because you have other questions.
Monica – But I think it’s such a broad topic because, in reality, I was reflecting on this today. During some time, I was very close to the disability rights movement. I have a goddaughter who can move two fingers, but she’s a fighter. She spent her life making the world accessible to her, whether it wanted to be or not. But few people are born with this entrepreneurial spirit. You’re not obliged to be creative, to innovate, to seek economic and social conditions to make life accessible. Life should be readily available, and if you are, or never mind. Even with this closeness to the issue, today, we can say that we are at least tangentially related to it, given several reasons. I never thought about it.
Today, when you wake up, what do you see? Especially for the youth, they see the world through the digital screen, through their cell phone, through the screen. Many times you handle your life, do your banking digitally. Pharmacy shopping. You can’t do anything today if you don’t have your phone, it’s gone, it’s despair, right? How can a person with disabilities, and there are many different disabilities with varying access needs, cope with this? How can we begin to make people aware of this? Because it’s not even on people’s minds. How can we advocate for this? To fight this issue so that people with disabilities can have a life as accessible and dignified as anyone else’s.
Simone – You know, this was a significant concern of mine, as a journalist, as a communicator, as an entrepreneur, working extensively on social impact projects. It was a concern because I said, folks, it’s not possible. Even though my agency is working specifically on this, we are changing very slowly. And taking a cue to talk about the movement, I know we were going to discuss it later, but I think it’s an opportune moment.
The movement was born wearing the literal T-shirt of the movement, the shirt of the project. It was born with the proposal to shake up society, to try to expand and show that it’s good for everyone. We are thinking of an inclusive web, not just a digital one, in a more inclusive digital society. It’s not just for people with disabilities, okay? Because when we work on this issue of accessibility, we are making life easier for elderly people, we are providing more access to people who are starting to use digital technology.
As we were discussing backstage, you mentioned communities like quilombolas, and these people are becoming increasingly connected. But these people are now getting in touch with technology. Give us digital accessibility for people with low literacy levels, people who are encountering digital for the first time and need to understand and access it. So, how do we do it?
And how do we spread knowledge and information? Adapting is not a daunting task, not even for organizations. I hope the organizations close to BrazilFoundation are watching us and understand that when we talk about digital accessibility, there are guidelines we need to follow to adapt our communication for all these audiences.
So, it’s not something like, “Oh, I have to change everything completely, I have to throw away everything I’ve done, I have to learn a lot of new things.” No, don’t despair, don’t be frightened. So, what’s lacking for us to transform society is information. Information that it’s not difficult, information that it’s not expensive.
Information that it’s a right protected by law. If we get into the legal aspect here because Brazil is one of the very few countries in the world that has legislation, the Brazilian Inclusion Law, focused on people with disabilities. And within that law, there’s an article, Article 63, that mandates digital accessibility on websites of organizations with a presence in Brazil.
In other words, we also need to educate society that it’s a right protected by law, it’s a legal obligation for organizations.
Monica – It’s a huge challenge. Because, I think it’s a matter of, it’s not just a right, it’s a matter of, on one side, the individual’s right to access information, and on the other hand, we have a lot of misinformation in society, and we don’t have an inability because we see the world through the cellphone, to look at others, to empathetically connect with the real world, with the diversity of the real world that exists.
How we are nowadays, for example, when this digitalization issue started, the tools to make the digital world accessible were very costly. Nowadays, there are many startups, and there are solutions that have solved this issue of high cost. How do we address it? How do we sensitize companies? How do we manage to make a difference?
Because even we need that moment of realization, where we think, ‘Look, we have historical inequalities, they are racial, socioeconomic, gender-based, and related to the inclusion of people with disabilities. And this is something. How do we bring this to the broader public’s attention?
Simone – We have various arguments. So, the argument of rights, access to information, it’s about social and legal aspects. So, if you’re not part of our approach, entering organizations and companies, no matter the sector. First, we have the legal issue and the social aspect of inclusion. So, you find companies working on this issue of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) practices in diversity and inclusion.
How can you be a company that positions itself as one with inclusive practices if, in your S from ESG pillar, you are not looking at digital inclusion? When everyone is digital now? So, this is an argument, if you are committed to this journey of inclusion, your digital presence cannot be excluded from it. So, this is something we emphasize a lot.
Another aspect is taking your message, your service, your product, your information to an audience that does not have access to it. So, it’s market expansion potential. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling or fundraising. So, if we look at organizations that want to raise donations, like BrazilFoundation itself, whose website is wonderfully accessible, it’s a business concern, a strategic concern.
So, companies and organizations that are not looking at this audience, with the potential to expand their communication, sales, and services, are leaving behind 20 million people, right? Exactly. It’s something that is so evident today. Let’s stop and think. Studies show, for example, that people with disabilities and their families are much more likely to donate.
So, if your website and online presence are not prepared, if you’re using a platform that is not accessible to a blind person or someone who communicates only in sign language, for example, they don’t read Portuguese, there are many people who have been literate only in Brazilian Sign Language. And if you don’t have something like Maya, as we have at BrazilFoundation, which is an Avatar (which translates the website content into LIBRAS), these people will enter and think it’s in Greek, Japanese, Arabic because they don’t read Portuguese.
So, neglecting these adaptations means you’re missing the opportunity to engage with millions of Brazilians. So, it’s a legal, compliance, and business opportunity.
Monica – There’s also a future scenario to consider because we’ve moved past the time when companies only cared about complying with quotas. If you look ahead, at your company or organization, in ten years, it’s going to be different. So, it’s better to keep up with it and act now.
We’ll continue this discussion. I think we’re wrapping up today, but we’ll continue our conversation in the future.
Is that okay? Check the post. I want to thank you immensely and ask everyone who liked and enjoyed this video to share it because we need to change society’s imagination, the way we see the world. If we are truly concerned about a world where people have a dignified and equal life, for all of us, for all Brazilians.
Thank you, thank you all.
Simone – Thanks, everyone!