Advocating for digital accessibility in Brazil – Fairplanet


Despite being enshrined in law as a right, digital accessibility remains elusive for many living with disabilities in Brazil. FairPlanet spoke to advocates on the ground fighting to resolve that.
Few people can easily reach the 20th floor of a building by stairs. Those using a wheelchair would give up instantaneously. Small children or elderly people would most likely get hurt or tired after the first few steps. Blind individuals could face significant difficulties identifying the path; and let’s face it – even a person without any physical disabilities would probably be discouraged by the prospect of climbing 20 stories on foot. A lift would therefore make the trip upstairs accessible to all.
Likewise, in the digital sphere there are tools that, when combined, assume the same function as a lift in a building in order to make the internet an accessible environment for all. 
The “digital lift” is a picture often used by Amanda Lyra, a Brazilian digital accessibility expert.
Lyra, who lives with a disability and uses a wheelchair, maintains that our orientation towards accessibility should not be about helping people with disabilities do something, but rather about making spaces (including the Web) easier for everyone to access.
“If you have already used captions of a video because you forgot your earphones, used the voice commands of a map app or the automatic translation on YouTube, you have benefited from digital accessibility,” she said. 
In Brazil, digital accessibility has been a legal right since the Law for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities was passed in 2015. However, there are still significant gaps on the ground, as the actual implementation of the law remains a challenge.
According to a study carried out by BigDataCorp and shared by Movimento Web para Todos (Web for All Movement, or WAM), less than one percent of the more than 20 million websites registered in Brazil are fully accessible. Worldwide, WebAIM analysed over one million home pages and found an average of 50.8 errors per page, detected in 96.8 percent of the sample.
“It is much simpler to perceive in the physical world when there is no access ramp, a tactile floor; when a sidewalk has potholes,” Suzeli Damaceno, WAM’s coordinator, told FairPlanet. “But in the digital environment it is not. Those who notice these barriers are the people who have to try to bypass them all the time on websites and apps.”
She mentioned that most of these websites and apps are developed by and for people without disabilities; those who, as Lyra also describes them, “see, hear, have no cognitive condition, use conventional mouse and keyboards and use fingers for navigation.” 
Still today, Brazilian professionals who work on programming, design and content creation usually are not offered digital accessibility classes at school. This prevents the information developed by international organisations from reaching workers.
“Since the internet began, the W3C has created guidelines for digital accessibility, which have periodic updates to keep up with technological advances,” Damaceno of WAM said, “but they are not absorbed and understood by those who work in these areas.”
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) develops international standards for different Web formats, such as HTML and CSS, while the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) gathers 78 rules – nine more drafts are about to be implemented – to good-practices for the Web navigation.
“These guidelines cover content, design and programming,” Damaceno added. “Whenever we talk about digital accessibility, we have to consider these three points, always together.”
According to the last available census in Brazil, which was carried out in 2010, there are 45.6 million people living with at least one kind of disability in the country (more recent information is being collected in 2022 and will probably update this figure).
The staggering lack of accessibility in the Web directly impacts almost a quarter of the population living with a wide range of conditions, from partial vision loss, blindness, hearing loss and various mobility impairments to daltonism, autism and other neurodiversities. Moreover, with the incessant use of screens and earphones in our daily lives and the natural process of ageing, Amanda Lyra pointed out, vision and hearing loss might affect us all ultimately. 
People living with disabilities employ different tools to support their experience using computers, tablets and cellphones – depending on the condition they have (often a mix of several). Meanwhile, common accessories such as a mouse are not used by some people with disabilities, which can make a non-accessible website hard to navigate.
“I have low vision. We don’t always use only the screen reader [free tools installed on the web navigator], but also screen zoom,” said Eduarda Albuquerque, a social worker who founded the group Eficientes Visuais (Efficient Visuals, in free translation).
“Because some websites do not have the ideal format, when we enlarge the text a lot one thing gets on top of the other, […] and when you go to click on one thing, you end up clicking on another.” Duda, as she is widely referred to by her friends, added that in these situations she ends up asking for someone’s assistance, which reduces her autonomy.
Ensuring genuine accessibility therefore requires us to consider the entire structure of the online world, and not just assertively describe an image or transcribe a video – both of which are important measures on their own.
“Nowadays everything is very interactive, more dynamic to attract attention, and these interactions are sometimes not read by the screen reader,” Duda said. The reaction buttons on social media, for instance, are not recognised by this kind of tool, she explained. Transparent content and tight buttons make it hard for some people to navigate popular platforms, too. 
According to Duda, while achieving complete accessibility for everyone is too ambitious of a goal, we should nonetheless strive to make the digital sphere easier to navigate for as many people as possible. We can do so, she said, by familiarising ourselves with individual necessities and opening space for people with different kinds of disabilities to participate in the discourse.
“Each one has its individuality. What works for me may not work for other people with the same disease,” Amanda Lyra said. “When you meet people who are different from you, you will remember them when building a narrative, and it is much easier to work with diversity, without stereotypes.”
Despite the apparent lack in digital accessibility, people with disabilities are increasingly taking advantage of the internet to access social rights, manage daily tasks and stay informed, among other things. All the while, social media platforms and chat groups on apps connect people living with similar conditions and allow them to spread useful information among their community and beyond.  
Eficientes Visuais, for example, gathers people from all over Brazil and even Portugal. Its activities, mediated by Duda and her partners, Silvia Daiane and Eraldo Junior, aim to empower people with visual impairment and their relatives. The specific activities of each group are determined based on the needs of its members.
But Duda and her colleagues are not alone.
More and more influencers with disabilities are conveying their messages to the world via the internet. “The more we claim this, the more [awareness] is awakened. It’s teamwork,” Duda said. Amanda Lyra, who is also a successful singer and digital influencer, echoed this sentiment, saying that “things change when we begin to occupy the spaces, when we present ourselves.” 
And despite the evident challenges, the digital accessibility expert is optimistic. Travelling throughout the country to attend events as a speaker, Lyra celebrates progress: “The opportunities [in my career] are happening because the market is really understanding what the relevance of accessibility is, and is not looking at it as a B agenda.”

Image by Sigmund
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