Accessible internet: will there be a legacy after the pandemic?

Em um smartphone, a transmissão de uma live acessível pela ONG Escola de Gente, com a tela dividida em cinco janelas com as imagens dos participantes, entre eles um intérprete de Libras e, abaixo, a legenda em tempo real.  
Escola de Gente’s accessible lives are both a social and an assistive technology

Despite not creating exclusion in the virtual world in its own nature,  Covid-19 exponentiated its risks and damage. This cybernetic revolution started in February 2020, when all the information flow, including from the World Health Organization (WHO), on the prevention of the contagion by the coronavirus suddenly migrated to the virtual world, without any offer of communicational accessibility. 

Due to that, persons with disabilities, mainly those living below the poverty line in developing countries, have reached the highest exclusion rate in history. This happened because, adding to the virtual lack of accessibility, they have no internet in their homes and cell phones. The combination of absence of accessible communication plus lack of broadband internet has transformed social isolation into a condition of psychological suffering and of unprecedented risk to life for persons with all types of disabilities, and also those who are elderly, have low literacy or lack full understanding of the language of the country where they reside, such as refugees. 

In Mar 2020, seeking emergency solutions to this tragedy, Escola de Gente created its own technology to make accessible livestreams (“lives”) that simultaneously offer sign language, real time subtitles and audio description, both live and in the recording that is automatically made available afterwards on the platforms. The project, called “Inclusive Hyperconnection - “Accessible information is also the front line” has the objective of practicing equity on the sharing of information via virtual networks. “Inclusive Hyperconnection” is a concept we developed to characterize every action that is simultaneously free, accessible, uses cutting-edge technology and is created inspired by human rights.

On April 2nd, Escola de Gente held the first accessible live in brazilian social media - a historical day. The debut was only possible due to a “technological workaround” that we created by uniting different platforms in a sort of hub of integrated and interactive technologies that connect different areas: live programming, online platforms and accessibility resources.

Completely aligned with article 9 of the UNCRPD, Escola de Gente’s accessible lives are both a social and an assistive technology, because they are low-cost, easy to replicate, adapt to any language and improve the understanding of information via devices, infrastructure and technical support that meet the individual communication needs of persons with disabilities.

In three months, we held five accessible lives about the challenges of the pandemic. The impact was so big that the fourth live innovated even further. It became a metalive, in which we provided the process of creating and utilizing our “technological workaround”. 

The fifth accessible live was directed towards childhood, with the participation of 12 children in the virtual meeting room, as panelists, in their infinite ways of existing and communicating. We built with great care what was the first accessible live focused on childhood in brazilian social media! Over the five lives, the impact on the live audience clearly increased. In the first, we had an average of 65 simultaneous participations, in the last, 579. The methodology is already being used by Unicef and by the National Congress, which recently held their first accessible lives as well.

Now, Escola de Gente wants mobilization and dialogue with social media platforms so that they offer effective and global accessibility. It wants the improvement, consolidation and dissemination of social and assistive technology. It also wants countries and the UN to adopt a new pattern of online expression for billions of users. Finally, it wants to establish a dialogue with international foundations interested in exponentially impacting the meaning of communication in the post-pandemic world, as accessible information is the forefront to make the virtual world a space of communication without barriers.

Written by Claudia Werneck