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Practice Spotlight

Ronny Andrade: Making accessibility accessible

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Earlier this year, ADCET announced the winners of its inaugural Accessibility in Action Awards. One of those winners was Ronny Andrade, who took out the ‘Making Accessibility Accessible’ award for the “invaluable contribution” he has made to improvements in accessibility at RMIT. Ronny was recognised for raising awareness of accessibility, giving staff confidence to create it in their own areas of work and for helping to engage them in it.

Accessibility is something that Ronny has long championed in his personal and professional life. A person with disability himself, Ronny’s PhD research focused making things easier for others with disability; specifically, on improving access to videogames for people who are blind or vision impaired. He has also worked as an instructor teaching people who are blind how to use screen readers.

“These experiences reminded me that people with disability like myself are capable of achieving almost anything, and more importantly, these experiences drilled in me the importance of treating others living with disability as you would treat anyone else,” Ronny said.

“We must acknowledge the barriers people with disability face, but that should not be the only thing we can think of when we see someone with a disability. We—people with disability—live rich and complex lives and are not defined only by our disability.”

As well as being an advocate for others, Ronny has also had to work on the “journey” of self-advocacy, which he said involves a deep level of acceptance of your own disability.

“Being able to advocate for yourself means you have accepted you have an impairment, are aware that there will be barriers, but are also brave enough to speak up and ask for these barriers to be removed,” he explained.

But self-advocacy can be tiring, especially if you encounter the same barriers over and over again and have to keep asking for their removal. Still, he said, students should remember to just reach out and ask for what they need – not just from their organisation’s disability unit, but from their teachers too.

“Sometimes, the accommodations that we need are rather simple and can be delivered quickly. In my case, for example, I usually needed to have PowerPoint slides before a lecture…and lecturers were usually happy to help with that,” he explained.

Ronny is now the Digital Accessibility lead at RMIT, and said he feels fortunate to work somewhere with a strong culture of inclusion. The culture of his workplace makes it easy for Ronny to engage with others and help them enhance accessibility across their own areas of work.

In his experience, most people do want to remove barriers to access and just need a bit of help. To start with, Ronny looks at what people are currently doing in the accessibility space and identifies any gaps, then shares with them strategies to bridge those gaps. The pursuit of accessibility keeps him busy in other ways too, as Ronny is constantly putting out resources and professional development sessions for staff who want to learn more.

“We also have a community of practice, so there are more people spreading the accessibility message, not just myself,” Ronny explained.

He’d like to see more user experience evaluations being done with users with disability, and people with disability being involved early in the design process for new products. In the teaching space, the provision of adequate training for academics on making their materials accessible – and the time to apply this knowledge – is a priority for him across the sector.

Nevertheless, there have been moments of pride that stand out in his mind.

“As of last month, the RMIT home page became the first home page from a Victorian university with zero automatically detected accessibility errors, as per the accessibility tool WAVE This link takes you away from the ADCET page. This does not mean that our website is perfect and our job is done. However, this is a powerful signal that our actions align with our words, and we’re committed to creating more inclusive digital experiences,” Ronny told ADCET.

Ronny is a big proponent of the benefits of assistive technology for anyone, not just people with disability. Advances in operating systems have enhanced accessibility features such as high colour contrast modes, he said, which can change the way any person interacts with their computer – “making it easier and less tiring”.

There is a greater lesson to be learned from digital equity, according to Ronny: the importance of providing options for all. This is something that must be preserved across all institutions, he explained.

“In 2020 when the world was forced to move online due to a pandemic, suddenly people with disability were given the option to participate. Some did not have that option in the past. Options and different means of access are important, and it is important that the options that were established as a mechanism to deal with a pandemic remain in place for those who need them.”

Written by: Danielle Kutchel

July 2022