Today is the International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD), a day observed globally every December 3rd since 1992.

It’s an important occasion to us here at Intopia, given our focus on creating an inclusive digital world.

The theme for this year is ‘Promoting the participation of people with disabilities and their leadership’.

We turned to our Director of Accessible Technologies, Adem Cifcioglu, to get his take on this important issue.

Adem has been a part of accessibility from a grass roots level for many years. Starting his career as a web developer, he then moved into the accessibility space for one of Australia’s big four banks, before co-founding Intopia almost four years ago. Adem is also involved in the A11y Bytes and A11y Camp events, and runs the Melbourne Accessibility and Inclusive Design Meetup. For him, it’s about seeing people as people.

Adem, as someone with a disability yourself, how would you say it affects you day-to-day?

“My approach is a little bit different, in that I don’t view my disability as something that stops me doing anything. I might do certain things differently to others, but in my context, that’s just how I do things. As someone with a disability from birth, what others see as disability is my normal. I don’t think about it and know no different. If we want to improve accessibility and inclusion, we need to see people as people.”

You’re in a leadership role here at Intopia, you’re a mentor, a manager, and a thought leader in the accessibility space. What would you to say to those just starting out who feel their disability, or the way others perceive it, might hold them back from a leadership position?

“I’m a big believer in the fact that you can do anything you set your mind to. Just because somebody else doesn’t think you can do it, doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Don’t buy in to the messages that because you’ve got a disability you can’t do something. From a getting into leadership perspective, I’m someone who has been there and done that even prior to founding my own company. I came in on the ground floor as a web developer and worked my way up like everybody else.

I was promoted into a leadership role that happened to be in accessibility, but it wasn’t my only option – if I wanted to be a tech lead or dev lead, that could have happened as well, based on my skills and experience. I didn’t get into accessibility because I have a disability.”

As someone who works in the tech space, how important would you say it is to have people with disabilities participate in the building, designing and testing of products and services?

“It’s critical to bring people with disabilities in at an early stage. You can do as much of the technical box ticking as you like – WCAG gives guidelines and success criteria and that’s great – but that only goes part of the way. If you tick technical boxes, but don’t test with real users that are going to be using the product, you’re missing out.

Test with all types of users as standard, don’t just include people with disabilities as a separate add-on exercise to make sure that box is checked. Try a usability testing strategy with say 50 people, and 25% of those are people with varying disabilities. If your product doesn’t work for all users, then your product doesn’t work.

Including people with disability at the beginning of product design and development provides insights into how people with disability do and use things, which might be differently than expected.

Not to advertise or sell a product here, but increasingly with Intopia Connect, we do actually help connect organisations and people with disabilities for the purposes of testing. We’re hoping this continues to grow in the future, as it’s a critical part of software development.”

Can you tell us more about Intopia Connect, for those who may not have heard about this service?

“For me, Connect offers a connection between people with disabilities and organisations. This allows organisations to have the products and services they’re building tested by people with disabilities.

When doing usability testing, it’s not just including token people with disabilities to say you’ve checked the box, it’s about looking at usability testing as a whole. People with disabilities should form part of a realistic user group as a whole, not just one or two people.

We’re seeing more and more organisations ask us to help them recruit people with disabilities for usability testing. The anecdotal evidence suggests that even more organisations are wanting to do that these days and that’s great, and can only get better.”

What would you say is the value for those in the tech space to bring people with disabilities in early in the process?

“The value of bringing people in early is that you see why you need to do what you need to do from their perspective. It can be really hard to understand if you haven’t used a screen reader before, for instance.

If you show designers, developers and product people how their code works in practice, it gives them a much better appreciation for the user experience, and why they need to make the changes.”

What does IDPwD, and this year’s theme specifically, mean to you as a leader and as someone with a disability?

“Days like today are a good thing. They put the focus on people – in this case particularly people with disabilities. If it’s not front of mind, it’s not front of mind. People with disabilities are just people, and days like this help us remember that.

We’re talking about people – people who may do things differently to others, or do things that aren’t necessarily considered normal or the standard way of doing things.

With my own experience, my normal is different to your normal, which is different to someone else’s normal. Normal is contextual. My normal way of getting around outside the house is not walking, it’s in a wheelchair. It’s just how I get from A to B in a shopping centre or airport.”

Are there any final points you’d like to share about IDPwD, Adem?

“I’d really like to reiterate that it’s important to see the person in all of this, and reinforce the fact that without involving people with disabilities in whatever it is that we’re doing, we’re not doing it right.

Particularly in Australia, the population is ageing. If we look at disability in its most simplistic form – getting older – this is increasing. If we’re not involving people with disabilities now in building products and services, we’ll reach a point where it’s too late and these products don’t work for a significant portion of the population.

There are already one in five people with some form of disability in Australia. Given that the population is ageing, that figure is only going to increase.”

If you’d like to find out more about IDPwD, you can head to the International Day of People with Disability website. It’s great to see that the list of events happening worldwide grows longer each year.

Happy IDPwD!

International Day of People with Disability is held on December 3rd every year. It’s a United Nations sanctioned day that is celebrated internationally. It aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability, and celebrate their achievements and contributions.