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‘Digital design frustrations, resilience and game-changing AI’: An accessibility profile

Posted by Kate Morris on May 29, 2024 12:10 PM

An interview with D&I Consultant, Luis Canto E Castro.

Luis is a Disability and Inclusion (D&I) Consultant and Disability Advocate. We caught up with him as part of our Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) profile series to learn more about Luis’ digital world.

Headshot of Luis, smiling to camera

A glimpse into Luis’ life

Luis is originally from South Africa and now lives in the UK.  He has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, type 2 (SMA) which affects his mobility and requires him to use a wheelchair. As well as working for and running multiple businesses, he actively uses his social media to highlight ongoing physical and digital inequalities (check him out on Linkedin!).

Navigating the Digital World

Luis relies on Dragon Naturally Speaking speech recognition software to navigate online and spends a huge proportion of his life forging his ways through digital barriers. “So, I don’t get a lot of free time! I have a degenerative neuromuscular condition…that means I don’t have the mobility required to always rely on using a mouse to navigate to places on a screen. I rely heavily on ‘Dragon Naturally Speaking’ which is a voice to text software that empowers me to mitigate those days when…I can’t do it physically.”

Challenges with Bad Design

It becomes clear on speaking to Luis’ that inaccessible digital design can be hugely limiting. “If I’m trying to navigate to certain areas on the website or within an application, If I can’t actually do that with my voice, it becomes a physical task that I have to give myself. So instead of the technology enabling me, it becomes a barrier. Lack of accessibility means that it becomes more work than it should be…I’m a busy guy… and I only have a certain amount of energy!”

The Impact of AI on Accessibility

We asked Luis for his thoughts on how AI might affect digital accessibility, as well as whether he viewed the possible advent of AI neural implants as ‘science fact or science fiction’? I think I would definitely volunteer if it was available in the UK as a test subject, yeah, because I think AI is really scary, but it’s really amazing at the same time. When it’s used for good, I think that people can achieve amazing things.”

“Maybe not very soon, but I feel like AI is going to be the game changer in the digital accessibility space because it’s going to make it simple.  I’ve built my own AI model within Chat GPT to try and emulate me and the way that I write and respond. This has been a game changer in terms of my productivity. But yeah, it’s still doesn’t mitigate the challenges when navigating the Internet.”

Advice for organisations

When asked what organisations could be doing to offer better digital experiences, Luis had the following thoughts: “As well as empowering independence, digital design can also be a hinderance. I think for me, I’m quite resilient and adaptable so it doesn’t put me off. But I also know that for other people it is really challenging for them to stay motivated to continue doing what they’re doing. They would rather move away and find somewhere that is accessible. It’s a missed opportunity for the provider…You know, when we look at all the amazing research done up around the Purple Pound and how much organisations are losing in the UK due to inaccessibility, it just further amplifies the frustration that the community has around the barriers placed in their way.”

“For developers…Maybe it’s time to start broadening that thinking…to learn about the lives of your users? Education in accessibility at the training stage for web developers, giving them the best shot at building a future that we can be proud of. Like all challenges around disability, the digital space has got a few key fundamentals that have to change; Policy, Attitude and Best Practice.”

Conclusion

From speaking Luis it’s clear that he is required to be tenacious in order to maintain a good level of access to the online world that is so vital to him and his work. But he shouldn’t have to be. Digital accessibility is a basic human right and through his experiences and expertise he advocates for a world where inclusive design, both physical and digital, would empower independence for everybody.

If  you have enjoyed reading about Luis’ experiences, you might also like to check out our other accessibility profiles.

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