Why are disabled-friendly websites so important?
As a mining company, why would we require an accessible website? The answer is in fact a simple one: we are aware of the need in our society to care about people with disabilities.
Disability is defined in the Census 2011: Profile of persons with disabilities in South Africa report as “the loss or elimination of opportunities to take part in the life of the community, equitably with others that is encountered by persons having physical, sensory, psychological, developmental, learning, neurological or other impairments, which may be permanent, temporary or episodic in nature, thereby causing activity and participation restriction with the mainstream society.”
I am drawn to that definition’s communicative dimension and its emphasis on participation in community life. From that perspective, we critically assessed our website and realised what it lacked in accommodating people with disabilities.
For some deaf people, South African Sign Language is their mother tongue and, in the absence of a special education, they cannot understand either verbal or written forms of communication. Many may live in an isolated world of their own, with distinctive language and their own norms and cultures. In effect, their disability may become more than the impairment of hearing, it may become a unique “communication disability” which obliges them to live as if they are a minority nation within wider society.
The main reason for creating a website is to communicate with people and if you are unable to communicate with all sectors of society then it is not reaching its full purpose. We therefore realised that we needed to make our website deaf-friendly. As Canyon Coal, we support the bid by the deaf community to make South African Sign Language the 12th official language of South Africa, and to that end wish to help by working to diminish communication barriers where we can. We have, therefore, prepared and loaded our content in South African Sign Language format to the website in order to make it accessible to the deaf community of South Africa.
Although now deaf-friendly, our website was still unable to communicate with all South Africans. Like deafness, blindness can also be a communication disability. The absence of sound enabled sites for the blind or of visual adaptation tools for partly-blind and colour-blind persons can result in a further communication barrier. In order to overcome this, we have adapted our website to the “screen reader” system for blind users, so that they can easily listen to the whole website. In addition, by implementing specific design techniques, we have adapted our website into a format which is capable of meeting the needs of partially-blind and colour-blind persons, thus making the website accessible to the blind.
According to the 2011 Census, the national disability prevalence rate in South Africa is 7.5 percent: of that 7.5 percent, 3.6 percent have hearing difficulties and 11 percent have visual impediments. South Africa is a signatory to the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which obliges governments to remove all potential barriers by investing sufficient funds and expertise to unlock the potential of persons with disabilities. I feel that, fulfilling this obligation should not be left solely to government; there is also a duty on companies and civil society institutions. Indeed, this obligation requires coordinated cooperation between the state, the private sector and civil society. That said, there are still things that can be done by all players within their own spheres. Even small steps, undertaken by many institutions within their own spheres, would result in a large impact on the lives of persons with special needs.
As Canyon Coal, a socially responsible corporate citizen, we are aware that taking these small steps should not be seen as generosity on our part but rather as part of our obligation to South Africans with special needs and to society as a whole. As for being the first South African mining company having a disabled-friendly website, we hope to spark increased sensitivity and responsibility towards disabled people in South Africa. To this end, we would be happy to share our experiences about making an accessible website to all with any interested company or institution.
Vuslat Bayoglu is an Executive Chairman at Canyon Coal. Canyon Coal iis a coal exploration and mining company with operations and projects in Mpumalanga and Gauteng provinces of South Africa.