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An on­line con­ver­sa­tion be­tween artist Sophie Hoyle and Arjun Harrison-Mann, of Studio Hyte, on ac­ces­si­bil­ity in dig­i­tal pro­jects and de­sign.

Psychic Refuge

The so­cial model of dis­abil­ity is dif­fer­ent from the med­ical model. Broadly speak­ing it looks at po­lit­i­cal struc­tures that are dis­abling as op­posed to in­di­vid­ual de­fi­cien­cies. Wider de­f­i­n­i­tions of ac­cess.

Transcultural men­tal health. A tran­scul­tural ap­proach tries to ac­count for cul­tural norms im­plicit in men­tal health di­ag­no­sis - for in­stance the idea of an in­di­vid­u­alised ap­proach to ill­ness.

Psychic Refuge is about Palestine. The pro­ject had to shift from field work­shops to an on­line form de­spite the aware­ness that not every­one has on­line acess.

Why Palestine?

Palestine has been un­der Israeli oc­cu­pa­tion since the Six-Day War in 1967 (under dif­fer­ent oc­cu­pa­tion be­fore that). In terms of num­bers Palestinians are one of the largest refugee pop­u­la­tions in the world. Follows a his­tor­i­cal pat­tern of set­tler colo­nial­ism.

Why is this rel­e­vant to peo­ple in the UK? It ha a his­tory of colo­nial in­ter­ven­tion in Palestine. The UK is also a strate­gic ally of the US, and thereby Israel. There’s also di­rect also arms ex­ports to Israel.

Contemporary Palestine

Human rights vi­o­la­tions in the West Bank: Segregation, Arbitrary ar­rests, de­tain­ment with­out trial, shoot­ings of un­armed Palestinians. House de­mo­li­tion, land con­fis­ca­tion, il­le­gal set­tle­ments. mil­i­tarised bar­rier be­tween Israel and the West Bank, check­points every­where.

There’s 1.8M Palestinians in Gaza. Widespread poverty due to Isreali block­ade. Economic sanc­tions. 80% of the pop­u­la­tion de­pends on hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

Palestine Healthcare

The oc­cu­pa­tion frag­ments Palestine, mak­ing it harder to or­gan­ise a cen­tralised health­care sys­tem (like we have in the UK). PTSD is wide­spread - though that term is crit­i­cised be­cause the trauma is on­go­ing in Palestine (there is noth­ing post about it). Humanitarian or­gan­i­sa­tions tend to fo­cus on in­di­vid­ual symp­toms of trauma.

There re­ally is­n’t a lack of in­for­ma­tion about what’s go­ing on in Palestine, the prob­lem is more how that in­for­ma­tion it’s dis­trib­uted and used.

The web­site is an at­tempt to struc­ture and point to­ward ex­ist­ing re­search and writ­ing and or­gan­i­sa­tions by Palestinians, like BDS.

The process of mak­ing the web­site

Browser window shows access settings page on psychicrefuge.com. Blue text on mint background reads 'Choose your Access Settings' in English and Arabic. Buttons to change fonts, colours, and display language are visible at the bottom of the screen.

Psychic Refuge ac­cess set­tings page

Developed by Studio Hyte (London). Arjun Harrison-Mann is a co-founder of Hyte. Member Disabled People Against Cuts.

The im­me­di­ate work is about web de­vel­op­ment/​de­sign, but it pulls re­search from out­side that spe­cific niche, from a wider con­ver­sa­tion around dis­abil­ity and ac­cess.

A11Y as con­cept and medium - the so­cial model of dis­abil­ity and de­sign prac­tice.

The so­cial model of dis­abil­ity as a de­sign provo­ca­tion.

Design as anti-ableist. Some of this re­search comes from dis­abled peo­ple against cuts. The so­cial model is the idea that peo­ple aren’t dislbled but that their so­ci­ety is dis­abling.

How do we pro­duce de­sign that is anti-ab­list?

Aspects of the brief:

You start by ac­knowl­edg­ing that you don’t know every­thing. Some gen­eral sitemap and wire­fram­ing stuff. The un­der­ly­ing struc­ture of the web­site is ac­ces­si­ble, not just the vi­sual de­sign. Thinking about how to struc­ture con­tent be­fore doign aes­thet­ics. This is how you get to ideas like short/​long read, word counts, read­ing times.

The cal­i­bra­tion page is the first idea. It’s some­thing that we haven’t re­ally seen be­fore. It’s a way of coun­ter­ing an ableist nar­ra­tive of as­sum­ing what peo­ple’s acess needs might be. Options to choose type size, colour op­tions, cur­sor size, dis­play lan­guage (English or Arabic).

To sum­marise: How do you fore­ground the aes­thet­ics of ac­ces­si­bil­ity. There’s some ideas here that are fairly com­mon, and some like the cal­i­bra­tion page are new.

The il­lus­tion of 100% ac­cess: peo­ple’s dif­fer­ent ac­cess needs can clash. So it’s prob­a­bly not pos­si­ble to ac­tu­ally have some­thing be 100% ac­ces­si­ble. Better to be open and lis­ten.

Discussion

Mann and hoyle both make work about ac­cess from dif­fer­ent an­gles.

How did you pick the colour choices? Are they tar­geted to spe­cific vi­sion de­fi­cien­cies?

Ee made this with the in­ten­tion that there will be more colours added. The one i’ve seen used a lot is the black / yel­low high con­trast op­tion. We used some more based on con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple we know and some re­cources from Unlimited.

What do you think about for­mal A11Y guide­lines like the WCAG? Are they use­ful tools?

We try to work with the WCAG, it’s a good frame­work. I’m from a de­sign and art back­ground so i’m a self taught de­vel­oper. It’s in­ter­est­ing to think about what stan­dards we need to meet to be ac­ces­si­ble, es­pe­cially in re­gards to gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion. But also: What can we do out­side the tech­ni­cal to make some­thing ac­ces­si­ble? Like a cal­i­bra­tion page is­n’t that hard tech­in­cally but it took con­cep­tu­ally dif­fi­cult to come up with. What can we do tech­ni­cally vs what can we do con­cep­tu­ally.

What’s in the way of do­ing ac­ces­si­ble work all the time: The in­sti­tu­tion, the tech­nol­ogy, will­ing­ness of the gen­eral pub­lic?

With this pro­ject the biggest im­paire­ment was time. We had a lot of ideas and awere­ness of what we could do, so it’s not quite fin­ished. Making some­thing ac­ces­si­ble might mean you may have to ex­tend dead­lines, you’re not just mak­ing the web­site ac­ces­si­ble, but also the process of mak­ing it. That means bring­ing dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple into the process who would­n’t nor­mally take part.

There’s this idea that mak­ing some­thing dig­i­tal will solve ac­cess prob­lems. That seems to be a pop­u­lar idea in the Tory gov­ern­ment: Closing li­braries and mak­ing things like uni­ver­sal credit only ac­ces­si­ble on­line. What do we rely on tech­nol­ogy for vs what do we do on a hu­man so­ci­etal level.