The Civic Media Series: Accessible
This series exists as a part of academic work being done in a Civic Media graduate course and will cover the proposed principles of Civic Media.
This series can be found under The Civic Media Series.
Traditionally, accessible refers only to one’s ability to engage, not the extent to which you can attain goals—I disagree. Access is meaningless if your community is unable to engage and thrive to the highest degree.
In an Intro to Civic Media course, Sasha Costanza-Chock argued that “Civic Media is a pretense if people are denied access or unable to participate by design.”
To be accessible means not stopping just because something works. There are almost always ways to improve access because it’s likely someone is being left out. In his TED talk Why We Need Universal Design, Michael Nesmith says “I’m constantly thinking about how to make a better solution...and these solutions are worth sharing.”
He later goes on to explain how universal design, by constantly striving for better access, benefits even those it’s not designed for. “That is the genius of universal design; when you achieve universal design, it snowballs to the point where, even if you don’t share the same disability, everyone benefits.”
LGBT youth, for example, want to be involved in their community. We know this. The issue is access. How do they get involved? Where can they start? What information already exists? Cultural, economic, and of course, accessibility factors prevent LGBTQ+ youth from creating and leading the work that they want and need to exist.
If civic media must be participatory—and I believe it must be—then it must also be accessible. By making it accessible, you have that authentic engagement organized by the community. Consider LGBT youth in Chicago; there are some places for them to go like Center on Halsted or Broadway Youth Center, but what access exists beyond that? What can we improve? Access to transportation to get to those spaces, access to food or money while they’re there, safety at home—if there is a home to go to—these are all barriers that can make civic life difficult for LGBT youth to engage with. How much of a difference would it make if they had access to affordable, reliable transportation, food, and safe space when they’re trying to engage?
Universal design is key to making any civic media project functional. Regardless of disability, sexuality, age, or other factors, universal design guarantees the most accessible project. Plan with access in mind from the jump, and plan for access beyond what is easily offered. A ramp and interpreters don’t inherently make a fully accessible project.
Additionally, it’s important to look at examples of access done right—for all groups. In the report Road Map for Inclusion: Changing the Face of Disability in Media by Judith Heumann with Katherine Salinas and Michellie Hess, they offer examples and successes from disability organizations, LGBTQ+ organizations, and API organizations. Though it’s not yet enough, there has been a lot of important work done to create access and that can be used as a stepping stone for progress. Consider also things like #DisabiltyCivics chat on Twitter earlier this year. Access and participation go hand in hand, so why not learn from the collective solutions?