In our tenth episode of season two of 15 Minutes With we’re talking to Aya Jibreal. Aya is a Lead Consultant with organisations including G3ict, the United Nations and AlQemam.

Aya, an accomplished consultant and trainer, is deeply passionate about fostering accessible and inclusive experiences for both employees and customers. With a 10-year track record, Aya has collaborated with over 70 private, government, and not-for-profit entities in Saudi Arabia and internationally. Her expertise lies in developing and executing highly successful inclusion strategies and accessibility action plans. Aya’s dedication to her field shines through her work with prominent organisations like the United Nations, G3ict, and IAAP.

In this episode, she explains how businesses and individuals can inform and educate themselves to better understand the scope of accessibility more fully. And to appreciate that disability is not an insignificant minority, but actually affects us all. She also sheds light on the role that best practice guidelines and international standards play in the picture of inclusive design.


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Shelley  00:14

In this episode of 15 minutes with we are speaking with Aya Jibreel, inclusive design and accessibility expert and lead inclusion consultant for disability at the United Nations for the MENA region and Gulf Cooperation Council. Aya’s expertise and passion in this space are energising and enlightening. She explains how businesses and individuals can inform and educate themselves to better understand the scope of accessibility more fully. And to appreciate that disability is not an insignificant minority, but actually affects us all. Aya is also a committee member of the International Association of accessibility professionals. And in this episode, she sheds light on the role that best practice guidelines and international standards play in the picture of inclusive design.

Shelley  00:57

Aya hi, welcome to the podcast.

Aya  00:59

Hi, Shelley. Thank you for having me.

Shelley  01:01

Great to have you. So I wanted to kick off by asking a little bit about accessibility and inclusive design and how it it seems to be often a neglected area of business, because there’s this kind of presumption that the group of people that it affects is this tiny little minority, but how significant is this minority?

Aya  01:19

Well, accessibility and inclusive design are a very crucial aspect that are sometimes neglected, just as you said. So people with disabilities make up a significant minority of the global population. So if we’re talking about statistics in the world health organisations, they stated that approximately 15% of the world’s population or about 1 billion people having some sort of disability. This includes you know, physical disability, sensory disability, intellectual and cognitive disabilities. The United Nations also estimates that about 10% of the global population, or 650 million people have disabilities. So these significant numbers of the people worldwide and within you know, specific countries failing to consider the needs of such substantial minority can result in exclusion and difficulties in accessing various services or products and information. So inclusive design and accessibility initiatives are vital to ensure that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can fully participate in society, and also access the same opportunities as others. And when we also talk about accessibility and inclusive design, we don’t only mention people with disabilities, this is actually not the only segment of society that benefits from accessibility, it is imperative for them. But you know, actually, everyone benefits from inclusive design and accessibility, I want you also to think of people with temporary disabilities, like at a certain point in time, broke your hand or leg, or you have a minor surgery on your eye, pregnant woman, and other parts of the society or people. So it’s actually important and helpful for everyone. This is a how we promote inclusive design accessibility. And this is how we make it important for all businesses.

Graham  02:58

That’s a really interesting point, actually, because I’ve never thought about it like that. And I know it probably sounds stupid, but I genuinely hadn’t thought about the temporary stuff, right? And it makes total sense. Because if you break your hand, it’s not a permanent thing. But of course, you’re at a disadvantage. And you everything that we take for granted, all of a sudden becomes really difficult. That is, I feel almost stupid for not having thought about, i genuinely do I’m sorry, but it just makes so much sense. I’m like, How did I miss that.

Aya  03:24

You know, also Graham, what’s interesting, we also have the situational disability aspects. So I want you to imagine yourself holding, you know, many shopping bags, how important for you to have, you know, for example, an automated door to enter a premises, you know, or the mall or get out of the mall. So this is also an important factor to think about. When you think about accessibility, when you make it a business priority, especially for business owners, you need to give the full 360 degree of impact of inclusive design and accessibility, which you know, attracts more edge to the business and which make it more considerable to more and more people in that sense. So it’s not only people disability is not only temporary disability, it’s also situational disability. This is what we call it, if you have many bags, if you’re pushing a stroller, this is also considered a situation this ability, in a certain sense.

Graham  04:15

And I guess when you link that to customer experience, the advantages are pretty clear, right? Because if you can make that experience good for everybody, you kind of widen the appeal and the ability for people to kind of experience what it is you’re putting into the world. Right?

Aya  04:29

Completely true Graham. Definitely. That’s why we call it inclusive design. So it’s the design process when you consider the needs of people considering their abilities, disabilities, backgrounds, race or any different variations that may or not have. So it’s not specifically for people with disabilities per se, but just coming up with a design or a service or a product that’s helps everyone it appeals to everyone and everyone benefits from it equally.

Shelley  04:56

Aya are you seeing with the advances in technology that the gap in accessibility and inclusive design, is that widening or is that helping?

Aya  05:04

Actually, you know, the gap in accessibility could potentially widen with technology advancement if not addressed proactively. So while technology has the potential to improve accessibility, it can also introduce new barriers if not designed inclusively. So with the context, for example, with a constant influx of new technologies, designers and developers may struggle to keep up with accessibility best practices. So this can lead to a gap where older technologies may be more accessible than the latest ones. There is also the aspect of new technologies can be more intricate and may not be inherently designed with accessibility in mind. So this complexity can create challenges in making them fully accessible. There is also the lack of awareness and training. So many designers and developers may not be adequately trained in inclusive design principles and accessibility guidelines. So that might need to unintentional exclusions while they’re designing you know, their software or products. There’s also the assumptions aspects of many designers may assume that users has a specific abilities or to access a certain technology which can exclude those with different needs or limitations. You know, Shelley addressing these challenges requires a commitment from the technology industry to prioritise accessibility and invest in training and resources to ensure that, you know, advancements, benefits all users, we need to consider also the role of governments, advocacy groups, and industrial organisations and the role that they need to play in promoting awareness setting guidelines and you know, incentivizing accessibility efforts. I think with the right approach, technology advancement can bridge the accessibility gap and create a more inclusive digital landscape for all users.

Shelley  06:49

So interesting, because there are so many things that I myself admit I haven’t considered. And I think what you’ve just explained particularly about assumptions is so important, because to create something with the user in mind, they have to be included in that process.

Aya  07:04


Shelley  07:05

From the design stage, right? You can’t just make an assumption about a particular disability and think that you’re designing for that based on your own limited knowledge. It needs to include those groups from the very beginning to be able to properly advocate for them and include them. Are you finding in your work that there are common challenges or common issues that are sort of constantly being raised that you’re noticing?

Aya  07:28

Well, Shelley you just tapped on that. You know, for me as a consultant one of the major challenges I have is the lack of awareness and understanding and the mindset about the importance of inclusive design and accessibility you know, many individuals and organisation may not fully grasp the impact of excluding people with disabilities from their products and services and the financial and social implications of that. There is also a misconception for some businesses that they perceive inclusive design and accessibility as additional cost especially if they need to retrofit existing products or undergo significant redesigns for premises or certain technologies. So allocating resources and budgets for accessibility issues this can be a challenge especially for you know, smaller companies and this always go back to the fact that they think about accessibility inclusive design at the end of the process, not in the beginning of the process. Because if you thought about accessibility while designing your building, the cost will be almost zero you know, when it goes to accessibility, because it’s part of the design of the building, but if you have the building ready and you think about it, okay, we need to add this and that. So retrofitting really costs and this also goes for technologies and web design, etc. Another challenge, which is designers and developers may not be adequately trained and inclusive design principles. So there is a lack of skills and expertise in certain sense and certain regions also depends on the country or the or the region. So implementing accessibility best practices also and training this is also an important aspect. Inclusive design can become a bit more complex when dealing with various disabilities and assistive technologies. So ensuring compatibility across different devices, platforms and technology can be also a challenging tasks while also on the ongoing development of technologies time constraints. So inclusive design might require additional time for testing feedback, acquiring information iteration to ensure that the end product is accessible, tight project timelines might not always work in that sense. So it can make it difficult to fully address accessibility concerns. Within the project. There is the consideration of legal and compliance issues. So it is always important for us as consultants to consider the legal standards requirements for businesses at the same country where they are operating the consideration of working with global companies or international companies and how they remould their standards and policies to ensure that they’re working in the country or the division of their company at that country. So that could be also a big consideration for us. In some cases there might be resistance to incorporate design accessability features, especially if stakeholders do not see the immediate benefits or if they hold certain misconceptions about the market size of people disabilities. However, you know, despite these challenges, embracing inclusive design accessibility is essential for providing equal opportunities for all users. And over the years me working, you know, with many, many businesses, I see that there is a change of the mindset. On a certain level, there is a certain level of buy-in, but we still have a lot to do to work with companies and actually have an impact that they can see on businesses while they are including people with disabilities.

Graham  10:38

And you talked about best practice and educating is there like a standard or a universal standard for this stuff? Or is it kind of up to each country to decide what they fit as the minimum? Or is there even no minimum is up to each business to decide what they’re willing to invest into solving some of the challenges out there?

Aya  10:56

Actually, you know, there are universal standards and guidelines for accessibility inclusive design. If we’re talking about the technology aspects, there are the widely recognised standards that is issued by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, WCAG, developed by the web accessibility initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, W3C. WCAG, provides a comprehensive list of recommendations for making web content more accessible for people with disabilities. For the built environment. There’s the ISO standards for the building construction. However, as I earlier said, they’re all legal compliances that is different for every country. So companies need to understand or prioritise whatever standards that are compelled, or by the country itself, and its government. And it also depends on the size of the company itself. So if we’re talking about international companies, for example, they might have their own issued guidelines and standards, you know, based on the global guidelines I mentioned.

Shelley  11:54

Aya, you’ve talked about the global standards, which I think is brilliant, but obviously layered with some complexities in terms of geography, particularly with respect to the legal compliance in different countries. But are there different cultural contexts that need to be taken into consideration with respect to a universal standard for accessibility and inclusive design worldwide?

Aya  12:16

Definitely Shelley, that’s a great question. So design choices that work well in one culture may not be as effective or appropriate even in another culture. So understanding the cultural context of the target audience is essential for creating inclusive design. That also is considered along with that different regions and communities may have specific user needs and preferences that should be considered during the design process. So for example, accessibility requirements for individuals with specific disabilities may vary in different parts of the world. As we said, also, the accessibility laws and regulations can differ from a country for another. So while WCAG is be a global standard, some regions may have additional requirements, or different levels of compliance that businesses should consider. There are also aspects that us consultants called might be bit hidden. So for example, the availability and prevalence of technology and internet infrastructure in the country can vary significantly between countries and regions. So design choices should be done also to accommodate these differences. You can’t think of a highly advanced solution when it comes to technology in a country that has a very basic infrastructure and technologies. That won’t work, that won’t be sustainable. There is also the local practices. So it is important to work with the local consultants and developers and designers to understand how did they done their own problem solving and solution when it comes to accessibility and inclusive design? What are the resources, the tools, the skill sets in that particular region important for them to be able to adopt accessibility and inclusive design successfully? There is also the aspect of whatever you’re presenting as a content and solutions. Is it relevant to the local audience? Does it influence the design choices made to ensure it resonates with all users? Is it effective and impactful? So designers and developers should really consider the specific context which was their products or services are used. So that could be done through you know, deep research, gathering user feedback, adapting designs to meet the needs and expectations of the local audience?

Graham  14:19

Awesome. You’ve given us so much information throughout this entire podcast. And it’s amazing. Thank you so much. But just to kind of end and wrap it up, is there any tips or advice that you can offer to the people listening to this to help them get started on or kind of refine, and kind of make improvements around this process so that they can really hit the ground running kind of after the episode ends and make some real impact for people?

Aya  14:43

So the first thing you know, I think, is to educate your teams raising awareness about the importance of accessibility and inclusive design among the team members of the company, offer them training from top to bottom of the corporate, embed that in corporate culture, equip them with tools and we resources to help them understand the impact of inclusive practices break that barrier of understanding and changing the mindset is really important. As you know, first big tip, I think also, it’s really important to engage people disabilities in the design process starting from the initial idea till the end of the product or service or the premise, or the design or the technology, include them in the testing processes, their feedback is vital. And their insights are valuable in identifying barriers and improving accessibility along the way. It is also important Are you done once you’re done with any design or place? No. You will perform accessibility audits constantly on your existing products or solutions or services, it is important to identify potential issues along the way, areas of improvement, you know, it’s an organic approach to accessibility and inclusive design. It’s important for business owners not to consider accessibility as a checklist, or something that you know, they will do and they get rid of immediately. It’s something that is ongoing. Policies, it’s always important to develop accessibility policies, inclusive design policies, policies are important to outline the organization’s commitment to inclusive design and accessibility, it provides sustainability to any process that you have that is relevant. sharing these policies with all stakeholders, you know, keeps everyone on the same page and make sure that this provides any silo initiatives that might not be sustainable on the long term. Monitoring, also, this is a good important process. So constantly to monitor products and services, get feedback for further improvements, as we said, and make sure to communicate that say that your products and services are inclusive, use your language, you use an inclusive language that is clear, simple. Voice out that you are accommodating all users, I see in many companies a practice where they do their best, you know, to make accessibility changes, but they don’t, you know, communicate it. So it does not reach out to the employee of a disability or the customer disability. So communicating that is really important.

Shelley  17:06

Aya, wow, it’s been a learning curve from start to finish. Thank you so much for sharing all of your insights, because it’s been enlightening. And I think we’ve come into this episode with a certain set of rough kind of questions in mind for you. But I think it’s safe to say that Graham and I have both learned a lot listening to you. And I think that your episode is going to teach a lot of people plenty about where to start or where to improve when it comes to accessibility and inclusive design. So thank you so so much.

Aya  17:33

My pleasure Shelley and Graham, thank you so much for inviting me to be part of your show. Thank you so much.

Shelley  17:39

That was Aya Jibreel, lead consultant for disability at the United Nations talking to us today on 15 minutes with about inclusive design and accessibility. Aya shed light on the importance of shifting our perceptions of disability to one that is more representative of reality and a perspective where we all benefit from inclusive design and accessibility regardless of our ability. She also explains why informing and educating at an employee and organisational level is so vital to this shift and how best practice standards offer the guardrails for businesses to really transform their practices. Aya also explained how cultural and situational contexts are so relevant for design and how at the heart of every effective solution is the inclusion of minority groups from the outset of the design process. In other words, disabilities only exist when we exclude.