Web Accessibility

Diversity is our every-day reality

6:06:00 PM

Raising awareness needs contribution from everyone

This spring, diversity day was celebrated all over Estonia to take notice of diversity values and the importance and exceptionality of every single person in an organization and in the society. Helpific celebrated this day by supporting Jüri Lehtmets in his discovery trip to the Shopping Race of Tallinn Department Store, and by organizing interesting lectures.
Within the Diversity Day, the Estonian Human Rights Center invited people to participate in several activities organized by different companies, and encouraged companies and organizations to organize open or reserved events to send a message to their workers, clients, and partners of how important it is to support the different needs of every member of the society.
Helpific is already in its essence a standard of diversity. Our team is represented by different nationalities, men and women in different age groups, disabled and not disabled people. Supporting diversity is the central focus of our mission – in promoting the independent life of people with special needs and in contributing to the formation of stronger communities, we wish to give every single person an opportunity to live a more meaningful life no matter their age, sex or special need.  
At a shopping race on a wheelchair
On April 12th, Jüri and Tom were headed to the Tallinn Department Store to make sure how accessible it is for people with special needs. Their trip was full of interesting discoveries, which clearly showed that even following the building requirements with best interests, does not always guarantee that the environment will be comfortably accessible to a person in a wheelchair.

Jüri tries to maneuver near the elevator
Already when entering the Department Store, the young men noticed that as opposed to many other institutions, there are ordinary doors and to open them, they need the help of a co-shopper. Jüri stated that in order to find the elevator, he needed to look very high up, because the instructions were only high above the ceiling and the viewpoint of someone sitting down low in a wheelchair had not been taken into consideration. Also, the merchandise locators had not taken into consideration the fact that while reversing from the elevator, one could accidentally bump into the fragile goods on the shelves.
Jüri pointed out several ideas that could make moving around in the Department Store a lot safer and easier for the visually impaired and people in a wheelchair. For instance, it would be wise to mark the routes, doors, stairs and steep inclines in a contrast color and/or Braille stones to avoid fallings due to steep change of land form, or other dangerous situations. In the elevator and other places, sound as an important source of information, should not be underestimated.  
Unexpectedly, it was a bit complicated to find and use the inva-toilet. At first, one needed to find a sign or an attendant who would point to that direction and when the toilet was found, it became clear that it was behind security gates and the attendant was not able to open these gates. In the end, the best accessible toilet was found in the Children’s World of the Department Store where quite a high threshold for an electric wheelchair needed to be crossed to enter.
As a conclusion of their shopping trip, Jüri stated that for a client in a wheelchair, the non-accessible environment strongly overshadows the shopping experience even when the service is very attentive and at a good level.
Lectures on diversity and involvement
The Helpific Office held two interesting lectures on Diversity Day. At first, the Head of Food Trade in Tallinn Department Store, Kadri Aguraiuja, talked about her own experience in hiring people with special needs and following that, PhD Student in Public Management from Tallinn Technical University, Kari Käsper, gave a lecture on diversity, innovation, entrepreneurship, and accessibility.  
Kari Käsper has been connected with diversity and involvement topics for several years and in the year 2009, he was one of the co-founders of the Estonian Human Rights Center. 72 companies have joined their Diversity Agreement, including Tallinn Department Store, Selver, Swedbank, SEB, Microsoft Estonia, Skype, and Transferwise. Käsper considers Helpific a very significant success story as it enables disabled people a better involvement in society through technology. When lecturing in Helpific, Käsper decided to focus mainly on three aspects:

  • How technology is changing the society;
  • What is the role of diversity and involvement in this;      
  • Topics related to accessibility and disabilities in these contexts.   
Our communal structure and functioning is strongly dependent on the dominant technology – when technology changes, society also changes. We are living at an interesting time, at a breaking point where we have covered the installation phase of information- and communication technology (internet, social media, computer technology etc.) and it is time to start using it and to deal with the communal changes accompanying this. The environment, governance processes, and managing of companies is changing. Private enterprises adjust faster to changes, government organizations follow a bit later. The paradigm of the new thinking completely changes the behavior and structure of society, enterprises, and organizations. We are moving from mass production to a more personalized form of medicine, education, and other. We no longer need a certain critical mass of consumers in order to offer some services or goods. Information technology enables people to offer individual solutions at a low cost. You can no longer leave your brain at home when going to work – everyone is expected to use their head and to contribute to the organization’s work. This reveals that there is no average person – diversity is our everyday reality. Individuals who previously felt out of place, can now contribute and be equal and independent.
Changing society entails the restructuring of power relations. The world is somehow becoming smaller. We are living in a closely connected world. There are less and less countries with a closed system – what is happening in Ireland is affecting Estonia and vice versa. A huge part of our lives is transferring to an online-world that has no boundaries. Social media affects the thinking and behavior of the current generation in a significant way. We do not know yet, what will be the changes and dangers accompanying that. As opposed to the mass production paradigm, where effectivity is emphasized, new values will start to dominate. In a smaller world, minorities will become more visible and involvement will become more important than ever before. For some minority groups, life today is already much better.
Diversity and involvement helps us to switch to the new paradigm, because when using everyone’s brain, we can more easily take people’s specialties into consideration. The spectrum of potential candidates and talents has to broaden both in the Government as well as in private entrepreneurship.  Today, there is not a single disabled person in the government, although 10 percent of the Estonian population is disabled. Representation of women and national minorities is also too low. We all have our subconscious prejudices and a fear of everything different from us, but in today’s society it has lost its function. When learning to communicate with people with a different skin color or people with disabilities, we can see that their values can be very similar to ours and very clear to us. For peaceful co-existence we need to communicate with different people even if it is not so easy in the beginning.
We see in politics, that the monopoly of authority is disappearing – in addition to their own government and people, countries are also influenced by international institutions and organizations, corporations, international NGO-s, and even individuals. There is a counter reaction to every reaction, progress always has setbacks. There is a fear that lack of hierarchy turns into an anarchy-like situation where nobody knows who is making the decisions and where. To move towards the right direction, we need a right amount of people who are thinking and moving towards that direction.
We, as a society need diversity, therefore we must guarantee everyone an opportunity to participate in this. Physical environment, work places, shops, and homes have to be designed in a way that everyone could have access to them. Services and goods need to be created in a way that they would be suitable to different people. This also applies to software. In reality, accessibility does not cost more if it is planned in the first stage. It is difficult and more expensive to make changes afterwards. The main problem in accessibility is not the lack of money, but the lack of awareness. The main thing that needs to change is the way of thinking. Raising awareness has to be dealt with in several angles, this work is not only for a single person, organization or government – everyone has to participate.

Edited by: Katrin Suik
Translation: Liina Martinson

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