Brazil – Accessibility to information

Rita Bersch takes us on a fascinating journey through ideas and solutions for accessibility to communication, school, education and culture >> VIDEO


Hello everyone. We’re here today to talk about accessibility in information and communication and therefore about inclusion.

As a good example of accessibility, I start by introducing and describing myself. I’m Rita Bersch. I am a physiotherapist, I live in Porto Alegre, a city in southern Brazil. I am a fair skinned woman, I wear glasses with clear frames, my hair is light brown and straight, and reach my shoulders. I wear a very colorful printed blouse, with geometric shapes and behind me there is a wall with a white curtain.

When it comes to accessibility, the first things that come to mind are places with ramps, lifts, tactile floors …. Isn’t that true?

Let’s imagine an ideal place where everyone can enter and move freely. Let’s look at some examples in a public school in the city of Florianópolis in Brazil. Here we see a ramp that connects one floor to another. On the white floor there is a blue colored tactile strip, which has a high visual contrast. The ramp is wide and has handrails and side rails.

In this other photograph inside the school, we see wide corridors where the white floor contrasts with dark blue tactile stripes. The doors are orange, the walls are white, in the lower part the tiles are white and dark blue. The blue tiles are arranged in two rows parallel to the ground. A dark stripe highlights the base of the wall, the other is placed roughly in the middle. These markings, these contrasts, are very useful for visually impaired people because they perceive where the floor ends and the wall begins. Incredible, right?

This school is welcoming and has been barrier-free designed to accommodate students, teachers, employees, family members, the entire school community. When an architect designs a school  based on “Universal Design” he or she wants that any people be able to use that space, and that’s why he or she takes into account that everyone is different and that, from birth to adulthood, we go through many transformations that modify our physical, cognitive and sensory abilities. Designing for everyone implies anticipating these specific needs and including accessibility requirements into the project from the very beginning. In this way the school building is born inclusive.

However, what we are asking now is: is it enough to have a building without architectural barriers to ensure access, participation and learning of students with disabilities, together with their colleagues?

We can say that accessibility goes far beyond architectural requirements: the concept of “Universal Design” enters the classroom when the teacher is aware that all students are different. That is, the teacher must include in his teaching program all requirements related to the differences in his or her students.

When we work with “Universal Design” in mind in education or learning, we don’t look at the student with disabilities as “the different”, for whom to make adaptations. When we are inspired by “Universal Design”, difference ceases to be a problem and becomes the standard that will guide the organization of objectives, teaching materials, methods and assessments.

So, let’s deepen the fundamentals of learning; let’s try to understand what is needed for the purpose of learning, and to transform it into requirements for the design of a didactic plan. To understand this in practice, we can refer to three basic principles of “Universal Design” in the context of learning.

One of the principles is the multiplicity of ways of representing a content. Yes, multimedia! We learn through the senses. All the information around us comes in through our senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, perception of the body in motion.

The use of different media, in addition to the written text and the teacher’s speech, offers more opportunities for participation and content exploration for all students, and ensures accessibility. This happens implicitly when we predict, for example, that visual content also has an audio version, or a map, or tactile graphics, or a voice description of the images that it is part of the study material, and this will be of benefit for blind students, for example.

If the audio content is accompanied by sign language and visual version, we support deaf students.

The concepts to be learned can be represented by images: this is accessibility for students with intellectual disabilities, and a useful support for deaf students.

Manipulated objects can teach mathematical operations in a concrete way, and this can be a great help for small children small, or for students who have difficulty understanding operations in symbolic form.

A student who has an intellectual disability or dyslexia, for example, can have better access to written content thanks to the reading of the texts in digital mode. The computer and the cell phone can read for this student.

See what Larissa tells us: she is a young woman, with Down syndrome, fair skin, straight and fair hair, who is sitting in front of her computer and is studying the history of European expansion.


“So, on the computer, it is easier to study, to read. In the book no, I have to read it, there is no image. And here you have to look at the image to understand the text. But the computer, the computer itself reads you. This is to grasp what the content is, to understand more. This program here helps me, but it helps everyone, my colleagues too”.


Another principle of “Universal Design” in learning is the use of multiple forms of action and expression. We learn as we plan and execute, we practice the concepts we want to assimilate, we act on the object of knowledge and at the same time we communicate what we are learning. Again, we should envisage multiple forms of action and expression for students: writing, drawing, photography, film, word, music, manipulation of objects etc.

Accessibility can be included right from the start: the student who cannot write will be able to draw or edit text by voice, for example. Those who do not use a pencil, due to physical difficulties, can use a mechanical or virtual keyboard or even a mobile alphabet, in the early years.

In this other film, Guilherme, a young man with light skin and short dark hair, wearing glasses, is in front of his computer. Due to physical difficulties he uses a mouse which has a large dark blue sphere and five colored buttons that activate the various functions of the mouse. Stickers with larger letters have been glued to the keyboard keys, to compensate for his visual difficulty and facilitate their localization.

Guilherme is talking to the computer and his voice turns into a written text. At school he was asked to write an essay on a topic of interest:


“Carol passed by the two boys, and they asked: Is this girl that Carol is looking for? a couple to find a treasure?”


In the sequence, Guilherme shows us how he searches for and accesses content by controlling the computer with his voice.


“I’ll do a voice search. I’m planning on doing a ‘Little Prince’ comedy”.


“See the book The Little Prince. This is.”


“I’ll start reading: The book tells the story of a pilot and after he shot down his plane in the Sahara Desert, he finds a little boy known to the readers as the Little Prince “.


See how the difficulty or slowness in reading and writing it is no longer an obstacle for the exploration of hidden knowledge in previously inaccessible texts. The computer is a very important tool to facilitate accessibility to school.

Software and hardware facilitate accessibility. Assistive technologies and “Universal Design” collaborate in learning like two sides of the same coin. Assistive technology empowers people with disabilities to use your computer independently.

Blind, deafblind, people with physical disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities, they will find software and hardware tools that meet their needs and enhance their individual skills.

Computer control can be done with movements of the eyes, with the voice, with a single gesture which activates the click functions.

The information obtained from the computer can also be presented in different formats: audio, images, texts, tactile tools like a Braille bar, for example. We see in this image a keyboard with 12 white keys and a larger key for the space. Combined typing of these keys produces letters using the six dots of the Braille cell. In front of the keys, we see a horizontal line with about 40 cells that reproduce the Braille characters in relief on the tip of the finger. So, all the content that is displayed on the monitor becomes perceptible to the blind or deafblind user. Incredible, right? A blind person can access the same contents through hearing, a deafblind person through touch.

I would also like to point out that one of the most important obstacles to learning is communication. Communication is a necessary condition in the act of teaching and learning. Based on this premise, that everyone can communicate and that everyone can communicate more and better, we invest in tools and strategies that expand the capacity of expression and understanding of the students who have complex communication needs.

t this point the school must know and undertake the commitment to promote internally new ways of communicating. We are talking about Alternative Communication, where we have low- or high-tech tools, such as printed or digital communication tables. In them, the user indicates the symbols to communicate.

Let’s see this example: a folder with graphic symbols. These symbols are indicated by the user to represent the message he or she wants to communicate:


I – Want – Eat – FOOD – Chocolate.


So far, we have talked about two principles of Universal Design in the context of learning: multiple ways of representing the object of knowledge, object of study, and multiple ways to express yourself and act on that object.

We will now see the third principle: involvement. We learn when something makes sense to us, when it’s interesting, when we know where we’re going, and why we are doing it this way. If involved, students can become experts in the act of learning and they will leave school knowing how to ask good questions, identify the best strategies to search and apply the knowledge acquired.

We talked about the fundamentals of Universal Design in a learning context whose references can be found on

Accessibility in information and communication are not just a request from the school, are they? We can imagine a theater, a cinema, a football field, a restaurant, a church, a shop, a public or private customer support service. Accessibility requirements ensure that information and communication can and should be present, both in virtual services (websites, online forms, social networks, etc.), and in face-to-face services for people with disabilities. Accessibility is a condition for the inclusion of people with disabilities in society and, as we have seen, it concerns how we move on the streets but also the way to access information and the communication methods with other people.

Let’s see some examples of tools and actions we can use: audio description, for example. Audio description and is a form of accessibility focusing on people with visual impairments. It is the narrated description of what happens in a program, without overlapping speech: mainly the elements that cannot be perceived with ordinary audio alone, like facial expressions, objects in the scene. There is nothing better than watching a short video, an example of how audio description applies to cinema.


“A clapperboard opens and closes. Behind the clapperboard, a blind athlete. In the pool André dives, he swims butterfly-style”.


“I come to swim here. I’ve always enjoyed my life and will never stop.”


“On the black screen the title of the film JOGO BLIND, with white letters and Braille ( A young woman exercises on the running track.”


Today I have 78 medals in total, 10 of which are internationali.”


In a shoe shop, a young man meets a customer. Magno, who does not see, does not say that he is disabled. He runs the shop himself, even with his disability. Magno dusts carefully the shoes lined up on the shelf. The dark silhouette of a rider pulling his horse contrasts with the light of the sky.”


Adapted sport is a matter of training. It’s great for the following, a simple change of weather, changes many things, I have to change several commands which I normally use.


“The knight trots with a horse around the arena. The camera focuses on the horse’s legs with white garters fitted on the shins. It is a sunny day, in a wooded park, two athletes run side by side tied by a rope around the wrist.”


When you see, sometimes you don’t value certain things. When you lose your sight, you end up having more awareness of when you see.


“In the backyard a blind girl is sitting on a tree trunk, she stands up and her mother holds her legs.”


The giant girl introduces herself. Come and see a giant up close.


“Help us share these stories. Soon the movie “Blind Game” will be available for free: subscribe to our channel.“


Speaking of access to culture, we also have the option of audio books, for the inclusion of the blind. Audiobook, or voice activation on digital texts, also helps people with dyslexia, illiteracy or intellectual disabilities.

Sign language: each country has its own sign language or sign language. Here in Brazil we have LIBRAS (Brazilian Sign Language), legally recognized. This is very positive.

Subtitling: can this also be considered an accessibility tool? Yes, subtitling is also an accessibility feature for deaf people. For this reason, not only foreign films should be subtitled, but also original language films. We have many deaf people who don’t know the LIBRAS (Brazilian Sign Language). They speak, they read from the speaker’s lips, and they also communicate in writing. Subtitles in television, in movies are essential for accessibility.

Dubbing: dubbing is useful for blind people who wish to watch a foreign film, because the translation into subtitles is a barrier for them.

Braille: let’s see an example of the use of Braille, which allows tactile reading to the blind, in tourism. This is the city of Naples seen from a viewpoint. The city of Naples is seen from above and on the protective wall a metal handrail bears a legend in Braille. It describes the landscape ahead, the old town and its houses.

Even in a museum we have to identify the accessibility requirements in order to allow people with disabilities a relational experience with the artwork on display. Here we see replicas of paintings made in relief, to be explored with your hands. One shows a man at a table, the other the facade of a house, with an open window. We also have a photo of a woman seen from behind, in front of a painting, holding a small electronic device that describes what you see in the headphones.

We could cite many other examples of accessibility to information and communication, but one thing we suggest, if we want to transform the places we frequent into accessible places, is to invite to these environments, real or virtual, people with disabilities, know the tools and technologies they already use, and learn from them what needs to be changed and what needs to be implemented so that their needs are taken into consideration.

There is no accessibility without presence of people with disabilities (inclusion); at the same time there is no inclusion without accessibility. Accessibility is an act of welcome, it is an act of love.  Everyone is the way it is and doesn’t have to change to participate! Therefore, here is a great challenge for all of us!