TORONTO – Encountering automatically playing pop-up videos while browsing the Web may be a mere annoyance for most people, but for Susan Santola, the consequences could be far more serious.
This can potentially cause seizures.
Centola, a governance and compliance specialist in TD, who suffers from epilepsy, has spent decades relying on coworkers and family to monitor situations where an unexpected flashing light could trigger her symptoms. With workplaces becoming increasingly digital, she said she is always alert to situations that could increase the risk of seizures.
That changed in March when her employer launched the TD Accessibility Adapter, a browser extension that allows users to automatically personalize the websites they visit and make them accessible to their disabilities.
Initially run internally by staff, TD released the product publicly on Wednesday for free to everyone in Canada and the US through the Chrome Store in both English and French.
“With this tool, I don’t have to worry that I have to turn something off right away,” Santola said.
“You’d be surprised to know how often when you’re visiting a website… (videos) automatically pop up and play.”
The Adapter tool has several customizable functions, such as a setting designed for people with epilepsy that stops all animations and auto-play on the screen.
For others, Dyslexia Font Mode automatically changes the font and spacing of each word on a web page so that people with the disorder can read more easily. A separate “Reading Guide” mode for people with ADHD darkens every part of the screen except a sentence they are reading to help them focus.
There are also several functions for people with low vision and color blindness that allow users to change the font size and view web pages in low or high saturation and monochrome or dark mode.
The tool was designed by Samantha Astoesta, a product manager at TD, who herself uses it to eliminate the blue light from her browser that causes her chronic migraines.
Astoesta said that using adapters not only means employees with disabilities can more easily deal with everyday challenges, but in many cases, it eliminates the need for them to disclose information they would often have to disclose to their superiors and Prefers to keep things private from colleagues.
“Being a person with a disability, I know firsthand the stigma that comes from disclosure, I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, I’m disabled’ or ‘I need an accommodation’ or something that you might feel. Maybe your team will see you in a different way,” she said.
“We think this will really have a positive impact on other industries, these are accommodations you can provide on day one.”
Astoesta said the development team worked to incorporate feedback from TD employees testing the technology over the past few months. He said he was surprised to find how many features actually serve as crossover support for symptoms of other conditions, beyond those for which they were intended.
“You’ll see that darker contrast passes into color blindness and reduced vision, and lower saturation passes into epilepsy and sometimes even ADHD,” she said.
“So the fact that these features correspond to these experiences highlights that it’s not just a particular community or experience that can use some of these features.”
Banu Ratneswaran, vice president of enterprise innovation at TD, said releasing the technology publicly at no cost to users is “absolutely the right thing to do.” But he said that it also makes sense to do so from a business point of view.
“If I can make our digital and online properties more accessible, it also makes business sense,” she said, adding that the adapter isn’t just for TD websites.
“It’s for everything you use on your computer.”
For Santola, the tool has given her “peace of mind and comfort” when browsing the web on her computer, whether she’s scrolling through social media or watching training videos.
“I don’t have to worry about doing some of the distractions I do in my normal daily life while recovering from a disability,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2023.
Companies in this story: (TSX:TD)
Sammy Hoods, The Canadian Press