Inclusive online meetings: Preparation is key

two laptops are open on a desk and one has several faces of people who are online.There’s been a few articles about working remotely and participating in online meetings. But there are a few nuances, little things, that need attention so that meetings are inclusive. An article from the Commons Library says it is not about the technical details. Rather, it’s about the culture and processes particularly for mixed face to face and online participation.

The article covers:
– Meeting preparation
– Collaboration tools
– Meeting process
– After the meeting

Some of this is basic, but the transitions in and out of lockdowns means more hybrid meetings – some face to face and some online participants. This is not easy for participants. Internet dropouts and other tech problems such as poor sound add to the mix of issues. This is where the chair’s role is very important because body language and facial expression are all helpful in making sure everyone gets to contribute.

Hosting hybrid online meetings is also covered by Blueprints for Change.  It has some Tips and Tricks.

For hybrid meetings, everyone in the room should be on camera. This can mean a rearrangement of the room and careful placement of the camera. 

“In a hybrid meeting environment people who are on screen should be assigned a buddy who is in the physical room. Their buddy regularly checks in with them, talks to them on breaks, makes sure they can see and hear at all times. Buddies might even bring them to break/snack conversations so they don’t miss the in-room side conversations.”

 

Colours that are accessible

Colour diagram showing the three different types of colour vision deficiencyColour is an important part of designers’ creative work. When it comes to colour accessibility the creative path takes a few twists and turns. That’s because people who say they are ‘colour blind’ are not all the same. Most can see some colours, but not all of them. So how can designers choose colours that are accessible, especially in digital communications?

Adobe has a blog page that explains the importance of choosing colours. Four images show the three different versions of colour vision deficiency, which are:

    1. Protanopia: Referred to as “red weakness,” this variation of red/green color blindness results in individuals being unable to perceive red light.
    2. Deuteranopia: Also known as “green weakness,” this type of red/green color blindness renders people unable to perceive any green light.
    3. Tritanopia: People who suffer from blue/yellow color blindness have difficulty distinguishing between blue and yellow colors. This form of color blindness is far less common than its red and green counterparts.

Graphic designers will appreciate the colour wheels and ways to avoid a conflict of colours. Examples of good colour choices show that designs can still be attractive as well as functional.

Manisha Gupta says in her article Color choices that are accessible

“Color is a foundational element in any creative work. When I took the challenge to design the Color Accessibility feature for Adobe Color, it wasn’t a linear path. While I was conducting research and learning more about accessibility, I realized there was no single tool that holistically helps a designer make a choice of colors that are color-blind safe — a choice that impacts roughly 300 million people globally. This made the case for bringing accessibility into Adobe Color even more compelling, and it is one reason why Adobe wants accessibility to be part of every creative’s process right from the beginning of a project.”

You can try out the online Material Design accessible colour tool that provides information on colour contrasts for visual material. 

Gadgets, appliances and devices: not so accessible

The electronic display panel on a Samsung appliance showing many wash options and cycles. It’s easier to go with what you know. Learning how to use new gadgets, appliances and devices takes extra time especially if unfamiliar with new tech. In some cases the designers of these products assume users have prior knowledge. An article on the Choice magazine website covers the issues from the perspective of older users. Current younger generations will no doubt have similar experiences as they grow older. So it is worth considering everyone in designs and make them accessible.

A Samsung fridge and a smartphone side by side. A view of what's inside the fridge is on the phone. No need to open the door.Familiarity is the key to understanding any device. But there are many skill sets and assumed knowledge built into these designs. Claims that products are fun and easy to use is not the case for everyone. For example, assumed knowledge includes: a smartphone needs wi-fi in the home, which then means Internet experience. The ability to download and set up apps and email is also assumed. Then there’s software updates and virus protection. Even the manual needs to be downloaded and we haven’t even got to the phone interface yet. 

People from middle age onwards are finding it difficult to keep up with changes. In spite of the research confirming this, it seems designers are not taking note. They still rely on advertising telling us that things are fun and easy to use. Real accessibility is rare. As we move further into a digital world it is easy to leave lots of people behind without realising it.

The Choice article, Ageing and accessibility, also has a link to a research article, Intuitive Interaction and Older People.

Choice also has specific reviews on appliance accessibility, such as washing machines and dishwashers.  

Images courtesy Samsung.

Older people and internet use

A pair of hands belonging to an older man hold a mobile phone.2020 has been a year of digital connectedness. Many of us relied on the internet to keep working and stay connected to family and friends. Access to virtual health services turned out to be important too. But access to the internet and digital connection wasn’t available to everyone. It’s assumed that older people are unable or unwilling to use digital communications. The assumptions by others about the capabilities of older people doesn’t help. It reinforces a negative mindset in both older people and their younger family members. 

Understanding older people’s relationship with the internet was the subject of a survey in rural Queensland. 1500 households were surveyed and asked about the general adoption of internet use. Within this survey, respondents were asked to indicate their understanding of older people’s relationship with the internet. Researchers found three general assumptions: older people aren’t interested in the internet, and they generally can’t use it. However, family members did believe the internet would be useful for older people.

If family members act on these assumptions they are unlikely to assist older members of the family to use the internet to communicate with others. If society continues to assume older people incapable or disinterested in internet communications it will lead to reinforcing the digital divide.

The researchers conclude that distinctions should be drawn between older people in rural areas and the tendency to apply urban norms to this population. 

The title of the article is, Perceptions of older age and digital participation in rural Queensland. It is academically dense in parts but the issue is clear. Older people will be unable to join with younger cohorts in independently using internet technology if we continue to apply these assumptions.

Abstract

Participation is thought to build and sustain individual and community resilience. What constitutes participation today significantly involves networked digital communications. With Australia’s ageing population set to increase exponentially, and with a growing concentration of older people living outside of larger cities and towns, a need exists to address how participation in later life is understood and facilitated. Coupled with the need for regional communities to find relevant change processes that build resilience, this multidisciplinary paper highlights variations in perception about older people’s digital abilities in regional Queensland. Following the general increase in appeal of digital devices to older people, defined here as those aged over 65, the paper suggests that how older people’s digital connectedness progresses is foundationally influenced by the speculative, antithetical and potentially ambivalent perceptions of others. In doing so, we seek to understand rural connectedness in later life through a suite of literacies informing digital participation.

There’s a related article from 2015, Internet use: Perceptions and experiences of visually impaired older adults. Published in the Journal of Social Inclusion, it provides some excellent qualitative research – the comments from older people with vision loss are especially revealing.

Universally designed emergency management

With the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, the need to have inclusive emergency systems is paramount. While there is some awareness of people with disability within emergency management, there are few tools that embrace universal design principles. Research in this area has focused on the general public, but not on stakeholders such as first responders, control room personnel and decision makers. The Australian experience last summer meant that many of us turned to our mobile phones and downloaded apps to keep us up to date on our situation. But how inclusive are they?

A research paper from Norway takes the topic of emergency management beyond the physical environment, such as escape routes, to communications technology. Appropriate technology can improve disaster management for everyone.

The paper is a literature review of universal design methods in emergency management. Among the findings was awareness of people with disability was increasing and systems were being adapted accordingly. However, gaps remain. Some of these are:

    • Most of the work on ICT tools and platforms for Emergency Management does not take into account Universal Design nor accessibility.
    • There is a lack of communication support between emergency medical responders and people that are deaf.
    • In use of social networks in emergency situations, the age gap was identified as significantly more severe than the disability gap.
    • Good efforts towards accessible tools and platforms exist, but most of them are on the conceptual or at best on the prototype level.
    • Research on the use of assistive technology by older adults during disasters is a neglected issue.
    • Accessibility is often limited to access to Internet, rather than concerning the diversity of stakeholders and their access to digital solutions in Emergency Management.

They also found that participatory design methods gave best results but were rarely used. Maps for visualising disasters were unlikely to be accessible, but had high value for users. The article is comprehensive and covers every aspect of emergency and disaster management, particularly from the perspective of emergency personnel. 

The title of the article is, Universal Design of ICT for Emergency Management from Stakeholders’ Perspective. It is open source.

Abstract: While Universal Design principles have been adopted in many areas to ensure that products and services are usable for the broadest possible diversity of users, there is still an open area when it comes to the emergency management domain. This article aims at providing a systematic overview of the current state of the emerging research field of Universal Design of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Emergency Management, and to highlight high-impact research opportunities to ensure that the increasing introduction of ICT in Emergency Management can contribute to removing barriers instead of adding more barriers, in particular for the elderly and people with disabilities. A systematic review on relevant literature on Universal Design, ICT and Emergency Management between 2008 and 2020 was employed using predefined frameworks, to answer the following questions: (1) Who are the target audiences (stakeholders) in research on Universal Design of ICT in Emergency Management in the different categories of Emergency Management ICT tools, and to what degree is Human-Centred Design and Universal Design taken into account? (2) What are the most important challenges and gaps in research on Universal Design of ICT in Emergency Management? We identify a set of gaps in the literature, indicating that there are some challenges where Universal Design is still limitedly addressed in technology development. We also derive promising future research topics based on areas that are missing in the literature.

Zoom communication and dementia guide

The Zoom logo in blue against a white background.Adjusting to online platforms for our work and social life during the pandemic was relatively easy for many. But for some, the situation isn’t so easy. This can be the case for people with dementia or those who get confused easily with anything tech. Zoom is relatively easy to use, but it is good to get some help. Dementia Australia has developed a useful guide and fact sheets that are useful for everyone.  

Using Zoom – Guidelines for meetings is a straightforward guide to getting started with a meeting on Zoom and joining a meeting. It includes meeting etiquette and using the Zoom toolbar functions.
Using Zoom – Participating in meetings is a comprehensive guide to the whole process of meeting from getting started to when things go wrong.
Zoom tips – How to join a meeting is a step by sept guide with pictures of screenshots.
Zoom tips – How to get the best out of the experience has several dot points that will help all participants in a meeting.
Zoom tips – On holding a dementia-friendly meeting has helpful dot points for running a meeting with people with dementia
Zoom tips – Tools and examples has examples from other help sheets with some good key points and how to use a phone to meet.

Let’s Talk brochure is a general guide for including people with dementia in conversation.

In a media release, Dementia Australia reminds us that there are an estimated 459,00 Australians living with dementia. Most live in the community and need to use technology to stay in touch with family and health care professionals. 

Editor’s note: For all professional meetings, remember that live captioning helps everyone get the message. It’s inclusive practice. The big advantage is the transcript that follows. It’s essential for webinars especially if they are made available after the event. It’s about being inclusive.

 

Screen readers and web content

A computer page showing JAWS for Windows screen reader home pageIf you haven’t seen it in action, screen reader technology is not what you might expect. Experienced users listen at a speed most of us couldn’t contemplate. But screen readers are only as good as what they are given to read – it is a machine after all. The way web content is written, described and placed makes a difference to the efficiency of the reading device and the user.

Axess Lab has a four minute video of a how a screen reader works.  If you haven’t seen this before it makes for fascinating viewing. In the video Marc Sutton explains some of the basics. The Axess Lab website also has advice for the more tech side of things as well for desktops and mobile readers.

Web designers might do all the right things in designing the site pages, but sometimes it is the document uploads where things fall apart for screen readers. For example, when you insert a table into a document, have you ever thought about how a screen reader might decipher this? Marc Sutton shows what happens and how to make it more accessible.

Vision Australia has a YouTube clip with a Jaws user explaining how it works for her. Nomesa blog site has additional information. 

Screen readers work with the computer’s operating system and common applications. It relays information either by speech or Braille. The majority of users control things with the keyboard, not the mouse.  If web pages are well structured, screen readers can interact easily. There are good reasons why websites should suit screen readers

 

What is user experience?

Graphic of a male sitting behind a computer screen with the words web design on the wall behind him.Technology has advanced to a point where almost anyone can set up a website – no coding experience needed!  It’s easy to get carried away with glitz, glamour, flashing signs and a swinging carousel of images. This is where user experience, or UX, comes into play. And let’s not forget web accessibility. Many of us have something to do with a website. So whether we contribute to one, manage one, or are commissioning one, there are some basics to know.

First some statistics. Seventeen per cent of users will not return after just one bad experience. Forty-eight per cent of users are annoyed by sites that aren’t mobile friendly. 

The DreamHost blog has two articles, one explaining how UX works, and the other is about web accessibility. It’s a pity they weren’t joined up into one article. Accessibility is not an optional add-on. It should be considered from the outset of the initial design and be a continuous process for ongoing content. 

While the UX article focuses on “target audience” and forgets this audience might need accessibility features, it has some useful advice. No need to get too bogged down with detail here. It covers navigation, content, animation, and responsiveness.

The article, 10 ways to make your website accessible is a good start for anyone new to the concept. It covers many of the basics such as colour choice, adding descriptions to images, and text size. Avoid tables for presenting data because screen readers can’t read them unless they are coded correctly. An accessible site expands the potential audience and helps with search engine rankings.

See also Web accessibility techniques: A guide and the section on ICT guidelines on this website for more information. 

Editor’s note: We do our best with accessibility and rely on in-built coding with the free software we use to keep the site running. We receive no funding to run this service. However, we welcome feedback if you find specific difficulties with this website. 

Colour contrast checkers for web

The colours of the rainbow arranged as a wheelAlmost anyone can create a website or add content these days. It doesn’t have to be an IT specialist. One the most basic accessibility features is colour contrast. No matter what level of vision we have, we all need contrast. But how much contrast is enough? And what about colour combinations?

Vision Australia has a colour contrast analyser and instructions on how to use it. The analyser is a tool for checking foreground and background combinations. It also has a function to simulate certain vision conditions such as colour blindness. There is more information on their webpage. The contrast information is also useful for printed material.

For the more tech people, the Axess Lab website has links to seven free tools that help you measure color contrasts that meet the contrast requirements in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). With almost everything in life being linked to the internet, it is important to make sure sites are fully accessible. Colour contrast is important for many with low vision, but accessibility does not have to equal boring. By going to the website you can see more on each of these seven free tools: 

    1. Contrast Ratio
    2. Tanaguru Contrast Finder
    3. Colour Contrast Analyser – by the Paciello Group
    4. Color Tool at Material.IO – by Google
    5. Accessibility Developer Tools – by Google
    6. Colour Contrast – IOS APP by Userlight
    7. Android Accessibility Scanner – Android App by Google

Editor’s note: I recently saw a page with two sentences in large font, all upper case, in light green against a white background. Note that upper case is also difficult to read – it doesn’t make the information any clearer to the reader. Light green isn’t great either.

Cognitive disability digital accessibility guide

Front cover of the cognitive disability media access guideWebsites and smart phones are not always user-friendly for everyone, particularly people with cognitive conditions. With information coming to us in various digital formats and platforms it’s important to be inclusive and accessible.

The Cognitive Disability Digital Accessibility Guide is designed to provide practical, step-by-step information for designing and delivering effective best-practice web and digital communication. It provides useful information on:

    • Guidance on policies and technical standards that best apply to people with cognitive disabilities in an organisational context.
    • Creating websites that support people with a cognitive disability.
    • Developing documents structured and written in ways that support people with cognitive disabilities.
    • Preparing communication messages for people with a cognitive disability.
    • Understanding how best to support people with cognitive disabilities in their ability to use computers and mobile devices.

The Guide also covers traditionally-implemented accessibility guidelines of WCAG 2.0 Level AA as well as looking at the increasing relevance of Level AAA requirements. It also delves into the role of affordable consumer devices such as tablets and helpful apps.

Of course, if the design is suitable for people with cognitive disability, there is a very good chance it is going suitable for everyone.

Centre for Inclusive Design (formerly Media Access Australia) produced this guide. Although it was published in 2016, most of the information is still relevant. 

People with cognitive disabilities or impairments include: acquired brain injury, autism, dementia, developmental disability, Down syndrome, intellectual disability, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, and learning difficulties in general.