The answer to “Is your site accessible?” is sometimes, “I haven’t been asked that before” or “I’m not sure I understand what you mean”. Some website managers will quote that they are WCAG2 compliant, but that doesn’t mean they know what it’s about. Some parts of the website design might be compliant, but some of the content might not be. So things like e-books, e-learning or customised apps could pose problems when it comes to accessibility for all. An article by Andreea Demirgian takes a look at these issues and more by using real examples of online chat conversations with web operators.
A related article, Do you see what I see… Accessibility challenge – CSS! gives instructions on how to find out if the CSS of the website is a barrier to accessibilty. A bit technical but gives insights into what web design should consider. The article is by Herin Hentry of the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Screen magnifiers are used by people who have low vision. It enlarges the text and images to a size where only part of the page or picture is visible at any one time. It is not the same as using the zoom function in the browser where the layout is changed to match the width of the screen. This means users have to scroll sideways to get the content of the page.
Because only a portion of the screen is displayed, the reader could miss instructions or drop down menus. How to Make Your Website Accessible to People Who Use a Screen Magnifier, has some good tips and a short video that shows what a screen magnifier does. The tips in the article are aimed at people in charge of websites. However, it is useful to see how it works and what happens when a site design doesn’t account for screen readers. It could help us think about the way we format documents and other information for websites.
It’s worth noting that there are around ten times as many people who use magnifiers and not screen readers, but accessibility guidelines seem to focus on readers. There is more on this topic from Axess Lab.
Making images and graphs accessible is something we can all do. Once you get into the habit it’s simple. The process is called “Alt -text” or alternative text. It provides a text alternative to documents, slide shows and web pages. The WebAIM blog site gives more detail about applying text to images. In short, it does three key things:
It is read by screen readers so it’s accessible to people who are blind or have certain cognitive disabilities.
On websites it is displayed in place of the image if the image file is not loaded or when the user has chosen not to view images.
The text description can be read by search engines.
Even if you are not in charge of your organisation’s website, any pictures you provide for web content should have your description and not be left to someone else to interpret. They might get the picture out of context. The article explains more about context.
From the Editor: I describe all pictures and images on this website. This is not the same as having a caption. Two tips: No need to start the description with “A picture of…” because the screen reader knows it is a picture or graphic and announces it. End the description with a full stop. It makes the screen reader use a tone that ends the sentence rather than sounding as if it is cut off in the middle. Also, avoid “download here” or “click here” and put the link in the actual text so the screen reader and user knows what it is referring to.
Designers rarely design to exclude, but sometimes it just happens. Creating digital materials that are usable and accessible means many more people have access. Here is a book chapter that introduces readers to the ways people with disability use technology. It includes specific steps you can take and highlights the benefits of accessible design. Testing by people with disability is informative and should be included in the design process. As always, planning for accessibility from the start is always more cost-effective than fixing problems later. The title of the chapter is, “Designing for Inclusion: Ensuring Accessibility for People with Disabilities”. You will need institutional access to SpringerLink for a free read. Otherwise there is a payment option. The book is titled, “Consumer Informatics and Digital Health”.
In the world of web accessibility people often talk about screen readers. But do you know what they are and how they work? This is a very useful article for everyone who posts on a website. Nomensa blog explains that a screen reader is a software applicationthat enables people with significant vision impairment to use a computer. They 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. The article provides more detail of each of the operating systems that link with screen readers and the applications they support. If web pages are well structured and designed using a particular code, screen readers can interact easily. The article has additional links to other information.
Vision Australia has a YouTube clip with a Jaws user explaining how it works for her. You’ll be surprised!
At Accessibility Scotland 2018 Conference, Vasilis van Gemert described how he flipped the Paciello Group’s webInclusive Design Principlesand turned them into a set of Exclusive Design Principles. Instead of designing exclusively for ourselves, he says, he started to design tailor-made solutions for – and together with – people with disabilities. This was part of a design challenge:The Good, The Bad, and The Interesting Exclusive Design Challenge. In the video of his 30 minute talk, Vasilis shows the results of these experiments, and shares all the insights he gained during his research. The webpage has a transcriptof the talk and you can also download the slides. Basically, he looked at specific requirements that only some people need so that he could make them inclusive.
Alan Dalton provides a non-geek look at the WCAG update in his article, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 – for People Who Haven’t Read the Update. The update has 17 success criteria for web accessibility that were added last year by the working group. These new criteria make it easier to produce and more accessible for people using mobile devices and touchscreens, people with low vision, and people with cognitive and learning disabilities. Making sure your website can be used in portrait and landscape orientation, colour contrast, graphics and the value of autocomplete are some of the features discussed. Live captioning and sign language are also included. There are lots of links to other documents for reference. There is also a book list. This article might be non-geek for Alan Dalton, but even with some techo language you can get the gist of what is being updated even if you are not a web designer or technician. As we advance in the digital age this sort of information will be important for everyone who needs to communicate using digital technologies.
Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has a guide for web accessibility techniques. It is split into three parts for: Developers; Designers; and Content providers and editors. One good tip for inserting links in text is not to use “click here”, “more”, “full information” etc. They advise that each link should clearly indicate its destination or function out of the context of the text surrounding it. The information focuses on practical advice and direction for anyone involved in web development, design and writing content. Topics covered include developing accessible data tables, using colour wisely, and writing well structured content.
The advertising industry has some the most creative minds. They have the job of finding the right message at the right time to the right people. But what about people that can’t see that message? People who a blind, have low vision, or colour blindness could be among them. According to the Centre for Inclusive Design blog, there are some 357,000 people who are blind or have low vision in Australia. And it’s not just about advertisements. Simple design flaws can be found almost every day; things like using white text on an orange or light blue background, or grey on light grey designs. The blog site has some easy tips to follow. Axess Lab also has more on colour vision deficiency.
It’s all very well having web designers familiar with the accessibility requirements in their designs, but what about the people who post content on the website? In many organisations staff write their own material and send it to the webmaster for uploading. But is their writing and format also accessible? It is easy to post a document that might have been originally meant for another reader, such as a submission to a government body, but perhaps an Easy English version should be considered for the ease of access for all readers?
The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has some easy tips to followfor those who write content or upload documents.