Social media: hashtags and images

Social media posts rely on hashtags and images so it’s important to present them in a way that everyone can access. Access Central has two useful posts about digital accessibility: one about using CamelCase and the other is image descriptions. Of course, making online social media content accessible makes it easier for everyone to use.

CamelCase hashtags

A hashtag is a way to reach more audiences on social media, and most people use all lower case letters in their identifier. When the hashtag is multiple words strung together, it makes it difficult to read and interpret. For example, #universaldesignaustralia”. If this is written in CamelCase, it becomes #UniversalDesignAustralia”.

CamelCase is named after the way its capital letters protrude like a camel’s humps.

Camel Case helps people with vision impairment and people with dyslexia.

A graphic of a hashtag symbol with the word hashtag next to it. The background is deep blue and the text is white.

Using Camel Case shows consideration for readers especially people who use screen readers, and people who are neurodiverse. It makes technology more accessible for everyone.

Image descriptions

Images are an important part of social media posts, so it’s important that everyone has the chance to benefit from them. That means, people who are blind or have low vision need a text description of images. This is referred to as alt-text, or alternative text. Screen readers access the alt-text descriptions and read them out to the user.

The description of the image will depend on the purpose and context of where an image appears. For example, a photo on a dating app has a different context and purpose than that same photo on a book cover.

Some social media platforms prompt you to apply a description of your image when you upload it, which is a useful reminder.

Applying alt-text

Using examples, AxessLab has a useful guide on writing meaningful descriptions. The key is to keep it relevant and concise. A sighted person will glance a photo and it is that glance that you should try to convey.

Screenshots of text are also images and therefore all the text should be repeated in the alt text description. Avoid beginning the alt-text with “image of…” or “photo of”. The screen reader will say “image image of…” And remember to put a full stop at the end so the screen reader knows to complete the sentence. It makes for a more pleasant reading experience.

Descriptions of images are also picked up by search engines, so it is worth taking an extra minute to write a description. The AxessLab guide to alt-text is full of good tips.

Using digital technology – skill or talent?

Digital technology is here to stay but not everyone has the talent for it. Gregg Vanderheiden says there is a difference between digital skill and digital talent. Skill is something you can learn, but talent, like a sporting or musical talent is inherent. So this might explain why some people find websites, smartphones and computers difficult to master.

Vanderheiden explains that low digital affinity is not the same as intelligence. Some very bright people have trouble using digital interfaces. This is like being tone deaf and being unable to sing in tune. Or unable to be athletic because of poor coordination.

Image: Professor Gregg Vanderheiden

Professor Gregg Vanderheiden is in a dark suit. He has a grey beard and is wearing glasses at the end of his nose. He is smiling.

Consequently, as the digital world expands into all sections of life, some people will face limitations to their independence in everyday activities. People who rely on digital assistive technologies such as screen readers, and read and write programs are likely to be further challenged by technology.

Making it easier to use computers

Computers and technology have transformed the lives of many people with disability. This is largely due to additional technologies loaded onto their computers and smartphones. However, unlike others, unless they take their computer everywhere with them, they cannot access computers in libraries and at school. That is, unless they have a computer dedicated to them which probably means others can’t use it. Vanderheiden has a solution.

Morphic is an extension to Windows and Mac operating systems to make it easier to use a computer. Morphic is open source software with a great add-on. What if the settings for your home computer were able to follow you around in the Cloud? And what if it gave you confidence you wouldn’t “break” the computer?

Assistive Technology on Demand” or AToD, is a companion service to Morphic. It allows users to have the assistive technologies they need on any computer at any place, any time. When you log out of the computer, your settings disappear and the computer goes back to the original settings.

Digital equity for AT users

For the first time

  • AT users can use any computer
  • People who don’t have a computer can be AT users
  • New employees can set up on their first day at work
  • If computer fails or is lost, a new one can be set up in no time
  • IT departments can save time – all computers can have AT when needed without needing to install anything
A young boy leans on the tabletop with his hands under his chin. He is smiling at the screen on a laptop computer.

With one click Morphic retrieves your assistive settings and when you leave the computer your settings completely disappear. That leaves the computer free for others to use in the library, university, or school. It is also good for people who struggle with technology because their device can be set up specifically for their requirements. This could be something as simple as creating one click to join the family Zoom meeting.

A one page review of Vanderheiden’s keynote from 2020 explains in more detail how it works. At the AAATE 2023 conference, Vanderheiden describes the roll-out to 7000 computers in major universities. AT users now have the ability to access computers in the same way as their peers. This gives them a new level of digital equity so they can better compete and succeed in all aspects of life, work and education.

Tech and older adults

The stereotype of grandchildren helping grandparents with their phone or remote controller is often perpetuated by older people themselves. Skill in using phones and websites depends on the motivations for using them. Younger people can have different interests from older adults meaning they use different apps and software. This doesn’t mean tech and older adults don’t belong together.

“Grandma cannot use her phone because it was not designed for her. Ubiquitous mass-market tools should not present obvious and avoidable hurdles to everyday users.” Robert Schumacher.

A smartphone with graphics depicting a design problem being fixed.

The stereotype is not based in evidence, and it might not be the tech that’s the barrier – poor vision or hand dexterity can also cause problems with using phones and computers.

It’s about mental models

According to Schumacher, the main difference between younger and older generations is when their mental models of how things work was formed. He explains how these mental models can widen any gap in understanding in how things work. Every generation has its own mental models of the world.

Schumacher’s article discusses more on this topic and how to remedy the situation. More testing with older adults is essential. Their mental models aren’t the same as the developer’s – what’s intuitive for a seasoned tech user is not intuitive for everyone. However, it doesn’t mean older people are averse to using technology or too “stuck in their ways” to learn.

The title of the article is, Gran Got Tech: Inclusivity and Older Adults, published in the Journal of User Experience.

Mental models and autonomous vehicles

The concept of designing tech from the perspective of mental models is a factor in a research project for autonomous vehicles. As concepts evolve, eventually the need to design in-vehicle interfaces will be minimal with presets for each rider. In the meantime, touchscreens and audio controls will still be needed. These need to be co-designed with users to develop prototypes.

The title of a research paper on this topic is Designing Interaction with Autonomous Vehicles for Older Passengers.

Update to the WCAG

For anyone in a role that takes in diversity, equity and inclusion it helps to know if your company or organisation’s website is meeting accessibility standards. The long-awaited update to the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) has finally arrived. But as with all standards they focus on minimum requirements.

Novices to web accessibility might like to have a look at WCAG for people who haven’t read them. Mobile devices and touchscreens are also covered.

Dark blue banner announcing WCAG 2.2.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released the WCAG 2.2 with updates for web designers and web developers. An article on the CANAXESS website gives a good overview. There are 7 new criteria for designers and 3 for developers. If you are responsible for finding a web developer or designer, it is useful to know if they are up to date with the latest even though it is not yet a requirement,

It’s important for designers and developers to start thinking about WCAG 2.2. Internal accessibility policy in organisations and governments tends to lag behind the WCAG version changes. Adopting the new 2.2 criterial will future proof digital content when policy changes catch up.

“Web accessibility (inclusive or universal design) is the degree to which a website is available to as many people as possible. Accessibility is most often used to describe how people with disabilities can access the web.” Laura Kalbag.

Graphic indicating web design.

CANAXESS lists the new criteria in their article and goes into some detail. There is increased support for cognitive impairments and conditions and alternative input interactions.

Websites need to be accessible from the ground up. Otherwise it defeats the object of creating accessible content in the form of documents, blog posts and videos.

CANAXESS offer a course to help designers and developers.

Wayfinding by pictures

The Nambour Aquatic Centre has a website that uses pictures to help people to find their way once they reach the facility. It’s done through a simple app on the computer. Wayfinding by pictures is not a new idea, but it is a universally designed idea. Google Map’s street view is obviously catering for a broad audience, so why not other organisations?

Cérge is a communications platform – a digital concierge. It helps organisations provide personalised service to customers with disability. That means it’s also good for everyone.

Aerial view of the Nambour Aquatic Centre - wayfinding by pictures.

Wayfinding by pictures is useful for everyone, but especially useful for people who like to know something about a place before they get there. It’s not just knowing what a place looks like, it is about feeling safe and in control.

The visual story

The visual story begins with the arrival at the aquatic centre with pictures of the car park and pathway to the building. Then there is a section on Sounds, Smells, Feeling, and Sights that you might experience. For example, hearing birds chirping, car smells, the weather, and shaded areas.

Next are pictures of the entry showing the arrival area and the kiosk and a view through to the swimming pool area. These are accompanied by the same four sensory aspects. More pictures show the pool and splash park, along with expected sights and sounds. Images of the indoor pool and the assistive equipment complete the visual tour.

While the content of the website is intended to help people with disability, the website design requires more thought. It requires left to right scrolling as well us up and down scrolling. And there is little information about whether the place is inclusive and accessible to all. Nevertheless, it is a useful example on how to add value to a website with wayfinding by pictures.

Inclusive user account playbook

Most people know that digital platforms, such as Facebook, collect personal data about their users. When setting up user accounts, platforms ask users to choose various preferences which are not necessarily inclusive. These options often misrepresent gender and sexual orientation of users, which disproportionately affects the LGBTIQ+ population. Three researchers tackled this issue and came up with an inclusive user account playbook.

Creating a user account is one thing, creating a profile is another. A user account has demographic information about the user’s preferences or interests. This can apply to user groups as well.

Two rainbow flags indicating the LGBTIQ+ community.

The User Account Playbook is structured as an online learning tool on “how to”. It begins with instructions on how to use the guide followed by an overview of the content. There are three key ideas underpinning the guide. Understand the social issues related to LGBTIQ+ and user accounts; design with these in mind; and implement inclusive practices across the organisation.

This Playbook will equip you with knowledge on creating Inclusive User Account Experiences for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning+ (LGBTQ+) Community .

Banner for the Playbook to be Proud of. Pale purple with white text.

The problems the playbook aims to solve are related to how data is collected and used, and not relying on LGBTIQ+ co-workers to “educate” them. It also aims to challenge industry norms and design with and LGBTIQ+ users. The video below does not have captions.

The playbook is the result of a study of digital platforms such as Facebook. The title is, A Playbook To Be Proud of: LGBTQ+ Inclusive User Account Design Guide.

From the abstract

Digital platforms utilize data collection processes to assess demographic data about their users through user account creation. These platforms require users to select preferences that provide options which oftentimes misrepresent gender and sexual orientation identities of users. This disproportionately affecting the LGBTQ+ population.

This research uses academic literature that focus on LGBTQ+ inclusivity, and surveys and interviews from LGBTQ+ technology users. The authors detail their thoughts on a Facebook user account case study.

Product team experiences about work flows surrounding inclusion informed the creation of the digital playbook that rests at the following link: Implications for this work lie in the possibility for impactful industry change within company cultures and individuals for the benefit of LGBTIQ+ users of technology.

Microsoft, Apple and Google: how inclusive are they?

Barriers to digital use are caused by a complex web of intersecting factors. Gender identity is just one of them. Age, education, socioeconomic status, race, physical and cognitive disadvantage all have a role to play. Focusing on one dimension of inclusion does not account for all the complexities. That’s the conclusion two researchers came to after looking at Microsoft, Apple, and Google websites.

The big software industry players have enthusiastically promoted their commitment to inclusive design. But how inclusive are they?

A Microsoft office building with the Microsoft logo displayed on the front.

A paper discussing aspects of their inclusive practice from a gender perspective reveals that it is only a partial response. That’s because gender intersects with many other identities such as age, capability, and ethnicity.

“Regardless of efforts to promote inclusivity mainly in terms of gender, the intersectionality of identities is frequently overlooked and ignored in design.”

A pair of hands wearing red nail polish is holding an iPad with a Google search screen visible.

Microsoft, Apple, Google and Meta

The paper covers the issues of intersectionality and imagery, which is followed by tech industry case studies. Here is a brief overview:

Microsoft’s manual does a great job in explaining why there is a need for inclusive design. However, it is focused on disability and the images maintain the male/female binary. It covers theoretical and practical aspects.

Apple’s site has a detailed description of what the company thinks about inclusive design. It goes further than Microsoft on accessibility an introduces language use and stereotypes. Apple does not provide designers with many practical tools on how to do universal design.

Google acknowledges the need for equity and inclusion in their products by giving voice to the most underrepresented groups throughout the production process. They have a list of diversity segments for designers to consider.

Meta has implemented several key strategies in its design process to create inclusive products. The company is evolving to recognise the importance of accessible and inclusive products for all users. Meta conducts user research on a regular basis to gather feedback for improvements.

Guidelines for gender inclusion

The research resulted in guidelines for designing gender-inclusive tools in technology. They are applicable to both academia and industry. They are also useful for anyone responsible for the look, feel and accessibility of their organisation’s website and digital products.

  • Consider intersectionality: avoid simplifying people to one-dimensional characters. People have complex identities, which go beyond belonging to one specific gender, race, or sexuality group.
  • Avoid propagating stereotypes: attaching typical looks, occupations, and traits to a person based on their gender, race, or sexuality, contributes to social stereotypes that aggravate misogyny, racism, and homophobia.
  • Overcome the gender-binary: avoid producing text and images that reinforce the gender binary and social stereotypes, regarding appearance, jobs, preferences, or skills.
  • Make your text, tone, and imagery consistent and inclusive: it is necessary to maintain efforts for inclusivity throughout your copy, visuals, communication, and products.
  • Show the diversity of each community: make a conscious effort to illustrate how multi-colored communities are, instead of simplifying them to stereotypes.
  • Involve people with that particular identity: diversity and inclusion should be taken seriously. There’s no better person than the one with that particular identity to tell you about their concerns and challenges.
  • Avoid concentrating on a single mode of communication: adapt your copy, images, and communication to different languages, cultures, and levels of complexity.
  • Provide training in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: help your business or organization by providing constant training and mentorship.

The title of the paper is, Gender Inclusive Design in Technology: Case Studies and Guidelines, from the ResearchGate website.

From the abstract

The need for inclusion stems from the fact that the composition of the IT sector reflects a workforce that is not diverse enough. This can result in blind spots in the design process, leading to exclusionary user experiences. The idea of inclusive design is becoming more prevalent. In fact, it is becoming a general expectation to create software that is useful for and used by more people.

With a focus on intersectionality, inclusive user experience (UX) seeks to actively and consciously integrate minority, vulnerable, and understudied user groups in the design.

UX that is based on inclusive design and aims to overcome social disadvantages in all of their intersectional complexities. These arise from gender, sexual orientation, age, education, dis/ability, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity, among others. At the same time, gender-inclusive design has challenges and limitations: the idea of gender inclusion in design is not yet a reality.

Our research investigates academic literature, as well as tech industry practices, like the websites of Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Meta. Our analysis shows that intersectionality suffers even when inclusivity is considered. We also offer guidelines for factors that might be explored for a more inclusive design.

Overcoming bias in AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is entering our everyday lives with increased speed and sometimes without our knowledge. But it is only as good as the data it is fed, and the worry about bias is a concern for marginalised groups. AI has the potential to enhance life for everyone, but that requires overcoming bias in AI development. In his article, Christopher Land argues for more advocacy and transparency in AI.

The power of machine learning comes from pattern recognition within vast quantities of data. Using statistics, AI reveals new patterns and associations that human developers might miss or lack the processing power to uncover.

A background of computer code with a female face overlaid. Overcoming AI bias.

Designing for the average is fraught with problems. Statistical averages do not translate to some kind of human average. That’s because statistics don’t measure human diversity. That’s why AI processes are at risk of leaving some people behind. But in gathering useful data there are some privacy issues.

AI shows great promise with robot assistants to assist people with disability and older people with everyday tasks. AI imaging and recognition tools help nonvisual users understand video and pictures.

Christopher Land outlines how AI and machine learning work and how bias is introduced into AI systems if not prevented. He also has some recommendations on strengthening legal protections for people with disability. The paper is not technical. Rather it explains clearly how it works, where it’s used, and what needs to be done.

The title of the article is, Disability Bias & New Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence. The “Black Box” issue is explained and the need for a “Glass Box” is presented.

From the abstract

Bias in artificial intelligence (AI) systems can cause discrimination against marginalized groups, including people with disabilities. This discrimination is most often unintentional and due to a lack of training and awareness of how to build inclusive systems.

This paper has two main objectives: 1) provide an overview of AI systems and machine learning, including disability bias, for accessibility professionals and related non-development roles; and 2) discuss methods for building accessible AI systems inclusively to mitigate bias.

Worldwide progress on establishing legal protection against AI bias is provided, with recommendations on strengthening laws to protect people with disabilities from discrimination by AI systems. When built accessibly, AI systems can promote fairness and enhance the lives of everyone, in unprecedented ways.

Diversity and inclusion in AI

An Australian book chapter takes a comprehensive and practical approach to how equity and inclusion should be considered throughout development. This should be done at both governance and development levels by applying inclusive design and human-centred design to the AI ‘ecosystem’.

The title of the chapter is Diversity and Inclusion in Artificial Intelligence.

Older people, ageism and digital design

Do stereotypes of older people affect how digital technology is designed? A team of researchers found that ageism has the potential to influence design in negative ways. However, co-design partnerships not only overcame the affect of ageism, it was also likely to produce technologies that are needed, wanted and used.

Ageism can have a detrimental role in how digital technologies are designed. Participating with older people in the design process has the additional benefit of countering stereotypes.

Image shows a group of older people on a desert camping expedition.

Photograph on a sand dune of 18 passengers and 4 drivers

Older people said the “ultimate partnership” in co-designing is to be involved from the beginning through to the end of the design process. Sharing control over design decisions was an important part of the process. They are more than informants – they are equals who have valuable contributions.

The researchers noted that although this vision of co-design is shared by designers, it is not always the case in practice.

Image shows older people working together on a workshop question.

Older people sit at round tables discussing questions. There are four round tables shown in this picture.

Older people in the study also said that ageism emerges in implicit and explicit language about ageing. And ageist images can influence the design process. Consequently, the researchers say it is important to view the diversity of older people.

It’s about co-design

How and when to involve older people in digital design is also important. Understanding co-design with older people has the potential for avoiding insufficient prototyping, biases and errors in the design process.

The title of the article is, An “ultimate partnership”: Older persons’ perspectives on age-stereotypes and intergenerational interaction in co-designing digital technologies.

From the abstract

There is a gap between the ideal of involving older persons throughout the design process of digital technology, and actual practice.

Twenty-one older people participated in three focus groups. Results showed ageism was experienced by participants in their daily lives and interactions with the designers during the design process. Negative images of ageing were pointed out as a potential influencing factor on design decisions. Nevertheless, positive experiences of inclusive design pointed out the importance of “partnership” in the design process.

Participants defined the “ultimate partnership” in co-designing as processes in which they were involved from the beginning, iteratively, in a participatory approach. Such processes were perceived as leading to successful design outcomes, which they would like to use, and reduced intergenerational tension.

Microsoft’s new inclusive design toolkit

Microsoft wants designers to see beyond physical and sensory disabilities. So they have updated their popular Inclusive Design Toolkit to include cognition – the brain. Cognition is about getting, storing and retrieving information. It’s also about focusing, learning, memorising and making decisions. So how to design for people who process thoughts in different ways?

Microsoft launched it’s first inclusive design toolkit in 2015, but it only focused on physical and sensory disabilities. The second edition takes a broader approach to address cognitive exclusion.

A black and white graphic of stick people in various states of being. Microsoft's Inclusive Design Toolkit

The new toolkit has three key principles for cognition, which can be applied in many other design contexts:

  • Understand the user’s motivation, and the goals and tasks they are trying to complete.
  • Discern the cognitive load required to reduce that mismatch.
  • Co-create the final product with a diverse community of people across the spectrum.
A man wearing a black t-shirt holds his hand to his forehead in an act of desperation.

The toolkit is not about specific industries or specific conditions. Rather it encourages designers to collaborate with users and find out first hand how they learn and think. The Inclusive Design 101 Guidebook has the basics. The Inclusive Design Cognitive Exclusion is a separate document.

The toolkit and guides are useful for anyone who wants to learn how to design inclusively – to take a universal design approach to design.

FastCompany has an article about the Inclusive Design Toolkit’s development. Christina Mallon, Microsoft’s head of inclusive design, discloses that she has ADHD. She couldn’t complete certain tasks and felt stupid. When she learned about inclusive design she realised that she was not stupid, just designed out of products. Now she just wants her job to be just a designer, not an inclusive designer. The title of the article is, Microsoft’s new Inclusive Design Toolkit is designed for the brain.

Computing students show age and gender bias

As we know, bias sits in all of us whether we realise it or not. Some biases we are aware of, such as liking certain people and things. But what about those biases we are not aware of that sit silently in the background of our thoughts and ideas? And how much do they impact on the things we say and do? Age and gender bias has an impact on how things are designed.

Older people are thought less likely to use desktops, laptops and smartphones, and to have less expertise with them. Women, both young and old, are thought to have some experience with devices, but less expertise than men.

A young woman wearing a black beanie sits in front her her laptop. Behind her are icons of cog wheels indicating technology. Age and gender bias in computer science.

A group of researchers in Austria wanted to find out the perceptions of computing science students about age and gender. That’s because they are going to be designing the digital technology in the future. In a nutshell, they found several biases.

Age and gender bias

Students (aged around 21 years) started to see people as old at the average age of 57 years – several years younger than their grandparents. Older people are thought to be less likely to have experience with all types of devices. While younger people are thought to want aesthetic designs, older people are thought to need error tolerant systems.

The bias between the genders was smaller than that of age. Women were seen as less likely to use a desktop than men and to have less expertise than men overall. This fits the continuing stereotype that computing for men is ordinary, and exceptional for women. Consequently, older women were seen as less capable in using computers and laptops.

The article has a lot of statistical analysis, but the key points are in the findings, discussion and conclusions. The information is useful for teachers, and the authors recommend designing with users as a way to overcome bias. And, of course, more women should be encouraged into the computing sciences.

The title of the study is, How Age and Gender Affect the Opinions of Computing Students Regarding Computer Usage and Design Needs.

From the abstract

This study aimed to understand the perceptions of young computing science students about women and older people about computer literacy and how this may affect the design of computer-based systems. Based on photos, participants were asked how likely the person would be to use desktop computers, laptops and smartphones. And also, how much expertise they thought they would have with each technology. We asked what design aspects would be important and whether they thought an adapted technology would be required.

The results draw on 200 questionnaires from students in the first year of their Information and Communications Technology (ICT) studies at an Austrian university of applied sciences. Quantitative methods were used to determine if perceptions varied significantly based on the age and gender of the people depicted.

Qualitative analysis was used to evaluate the design aspects mentioned. The results show that there are biases against both older people and women with respect to their perceived expertise with computers. This is also reflected in the design aspects thought to be important for the different cohorts. This is crucial as future systems will be designed by the participants. Their biases may influence whether future systems meet the needs and wishes of all groups or increase the digital divide.

Gender and Mobile Apps

An academic paper, A Study of Gender Discussions in Mobile Apps, provides some insights into gender bias in app development.

From the abstract

Mobile software apps are one of the digital technologies that our modern life heavily depends on. A key issue in the development of apps is how to design gender-inclusive apps. Apps that do not consider gender inclusion, diversity, and equality in their design can create barriers for their diverse users.

There have been some efforts to develop gender-inclusive apps, but a lack of understanding of user perspectives on gender may prevent app developers and owners from identifying issues related to gender and proposing solutions for improvement.

Users express many different opinions about apps in their reviews, from sharing their experiences, and reporting bugs, to requesting new features. In this study, we aim at unpacking gender discussions about apps from the user perspective by analysing app reviews.

We first develop and evaluate several Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) classifiers that automatically detect gender reviews. We apply our ML and DL classifiers on a manually constructed dataset of 1,440 app reviews from the Google App Store, composing 620 gender reviews and 820 non-gender reviews.

Our best classifier achieves an F1-score of 90.77%. Second, our qualitative analysis of a randomly selected 388 out of 620 gender reviews shows that gender discussions in app reviews revolve around six topics: App Features, Appearance, Content, Company Policy and Censorship, Advertisement, and Community. Finally, we provide some practical implications and recommendations for developing gender-inclusive apps.

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