Equal access to information

People who can’t use the internet or complex digital tools are being left behind. This issue is often mentioned in our increasingly digital world, but is anyone taking notice? Everyone has the right to equal access to information and resources. However, this means providing information in different formats. 

According to Cathy Basterfield, we are talking about nearly two thirds of all Australian adults. Information needs to be provided in different formats to suit the different skill levels.

Graphic of a man with glasses and a beard. He is leaning on the desk with his head in his had and looking very unhappy. His laptop is open on the desk.It means designing for users who can’t: 

  • navigate two-factor authentication
  • understand how to use a one-time access code
  • read a letter or an email


And it also means making websites that work for all users – that is, those who can use it. More than 95% of high ranked websites don’t meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – the global standard for people with disability. And that’s just their home page. 

A website is not accessible if a user has to click through six levels to find the information they need. Or if they have to navigate an intricate system, and deal with things that flash, blink or scroll. Add to that the people with low literacy skills and the number of excluded people really starts to add up. 

See the article in Medium titled, Global Accessibility Awareness day. for more information on this topic.

Social media meme. Text across top. Think online means everyone? 1 in 4 Aussies are not connected. Text across bottom. Access Easy English www.readEE.com.au. Image in middle 3 people standing together with wifi symbol over their heads. 4th man in shadow working away with empty wifi image. Equal access to information?



Colour checker for images

Colour is used in may ways to communicate information. This is where a colour checker for images comes in handy. Maps and bar charts are everyday examples of using colour to differentiate one feature from another. Advertisements, and web pages use colour to attract the eye and convey messages. But what if some people can’t distinguish colour in the same way as the chart or web designer?

Colour vision deficiency (CVD), commonly called colour blindness, occurs in approximately 8% of the population.

Colour diagram showing the three different types of colour vision deficiency. Colour checkers for images.

Colour checkers and contrast checkers are not new with various apps available, mostly for websites. From the University of Glasgow comes Colour Quest designed for conveying statistical information in various chart forms. It’s a free application that tests histograms, bar charts, line charts, scatter charts, and box plots. However, it will test any jpg or png image.

Colour Quest shows how a chart or image looks for people with either one of two types of CVD: red-green vision deficiency (Protanomaly), and blue-yellow deficiency (Deuteranomaly). It’s rare to have both where colour becomes various shades of grey.

Screenshot of the heatmap mode of the colour checker.

Screenshot of the Colour Quest colour checker application showing the differences between red-green CVD and blue-yellow CVD

The Colour Quest application is easy to use and to explore the best colours to use from the standard palette. You can try any png or jpg image and experiment with colours chosen from the left hand bar to see how it works.

The National Eye Institute has more information about colour vision deficiency. See also previous posts on readability and CVD, and older adults and colour.

The title of the research paper is, Color Quest: An interactive tool for exploring color palettes and enhancing accessibility in data visualization.

From the abstract

The significance of color palette selection goes beyond aesthetics and scientific communication, encompassing accessibility for all, especially individuals with color vision deficiencies.

To address this challenge, we introduce “Color Quest,” an intuitive Shiny app that empowers users to explore color palettes for data visualization while considering inclusivity. The app allows users to visualize palettes across various types of plots and maps to see how they appear to individuals with color blindness.

Colour Quest enables users to visualize palettes on their own custom-uploaded images. It was developed using open-source standards. Color Quest aligns with accessibility discussions, and is a practical tool and platform for raising awareness about inclusive design.

Being open-source fosters transparency, community collaboration, and long-term sustainability. Color Quest’s practicality renders it indispensable for scientific domains, simplifying palette selection and promoting accessibility. Its impact extends beyond academia to diverse communication settings, harmonizing information dissemination, aesthetics and accessibility for more impactful scientific communication.

Subtitles for slide shows

What if you could turn your slide notes into automatic subtitles during your presentation? That would be good for everyone. The advantage is that you can write out the presentation and then deliver it perfectly without having to use lots of text on your slides. As you give your talk you click through the subtitles (captions) in the same way as you click through your slides. Best part, this subtitles for slide shows tool is free from the Cambridge Inclusive Design Team.

The audience gets a better experience with the actual words, because there’s no reliance on speech recognition and no time delays.

Screenshot of the Cambridge PowerPoint slide ribbon showing the subtitles for slide shows option.

Presenting from pre-made subtitles is great for presenters who are prone to lots of ‘ums’ and ‘ers’. It’s also good for speakers who:

  1. Have to give a presentation in a language other than their native language
  2. Have a quiet voice, or substantial accent
  3. Need to customise the length of a presentation to an exact time slot
  4. Want to make a video of their presentation
  5. Have to deliver a presentation that was written by someone else
A young woman sits in an audience and is applauding the speaker.

How do the subtitles work?

The Cambridge Subtitles for PowerPoint tool splits the text in your slide notes into short subtitles and adds these to the slide as animated text boxes. The tool adds a new toolbar to your ribbon which adds subtitles to your slides from the slide notes. The tool is offered free until the end of 2024 and available separately for Windows and Mac. You can download from the links on their webpage.

This tool is now part of the Cambridge Inclusive Design Toolkit.

Creating an accessible online presence

Online shopping is here to stay and increasing rapidly. There’s lots of information about making a shopping site accessible. But people shop for more than goods – they shop for information too. So some of the ideas for shopping translate to information and service sites too. Here are some basic tips on creating an accessible online presence.

Anyone in charge of creating or maintaining a website should understand the basics of accessible design. It’s not just a tech person’s job.

A smartphone with graphics depicting a design problem being fixed.

A short article in SmartCompany magazine takes a business view of an inclusive shopping experience and lists seven things companies should do. Some of these points are well-known to many web designers and developers. When a website is difficult to navigate, people leave, they click away from the site as the video below shows.

Accessible online presence: key points

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)Regularly update your website to comply with WCAG standards. This includes text-background contrast, enabling keyboard navigation, and providing alternative text for images.

Responsive design: Ensure your website automatically adjusts to various screen sizes and resolutions to suit all devices, including smartphones, tablets and different computer screen sizes. 

Site navigation: Organising your site with a clear structure, clear headings and logical sitemap will improve navigability. Utilise Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) landmarks to help screen reader users navigate your site more effectively. Clear and consistent navigation aids users, especially those with cognitive differences, to understand their location within your site.

Enable customisation and ensure content accessibility: Include options for users to customise visual elements, like font sizes and colours, and consider integrating text-to-speech functionality for people with vision impairments. If you have audio and video content, provide captions and transcripts to aid users with hearing impairments. Avoid content that could affect users with photosensitive epilepsy and clearly label any content that could pose a risk.

Optimise customer service channels: Some users have difficulty communicating via traditional channels such as phone or text. Offer email, phone, video calls with sign language support and real-time chat, to accommodate diverse communication needs.

Checkout processes: Simplify the checkout process with clear instructions and error messages to minimise confusion and to enhance the user experience.

Test with users and commit to ongoing improvement: Conduct site testing with a diverse group of users, including people with various disabilities. View accessibility as a continuous effort. Regularly audit and update your site to keep pace with changing technology and standards.

The title of the article is, How to create an inclusive online shopping experience.

Other resources

This website has a section on ICT guidelines for practice. Here are just three items for quick reference.

Microsoft’s inclusive design toolkit.

Google spells out accessible, inclusive and usable.

Which font to use? All of them?

The Engineering Design Centre at the University of Cambridge has done a lot of work on product images and labelling. They claim that their design guidelines help increase sales by 29%.

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.

DIY – IT Accessibility

Part of the handout with the six steps.

University of Maryland has a neat one page with the six essential steps for accessible online content. None of it is rocket science or geeky. This ready reference just has reminders to be a bit more thoughtful about how you go about it.

The aim of the six steps is to give everyone equal access to information and services. It’s simple things such as colour contrast, alt-text for pictures, and appropriately placed links to other pages – not “click here”, for example. It’s a handy reference to print out and pin up at your desk. Good for designing online-learning and adding content to an organisation’s website.

There is more on the University IT Division website on the six steps.  

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: bit.ly/LGBTInclusive_UAGuide. 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’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.

Accessibility Toolbar