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: 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.

Good colour contrast for websites

How did you choose the colours for your last website update? Did you choose colours based on your brand logo and text or did you use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) algorithm? But can the WCAG algorithm guarantee good legible colour contrasts for websites? Research by The University of Cambridge says it doesn’t. So they have developed an alternative algorithm for good colour contrast for websites. 

Five different coloured ovals with both black and white text for comparison. Human perception is better for good colour contrast for websites.
Examples of black and white text for comparison

Since January 2022, the Accessible Perceptual Contrast Algorithm proposes that legibility of text on websites is better with perceived difference than a mathematical contrast ratio. White text on strong coloured backgrounds are preferred over black text in almost all cases in the study. 

In the examples above, the black text passes the WCAG contrast ratio but fails the white text. The Accessible Perceptual Contrast Algorithm passes the white text and fails the black text. 

Sam Waller explains this more fully in his article, Does the contrast ratio actually predict the legibility of website text? 

As a result of this work, an early working draft of WCAG 3 proposes using the new method for calculating contrast. 

This is important information for choosing brand logos and text so it isn’t just something web designers should know. Many website designs are guided by brand colours so choose carefully. This information is also important for product labelling especially for online shopping. 

 

Do web accessibility overlays work?

Accessibility Overlays - What are they & why are they so bad? - YouTube
First screen of the YouTube video

This site has a web accessibility overlay or add-in widget. It’s the circle icon next to our logo on the website. If you click on it, it has a dropdown accessibility toolbar. That’s because the platform, WordPress, isn’t inherently accessible. So like the tacked on ramp to a building, it is an afterthought. But really, it advertises that the website platform isn’t really accessible and there are good reasons why. 

Website add-ons for accessibility go back to the 1990s with products like Browsealoud and Readspeaker. They added text to speech capabilities on the website. More products arrived in the market with similar aims. To the layperson these features seem beneficial, but their practical value is overstated. That’s because the people who need these features will already have the software on their devices to access the web and other software. The Overlay Fact Sheet by Karl Groves explains more: 

Overlay Fact Sheet logo - black background and an orange circule.
From the overlay fact sheet

“It is a mistake to believe that the features provided by the overlay widget will be of much use by end users because if those features were necessary to use the website, they’d be needed for all websites that the user interacts with. Instead, the widget is —at best—redundant functionality with what the user already has.”

Do overlays meet compliance?

While an overlay might improve compliance in some respects, full compliance cannot be achieved using this method. That’s because the products are unable to “repair” all possible issues. In some cases, the overlay can conflict with the users software and cause problems. And ironically, some overlays are inaccessible. So that means it’s back to the programmer and designer to get it right. 

The video below gives examples of overlays and graphically shows how they don’t work. You only need to look at the first three minutes to get the idea. 

We all have a responsibility to make our digital information accessible. Beware any web developer who says they’ve solved the accessibility problem with an overlay or widget. Indeed, you are showing your inaccessibility by having an “accessibility” overlay and icon on your site. 

Web designers might think the international web standards are sufficient. But they are not – just like the standards for access and mobility in the public domain are not enough. 

By the way, CUDA uses the WordPress platform’s free version and continues to do so because we do not receive financial support for the website and want to keep it open access. As with everything universal design – it is a work in progress. “Do the best you can with what you have at the time and strive to improve next time.” 

 

Inclusive online conference planning

Graphic showing a laptop computer screen with coloured squares each with a face of a person. Inclusive online conference planning.Virtual and hybrid conferences have become more popular since the advent of the recent pandemic. But are they accessible and inclusive? A paper from Canada addresses the issues of inclusive online conferences. Using the recent Parks Accessibility Conference as a case study, the authors describe their experiences. As a Canadian event, they also had to consider two languages in their planning. 

Some people with disability or impairment find online events less stressful than attending in person. They can avoid travel stresses and the regular access barriers. Others who find crowds and noise difficult, tuning in from home is a more comfortable. Consequently, conference planners need to take care to plan for easy access and inclusion.

And it should be for every conference, not just conferences with a disability component.  However, this is a good place to begin and to learn from first hand experiences. The Parks Accessibility Conference is one such example.

Key strategies

The authors provide a list of their key strategies: 

    • Make visual elements accessible to attendees with vision impairment
    • Make audio elements accessible to attendees who are Deaf or hard of hearing
    • Avoid overstimulation for individual who are neurodiverse or with a cognitive condition
    • Create ways to incorporate multi-sensory experiences remotely
    • Finding the right virtual conference platform.

The planners worked with presenters to help format and organise their presentations and materials. They hosted a pre-conference session with attendees to explain how to use the various features of the online platform so they knew what to expect. 

The paper reads like a story, explaining every step along the way so that others might learn from their experience. There are eight recommendations for future conferences based on what they learned. Top of the list is to include people with disability from the beginning.

The title of the paper is, Virtual Accessible Bilingual Conference Planning: The Parks Accessibility Conference.

From the Abstract

The objective of this paper is to share how our team planned and delivered a virtual conference that was fully bilingual and accessible to individuals with disabilities.

We incorporated closed captions, sign language interpretation, language interpretation (audio), regularly scheduled breaks, and a multi-sensory experience.

We describe our approaches to planning the conference, such as including individuals with disabilities in decision-making, selecting virtual conference platforms, captioners, and interpreters, and how we incorporated a multi-sensory experience.

The paper also summarizes feedback we received from our attendees using a post-conference evaluation survey and our team’s reflections on positive aspects of the conference and opportunities for improvement. We conclude by providing a set of practical recommendations that we feel may be helpful to others planning virtual accessible bilingual conferences in the future.

People with complex communication needs

A hand holds a globe with several communication icons on it. It's against a sky blue background. See a separate paper, Supporting Communication Accessibility and Inclusion in Online Meetings for Persons with Complex Communication Access Needs. This is a Masters thesis on running online sessions for people with complex communication needs. 

From the abstract

This community-based, participatory research study explores how online sessions can be designed to support complex communication access needs. The use of a community-led co-design approach resulted in a deeper understanding of the individual communication accessibility requirements, barriers, and lived experiences of persons who use AAC, within the online meeting context.

Participants (‘co-designers’) designed and took part in collaborative design sessions aimed at developing ideas for supporting communication access and inclusion throughout the process of meeting online. Through cross-community collaboration, we co-designed an open-source communication access toolkit for online meetings.

The toolkit includes accessibility guidelines with a protocol for holding accessible and inclusive online sessions; suggested accessibility features and plugins for meeting platforms; and a template for a collaborative participant notebook.

The design outcomes provide guidance to the general population on how we might ensure that online meetings of all forms are inclusive and accessible for diverse and complex communicators, as we all have a right to communicate with dignity in ways where we understand and are understood.

Making questionnaires more readable

A young woman sits at a desk with her laptop open. She has her face covered by her hands and is indicating distress. Time to make questionnaires more readable.One area of inclusion and accessibility that often gets forgotten is readability of forms and questionnaires. Academics and marketing professionals regularly use surveys to get information from specific groups of people. Within those groups will be people with varying levels of capability in terms of being able to decipher what’s on the screen or form. And it isn’t all about literacy and reading ability. It’s about the different ways people see and interpret the information. Here are some good tips for making questionnaires more readable from Alex Haagaard in Medium

Likert Scales

Likert scales aren’t great for screen readers because they often interpret them as tables. But much depends on the design of the survey platform. Even if they are screen-readable, Likert scales can be difficult for people who are neurodiverse. People who are autistic or dyslexic struggle with visual tracking across and between rows. This creates the need to exert more brain power to focus on getting the corresponding check box. 

Instead of using a Likert scale, use a series multiple choice questions to capture the same information. Creating page breaks to separate distinct sections of the questionnaire also helps with readability for everyone.

Balancing access conflicts

A hand holding a pen poised on a questionnaire form ready to check a box on the form. There is lots of lines of text and check boxes. As is often the case, making something more accessible for one group can create problems for another. So it’s important to identify these early and eliminate or mitigate the barriers. 

One solution is to provide optional comment boxes where the participant can choose whether to reply in their own words. People who want to quickly complete the questionnaire can skip this.  

Haagaard takes things a step further with a suggestion to provide detailed explanations about terms and concepts at the beginning of each section. However, this is tiresome for screen readers and others might find this overwhelming. Participants can be asked at the beginning of the survey if they would like the key information repeated for each section. Those who say no can have the concise experience.

In summary, Haagaard acknowledges that it is unrealistic to assume that anything can be fully accessible to everyone. That means that there will still be occasions where an alternative means of participating is required. This might be an interview or an email. 

The title of the article is Making Your Surveys More Readable. This is the third in a series on cognitively accessible survey design. 

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