Importance of accessible software

Rows of computer code are laid over the face of a woman. representing accessible software.Few would argue the moral imperatives for web accessibility but actually doing it is another matter. And it’s not just about the warm fuzzies of inclusion – it’s good for business. Quintin Balsdon and Brian Best explain why software developers still don’t ‘get’ accessibility. They even go so far as to say some software developers aren’t even sure what it means. This means you can’t assume your new website will be accessible even if the developer says “it will meet access standards”. 

According to Best, some businesses think near enough is good enough. They don’t realise the scale of the issues because they think it affects a really small number of people. 

Apart from the moral benefits, accessible software creates a superior user experience for everyone. That’s a big business advantage when 80% of people just don’t come back to a difficult website or app. 

Practical tips for accessibility

Balsdon and Best make three points.

Shift your mindset: Acknowledge accessibility is not niche and that it’s an opportunity for innovation.

Process change: Educate your teams about the importance and look at your testing procedures. Code review is not enough – include user experience.

Ask the experts: For example, Open Inclusion’s website has a framework and a network of testers with different access needs. 

Every software team should have a network of people ready to discuss designs from the start and test as the software develops. 

And another thing…

Non-tech people are happy to engage a web designer to take care of their website. But how do you design a scope of works to get a good job if you don’t know what to ask for?  How do you know if the designer really knows about accessibility? 

The designer needs to demonstrate understanding of visual, auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical and speech needs of users. If they have a network of people with different access needs and actually practice user experience design (UX), so much the better. 

The title of the online article is, Accessible software solutions: Discover why inclusive software is so important for your people and your business

 

Making Accessible PowerPoint Slides

People are gradually getting the hang of putting alt text for their images in Powerpoint slides, but there is more to do. Sheri Byrne-Haber provides advice on making accessible PowerPoint slides by using the inbuilt accessibility checker. Some of her advice is reproduced below the screenshot of the accessibility checker. 

The screenshot below shows an example of the Accessibility checker tab in PPT

Screenshot of PPT slide showing accessibility tab for making accessible powerpoint slides.
Alt text is really important if the slide deck is being shared either in PowerPoint or saved as a PDF. It allows screen readers to access the picture descriptions. PowerPoint has a handy accessibility checker within the Review tab. It picks up any images without descriptions and a few other things.

Some presenters use only picture slides and in this case it’s essential to provide alt text descriptions. Providing the text of the speech in the notes section increases accessibility. The notes section is also the best place to put long descriptions rather than in alt-text. 

Use the master template for repeated images such as company logos. This hides the information from the screen reader so it doesn’t have to swipe through every time.  Graphics marked as decorative in the alt text box will allow screen readers will ignore them. 

Captioning is essential for videos, but people need to have choice in whether to use it or not. Not all videos need described audio, but first running the video with eyes closed will give an indication. Byrne-Haber’s article has many other useful tips. 

Model for ICT Procurement

Two open laptops facing each other with stylised bodies coming out of the screens to shake hands. Model policy ICT procurement. Accessibility and inclusion begins with procurement for any project. Often a scope of works is done by a non-expert to get the expert.  But if the scope isn’t targeted correctly, the consultants are committed to sticking to the scope in the contract. So, the consultants are “doing the thing right” but not necessarily “doing the right thing” for the intended outcome. Consequently, staff involved in procurement activities need to understand access and inclusion basics. That means co-designing of the scope of works to include accessibility requirements. 

The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance  has a webinar and a model policy on their website about ICT Accessibility procurement. It states:

“Procurement policies are a critical lever in increasing accessibility. They set out the expectation, standards and criteria for how goods and services will be purchased, and through this the city can ensure the acquisition of universal designed products and services to safeguard the equitable development and participation of all.”

A procurement policy or code of conduct can: 

      • clearly document and ensure compliance with national legislation on accessibility and procurement, or
      • define a clear approach for ensuring inclusive and accessible services that demonstrates alignment with globally recognized standards, even if national legislation does not exist.

While the focus of the advice is on ICT procurement, the principles are applicable to other types of procurement. 

Model Policy

The model policy set out on this website looks very wordy and not an easy read. It’s aimed at city planners and policy makers in the context of smart cities. However, it does set out processes for tendering and contract management. It also includes a section on training, awareness and capacity building for all stakeholders. 

The model policy is worded in policy-speak so that cities and local government can copy and paste sections. The website has various Standards in an annexe and includes Definitions and policy references. 

The references include the UK Government policy and guide on accessible technology, and another from Chicago. Also included is the G3ict discussion guide for accessibility in public sector procurement. 

The model policy is available in English, Spanish and Japanese. A five minute video with James Thurston explains.

Karen Tamley, “The adoption of a policy like this is going really help your city to make sure that accessibility is part of your DNA”.

Readability and colour choices

Colour contrasts can be deceiving because we are subject to optical illusions. The video below shows how two different shades of grey are actually the same. That’s why you can’t rely on judging contrast by eye. Fortunately there are colour checkers to help with colour choices especially for websites. And why do you need colour contrast checkers? Because more than 8% of the population has colour vision deficiency (colour blindness). 

A semi-trailer is stuck under a bridge with the warning "low bridge" in upper case. Colour choice is one factor in readability. Others include using sentence case. Using upper case or capitals does not convey important messages more urgently. The image shows that using upper case to indicate a low bridge did not stop a truck driver from driving under it. Upper case is harder to read because the shape of the words are unfamiliar. 

The most accessible websites are those that have an Easy Read option.  A good example is the My Allied Health Space. At the top of the home page is the symbol for Easy Read and this is where you click to turn it on

Screenshot of Allied Health Space standard format.
My Allied Health Space home page with option for Easy Read at the top of the page
Screenshot my allied health space in easy read format.
My Allied Health Space with Easy Read option turned on

Thanks to Dr Em Bould, Senior Research Fellow at Monash University for the inspiration for this post. Dr Bould has great advice on this topic based on their research. 

The art of typography for digital access

logo for Vision Australia Digital Access webinars. Every time you write something you have an opportunity to consider typography for digital access. What is it? It’s the technique of choosing and arranging type to make written language understandable and readable. The problem is, some typefaces make it difficult to distinguish separate letters. For example, 5AM can look like SAM, clear looks like dear, and turn looks like tum. Fortunately, Vision Australia has some practical help.

Writing for an app, a website, an email, or a presentation requires thought about the most readable typeface or font. And we have to consider things like payment terminals, keypads and logos. Several people might be involved in making and designing typography. For example, human resource teams and brand and marketing teams.

Vision Australia has a one hour digital access webinar divided into handy chapters so you don’t have to consume it all at once. The chapters are:

      1. Introduction to typography
      2. An inclusive lens on typography
      3. What to look for
      4. 8 accessible typeface tips
      5. Which font should I use?
      6. Typographic layout and styling
      7. Design with people with disability

8 Typeface Tips

      1. Choose fonts that have more space for lower case letters so that the main body of a lowercase letter has more room. 
      2. Choose typefaces that are more open – for example a bigger gap between the end curves of a ‘c’. 
      3. Fonts with larger white spaces between letters are really helpful.
      4. Typefaces with joined letters to look like script are confusing and difficult for screen readers.
      5. Some typefaces have letters and numbers that look the same such as upper case “i” and the number “1” and lower case “l”.
      6. Look at the horizontal spaces between all letters in a word of body of text. They can be too close or too spaced. 
      7. Limit using ALL CAPS text. This is due to the shape of the letters and the way we recognise text. Sentence case gives the word it’s shape.
      8. Avoid images of text because when you zoom in they get pixilated and fuzzy. Photos of text can’t be read by screen readers either.

One amusing point about screen readers trying to decipher the acronym FAQ’s: if the apostrophe is left out it reads “farq yous”. However, it emphasises the point of testing with screen readers.

Vision Australia’s advice is there is no one right font. You have to consider context, tone, audience and the content. And of course, the advice in the following chapter in the webinar.

Vision Australia graphic depicting two people looking at a computer screen that reads what's coming in WCAG 2.2?

 

An excellent webinar – one of a series that includes mobile app accessibility, online access policies, and more. 

 

Accessible websites need accessible content

Close up view of a web page where content can be added. Accessible websites need accessible content. We rely on trained professionals to develop websites and social media – they are the experts. But small business owners create their own websites using platforms such as WordPress. So, as our lives transition to digital formats it’s important to know some digital accessibility basics. Creating accessible websites is the first step. But accessible websites need accessible content too. If your Word or PDF documents end up on a website, will they be accessible?  

The ICT Quicksheets are designed for developers, but some of these are useful for anyone creating digital content. Gregg Vanderheiden from the Trace R&D Center has also developed an Accessibility Masterlist which has more detail on accessible digital design. The Masterlist acts as both information and a checklist for developers and others.

The Masterlist is helpful for anyone engaging a web designer because it shows what needs to be considered.  Most web designers know about web accessibility and say they will meet the standards. However, standards are a minimum and tend to get tacked on at the end. Not the best solution – better to be integrated to avoid digital clunkiness. 

Some Quicksheets

Here are some of the 33 Trace R&D Center Quicksheets that summarise information:

Making online spaces accessible

A laptop screen is open showing participants in an online meeting. Making online meetings accessible.Citizen action has never been more important and much of this is done online and through social media. This is due to the ease of technology, a pandemic and plain economics. Consequently, it’s important to make online spaces accessible for everyone. 

On The Commons Social Change website, Manisha Amin provides some advice form making online spaces accessible. Here are some facts about the Australian population:

      • 18% living with disability
      • 70% of disabilities are invisible
      • 20% have a long term health condition
      • 28% live in regional and remote areas
      • 48% born overseas or have parent born overseas
      • 8% men are colour blind

These figures don’t include people who have a temporary loss of capability, such as a broken leg. 

An inclusive social environment, online or face to face, is created through respect and listening. Being accountable for your own emotions and accepting all experiences are valid are important too.

Online meetings have benefits and drawbacks and not everyone needs the same features. For example, having video on helps people to lip read and see facial expressions. But some people with neurodiverse conditions find video distracting. 

Live captioning is better than auto-generated captioning and provides a transcript later. Captioning is also good for people with limited English language skills or find different accents difficult to understand. 

The article is titled, Digital Accessibility: Making Online Spaces Accessible. There’s more information about preparing for meetings and good advice about learning to be inclusive. Don’t worry about not getting it right first time – it’s a learning journey for everyone.

In addition, meeting facilitators need to be aware of the power dynamics in the room. Who holds the pen? Who has the loudest voice or the most influence?  

Sheri Byrne Haber has also written about Zoom for people with vision loss.

Economics of universal design in ICT

Part of a computer screen showing code. Economics of universal design in ICT.It is often thought that economic arguments will win the day if social justice arguments are ignored. This may be partially true if these arguments are allowed to be heard. “On Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Universal Design of ICT”, is another attempt to show that universal design has cost benefits, particularly if you take the longer view. This research paper on the economics of universal design in ICT is from Norway.

Abstract: In the ICT and IT domains, universal design is typically viewed as a burden and an expense, and its application is often justified only by ethics and/or legislation. Advocates for universal design are arguing that it is cost-effective, but so far there are few studies that document this in a detailed way. In this work, we discuss related research and studies dealing with the costs and benefits of accessible and usable ICT solutions.

In particular, we discuss the findings regarding what is a universally designed solution, what is needed to make such a solution, how much does it cost, what impact can be anticipated by the extra effort, and how it can be measured.

Finally, we suggest an approach for carrying out cost-benefit analyses of developing universally designed solutions. There is a weak indication that the economical benefits of UD solutions are much higher than the initial and running costs.

I think it is problematic to talk “cost-benefit” because politically it seems it has to benefit those who are not excluded. “Cost effectiveness” is a somewhat different measure with a focus on outcomes rather than outputs. Schraner et al have developed a different model using assistive technology as a case study.  Jane Bringolf, Editor.

Using AI to remove accessibility barriers

a graphic representing Artificial Intelligence. Using AI to remove accessibility barriersThe latest CanAxess newsletter features a visual podcast on AI for Accessibility. The team from Global AI discuss how using AI to remove accessibility barriers can help people with cognitive impairments understand content better.

There’s a second video on Inclusive Design 24. This one is about using screen readers to evaluate a website. There is also a link to a repository of downloadable screen readers testing resources.

Other articles include automating accessibility testing and a list of useful links about usability. Jonathan Kaufman writes in Forbes magazine about how accessibility is a wake up call for the progress of business evolution. He writes: 

“Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella said, “… top of mind for me… is how we must make Microsoft products accessible to the more than 1 billion people globally of all abilities… Universal design is central to how we realize our mission and will make all our products better.” 

Discover more about accessibility in the ICT and Universal Design section of this website. 

Posters for digital design

Graphic of a male sitting behind a computer screen with the words web design on the wall behind him.Web designers provide the framework for content. Then it’s up to others to provide the content. Pictures, videos, text, colour, readability are important for accessibility once the site is built. 

The UK Government has a series of six digital design posters for designers. The aim is to raise awareness of people with different digital access needs. To keep things simple, the posters are divided into Do and Don’t. The content of each poster is listed on the webpage titled, The Dos and Don’ts on designing for accessibility.  Also available in 17 languages.

One of the six Do's and Don'ts Posters, mobility, showing a short list of do's and don'ts of accessibility.
Do’s and Don’ts Poster

The posters help designers make online services accessible. They cover low vision, deaf and hard of hearing, dyslexia, motor disabilities, people with autism and users of screen readers.

The posters are simple and this is what makes them effective. Basically they act as visual prompts to designers rather than offering technical know-how. 

Poster for people with autism

Poster for people who use screen readers

Poster for people with low vision

Poster for people with dyslexia 

Poster for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing

Poster for people with physical or motor disabilities.

Posters by Barclays Bank 

A screenshot of the inclusive digital design poster showing the principles of inclusive design
Digital design poster

Barclays Bank has developed a set of inclusive digital design posters. They are based on seven design principles. These principles can be applied to other design fields as well as digital platforms. You can download the A3 poster which gives a quick overview. Or download a more detailed  set of A4 posters.

The posters are a good quick reference for web and app design professionals. The seven principles below are explained in more detail:

      1. Provide comparable experience
      2. Consider situation
      3. Provide comparable experience
      4. Be consistent
      5. Give control
      6. Offer choice 
      7. Prioritise content
      8. Add value

 Artificial Intelligence and inclusion

front cover with black upper case title, amplify accessibility with a purple V shape on its side and a young woman in sports gear running Technology will determine the inclusiveness of our digital society. These developments have the potential to bring many more people with disability into the workforce – provided accessibility and inclusive practice are considered today. Accenture.com has posted a report, Amplify You, on the state of play for digital inclusion. 

The way businesses design and develop new technology will determine the inclusiveness of our digital society. Technology has the potential to bring people with disability into the workforce. 

The 24 page PDF report covers understanding the digital divide, design for humans, AI is the new UI, and more. I the last section, What to Do Now, it has bullet points under headings of: Understand the implications of accessibility, Design accessibility into your business, Build an ecosystem of accessibility – and continuously think about what is next.  

Writing alt-text and choosing colours

A laptop computer on a desk showing several pictures. How to write meaningful alt text and choose colours.When you are in a rush it’s easy to leave out the description of the image in the alt-text box – but should you?. Alt-text is a description of an image that’s shown to people, who for some reason, can’t see the image. Among other things, alt-texts help:

    • people with little or no vision
    • people who turn off images to save data
    • search engines find your website and posts

People with little or no vision probably benefit most from alt-texts. They use a screen reader to navigate the web.  If you don’t include alt-text you run the risk of a screen reader trying to convey something like “publicity_pre_launch.jpg, or “cropped_img32_900px.png”. Find out more from Axess Lab on how to convey context and meaning without writing an essay! Once you get into the habit, it doesn’t take long to do.

Choosing colours for websites

Colour diagram showing the three different types of colour vision deficiencyColour vision deficiency or colour blindness affects around 10 per cent of the population. But each person varies in what colours they can see, which is why it is not “colour blindness”.  So what colours are best if you want all readers to enjoy colours on your website?

Colour choice is not just a matter of making it look good – it can affect the readability of text and graphics as well.

A small qualitative study looked at two websites to assess their readability and usability by people who have colour vision deficiency. The researcher analysed body text, background and links and found they affected usability of the websites. The results should be read in conjunction with the methodology otherwise it won’t make sense. The conclusion section does not provide the specific outcomes.

The title of the article is, The effects of color choice in web design on the usability for individuals with color-blindness.  This is a Masters theses.

Colour kindness for colour blindness

A group of people standing holding a pink banner with the words You are Not Alone, but you can't see the word NOT because it is in pale red and blends into the background colourIt’s one thing to talk about colour blindness, but it is quite another to see what it looks like to the 6-10 per cent of the population that have colour vision deficiency. Axess Lab has produced an excellent set of successes and failures using real life examples of colours used by web designers.

These examples provide really good guidance for anyone involved in web content and design, as well as printed material. The blog page has links to more information. There is a nice pic of what a football field looks like to someone who can’t see red and green – so it’s not all about the web – it’s all around us as the picture shows. If you want to see more on this topic see ColourBlindAwareness Twitter feed. 

The banner in the picture shown should read ‘You Are Not Alone’, instead it looks like, ‘You Are Alone’.

 

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