Last summer, I came across an article titled, “How Cooking Websites Are Failing People with Disabilities”. The author, George Stern, describes himself as a deafblind man and is one of the founding members of Deafblind Citizens in Action. In this blog post he discusses ways in which cooking sites fail many visitors by being inaccessible. I think it captures well the real world implication of the challenges we create for internet users when we do not consider the multiple ways users may need to engage with our content for full usability.
As an educator who also happens to live with invisible disabilities, the concepts of access and ability are not new to me—though I now recognize that I have mainly considered these concepts only through the lens of moving and operating in the physical world. When I consider accessibility and accommodation, what generally comes to mind are things like access to elevators, the sizes of desks, ramps for chairs, and sensitive lighting for those with sensory processing disorder. Though I knew about the usefulness of tools like screen readers and assistive texts, I had not investigated further to learn how they were developed and standardized to create a digital environment inclusive of all people. Thankfully, as a graduate student in an Educational Media course I have been challenged to do just that.
My Biggest Takeaways
I’ve learned that there are accessibility standards and principles that can and should be followed to ensure that the internet is “a place of public accommodation” as defined by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I’ve also learned that while the web accessibility initiative’s list of standards and principals can seem overwhelming to someone just learning about these accommodations, there are easy places to start. For me, as someone who creates and uploads documents for others to engage with almost daily, I can begin with the way I craft documents in Microsoft Word, my main word processor. Here are some practices I’ve immediately put into place:
I make sure that I utilize headings and subheadings properly. It’s not enough to indicate a new section of your work with a different color or a different font, because that won’t be recognized by a screen reader and isn’t accessible to anyone unable to see those differences.
I make sure that my tables and charts are properly labeled with a title row that appears even after a page break, so that those tables and charts can be read and described properly by screen readers.
I make sure that any images and media I include in my documents are accompanied by assistive text that describes exactly what is seen on screen and hyperlinks to the original source.
I make sure my document is easy to navigate via keyboard for users restricted from using a mouse, styluses, and other handheld tools.
I utilize built-in software tools like Microsoft Word’s accessibility checker to make corrections and changes before saving and uploading documents.
For more information on how to make accessible documents in Word, you can visit the Microsoft Office Support page and access guides and tutorials.
Creating accessible documents is a first step, but without a website that is also easy to navigate and accessible to all persons, that step is moot. You’ll need to put more effort into ensuring your website meets accessibility standards but there are also a lot of tools available to authors and web designers looking for guidance.
The Paciello Group labels themselves “The Accessibility Experts” and offer a variety of services and packages to designers and businesses looking for help. They have a free website accessibility test and offer consulting, training, and strategy development to clientele.
Cielo24 has a list of document and web accessibility checkers in addition to the one provided by Paciello group—including some that can be used as Google Chrome extensions.
Webaim has done the work of translating its WCAG2 standards for web accessibility into a web accessibility checklist divided into four categories of accommodation: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. These guidelines help to ensure your content is usable for everyone no matter their sensory needs, operating system, user agent, or assistive technology.
“When websites and web tools are properly designed and coded, people with disabilities can use them. Making the web accessible benefits individuals, businesses, and society. International web standards define what is needed for accessibility.” Web Accessibility Initiative (Introduction to Web Accessibility, 2019) When we utilize the many sites and tools available to help us adhere to those standards, we create a user experience that is inclusive for everyone.