Accessibility on the internet is somewhat invisible, unless you’re one of the millions of people that use these features on the daily.
The tough part is that some of these features are most effective when everyone participates in using them. So, the fact that they’re invisible can make them much less helpful to the people who need them.
“Inclusivity is a bit of a buzzword at the moment – and it needs to be,” says Peter Horsley, founder of Remarkable, Australia’s first disability-focused startup accelerator.
“The Australian Digital Inclusion Index shows that the rates of digital inclusivity for people with disability is actually getting worse – not better – in the last 12 months. As our lives are more and more intertwined with technology, we must make sure that our products and services don’t further that gap.”
So, what can you do? Here’s how you can increase your online inclusivity by making simple changes to your online behaviour.
1. Capitalise every new word in your hashtag
Screen readers are a handy tool used by people with visual impairments. Instead of viewing a webpage, a screen reader with a ‘Siri’ style voice will translate a page’s content to spoken word. Screen readers tend to run into trouble when it comes to hashtags on social media, because it’s unclear where a word stops and a new word starts. #thisissohardtoread!
If you use a capital letter for each new word in a hashtag, you’ll make it easier for screen readers to recognise a new word. So our visually impaired friends on the internet will have an easier time understanding what you’re #Hashtagging.
This is your random reminder that capitalizing each word in a hashtag means screen-readers can parse the words correctly for sight-impaired Tweeps.#AccessibilityIsPrettyCool
— Erika Ensign (@HollyGoDarkly) March 8, 2019
2. Don’t use fancy characters
We’ve all seen those Twitter or Instagram bios that cheat the font-free system and use fancy-looking characters to jazz things up.
The only problem is, these special characters don’t mean the same thing to the naked eye as they do to a screen reader. They’re technically mathematical characters that merely bear a resemblance to a fancy font, and so to someone with visual impairment the translation is just gobbledygook.
You 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘬 it's 𝒸𝓊𝓉ℯ to 𝘄𝗿𝗶𝘁𝗲 your tweets and usernames 𝖙𝖍𝖎𝖘 𝖜𝖆𝖞. But have you 𝙡𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙙 to what it 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘴 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 with assistive technologies like 𝓥𝓸𝓲𝓬𝓮𝓞𝓿𝓮𝓻? pic.twitter.com/CywCf1b3Lm
— Kent C. Dodds (@kentcdodds) January 9, 2019
3. Make use of alt-text
Alt-text is a handy hidden feature that you might be familiar with if you have your own blog. Since screen readers can’t ‘read’ images (yet!), they’ll instead read a hidden piece of text behind the image that content authors need to enter manually. Alt-text should ideally explain what the image is about.
You can try this on instagram right now. Here’s a handy little guide on how to get started.
Careers for improving tech accessibility
A lot of today’s tech accessibility features require some manual involvement. But when you add machine learning into the equation, it magnifies the possibilities for tech inclusivity one hundred fold.
Artificial intelligence engineer
In future, screen readers and virtual assistants will likely merge to create a more intelligent internet translator for people with sight impairments. You could be teaching Siri how to recognise the contents of an image and turn it into spoken words. Or you might teach a machine to ‘hear’ a video or song and translate the audio to subtitles… better than they currently do now.
This video is pretty funny, but for people with hearing difficulties, intelligent captioning might mean the difference between enjoying a hilarious video on Youtube and missing out completely. Auto-captioning has a long way to go, and artificial intelligence engineers are the ones to improve it.
Think about your favourite piece of tech. It might be your smartphone, your Xbox, or maybe your Fitbit. Now, imagine how hard it would be to navigate an iPhone without sight, play an XBox without the use of your hands or wear a Fitbit as a double arm amputee.
Interaction designers are always thinking about the end user of a product and the challenges that person might face. So when it comes to accessible design, interaction designers are considering every type of person that might want to use a product. They’re building in design features that cater to everyone, or devising solutions where tech doesn’t fit.
Go above and beyond
If you’re the owner of a blog or a website, or into developing tech as a software engineer, then you can bake inclusivity into your tech.
“There are now a bunch of online automated testing sites that you can check the compliance of your website with accessibility guidelines,” says Peter. “Search for Accessibility Testing Tools. Our encouragement is always involve ‘extreme users’ in your user testing of any new digital product/service. There’s nothing like having someone who is vision impaired or blind giving you feedback on your website!”
How are you improving your online inclusivity? Let us know in the comments!
GIFs via Giphy.com
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.