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Category: inclusive design

Giving, Receiving, and Sharing Information

Occasionally people outside of my field ask me to explain digital accessibility. I like to break it down to the basics. It’s about communication. About ensuring people can access information, unhindered. There’s a lot more nuance to it, of course. Especially with the minutiae involved in making that happen. But providing a few common examples usually gets the point across. For example, say you built a desktop web page. And users can only identify a link by hovering over it with a mouse or activating the link by clicking on it. Then people who use keyboards without a mouse will be unable to access the links. Likewise, for visually impaired and blind folks who use screen readers, an image on its own isn’t going to be useful. Unless that image is paired with a decent description of it.

Alt Text

A couple of things are on my mind today. First, alternative text on twitter. A while back, I started following the AltTxtReminder account. If you follow that account, you will automatically receive a direct message letting you know when you’ve posted an image without alt text. Twitter doesn’t allow editing published tweets, but one option is to quickly delete the tweet and recreate it with alt text. I think AltTxtReminder is a wonderful service but the account only has about 20,000 followers. A drop in the bucket considering there are close to 400 million twitter users. Today, Twitter officially began rolling out a similar feature. Twitter announced that this feature has been pushed to 10% of global users. Pretty neat.

Fun with Captions

First off, captions are designed for viewers who cannot hear the audio in a video. Subtitles are designed for viewers who can hear but do not understand the language being spoken in the video. I see these terms being used interchangeably. As in this fun write-up: Wet Writhing and Eldritch Gurgling: A Chat With the Stranger Things Subtitles Team. I’m a fan of the show and I’m glad other folks who enjoy it are getting a kick out of the captions. But sometimes less is more. I follow Deaf accessibility professional Meryl Evans on LinkedIn and Twitter and find her posts to be insightful.

If I notice the captions, it’s usually a sign that there’s a problem. I noticed them in Season 4, Chapter 5. There were too many sound captions. It took away from the show.

Imagine watching a baseball game and the captions show [thwack] every time someone hits the ball or [blip] when the ball lands in a glove. That would weigh down the viewing of the game.

Every sound does not need captioning. Just like when we describe images in alt text, the key is to describe them in context to the content. We don’t describe every single detail, only the key points.

The key is to answer: What sound is important to the story that may not be obvious from visuals?

Meryl Evans on LinkedIn

She has additional information on her site including a Captionioning Videos FAQ page and a Complete Guide to Captioning.

Representation

Lastly, a Twitter user posted a video of their latest Lego acquisition:

I got this minifig with a wheelchair and I was so excited like “ooh look at this representation” but turns out it’s also a representation of accessibility issues bc the wheelchair doesn’t fit through the door frames.

T.L. Pavlich

How bittersweet. But as Meryl Evans often says, this is about progress, not perfection.

A stone wall with a paper sign affixed to it with the text Examine what you tolerate
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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good: Not directly related to accessibility, but positive news nonetheless — Google and Figma are bringing Figma to education chromebooks. Figma has some accessibility issues of its own, but it is an incredibly robust tool that can be used to design accessible, reusable components in design systems. When I teach the front-end website design class at Minneapolis College, I tell my students that Figma is like Google Docs for design. And have them use it to build design briefs, mood boards, and mockups as I talk about how Figma can be used to promote accessibility.

The Bad: I spend a significant amount of time listening to podcasts. Unfortunately, even many of my favorite podcasters have not invested the time to make their podcasts more accessible. It could be that they are unaware of the need to do so, or how to go about it. Recently, someone in my network shared a great resource intended to help podcasters.

Your podcast should be accessible. But what does that mean, exactly? Why should you care? What can you do to improve the accessibility?

Podcast Accessibility

The Ugly: I’m solidly GenX. When I was growing up, I would have been awed to know that one day I would have a powerful computer in my pocket — or hand — at all times. But I also recognize the inherent danger of smartphones. And now a study bears that out.

Apple CarPlay, Android Auto distract drivers more than pot, alcohol, says study: A new study says driver reaction times using this tech were worse than motorists with alcohol or cannabis in their system.

CNET Auto Tech
Screen in car showing Apple Carplay apps
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Accessibility Tech News

Historically, Memorial Day marks the kickoff to summer in the US. A big deal where I live, in Minnesota, where winters seem to linger later and later. After a chilly spring, we are particularly ready for outdoor summer fun this year. And now that can be more inclusive. Track chairs are coming to Minnesota state parks! Starting tomorrow, they will be available for reservation by phone.

Track chairs are off-road, electric-powered chairs that can be used on designated trails within the park. These chairs can help visitors explore areas of the state parks in new ways, often on trails that are not suitable for regular wheelchairs.

MN Department of Natural Resources

And that’s not only in my neck of the woods. Lincoln City, Oregon now has free beach wheelchairs and accessible paths:

They found a way to make their beaches accessible to individuals with limited mobility, using the simple, innovative concept of roll-out pathways and free beach wheelchairs. The idea has revolutionary implications.

That Oregon Life

In other positive accessibility news:

A beach in Lincoln City, Oregon with roll-out pathways with free beach wheelchairs
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