Tech and disability
I want to begin by saying that accessibility in tech is a large and complex topic. This article by no means covers everything, but it highlights some of the main issues, focusing specifically on visual impairment.
Needless to say, we have a long way to go to make the internet more accessible, and a real need for improved design and new software.
Assistive technologies are tools that people with disabilities can use to access the internet – they include things like screen readers, eye tracking, voice recognition.
Let’s try a quick exercise to get us thinking about what using this technology can be like for a visually impaired person…
– Close your eyes.
– Open a browser window using key controls only, and navigate to a website – any website.
– Hit cmd+F5 (on a Mac) to open Mac Voiceover.
– Using Voiceover commands, navigate to a section of the site you’d like to read.
– Had enough? Hit cmd+F5 again.
So how was it? Perhaps you’ve come to the same conclusion I have: this poor user experience should be much, much better
The Office of National Statistics found that 27% of disabled adults had never used the internet, compared with 11% of non-disabled adults. And of the estimated 11 million people offline, 49% have a disability. he Equality Act states that companies must not discriminate against anyone by failing to provide them with a service. Companies that do not comply could face claims for damages. However, accessibility on apps and websites is still in its infancy.
The issue doesn’t lie solely with Voiceover, but with the way websites are built – especially in a complex site, or where there is unclear labelling of elements. Multiple factors are involved in accessibility from the application itself, to the hardware being used and the accessibility tools that need to work in conjunction with it, making this a complex challenge for developers.
So what can developers do? Just like checking cross-browser compatibility, accessibility to your site or app is something that can be forgotten about when in full-coding-flow. However, unlike browser incompatibility, which can be overcome when the user switches to a different browser, there is nothing a user can do to improve the accessibility of a website that has been designed without taking their needs into consideration.
(W3C) is an international community working together to develop good practice guidelines. They have published standards for accessible design known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Accessibility Standards Overview (ASO).
On a more practical level, OneVoice ICT, a coalition of companies who share a vision of a digital world that works for everyone, has suggested seven steps for developers to take when creating mobile apps, outlined in brief below.
1. Learn about accessibility
What is the impairment and how would that affect their use of your app? The most obvious idea is to get disabled people involved from the design stage and involve them in testing.
2. Quick accessibility check
Get an estimate of how accessible your app is now. OneVoiceICT has a list of questions you use to test your own app, such as:
- Is there the ability to increase font size?
- Are their commands that ask users to ‘press the red button’?
3. Ensure reading sequence is logical and comprehensible
Ensure page navigation is simple so that when screen readers are used the content of your webpage is comprehensible.
4. Create a user interface that is easy to understand and operate
General use of your application, from button size and layout to screen orientation.
5. Ensure text formatting can be altered
Beyond using text size defaults, the app should allow for text size adjustments.
6. Publish an Accessibility Statement
You should express your intent even if there is still inaccessible content that you are working to resolve.
7. Provide a ‘Contact Us’ function
Enable users to tell you easily about any accessibility issues.
As the internet has become an integral part of our lives, we must not exclude those with disabilities by inadvertently building sites that are inaccessible to them. With the progress already made and tools available to developers, there is no reason for sites not to be fully accessible in the future.
3 cool tools for developers from switchit.com
Wave looks at a live website to provide a detailed list of accessibility-related errors (also available as Chrome extension).
Colour Contrast Analyser can look at any webpage to identify which text elements aren’t compliant in terms of colour contrast.
NoCoffee is a Chrome extension that allows you to see your website as if you had visual impairments.