Accessibility Introduction

I did a couple of accessibility webinars for Ufi.  These really were a bit of a gallop across the whole accessibility spectrum and more than anything provided a set of resources for those only just starting out on their quest to create accessible and usable content. I was quite surprised with the turnout. For someone who has been talking about these things for nearly 20 years, it comes as a shock to discover that others really don’t even understand the basics. I suppose it’s being in a bit of an ‘accessibility bubble’ and an example of how social media does in fact act like an echo chamber.  So here is the first of a few blog posts on some of the basics of accessible practice – a quick introduction.

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Icons indicating the many forms of digital content.
Digital Content has transformed information access for many people.

Creating accessible content ensures that digital content can be accessed by as many people as possible without any hidden barriers.

The advantages of digital content include the fact that a user can choose how to access it.  They can make the text bigger, or the background pale blue or even have the text read aloud instead of struggling to read it. There are many choices available, provided the content is created in the right way. Not everyone can or wants to use a mouse, I have been able to type since I was a teenager and always prefer to use a keyboard if possible, but I have the choice.  Some users don’t have a choice. It is often not obvious that a person has a disability. A disabled person does not always use a wheelchair, carry a cane or wear a hearing aid. Not only can disabilities be invisible they may not be permanent either. A person with a sight impairment, may be able to cope in full sunlight during the day but needs magnification and a change of contrast indoors or when they are tired. Someone with chronic pain who is unable to hold a book, may have times when their condition is not so severe. This does not diminish or change the fact they they have difficulties and challenges that are unique to them. It also doesn’t affect how digital content should be created.

Accessible digital content is information that can be manipulated in order for a user to access it in their preferred way. It is beneficial for those with disabilities or difficulties and for everyone else.  If you add captions to a video, then someone watching it in a busy environment doesn’t need to turn the audio on to get the information. Being able to navigate round a webpage using a keyboard is helpful for anyone who may struggle to use a mouse. This could be due to a long lasting chronic condition or a temporary one. The timing, extent or intensity of any difficulties is immaterial if the content is structured correctly.  
There are times when a user will need assistive technology and these in turn are designed to work with content with a clear structure.

Many accessibility options can also be used to improve productivity. I frequently use the magnification option when reading online.  Once you have realised how much it improves your reading efficiency and understanding of text you really don’t ever go back to reading size 12 font text on your laptop. There are many such productivity uses that I’ll mention as part of this series.

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