Happy (belated) Global Accessibility Awareness Day! Each year, on the third Thursday of May, promoting “digital accessibility and inclusion for people with all disabilities.” It’s a celebration of assistive technology, universal design, and disability representation- after all, as many as 1 in 7 people have some form of a disability, though it’s unknown as to how many people with disabilities use the internet, as they are considered a protected class and data is not collected. Today, I will be sharing ways to celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day every day.
When people first hear the term “assistive technology,” they think of high-tech devices like computers or tablets. It’s so much more than that though- assistive technology is defined as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a person with a disability.” People with vision impairments often use screen readers, full screen magnifiers, refreshable Braille displays, large print keyboards, and many other devices- read more about making keyboards easier to see here. Read more myths about assistive technology in this post here.
When designing for users, especially those with disabilities, it’s important to know what their needs are, what limitations may be present, and to understand how they access their world. For example, people with vision impairments benefit from websites that are compatible with assistive technology, detailed descriptions of items, and high contrast displays as well. Read more about people with vision impairments in my post for World Sight Day 2017 here. Younger kids may benefit from my post on web resources that explain vision impairments here.
I have blurry vision, so when I look at a low resolution image, I can’t distinguish much of anything. The same happens when I zoom in on a picture and it’s very pixelated, even when I only zoom in at 250%. It’s important to create and use high resolution images for digital content so that users can clearly distinguish what the image is, and zoom in as needed. Read my tips on creating and using high resolution images here.
You can use beautiful high resolution images as much as you want, but they will be useless to people who use screen readers unless you use alt text. Alt text is a description of an image that is read by screen readers for users that can’t see the screen. While automatic alt text is becoming more and more common, it’s still important to check what the alt text says, as it can sometimes be incorrect- for example, a picture of my brother standing in the driveway was registered as being a picture of a car. Read more about creating alt text and image descriptions here.
Accessibility is often an afterthought when creating documents and presentations. Microsoft Office products have an awesome feature built in called the Accessibility Checker, which will display accessibility issues such as missing alt text, and allow the user to make changes to make their document accessible. This takes less than a minute to do, but can help people tremendously. Read more about creating accessible documents in my post on creating Word documents here, and on creating PowerPoint presentations here.
It’s not just people with recognized vision impairments that benefit from having the ability to enlarge text on a website. Seniors, people who use reading glasses, and people giving presentations on a screen benefit from large text, because it is easier to read for long periods of time. Fonts like Arial, Comic Sans, and OpenDyslexic are designed specifically for readability, but there are other sans-serif fonts out there. Read more about making your website easier to read for people with vision impairments here.
Did you know that you can enlarge the text of your iOS, Android, and Windows devices? What about applying a color filter to make things easier to see? Becoming familiar with accessibility settings and how they may interact with a product is very important. I have encountered many apps that have large text not display correctly, don’t use alt text for images, or that straight up will not open. By learning common accessibility settings, developers can make sure their products are accessible to those with disabilities. Read my app accessibility checklist here, and check out my preferred accessibility settings for devices below:
Microsoft released a thirty minute long video for Global Accessibility Awareness Day that explains the importance and impact of accessibility in the classroom, the workplace, and everywhere else. It’s a great introduction to the world of accessibility and it features a lot of great people too- and I’m not just saying that because I make a few cameos. Watch the video on the Microsoft website here.
If you’re looking to learn more about disabilities, it’s best to talk to someone with the disability you want to learn more about. This doesn’t mean harassing people in public though, or asking prying questions about conditions. Following disabled creators on Twitter, reading blogs, and researching online are all great ways to be an ally to members of the disability community. For my full list of tips, read my post on being an ally for disabled people here.
As many more companies begin to recognize the importance of accessibility, the availability of resources, technology, and services will only continue to grow for people with disabilities. As I like to say, a person with a vision impairment can do anything a sighted person can do, except drive a taxi (and even then, driverless cars are becoming more and more common). By doing these things to celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day every day, the world can become a better place for people with disabilities.