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YOUR MONTHLY WEB ACCESSIBILITY UPDATE

August 2021

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Good morning <<First Name>>,

Oh that weekend is deliciously close! Are you counting down the hours too?

Go grab yourself a nice warm drink of choice and get ready for a jam-packed e-newsletter. We have another beautifully written piece by Melanie Hawkes on her frustrations using the web with her disabilities, a section from Amanda Mace on her current judging projects, and a special interest piece on using Instagram if you're blind.

We had our annual function last month at the beautiful Guildford Hotel in WA (COVID ruined my ability to attend, typical!), but we can't wait to show you soon some photos from the night. A huge congratulations to Karl McCabe, who won our Employee of the Year Award for 2021. We'd love to hear how your workplace celebrates individual and group achievements, please let us know. It's so important to keep each other motivated and encouraged in this accessibility journey.

Have a great month!

- Emma Murray
This month's author is Melanie Hawkes. Mel is one of our Usability Analysts, who also won Employee of the Year in her first year with us in 2020. She has a passion for making websites usable by people with disabilities and keeps us well entertained with her wit and stories of her beautiful retired assistance dog, Upton.

Frustrations on the Web

11th of August, by Melanie Hawkes (Usability Analyst)

I love my mobile phone! I have a Samsung S10, and do almost everything on it. I only use my desktop computer for certain things now, like saving documents and writing reports (and when working from home). I type one-handed, so emails and articles (like this one) are much quicker for me to type on my phone. I have a great keyboard for my computer which is compact and has a built-in trackball, but there are always certain keys that are just out of my reach. Thank goodness I can use my phone for most of my daily tasks now!
 
However, the trouble with using a phone is that the screen is small. When browsing the internet, it's so helpful when the website is mobile responsive, and if the links are large with plenty of space in-between them. This is especially helpful for users like me who can't quite reach specific spots on the screen, so we don't need to be so accurate with our fingers- try to remember that not everyone has good coordination!
 
Next on my list of frustrations- MENUS! Menus that you have to access by holding your finger down are tricky for users like me, when copying and pasting, for example. But even worse is when the options disappear before I've had the opportunity to select something! A way around this would be to make contact details into a hyperlink (see what I did there?), so that users don't have to select the text, copy it, open another app and paste it in.
 
This one, I'm pretty sure annoys everyone. Pop-up windows- am I right? Whether it's in apps or websites, we've all seen them (Accept our cookies, Do you want to review our app? How about starting a free trial?). No thanks, I just want to do what I need to do in the shortest amount of time, and with the least amount of interruption or difficulty. Usually these windows have a large "Yes" button at the bottom, and a really small "X" at the top (usually just out of my reach). They don't make it easy for users like me to say no. 
 
I do a fair amount of online shopping; it's easier for me to browse online than in stores, especially for groceries. If I'm buying something I haven't before, I usually want to read up about it. It's really important for users like me to have the ability to access the exact same information about a product online as others can find in store. Due to my disability, I can't just grab an item off a shelf, read the label, and return it if I decide not to buy it. Finally, it's incredibly frustrating after searching for a product in a list, to select the item to read more on it, then go back to the original list, only to be back at the top of the page! Why doesn’t it remember where I was every time? 
 
I really enjoy my work with Web Key IT. The advice and suggestions we provide, if implemented, make websites more user-friendly for everyone.
One of our Usability Analysts (and feature writer in this month's newsletter), Melanie Hawkes, has her own blog on Physical Disability Australia!
Go check her out, and her most recent post on her assistive technology

   General News

11th of August, by Amanda Mace (General Manager)

This month I’m spending some judging for a couple of important awards: The Most Accessible Community in WA (MACWA) Awards, and the Australian Access Awards.

I was a judge in the inaugural Australian Access Awards in 2019 before the pandemic took hold of the world. An awards event which was all about accessibility, not a sub-category, how could I not put my hand up for something like that?! My favourite thing about contributing to this event is the focus being on celebrating the journey, not perfection. Accessibility and digital technology is always growing, moving, and innovating. The Access Awards is a push to reward those who have put in the time and effort to become more accessible, to not toss it in the “too hard” basket. It’s a joy to be a part of rewarding that effort and celebrating with the finalists and winners.

This is my first time judging in the MACWA Awards, and it was clear from my first conversations with the team that this is a great opportunity to showcase the great work and accomplishments of Local Government. This year, one of the categories is “Digital and technology accessibility initiatives”, thus my involvement. This category is looking at what Local Government in WA is doing in the areas of inclusion through digital connectivity, whether that be through their website, social media or even through library innovation. COVID-19 has presented many challenges, one of the greatest, being the ability to continue to feel connected to others, and of course to have access to accurate and quickly changing information. All levels of government have a massive responsibility and I am excited to be a part of the team to help recognise the local governments putting their best and most accessible foot forward.

If you think you’re making strides in digital accessibility, you should shout it from the rooftops and one of the ways to do that is through awards such as these and the others available out there that reward inclusivity in your digital products. Most aren’t hard to create a nomination, and the reward is well worth it, for you and team to receive that well-deserved pat on the back. Feel free to get in touch with us today to find out other awards available that take accessibility into account.

See you next month!

Icon of a cup of tea ‘May be an image’: what it’s like browsing Instagram while blind

Using a screen reader to navigate Instagram, as some people with low vision do, is a strange patchwork of sounds. It can be overwhelming, especially if you’re used to quickly scanning information with your eyes, to hear a synthetic voice clunkily rattle off usernames, timestamps, and like counts as though they’re all equally important as the actual content of the post. Among all that auditory stimulation, if someone added alt text to their photo, you might hear something like “John and I standing with our ankles in the water at the beach. John is making a distressed face while I menacingly hold out a dead crab and laugh.”

The image descriptions used by screen readers have to be added by users, and like many accessibility features in social media, those fields are regularly neglected. In those cases, the voice will sometimes recite alt text that Instagram or the user’s device generates automatically. The result, Danielle McCann, the social media coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind, tells me, can be pretty funny. The descriptions that have evolved from years of machine learning still often misidentify what’s happening in photos.

Recently, she was scrolling through Instagram when her screen reader said there was a photo of “two brown cats lying on a textured surface.” Her husband informed her that it was actually a bridal shop ad featuring a woman in a wedding dress. “Thank goodness I wasn’t [commenting] like, ‘Oh those cats are cute,’ you know?”

These kinds of algorithmic misinterpretations are pretty common. Here’s a sampling of descriptions I heard while I browsed Instagram with VoiceOver on my phone: “red polo, apple, unicorn” (a photo of a T-shirt with a drawing of a couch on it), “may be an image of indoor” (a photo of a cat next to a house plant), “may be an image of food” (a photo of sea shells), “may be a cartoon” (almost every illustration or comic panel), and a whole lot of “may be an image of one person” (a variety of photos featuring one or more people).

As devices have gained accessibility settings like magnification, high contrast, and built-in screen readers, social media has also slowly become more accessible for people who are blind or have low vision: many sites and apps respond to users’ device settings, have options to toggle light and dark modes, and enable users to compose image descriptions. But the existence of those features doesn’t guarantee people with disabilities won’t be excluded online. Social media accessibility is a group effort. People have to know about the features, understand what they are, and actually remember to use them. A platform can have a hundred accessibility options, but without buy-in from every user, people are still left out.

Even when people use alt text, they often don’t fully think through what’s important to convey to someone who can’t see photos. Some people will write overly simplistic descriptions like “red flower” or “blonde girl looking at sky,” without actually describing what it is about the images that makes them worth sharing. At the other end, multiple paragraphs of text to describe one image can be annoying to navigate with a screen reader. McCann tells friends to think of alt text as a writing exercise: “How do you provide as much information in as few words as possible?”

“The general rule is to be informative, not poetic,” says the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). “But on social media, feel free to add some personality — you’re probably sharing that picture of your dog because he has a hilarious quizzical expression, for example, not because he is a black-and-white pitbull mix.”

While automated image descriptions might eventually improve beyond the level of mistaking a woman in a wedding dress for some cats, they can’t replace the human element. Facebook had an image outage in 2019 that showed all of its users the photo tags that are usually hidden, displaying machine-assigned descriptors like “Image may contain: people standing.” Are the people contained in that image embracing and making goofy faces? Are they standing in front of a breathtaking vista? Social media can feel a lot less social if your access to the content shared within it relies on computers’ conservative interpretations.

Advocates stress that accessibility should always be a consideration from the start, “not as an add-on to an already-existing platform well after the fact,” says AFB. But most popular platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, didn’t take that route during initial development, and are instead constantly playing catch-up to improve their accessibility. When those improvements roll out, it’s never guaranteed that people will consistently use them.

Read more of this article here

Icon of a calender Upcoming Events 

 

Perth Web Accessibility & Inclusive Design Meetups

17th August, 2021

Dome Cafe, Northbridge, WA

7:30-9:00am

Read more about the Accessibility Meetup group


Health2Ageducate & NDISLINK Conference 2021

20th August, 2021

Perth, WA

More information here


WA Local Government Convention

20th-21st September, 2021

Perth, WA

More information here


W3C Technical Plenary Advisory Council (TPAC) Meetings

18th-29th October 2021

Virtual

More information here


Australian Access Awards

19th November 2021

Venue TBC

More information here


OZeWAI

Date & Venue TBC

More information here

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