Representation Matters – Beginning Our Journey
While idly browsing new boots this morning, I was absolutely delighted to see that the retailer had chosen to employ a model with a prosthetic leg, as representation of difference in the media is so much rarer than it should be. Representation is incredibly easy and incredibly important, but making products and services inclusive is more so; it means nothing without a concerted effort to ensure that all our spaces, physical and virtual, are accessible and welcoming to all. As a team supporting the creation and use of online learning materials, we are very aware of the challenges this involves.
The Government has recently recognised the importance of accessibility with web accessibility regulations (2018) for public sector bodies (helpfully explained in JISC’s guide ‘Accessibility Regulations – what you need to know’) and all new resources should aim to be accessible by design, with accessibility features built in from the ground up – but what of our existing resources? How might we go about making something accessible, and what is the best way to do that?
We have been supporting staff with this journey, and as a result have turned our attention to our own resources and the way we communicate – is it as accessible as it could be? One example of our progress is outlined below – however, our experience is only one tiny part of the ongoing work of making our digital spaces accessible, we are very much still learning, and we welcome other perspectives, criticisms, and ideas.
We have already benefitted greatly from the generosity of those working towards accessibility and sharing their practice online, and by sharing some of our journey so far, we hope to support others in doing the same.
Accessibility Matters – Moving Forward
As a team, the LTSU (Learning & Teaching Support Unit) took on the issue of editing for accessibility in redesigning our Offer Diagram, pictured at the top of this article. This diagram was conceived of as a means of familiarising our colleagues with ways we can offer support in their work, and the overarching goals and areas of interest to our team. As it was such a key mode of our online representation, it was especially important to ensure that we were not excluding anyone.
Colour and Contrast
The first issue that was found with the Offer Diagram was its use of colour, and there were dimensions to the problems this caused. The first was that the decision had been made to colour the diagram in red, green, and yellow. “Most people with colour vision deficiency have difficulty distinguishing between shades of red, yellow and green… This is known as “red-green” colour vision deficiency. It’s a common problem that affects around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women.” (NHS, 2019) Use of colour as the only means of conveying information is not an accessible practice for people with visual differences of any kind, and the colours that had been chosen made this issue worse.
Another problem was the unintentional information that the colours conveyed. Frequently the grouping of red, green, and yellow is used to indicate a quality judgement, or group items temporally such as through level of completion. When the team discussed what information it was that we intended to convey with the groupings, we ultimately decided that they were irrelevant. Our core values encompassed all the services we offered, and separating them through colour or space, we felt, wasn’t an accurate representation of our team.
This was an unanticipated side benefit of working to make a resource accessible – reconsidering and revising the resource to better communicate with our entire audience. This was an opportunity to review and refine our message for all users while ensuring that they could all access it.
Communication Matters – Choosing A Route
By reconsidering the use of colour to convey information – and thinking about the unintended messages we might be communicating – we had moved towards making our Offer Diagram an accessible one. But there was still work to be done.
Our next consideration was how to make the diagram accessible to people who use screen readers to interact with digital information. There are different ways to achieve this goal, and our first thought was that we should use alt-text. This is text that is read out in place of an image when using a screen reader; it will also appear when a user hovers their mouse over the image or when an image will not load. It might seem that this is a simple undertaking, but to make alt-text useful to the consumer there are considerations that must be kept in mind.
“The image description shouldn’t just say what the image is, it should say what it is there for, what it is trying to convey within a given context. This can require two distinct types of expertise: subject matter expertise, and an understanding of what a user of assistive technology needs.”Bill Kasdorf, 2018
Alt-text and alternatives
There is no official guideline for how long or short alt-text should be, but the sheer volume of text included in our Offer Diagram seemed to make alt-text an impractical choice. Instead, we chose to write a paragraph to describe what we, as a team, have to offer, and carefully worded it to include all the information that our diagram conveyed. You can see the result of our editing for accessibility on our blog’s About Us page: The LTSU Offer Diagram. “If it is possible to use text to achieve the same visual effect as an image this is how the information should be presented…” is the guidance given in NTU’s web accessibility policy. Now that the text conveys the same information included in the diagram the image has been marked as purely decorative and no alt-text for the image is required.
Progress Matters – The Ongoing Journey
It has certainly been a journey to get our offer diagram to a place where we feel that it is accessible, and it has been worked on by at least four different members of our team, but we expect that there are still improvements that we can make. The lessons learned, though, will serve us well in our onward journey and when creating future resources – the next project is to research and plan how to improve the accessibility of this blog. Our aim is to keep learning as we move forward, which will support us in ensuring that our future content is as accessible as possible from the time we start mapping it out.
A Lesson in Visual Impairment: The things that should be taught in schools – Elin Williams at My Blurred World talks about visual impairment in education; accessible resources are the barest tip of the iceberg!
Video – Using Colour to Convey Meaning (only available to Nottingham Trent University (NTU) –
Image Description – DIAGRAM Centre. Comprehensive guidance on using alt-text and image descriptions in order to ensure that your content is accessible.
Write Good Alt Text To Describe Images – Harvard University. A thorough guide with some excellent examples and techniques for providing accessible images.
Adding Image Descriptions to Your Social Media Posts – Diversity & Ability. This is a how-to guide for different social media, with top tips included.
NTU Web accessibility Policy – Nottingham Trent University
Everything You Need to Know to Write Effective Alt-Text – Microsoft. Information on using alt-text with specific instructions for Microsoft products, and links to further guidance.