Someone asked me this interesting question the other day in a communications context.
I answered the question in three ways.
Firstly what does it mean to me as someone with vision impairment? I want to be able to read information on screen and on paper comfortably with reasonable lighting and wearing my specs. That means a good sized clear, strong font, without huge blocks of text, preferably not right justified and with some clear white space around it. It is best on light coloured paper that isn’t shiny and is heavy enough so I can’t see the print on the other side through it.
People think that enlarging a copy on to A3 size paper will help. It doesn’t, and the weight and bulk of extra paper is annoyingly heavy as I walk to get around the city. It is helpful if people ask first before assuming what I need, or stick with best practice in publishing or web design.
I need text information on the screen to be clear and well laid out, with good intuitive navigation, and to the same criteria as text on the page. Links and navigation points should be obvious and of reasonable size. I will use my browser to enlarge. I won’t stay on a site that is infested with pdfs.
Colour contrast is important. Even enlarged grey text is inaccessible, and if I look too long at light print on a dark ground I will soon see nothing but stripes, which make me feel very strange, as does flickering or intrusive animated content not central to the purpose of the page.
I get a headache if I use the screen for too long so I won’t stay on sites that are hard for me to see.
People presenting powerpoint at conferences and such would help me by bringing the odd large, (one slide per page,) copies that they can make available for anyone who can’t see them well. That will avoid any fuss.
Like other disabled people I don’t want to be stigmatised or singled out because of accessibility. If someone is telling me what they have just written on the whiteboard they can do it tactfully, without belittling me or making me feel like a nuisance – “I am doing this for the benefit of Robyn.” Someone did that. It was an uncomfortable situation.
There is a common myth that accessibility on the web is about blindness and screen readers. It is about a whole lot more, although of course blind people don’t have so many choices about how they access information, and face huge barriers to information access.
But I do wish web designers and builders would think about the rest of us, partially sighted, Deaf, learning disabled, dyslexic, older, to name just a few, groups of people. The same applies to disabled people’s groups and service providers as well, who sometimes take a narrow view of who wants their information.
One other personal thing – Like most disabled people I am interested in a whole range of things, not just disability. Providers of information should therefore not make assumptions about the information people may or may not want. Disabled people are everywhere. We want to shop, go to the movies and the theatre, watch and participate in sports, go to work, party, travel, support our kids at school, in short, do the same things as everyone else. We need accessible information to do that.
We also need it to prepare for natural disasters, pandemics, and other medical situations, to be able to vote in elections, and have our day in court.
That leads to the second part of my answer to the question. As a human rights practitioner I believe that accessible communication is a very tangible way to respect the rights of everyone. These rights include translations of essential information into different languages and formats, and a multiplicity of channels and technologies.
Accessible information may be essential for people’s civil and political rights, the right to justice, to freedom of speech, even the right to life. Accessible information is also essential in the rights to education, work and health, among other rights. Accessible communication promotes participation and an inclusive and cohesive society.
Accessible communication is part of the international and New Zealand human rights framework, with specific provisions within the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (CRPD.) There will be more information about this after my presentation at the Round Table Conference later this month.
Lastly as a communications practitioner I can’t see how accessible communication can be avoided. Those who need accessibility are much bigger audiences than the 20% of the community who are disabled. By 2031 people over 65 will number around 26% of the population, now at around 13%. Forty percent of working age New Zealanders have difficulties with functional literacy and 20% of workers have English as a second language.
Accessible information and communication is simply the presentation of the same information delivered in a variety of channels and/or formats that meets each audience’s needs.
Accessibility is about an attitude. It is about a philosophical approach, about a valued audience, and the acceptance and understanding of the concept and principles of universal design. An accessible mindset acknowledges that good communication is about the customer or user and not all “about us.”