”YOU ARE PRIVILEGED.” This is the opening sentence in Ruben Pater’s incredibly informational book The Politics Of Design. The book explores some of the cultural and political contexts related to typography, colours, photography, symbols, and information graphics that are used in every day life. The opening monologue gives a powerful description on accessibility and privilege, Pater states:
”Just reading this sentence makes you part of the 85% of the world population that is literate and the 20% that understands English. You’ve spent around €15 on this book, which is a price only 20% of people (those earning more than 10 dollars a day) can afford. If you are reading an electronic version, you are among the 40% who have access to the internet. If you bought this book, you probably have a higher education, which is only available to a privileged few.
As you can see, this book is not so global. The media are dominated by the world’s urban regions in the Northern Hemisphere. Their reach, however, is worldwide, which is why they should become more inclusive and more aware of political responsibilities. This is why this book may still be useful in
a ‘not so global context’ after all.”
As Pater describes, there are certain categories that determine accessibility and that access in many cases can be a privilege, from income to education, access to the internet to regions dominated by political or media control, our experiences with access are often based on those with similar accessibilities and there are many areas that we should strive to be more inclusive.
One such area of accessibility that is often dismissed within design and programming are those that have disabilities. An article from Axess Lab – a company devoted to accessibility and an inclusive digital world, Safia Abdalla asked the question “If you have a disability, what’s the hardest thing about browsing the web?” A series of replies from Twitter gave an interesting insight to some of the main issues that are faced by those with disabilities ranging from ADHD, visual impairment and, dyslexic to autism, neurological vision problems due to CFS/ME and colour blindness.
Lack of captions; videos, images and other visual material should try to include captions or subtitles, one reply said ”Being deaf, got to say captioning videos is number one issue for me” – @jjackson This lack of captions can completely exclude users who are deaf or suffer from poor hearing but there are
practical reasons for captions such as moments where having the sound on may be inappropriate. Being aware of the technology available to help amend this issue is important, one reply noted “YouTube’s auto subtitling is not accurate enough.” -@tohereknowswhe the auto-captioning feature also falls short regarding availability for most languages leaving it up to video creators to look for other options.
Motion, animations and clutter; most replies for this issues came from those who know or are directly effected by ADHD, motion and animation or cluttered pages adds extra frustration to many users with cognitive impairments, one user notes “I’m also autistic and get frustrated with, or repelled by, glitzy mouse over effects/animations, sudden auto play, etc.” – @elementnumber46 Helping to reduce issues such as clutter and overly distracting motion can really be an effective way of being more inclusive for those who are finding navigation hard, but it can also be a challenge to create a more inclusive design that incorporates options for users.
Text can be part of the issue regarding clutter on pages, many of the replies from those with dyslexia or cognitive impairments centred around large amounts of text, the solution that many found helped was to simply add more space and create more paragraphs, adding subheadings and ensuring that font size was not to small, which leads to the next issue with many designs. Font size; with no minimum font size requirements for online content, apps or programs, it leaves many users to utilise zoom functions that often distort and corrupt designs and layouts. This leaves two options for designers to consider, keeping fonts to a readable size for all, or considering the zoom functions and implement responsive designs.
Other issues that occur regularly for those with visual impairments and one of the main problems of accessibility, colour contrast and relying on colour as a means of instruction. Many sites and programs that use links or buttons that rely on colour as a code when toggled are excluding a vast amount users. Some cases such as hyperlinks that are not set to a different format make it hard to find, simple tactics to combat this are to make links in a bold font, underlined or set to italics. In other cases of extreme visual differences such as colour blindness, one reply noted, “Text on background is usually fine, but things like colour-coded toggles, heat-maps, etc can be hard.” – @phrawzty This issue is easy to test by simply viewing a site in greyscale, one example [below] of toggle buttons that become difficult to understand when colours are taken away. This issue is fixed when we look back at previous issues of captioning that would help to solve the problem.
As designers or engineers we can reflect on the issues and answers raised in replies from this thread, examine accessibility and create systems that try to be as inclusive as possible no matter the users abilities. There are many resources out there that deal with accessibility and useful checklists that contain more information on how to utilise our design and engineering skills to be more inclusive.