UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
In the final blog of the Accessibility Is Everywhere series, The Copy Collective contributor Monica Seeber gets up close and personal. She uncovers the reality of living with a disability and the part we can all play in improving accessibility for everyone.
When I left high school, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Music program, specialising in percussion. During high school, my most supportive teacher had been my percussion tutor, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps and corrupt teenagers by teaching them how to hit things…
But when it came time for my mid-year performance exam, I had no feeling in my left arm from the elbow down, and no strength in my hand to grip. Needless to say, I failed the exam.
I visited an occupational therapist who suggested I had the early stages of carpal tunnel in my left wrist and that it was unlikely to improve without significant rest. I was unable to play music for a month.
At the end of that year, I made the difficult decision to transfer from the music degree to a Bachelor of Arts. I was forced to re-evaluate my future and choose a new vocation.
That was a long time ago, but I still experience pain, numbness and weakness in my arm. Sometimes all it takes is a poor night’s sleep, and I have to rest my whole arm.
It wasn’t until I was writing this blog that it even occurred to me that I was living with a disability.
Living with a disability
The World Health Organisation uses “disability” to broadly cover:
- impairments – problems in body function or structure
- activity limitations – difficulties in executing activities
- participation restrictions – problems an individual may experience in involvement in life situations.
The Australian Human Rights Commission uses an even broader understanding of disability that includes temporary disabilities such as a broken arm or episodic depression.
For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to use “disability” in its truest sense: the negation, lack of, or deprivation of (an) ability.
I have a close family member who is blind. They have a guide dog and use various assistive technologies throughout their day. When I was 15, I stayed with them in Sydney, and we planned an outing to the CBD to “visit the sights”.
Throughout the day, whenever we spoke to people (to ask for directions, or purchase a ticket) they largely ignored my guide, and directed their comments to me instead. This person is highly intelligent and very accomplished, yet they were treated as a bit dim – even non-existent – simply because they needed assistance navigating the visual world.
For two years, I worked for a charity that supports people with autism and their families. Most of the programs were for children on the Autism spectrum and focussed on teaching social skills, emotional regulation, and sensory integration.
It is not widely known that the vast majority of autistic people have a sensory processing disorder.
Imagine trying to tune an analogue radio when there is a lot of static. Or talking on a mobile phone when you pass through a tunnel. Or going to the cinema where the image is so bright it hurts your eyes.
Now imagine all that sensory interference is part of your experience of the world every day.
The static on the radio? That’s your brain struggling to filter external information. Loss of signal on the phone? That’s your aural processing struggling with the environment. Going to the cinema and the picture is too bright? That’s you visual processing system struggling to adjust to changing light conditions.
These are all examples of an individual’s sensory processing working “abnormally”. It’s not a physical disorder like vision or hearing impairment, rather a neurological condition “that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses”
|Sensory kits (top left) are often used with children who require extra sensory imput to remain calm and focused. They can be complimented with weighted clothing (bottom left) and/or wiggle cushions (right).|
I’ve spent a lot of time with children who have a sensory processing disorder. Children who can’t focus in the classroom because the noise from other children (even in other rooms) overwhelms their processing and they can’t hear the teacher. Children who run away from class to a dark corner somewhere – not because they are naughty, but because they are so visually exhausted they were about to cry. Children who run laps around supermarket aisles because they are physically unable to remain still: their proprioceptive feedback (the sensation of moving muscles and joints) is so dulled they live in a perpetual state of numbness except for when they’re running around.
The constant battle
A close friend of mine has executive functioning deficiency. We use our executive functioning processes all day, every day. Making plans, keeping track of time, multitasking, and following (and joining in) group discussions are all examples of executive functioning. Those who have a deficiency in this area may seem disruptive, “scatterbrained”, or “stupid” to those who don’t know any better.
If you’ve ever had a late night followed by a grueling day at work or school, and felt so worn out that you can’t remember your own name – that’s your executive functioning not functioning. Except while you can recover with a good night’s sleep, those with an executive functioning deficiency experience that all day, every day.
|Example of a schedule for those with
executive functioning difficulties.
My friend was often chastised at school for not following instructions. It wasn’t because they were disobedient, rather the teacher gave multiple instructions, and they couldn’t remember all of the individual steps. What they needed was shorter instructions with fewer steps – preferably written down so they could refer to the list to make sure they’d completed everything.
Experiences like these are like sleeping on a lumpy bed. It can wear you down slowly, a little each day, because you have to work harder at the little things that everybody else seems to do with no effort at all.
And all of them are easily avoided with small changes to how we conduct ourselves personally and how we work with others in a school or office environment.
All too easy to discriminate
These experiences are part of what is called “ableism”. Like sexism, ableism makes gross generalisations about people: it is the assumption that every person has the same set of abilities and the same level of competency. The result is discrimination and prejudice against those with disabilities and those who may have a deficiency that is not classed as a disability (for example, when a person is literate in their first language, but largely illiterate in English or another second language).
Ableism can manifest in myriad ways, from the obvious (lack of wheelchair access to public buildings) to the hidden (important government information not presented in Plain English). Ableism can also be overtly harmful (the forced sterilisation of disabled women) or benign (the promotion of a disabled person’s success as “inspiration porn”).
Stella Young presenting “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much” at TEDxSydney
Ableism is one of those things that once you start noticing it in action, you never stop seeing it. With so many close friends and family who live with a disability it is something that I witness on a daily basis.
I see the anger and the frustration as they struggle with basic, daily tasks that fully-abled people do without thinking. Something as simple as making coffee was dangerous and time-consuming for my blind family member until the release of the Nespresso.
I see the shame and humiliation my friend feels when they ask for help walking down stairs because they have a limp and can easily lose their balance if there is no railing.
I see the confusion and helplessness when children (and adults) with executive functioning deficiency struggle to keep track of the day’s schedule and fall behind.
I’ve also felt my own grief when I had to choose a different vocation because my disability prevented me from pursuing a career in music. I was lucky that I had so many other options available to me – not everybody has that luxury.
You might be asking, “What does this have to do with web accessibility?”
And the answer? Everything.
Making the web accessible for everyone
I want people with a vision impairment to be able to ‘read’ an e-document as quickly and easily as I do.
I want people with executive functioning deficiency to be able to find information easily online because it is presented in a clear and logical manner.
I want people with a sensory processing disorder to be able to open a web page and not be overwhelmed by scrolling banners and auto-play videos.
I want those with mobility problems – like tremors or arthritis – to be able to navigate the web easily and with as little pain and frustration as possible.
I want those with English language difficulties (because it’s their second language, they have dyslexia, or are functionally illiterate) to not only find information that they can read or listen to, but to also understand it.
How can I not want those things? How can you not want those things? And how do we achieve it?
Luckily for you, we’ve already done the hard work of figuring out which guidelines are relevant to copywriters and those who write for the web.
We’ve put together a couple of videos — so we can talk you though them when you’re ready:
eAccessibility webinar Part1
eAccessibility webinar Part2
You can even download the Powerpoint presentation from the videos:
If you go to the Australian government’s website for the National Transition Strategy you will be greeted with pages of boring government-speak about:
“improved web services”
“the provision of information and services online”
“an important milestone for government”
Federal Government departments are required to make their websites comply with standards that make them accessible to people with disabilities. Here we introduce our new e-Accessibility training videos Part 1 and Part 2… and it’s on us.
“At The Copy Collective, we’ve noticed that many government websites don’t comply, as yet, with the guidelines in regards to copy,” CEO Dominique Antarakis said.
“We thought we’d help out by making free training available to everyone, so that the government didn’t have any excuses not to comply with its own policy. We also think that accessible websites are great for all businesses, not just government.”
The Copy Collective is a 5-person business based in Sydney. As part of the company’s Disability Discrimination Act Action Plan, they wanted a practical way to show that small changes could help everyone. The team thought they would start by helping the Federal Government comply with its own Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy.
Today, The Copy Collective announced the release of two training videos designed to assist copywriters and government departments to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). Federal government agencies are encouraged to meet the guidelines for their website content by December 2014.
“We’re not doing this because we want jobs rewriting Federal Government websites; although that would be nice,” Ms Antarakis said. “We’re doing it because we want to show that simple changes to copy can make a big difference to access.”
“The training we offer is in-depth and detailed. The presenter, Monica Seeber, is one of our freelancers from Perth. She is our resident accessibility expert. Having experience with disability in her own family, Monica is very committed to access and so are we.
“We’ve provided 2-hours of training, free of charge. We’d like the Government to make the videos compulsory viewing for all their comms and web teams.
“Making website copy accessible for all just makes good business sense,” Ms Antarakis said.
In two hours, the online e-accessibility training takes users through the principles of WCAG 2.0, how these principles will affect websites, and how to create content that meets WCAG 2.0 standards. The YouTube videos are fully captioned and there are downloadable PowerPoint and Text versions of the presentation slides available on Scribd.
Comply by December 2014
The Copy Collective supports governments, NFPs and businesses to comply with the WCAG 2.0. While the compliance imperative is important and it is great to ensure content is available and accessible for all, the steps to make sites accessible have the side benefit of also helping organisations with their search engine optimisation (SEO).
Providing this complimentary training is part of The Copy Collective’s commitment to an inclusive society under its Disability Discrimination Act Action Plan.
The Copy Collective encourages people to set aside the time to watch the training videos and understand how the WCAG 2.0 applies to organisations. Trainees will also get the resources and tools they need to make changes to their web copy .
The Copy Collective can be contacted for further support to make website copy accessible. Please note: you don’t need to book any work with The Copy Collective to enjoy the complimentary training!
About the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)
The WCAG 2.0 guidelines were released in 2008 to implement user-friendly web content for people of all abilities.
The guidelines cover the full range of Web content that a user is likely to access — from images and graphs, to videos and podcasts, to the structure and design of each page. Each guideline has three levels of accessibility: A, AA and AAA. Level AAA is the highest level of accessibility.
Compliance with WCAG 2.0 is part of the digital inclusion framework referenced in the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy.
Here at The Copy Collective, we’re big fans of accessibility – in the ‘real’ world and the virtual. In this three-part series, Perth-based contributor Monica (@thebigmeeow) will introduce you to the basics of e-accessibility and how you can make your content user-friendly for all abilities. Here we introduce our new e-Accessibility training videos Part 1 and Part 2… and it’s on us.
First there was the word.
Then there was the Internet.
And when the word and the Internet got together, they made the World Wide Web.
The Internet is the physical network made up of computers and routers and phone lines and server farms and deep-sea cables. The World Wide Web is all the information that we access using the Internet. And the “word”? Well, that’s “01110111 01101111 01110010 01100100”.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is responsible for developing Web standards. Their mission “is to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the Web” (W3C Mission).
If the Web is an “information super-highway” then W3C is like the Department for Infrastructure: they write the guidelines and technical specifications for designing and building new roads and regional developments.
The Web standards cover all aspects of the Web:
- Web design and applications
- Web architecture
- Semantic Web
- XML technology
- Web of services
- Web of devices
- Browsers and authoring tools.
For most of us, we don’t know what any of that means – and we don’t really need to (if you would like to know more, the W3C Standards page covers each topic in greater detail). Web developers and graphic designers mediate most of our interaction with the Web; and all we have to worry about is the speed of our Internet connection.
“The power of the Web is in its universality.
Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect”.
Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web
Unfortunately, not all Web content is created equal – and not all content is available to everybody. For some people (especially people with a disability) they’re not just worrying about the speed of their Internet connection, they’re also thinking:
“Will this webpage trigger a seizure?”
“Can my screen-reader make sense of the text?”
“Does this video have captions or a transcript?”
“Is this information written in a language I can read?”
Within the Standards for Web design and applications, the W3C created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG10) were released in 1999, and were then revised and succeeded by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) in 2008.
There’s a lot of information in those guidelines. If you print them out, there’s about 34 pages of information. You can access the full WCAG 2.0 for free on the W3C webpage.
WCAG 2.0 covers the full range of Web content that a user is likely to access on Web pages, from images and graphs, to videos and podcasts, to the structure and design of the pages themselves.
WCAG 2.0 structure
WCAG 2.0 is structured around four broad principles (also known as pillars):
- Perceivable: Web pages and content must be presented to users in ways they can perceive.
- Operable: Web pages and navigation must be operable.
- Understandable: Web content and the operation of Web pages much be understandable.
- Robust: Web content and pages much be interpreted reliably by a range of users, hardware, and software – including assistive technologies.
These four principles are then broken down into 12 guidelines:
- Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
- Provide alternatives for time-based media.
- Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
- Provide users enough time to read and use content.
- Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
- Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
- Make text content readable and understandable.
- Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
- Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
- Maximise compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.
Those 12 guidelines are broken down further into 61 “success criteria”. That’s a lot of criteria!
Now before you all panic…
Luckily for you, we’ve already done the hard work of figuring out which guidelines are relevant to copywriters. We’ve even put together a couple of videos — so we can talk you though them when you’re ready:
eAccessibility webinar Part1
eAccessibility webinar Part2
You can even download the Powerpoint presentation from the videos.
Join me for my next Blog – Part 2 of Accessibility is Everywhere – where I introduce the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy and share useful things for making your web content accessible.