This resource has been adapted with permission: Daniel Falconer (Inverness College UHI)
What is digital accessibility?
People have very diverse needs and abilities. Some products are designed to take diversity into account while others are not, and the latter category can be unusable for people with specific needs. Accessibility refers to the extent to which products and services can be used by a wide range of people with varying needs and abilities. These varying needs and abilities may be due to impairments, illness, ageing or other causes.
When you navigate the digital world, there are good and bad examples of accessibility. Some web sites are straightforward to use even if you have significant difficulties with your vision. Others are so badly designed that even with full vision you are lost from the start.
There are many other examples. Digital accessibility also includes mobile applications, like the apps in your smartphone. It covers both online and offline activities that involve a computerised device. Digital documents are another example. Is the PDF file you just made accessible? It may not be, because accessibility does (typically) not come about by chance.
Think of a digital or non-digital product or service that you have used in the past that you struggled with. Consider the following questions:
- What barriers were you faced with when using the item?
- Did you struggle due to an existing impairment (i.e. visual, hearing etc.)?
- Or was the item counter-intuitive to use?
- What could have been done to facilitate your use of the product or service?
This section is derived from “What is digital accessibility?” opens in new window by Sebastian Kelle & Christophe Stobbe, Stuttgart Media University opens in new window, used under a CC-BY 4.0 opens in new window license.
What should you to do with the Personae?
The student personae will give you an idea of what it may be like for some of your students with additional support needs.
Click on the headings to expand each of the case studies below:
Kacper is a quiet 16-year-old. He moved to Inverness four years ago with his parents from Torun in Poland. He attends Inverness College where he is studying Sport & Fitness. He wants to develop into a sports coach after playing football for a local team since moving to the city.
His family have close ties to the Polish community in Inverness and Kacper has begun organising small football sessions for some of the younger children at a local park.
English for speakers of other languages
Although Kacper’s level of spoken English is good, he still struggles with some reading and writing tasks related to his course, especially when he encounters new words or technical terminology.
Kacper is viewing learning materials on Brightspace related to his course. The lecturer has uploaded videos demonstrating coaching techniques which will be formatively assessed during the module. Whilst Kacper is confident that he understands the mechanics of the techniques, some of the words, like “calisthenics” he needs to research further to understand their context within the training videos.
Later, Kacper also struggles to incorporate some new terms into his written work. As part of the course, Kacper is expected to maintain a reflective journal of the training techniques he learns and how he employs them in the placements he undertakes. He feels that he knows what he wants to write in Polish, yet he isn’t confident in writing the same content in English. He regularly struggles to construct grammatically correct sentences. As such, his confidence in written work is generally low, he far prefers the practical assessments that he must complete, and he usually performs far better in these.
Kacper regularly uses translation services, such as Google Translate on his phone. In class he can often become distracted when using his phone for translation services as Google returns results based on the term he is translating, which he inevitably clicks on and explores.
Classrooms can also be difficult places for Kacper to learn as the noise of other students often clouds what he is trying to understand from his lecture.
Possible unidentified additional support needs
When it comes to preparing for an upcoming written exam on the effects of globalization, Sam often finds himself becoming distracted from creating study notes and collating research. When reading long passages of text or academic articles from which he wants to cite in the exam, he finds that his eyes sometimes get tired and his thoughts begin to wander from the task at hand. Sam loves to listen to podcasts whilst studying but sometimes finds that his attention increasingly focuses on the content of the episode he's listening to and not the task at hand.
Sam loves to go out with friends, and often spends time travelling into Inverness to meet up with them. During this time his focus is mainly on his phone, where he can watch videos on YouTube or post snapchats to his friends. Some days, Sam feels that he doesn't have the opportunity to focus on his coursework due to his hectic schedule.
As the exam approaches, Sam spends more time researching online. He finds an array of useful articles at reputable news sites, but he finds himself sometimes “falling down the rabbit hole”. Whilst reading an article entitled “Is fast fashion ethical”, he clicks on the advertised related stories floating to the right hand side of the main body of reading. Within another few clicks he has found himself on an article related to the newest sports car being manufactured in Malaysia. From here, he links into a different article focusing on the top ten sports cars owned by Premier League footballers.
Suddenly, it's time for the exam!
Hard of hearing
Susan wakes up in the morning with the aid of an alarm clock that has a vibrating pad under her pillow. Before she got this clock, she was sleeping through the alarm because the sound was not loud enough to wake her up. The vibrating alert is also connected to the doorbell, the landline phone and the smoke alarm.
A flashing light alerts her that someone is ringing the doorbell; it is probably the postman who has a parcel to deliver. The flashing light system is also connected to the landline phone and the smoke alarm, and flashes in a different way depending on the device that becomes active.
Susan has read about new “smart home” video doorbells. These doorbells allow notifications to be sent to Susan’s smartphone which alerts her via its own vibrate setting. She looks forward to seeing this in use on a wider scale, since it would allow people to communicate with somebody at their door even when they are not at home.
While eating breakfast, Susan turns on the television with the subtitles switched on to check the morning news. She also looks at her favourite news site on her tablet computer but can only read the brief summaries because the video clips do not have captions. She can’t follow the radio news in the car on the way to work and feels left out when friends tell her about interesting programs; there are very few programs that have transcripts.
She enjoys going to the cinema to watch films but finds it frustrating that she needs to choose from the few dates and times when subtitles are shown. Consequently, she sometimes goes to the cinema when her friends want to go and has to cope without subtitles. She has heard of a new app that shows subtitles on her mobile phone during the film. Hopefully, the cinema will get the necessary equipment soon. Even better would be glasses showing subtitles, because reading subtitles on a smartphone while watching a film is very uncomfortable.
Even with her hearing aids, Susan can’t hear very quiet and higher frequency sounds, so she sometimes misses the sounds of nature like birds singing and the rustle of the wind in the leaves. She finds it very difficult to hear in noisy restaurants and pubs, and therefore tends to avoid such situations; her hearing aids amplify the background noise so much she has to turn the gain down and so cannot hear a person who wants to talk to her.
She finds places where really very loud music is playing easier to cope with, since nobody can hear well in those places, so everyone has to try and lip-read and use touch to get other people’s attention.
At work, Susan uses a text relay service for making business phone calls, although she prefers to text or e-mail using her mobile phone. When face to face with people at work in a quiet place she can understand the conversation quite well. She usually relies on her hearing aids and lip reading, but she sometimes tries using speech recognition on her mobile phone to help understand what people are saying to her. During meetings at work she sometimes finds it difficult to quickly identify who is talking and so often misses the beginning of what they are saying, especially when she can’t see their face and mouth.
She occasionally uses a remote subtitling system. This system picks up the other person’s speech through a microphone and sends it to somebody who converts it into text (by typing or by speaking the words into a speech recognition system), which is then sent back to Susan’s tablet with a few seconds’ delay.
She has also occasionally used a keyboard with a second screen for people to type messages to her. Her own speech is very intelligible, so she only types back when talking to another hearing-impaired person.
At school, taking notes in class was difficult, since she could not hear easily what the teacher was saying. Classrooms were always very noisy with other kids creating so much background noise that she could not focus on one speaker. At university, she required a remote transcriber during lectures, which was very expensive but funded through the government Disabled Student Allowance. In face-to-face meetings with her tutor she generally coped well, thanks to her listening and lip-reading abilities. In seminars, it was difficult for the remote captioning to be able to hear well enough what the lecturer says, so there were lots of mistakes, which meant that Susan had to ask other students to repeat what had been said.
Anna is doing a project on historic architectural styles and she decides that she will research the Tudor period, so she can understand where the distinctive style came from. She starts by searching in Google for “Tudor architecture”.
From this search she decides she wants to investigate “Perpendicular Gothic” but she actually types “Perpendicalur Gothic” and does not realize the spelling is incorrect. Fortunately, Google picks up this error and gives the message “Showing results for Perpendicular Gothic. Search instead for Perpendicalur Gothic”. Anna realises her mistake and continues searching for the Gothic style. She finds lots of useful information. Then she tries to search back for pre-Tudor fashions, so searches in Google for “architecture 1450 – 1500”, as she knows that the Tudor period started in 1485. But this time she types in “architecture 2450 – 1500”. This produces no useful results and she is very confused. She tries several other searches before finding useful information using “renaissance architecture”. She never realizes what her mistake in the date was. She also has considerable difficulty in making new searches about renaissance architecture, as she finds this word very difficult to spell, despite having written it down in her notebook.
Anna finds many pages of information that she is interested in, but some she simply cannot use, as she cannot read them well enough. She has set her browser to display web pages with brown text on a sepia background, but many websites override these preferences and present the text in other colour combinations that are much harder for Anna to read. In addition, if pages have patterned backgrounds, very busy layouts or worse still, moving banners, Anna finds them too difficult to read. If there is a moving banner, she will hold up
a piece of cardboard to cover it over (she carries a collection of different sizes and shapes of cardboard in her bag for this purpose). But if the presentation of the page is too difficult, she will try to copy the text into a Word document for easier reading, or simply give up on the page.
Finally, Anna is ready to start writing her report!
Carole is quite competent at using computers. On her computer at home, she uses Windows and the open-source screen reader NVDA, which renders the content of the computer screen through synthetic speech. In the office, she has a computer with Windows and the commercial screen reader JAWS and a Braille display. She never uses Braille for reading, but she thinks it is very useful for her when she has to edit text.
Carole likes the sense of community in Nairn. The local shop owners know her, take the time for a chat and know what she likes. There are also good connections with public transport to Inverness where she works. As part of her professional development, she is also taking courses at Inverness College, which is convenient due to its proximity to Nairn.
Today, Carole has received a 75-page report in digital format from another company; she needs the data in it to complete another report that she is working on. Through her screen reader, the report appears to have no structure at all; Carole has no way to access a table of contents or to use the headings to navigate to specific sections. On the screen she is sure that the text shows headings and subheadings using different fonts and sizes, but she cannot perceive these features. She can only find the information she needs by reading the entire document. She can also search the text, but she is not certain whether this will lead her to the right sections. As a result, it takes her most of the day to find information that would have required only an hour or so in the document had been properly designed.
On her way home, the bus is diverted due to a fire on its usual route. The bus company’s smartphone app is not screen reader accessible, so she could not find this out before getting on the bus. If she had known, she would have taken the train instead. In addition, due to the diversion, she cannot rely on the automatic announcements of the bus stops on the bus, so she needs to ask other passengers to tell here where to get off.
When she finally arrives at her neighborhood and goes to the butcher’s, the butcher asks her why she looks upset. He does not really understand the problem with the structure of digital documents but wants to please her and gives her a special piece of meat, the one that butchers usually keep for themselves. When she gets home, she finds a letter in her letterbox, but after running it through a scanner and an OCR program, she can hardly read it because it was poorly photocopied. She shows the letter to a friend over a video chat program; it turns out to be an invitation to a meeting about the co-ownership of the block of flats where she lives. She calls a neighbor to ask him what is going on.
After dinner, she starts her computer again and goes online to buy some flowers for her aunt’s birthday. The structure of the website is quite complex, and Carole has difficulty finding a fitting bouquet. The website shows only pictures of bouquets with names such as “Christmas”, “Alchemy”, “Noa” or “Renoir”, which do not describe the size nor the colours or types of flowers, which makes it hard to make a choice. She finally settles for a bouquet with a name that sounds nice and with a price that she finds acceptable. She manages to enter her aunt’s address, where the flowers should be delivered, but eventually fails to get through the payment process. She will have to wait until the shops open again on the next day so she can place her order on the phone, but then her aunt will receive the bouquet one day after her birthday.