I have decided to touch on a topic a little different than the norm today because this is an issue that was brought to my attention recently. In addition to blogging about it being an actual graded assignment, I think that we all need to be made aware that there are many different types of struggles in the world that tend to be forgotten about not unlike how mental illness is often cast aside by those who don’t suffer from it.
As many of you know, I am currently enrolled as a professional writing major at Slippery Rock University, and for this week’s assignment for one of my courses, I was introduced and told to research “web accessibility”. When hearing the word, “accessibility” I think of making something accessible to everyone and not overlooking the fact that not everyone is the same and has the same capabilities. I think of handicap parking spaces, I mentally chide buildings that lack ramps or elevators, I whisper words of disapproval when a clerk lacks the patience to properly wait on an individual who is hard of hearing and is themselves trying hard to bridge the communication gap. These are scenarios I think of when I think about accessibility. The web was not even a part of this list until this assignment was given by my professor and I am slightly ashamed of myself for that.
For those who are deaf, hearing impaired, blind, or have difficulty seeing, a simple browse on the web becomes something much more complicated then simply popping up Google, hitting search, and cruising through the results to find what you are looking for. As a person who herself has what some may describe as a “disability” and who strives to make others understand her own struggles, how could I not consider other struggling communities around me and make sure to account for their own hardships?
After researching the basics of what it means for the web to be accessible, I found that even if you aren’t a web designing savant, you can still make some small tweaks to whatever web content you do create in order to make it more readable for everyone. For example, I learned what the field “alt text” in WordPress is actually for! Essentially, it is an area for you to add one or two lines about what is going on in the picture. This text will not be seen on your actual website (like a regular tag would) but when someone who is blind or has difficulty seeing goes through your webpage, they can, with certain computer settings enabled, have your lines read out loud and therefore can still appreciate the image and whatever it is you were trying to emphasize by including it. These lines shouldn’t be complicated and don’t overthink it. Check out this blog by Catharine McNally where she helps you to create the perfect and most effective alt text.
Other very obvious elements to keep in mind are the fonts, font sizes, and colors that you use throughout your webpage. As Caitlin Geier discusses in her blog, 5 Things UX and Visual Designers Can Do to Get Started with Accessibility, we all love to experiment with different, crazy fonts and colors, and sometimes it ends up working out fine, but other times not only does your webpage look like a hot mess even to those with 20/20 vision, but it is impossible to read to those that struggle to see. Never underestimate the power of a simple, classic design regarding anything you do creatively in your life.
For anyone and everyone that reads this blog post, I challenge you to return to your blogs, your own web content, and see what you can do to make it more accessible to all of your potential readers. Check out the links I have included here for you and go through their checklists of easy ways to improve the readability of your sites. These adjustments may be slightly off the beaten path, but they are minor and easy tweaks to make.
If we want the world to show us patience and understanding with the struggles that we face , we can’t forget about those who also have challenges everyday with things that we tend to take for granted. Always remember, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can be a most enlightening experience and you might be very surprised by what you find.