The Transcontinental Disability Choir: How to make your blog accessible in five not-very-complicated steps
I love blogs. Blogs are where I'm at right now. I don't have a lot of internet time, but I'm telling you, when I do, I head straight for a few blogs and start bouncing around, learning stuff about knitting, YA novels, Australian politics, infertility, raising kids, and why there are totally no women bloggers out there. (You know, except for all the women bloggers out there.) It's fun!
A lot of people tell me they want to make their blog more accessible, but they aren't really sure how to do that. I'll own right up front that most of the accessibility issues relating to websites and blogs don't directly affect me – I'm not blind, d/Deaf, and I don't have mobility issues that could make web-surfing a pain. That means I may have lots of stuff at my fingertips that's “Best Practice”, but people's lived experience pretty much trumps my “studies show that”. Also, not all problems are ones you're going to be able to fix at your end anyway. But a few key things with your blog can make a big difference in who can read it.
1.Transcripts, people, transcripts.
Yes, I know. You've found the best feminist rant ever, and you want to make sure everyone you know sees it. Maybe it's Stacey Ann Chin's latest poem, or a good video rant by someone on YouTube. Maybe it's cute kittens, or your kid saying something wonderfully adorable. Give me a transcript.
I know transcripts can be difficult and time consuming, and all you want to do is toss up this great video from Sarah Haskins, so everyone can see how awesome she is. But a lot of people can't assess that awesomeness without at least a description of what Sarah said. Taking the time to even write a brief summary, like “Sarah takes on advertisements for yogurt, all of which are aimed at women, and all of which present yogurt as being life-altering. 'It’s Who-serves-yogurt-at-their-wedding good! It’s substitute-for-human-experience good! It’s being first woman president good!'”
Ideally, though, transcribe as much of it as you can. Or, look around – maybe someone else has transcribed it already, and you can just link your readers to that post. [scroll down] Or maybe you know someone who will transcribe for you, if you ask them nicely.
2. Describe your pictures
There is a description of this picture in the alt-text.
If you hover you mouse over, you'll see it, because I also included it in the title text. However, it's the alt-text that text-readers will pick up and read back to the use accessing your site.
You'll notice that my description is not simply “a lighthouse in Nova Scotia”, but actually attempts to create an idea of what the photo looks like.
Some people put their descriptions in a caption to the photo. I don't like that, although I think it's a good way to raise awareness of the issue. If more people realise we're describing images, maybe they'll follow suit.
3. Make your link-text something relevant.
My least favourite link-texts are like this:
Click here for more information.
What's “here”? What information will I get from “here”? Is this link-text at all helpful in determining what's behind it?
A lot of text-readers allow people to 'link hop', and will just stop and read what the link-text is. If you don't have link-text that actually tells people what's behind it, someone needs to figure out where to go back to in order to get context.
When linking something, try and make the link-text be relevant. See this discussion for more information about link-text.
These last two are accessibility-related things that are relevant to me.
4. Don't over-ride browser defaults for your text.
I have a degenerative eye condition (doesn't that sound scary?) so small text that I can't control, and lack of contrast between text and background makes it very difficult for me to read your site.
I know that everyone looks at things different, and has different web-surfing preferences. I know people have a "look" they want for their journals and blogs, and that's all good. What I do when I go to sites with small text is I try and make it bigger so I can actually see it. For some websites, though, this becomes impossible. Don't be that person, because I can't read your blog.
5. Look at your blog in a different browser, at least once.
We all have our ideal browser, and we all know what our blogs look like in that browser, and it's perfect. However, for reasons that completely escape me, the same html code will look very different in Firefox than it does in IE, and it won't necessarily occur to you until you look at it. For example, when I signing up with a group, I had to look at their website (which looks lovely in Firefox) in IE at work, and suddenly I couldn't find the links. The colours, which were completely viewable in FF, blended into the perfectly-chosen background in IE. The webmaster, who really hates IE, had never thought to look at it.
For another example, when I look at FWD/Forward in IE, everything looks like it's in bold, but in Firefox, it doesn't.
At least with blogs, you're usually just updating content, not layout, so you don't need to look at another browser all that often. But do try, and then do whatever you need to do to the HTML to have a "good enough" look in the browser you don't use.
Extra Bonus Points:
There's this great website: WAVE: Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool. Wave allows you to put any URL in and it will tell you if you have any glaring accessibility issues. It won't evaluate everything I've talked about here - WAVE can't tell you to put in some transcripts, for example - but it can be very eye-opening.
For example, here's a WAVE report for the Conservative Party of Canada, this is the WAVE report for the NDP, here's the WAVE report for the Liberals, and this is the WAVE report for the Green Party of Canada.
I've had representatives of all of these parties assure me that they prioritise the concerns of people with disabilities.
I leave you to judge that for yourself.
[Here's the WAVE report for the Bloc Quebecois. They don't run in my riding, so I haven't asked them about people with disabilities.]
But! Putting aside the fact that people are actually paid to put up websites for major political parties in Canada, I hope that these simple tips will make it easier for the average "in my spare time, between everything else I do" blogger to make their blog a bit more accessible.
If you don't have a blog (or even if you do!), take a look through the Bitch website. I've been chatting a bit on email with their webmaster, and I know she's interested in ways to make the site more accessible. Maybe together we can make a list of things that don't really work in terms of accessibility for the site, and make some suggestions for improvements. (With the understanding, of course, that the Bitch website team has a lot on their plate right now, and some of changes may require a great deal of work that isn't feasible for them at this time.)
Some Further Reading, and posts that have influenced my thinking on this matter:
Nerdy PSA: Accessibility Tips for the Casual Coder by Hope
Making Accessible Blog Posts by Sasha Feather
Accessibility and Graceful Degradation at Web Lessons
Making Accessible Posts for Screen Reader Technology, by Sasha Feather at Access Fandom
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