July Net2 Think Tank Round-up: Building a Culture of Accessibility

Claire Sale's picture

Net2 Think Tank LogoIn the old days, we used to talk about accessibility as something we added to our websites. Today, the conversation has shifted towards making our websites accessible as a key requirement of the development process - for complex reasons and with complex benefits. From providing accessible content for people with disabilities, to creating fully usable functionality, to support for multiple languages, we wanted to learn about the benefits people are creating using web and mobile technology. So, for this month's Net2 Think Tank, we asked you what’s going on in the innovative world of accessibility.

Topic: How can we build a culture of accessibility? For instance: What are you doing to encourage accessibility for your own online or mobile-based presence? And, what online networks are supporting people with disabilities and what efforts are being made to make the web more accessible overall?



Below, we've compiled all of the community responses.

While this month's Net2 Think Tank is now closed, you're always welcome to add your feedback on the subject. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section at the bottom of this page.


Why We Need to Focus on Accessibility

Accessibility is something every developer and content creator should be considering. Here's why:

  • The need for online accessibility is growing - "When talking about disability, it is easy to focus on more physical disabilities (like requiring aids in walking) and using social media to create networks of support. But in dealing with software issues and the visually impaired, it can be a challenge. With 20% of the American population having some form of disability (and 40% of the Baby Boomer generation potentially developing a disability by 2030), being able to create a culture where all can access technology is critical. Although there is some software packages that allow for screen magnification, it can be extremely expensive if not already included - Windows 7 has a built-in magnifier; some screen magnification packages range from $300 - 800." - from Gordon Dymowski, summarizing Kerry Obrist's Chicago Net Tuesday Presentation - here.
  • Accessibility is good for the business bottom line - "The benefits of accessibility would [...] help to improve site usability for everybody thus expanding our reach and audience. It would also influence the number of potential customers that access your site [...] By this action we are not only contributing to the society, but we are also aiming towards our goals of increasing market/increasing viewers and in turn increasing business. - from Palak Timbadiya via Linkedin

Tips for Website Planning

Here are a few ways that developers and product managers can think about making existing sites and applications more accessible:

  • Understanding basic accessibility -  "...Unfortunately, not much of the population understands that people who are visually impaired can use the internet just as well as sighted indivduals can, including web developers. I believe that web developers should be made aware of the things that are necessary to make websites more accessibility aid friendly for the visually imapired. Arrangement of text, and the color of that text (for example, too much white cvauses glare on some people and will inconvenience them as they try to toggle the colors on their screeen manginifer- if that is an opton at all. And poorly laid out text, or too much text in images, may make that information wholly out of reach for someone using a screen reader. Furthermore, one of the things that actually one of my colleagues did that had to change was music and other sounds playing on a website designed for some of our clients; they could not easily locate the place to turn this music off and it disabled them from using a screen reader. These are all things that need to be considered in web design that, unfortunately, we've noticed are not often considered." - from Amanda Ward via Linkedin
  • Build accessibility into your existing Drupal workflow - This is different than just seeking to be 508 compliant. Here's how. - suggested by Mike Gifford on Linkedin
  • Access existing documentation - "Apple provides excellent support and documentation to 3rd-party developers so they can make their apps accessible. So now, there's no excuse for the majority of apps not to be fully accessible. For the social networking worl to get behind this and support it would be very far-reaching." - from Tom Dekker via email


Real-life accessibility case studies

Here are a few examples of well-executed tools for increased accessibility:

  • Screenreaders and screen magnifiers - "...I work at an organization that serves the blind and visually impaired, so we have to be especially careful that our media is available in many formats, so as to suit the preference of each individual user. Depending on a client's visual acuity, they not only use different media when accessing print (large print vs. Braille) but also use different software on the internet. Two of the most common are screenreaders and screen magnifiers.." - from Amanda Ward via Linkedin
  • Gmail Motion - Originally an April Fools joke from Google, Gmail motion has been turned into reality. The technology, built on Microsoft Kinect, allows gmail users to use their body movements to control gmail, rather than a click of the mouse. Learn more in this article from Mashable. - suggested by Palak Timbadiya via Linkedin
  • WAVE Toolbar - "We've worked hard in the Drupal community to build an inclusive community that eliminates barriers for participation. It's a lot of work and there is a lot to be learned about how different people interact with the web. Using tools like the WAVE toolbar can help raise awareness about where the barriers are." - from Mike Gifford on Linkedin
  • Basic Website Changes -"Many software and web developers can institute very basic changes in order to accommodate those with visual impairments. For example, many visually disabled prefer to use keyboard shortcuts - or even a game controller - over the traditional mouse. Font sizing over 40 points can also help make text more readable. Adding a verbal image tag when embedding an image can enhance user experience, especially if the user has software which “reads” web sites aloud. Several developers at the Net Tuesday meeting also recommended the FLS plug-in for Drupal and WordPress." - from Gordon Dymowski, summarizing Kerry Obrist's Chicago Net Tuesday Presentation - here.
  • Using iDevices for independent living - "iDevices [iOS or Android-based mobile devices] are becoming very popular in the vision-impaired community. As a rehab teacher, it seems to be what I teach most of the time these days, since there are so many apps that facilitate independent living." - from Tom Dekker via email

Next steps?

More is needed to make the web and mobile spheres usable. Here are a few places we can start:

  • Research Needed - "One of the things I think should be encouraged is first circulating data on just how many of us have a type of disability, in general categories. I say "us" because people with disabilities are part of the general population as readers, writers, consumers, lovers of food, blogs, wacky products, music, audio, etc. It would be great to have some simple stats about seeing, hearing, mobility and cognitive disabilities to begin to "see" the reality by country or even language use—given that 'online knows no frontiers'." - suggested by Jenifer L. Johnson via Linkedin
  • Increase Online Marketing Visibility - "Apart from the technological adaptations I think it would be also rich to shift the paradigm in the aesthetic world and include models with visible disabilities in online ads, promotional pieces, just hanging out with the rest of the image icons. It is a long overdue inclusion that everyone (people with disabilities and people without) would benefit from, and a smart marketing move at the same time." - suggested by Jenifer L. Johnson via Linkedin


General Accessibility Resources

Below are a few more resources to learn about accessibility:


A few words to leave you with

...Because Gordon says it better than I do!

Ultimately, building an online culture of accessibility contains two parts: the obvious support networks that can be built within social media, and the technical changes that can accommodate those who cannot access technology easily. It almost seems like a more open source approach - allowing a key community to provide guidance and insight into tech development to allow them to better access software and hardware tools.

Our mission is more than just evangelizing about “digital excellence” or even cheerleading about non-profits and tech - it’s about creating an atmosphere where people can bring their experiences - and expertise - to bear in shaping and creating a different kind of online culture. Hopefully, [we have] taken a first step in that regard.

- from Gordon Dymowski


Post About Your Project, Idea, or Opportunity!

While this month's Net2 Think Tank is now closed, you're always welcome to add your feedback on the subject. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section at the bottom of this page.


Thank you to all of our contributors this month! 


About Net2 Think Tank:

Net2 Think Tank is a monthly blogging/social networking event open to anyone and is a great way to participate in an exchange of ideas.  We post a question or topic to the NetSquared community and participants submit responses either on their own blogs, the NetSquared Community Blog, or using social media.  Tag your post with "net2thinktank" and email a link to us to be included. At the end of the month, the entries get pulled together in the Net2 Think Tank Round-Up.