Digital Accessibility: it’s personal.
Forgive me if this blog post is a little different from other #LTHE chat blog posts. I was looking through last week’s chat and other recent discussions about accessibility and wondering what I could bring to the table to add value. I’ve decided that all I can do is to share my own drivers and philosophy and see where that takes us!
In my role as Education Adviser with responsibility for digital accessibility, I help to drive awareness on making accessible resources at the University of York. I also work with interns and departments on accessibility projects, run user research sessions with disabled students and promote a range of tools for checking accessibility or generating alternative formats.
When I deliver training to staff on digital accessibility, I often show them what an accessible document can do for them personally, regardless of accessibility needs. Apart from teaching the basics on how to make a document accessible, I demonstrate how it makes something more readable or easily navigable and how easy it is to change the format of the resource.
We look at tools that help them to use these features of an accessible document. It amazes me how the things I take for granted and use every day can be totally unknown to others.
Here’s a comment from someone I will call Jenny who attended one of my training sessions:
“I showed my mum Screen Shader as she has very bad visual stress and she cried from being able to read her work forms! So thank you, she’s thrilled with it.”
And that is why I deliver digital accessibility workshops personally. For me, it’s about communicating that it’s so much more than structuring a document, adding alt text or descriptive hyperlinks. There are a whole host of practices that surround digital accessibility that have to be demonstrated and communicated in person. There is joy in taking back control, personalising, overcoming the little annoyances like trying to read a PDF on a tiny screen. By the end of the training session, people know how to create an accessible document and they know they have to practise those skills, but they have also gained some additional tools and strategies they can use themselves or share with others.I do think these accessibility life hacks play an important part in persuading people to create accessible documents. Although they care about accommodating all students, when they can relate the usability of a document to their own experiences or to people they know, it makes it something they are actually ‘excited’ to do.
I also gain a lot from interacting directly with people as they learn to make things accessible. Our exchange of questions and personal examples creates that space and dialogue that no ‘online training programme’ can replace. I learn as much from each group as they do from the session. With each event, I change a little as a person and my own understanding expands and grows. This in turn makes me even more committed to investing time with people over creating more resources. There are more resources on making things accessible than we can possible look through in any given day but time spent with people is a completely unique and shared experience that, for me, has greater resonance. What I’ve learned from training staff or doing user research with our disabled students is that part of who I am comes out as I communicate with others, whether that’s in a meeting or a training session or just a conversation. So the more I interact with staff and students and work with them, the more I naturally communicate their experiences.
It’s through these conversations and the feedback I get that I find out what the impact is of the work that I’m doing. Without the feedback, how do we really know if we’re doing enough of the right thing? So in this LTHE chat, I’m going to ask people to think about their personal experiences, stories, practice and life hacks, and hope it’s a conversation we can all enjoy and take forward into our own relationships.
Lilian Joy @xlearn is an E-Learning Advisor at the University of York and one of the hosts of Future Teacher UK. You can see more about her work here.