Digital inclusion: online, VIP doesn’t stand for ‘very important person’

“I realise the acronym doesn’t relate to my significance in society, but perhaps it should. Surely, the needs of visually impaired people are just as important as others.”

As part of the digital accessibility campaign that we launched a couple of years ago, People for Research has been teaming up with charities and organisations to raise awareness about digital inclusion.

We also invited guest bloggers to share their feedback: one of them is visually impaired athlete and blogger Selina Litt, who keeps the amazing blog up and running.

Selina Litt at the 20th Commonwealth Games

When accessing services as a visually impaired person, I’m often referred to as a ‘VIP’. Obviously, I realise the acronym doesn’t relate to my significance in society, but perhaps it should. Surely, the needs of visually impaired people are just as important as others.

I’m Selina and I have been a regular blogger for the last 10 years. Like many visually impaired people, I am reliant on a screen reader in order to access the internet. Whilst I am grateful for the technology, surfing the web can be a daily frustration.

Websites overloaded with flash leave my screen reader stuttering, unlabelled links baffle me and capture codes drive me crazy. There is usually an audio alternative to the dancing letters, but they tend to be so muffled you can’t work them out anyway.

If I were to highlight all of the issues I face when online, I would end up writing a lengthy novel.

Therefore, I’ll just focus on a handful of problems I have to deal with purely as a blogger.

Composition

When I created my blog, I was able to select a background, upload an image and insert information about myself. Not being able to see the background choices, I simply picked one at random and crossed my fingers that it looked okay.

I have tried uploading photos of myself a few times and still have no clue if they appear or not since the site offers no written confirmation.

I had a little more success with the ‘about me’ section. However, 10 years down the line, I am unable to edit it as the various updates to the site means my screen reader won’t interact with the relevant edit boxes. Hence, the information is inaccurate and out of date. It could be argued that I should get sighted assistance to help maintain my blog, although the idea of that irritates me. It’s my blog and I want everything on it to be my work.

Posts

My blog offers a variety of fancy formatting options when composing a new post. However, none of them are screen reader-friendly, so I leave them well alone. Generally, I write a new post up in Word and then copy and paste it into the necessary edit box.

Every time I write the title to a new post and try and tab out of the box, it sends my cursor back to the top of the page instead of to the next control. I know this will happen and have learnt how to strategically navigate around the page to avoid being sent back to the start.

There used to be a lovely capture code to decipher before anyone, including myself, could comment on a post. Thankfully, I was able to disable this feature, but now I have to deal with spam comments.

Sharing

In recent years, it has become the norm to share everything we do on social media and my blog is no different.

Naturally, social media presents its own set of dilemmas for visually impaired people.

For example, it is rare that a screen reader can fully access a main site, so visually impaired people are encouraged to use the more basic mobile versions. This would be a reasonable solution if the mobile sites were actually accessible. Unlabelled links and graphics are common and I especially dislike it when emoticons appear invisible to screen readers, since visuals contribute massively towards meaning.

The way websites can be made more user-friendly is by working with visually impaired people.

Get them to test your site for accessibility, and then you can work together on how best to improve it. You can reach out to more people, and visually impaired people can have one less stress in their lives. The internet is a powerful tool and it would be great if everyone was able to fully access it. So, the next time you create or update your website, please don’t forget about the VIPs.

Earlier this year, People for Research lunched a new service called Accessibility Collective, a panel of people with different disabilities and accessibility needs who are readily available to take part in user research and testing. This fixed price accessibility recruitment option is currently available in London and Bristol. To find out more about it, or get in touch with our Senior Project Manager Alex Evans — alex@peopleforresearch.co.uk.

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