We achieved a lot in 2019 accessible content-wise, but that hill still isn’t climbed yet

As it creaks to an end, I think we can all agree 2019 was quite a year for politics, more confusing than usual BBC dramas (‘War Of The Worlds,’ anyone?) and the rising fortunes of my beloved Liverpool Football Club.

But it was also a very interesting year for website accessibility, which I have been keeping an eye on with my UKAAF hat on (you may know I am helping support its mission of improving access by partially-sighted and blind people to content). This actually started around about a year ago, actually, if we can count end of 2018 here, when I looked at the practical implementations of what is known in accessibility content circles as ‘The Marrakesh Treaty.’

Of course, it’s not really about things North African at all, important as those are, but it’s actually a UN agreement aimed at improving access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. We’re still monitoring the fallout of all that, but for once there was definite room for optimism as it meant for the first time we’ll have an international legal framework that allows the making and distribution of accessible format copies for people with print disabilities, and the sharing of accessible books across national borders.

A few weeks later, in bleak little February, we reported on a truly excellent developer conference by our friends at feisty analyst company RedMonk. At its Shoreditch ‘Monkigras’ grass roots tech conference, I had the opportunity to understand what trying to do great ‘craft’ might mean for accessibility under the event’s overall rubric of ‘Accessible Craft: Creating great experiences for everyone.’

I have to say, I loved everything – from how White Coat Captioning’s Norma Miller has built an amazing live captioning service that means anyone can follow – in real time – what a speaker is saying, to what top-level representatives of GDS had to say about defining the accessibility standards for the GDS style guide, the Service Manual now being used right across not just central, but also local, UK government.That was definitely a stand-out day, but I am glad to say it wasn’t the only great accessibility conference I had the pleasure of learning things at this year. There was also a very successful UKAAF summer conference, which I was delighted to attend, of course.

A big takeaway for me from that was just how important it is to be a really great speaker to not rely on the flash videos or slide animations, but have content expressed so well it works as if you were speaking to your audience via the radio. That was particularly true of Bruce Lawson, a freelance consultant on Accessibility and Web standards and co-editor of the W3C HTML5 specification (and who was also part of the team that drafted the BS8878 British Standard Web Accessibility Code of Practice).

Other things I’ve kept my eye on over the year and bookmarked on LinkedIn for what I really believe is the growing band of technical people finally starting to take access seriously include welcoming Radio 1’s first blind presenter, the shameful lack of thought for blind voters in the recent GE, and great independent journalism like Cath Everett’s diginomica piece on how technology could be made better use of when it comes to getting blind people back into employment.

There are lots of other things that have made the news this year that give me reason to be cheerful for the UKAAF cause, including the fascinating data point that the spending power of disabled consumers as measured as the ‘Purple Pound’ is £249 billion in the UK, and is rising by an average of 14% per annum.

Looking back on 2019 and the things I have seen and experienced, I think that’s a factor that business will increasingly take seriously at long last. But UKAAF’s mission is far from done, so here’s to pushing the envelope for accessible formats that much further out in 2020.

Carina Birt, UKAAF PRO and Founder of Sarum PR

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