Let’s Stop the Needs of the Blind User Being Pushed to the Back of the Consideration Queue

Wasn’t accessibility a website issue we solved years ago? Accessibility expert Sharon Williams reminds us it just wasn’t – and is becoming more of an issue as brands keep updating their online offerings

Sharon Williams portrait
Sharon Williams, Pia

Those of us responsible for creating content must acknowledge that it’s our job to make that content as compelling and useful as possible, but also accessible to every possible reader and user who could benefit from it.

We really need to ask; what is the point otherwise? But to be fair, prior to me joining my present company twenty years ago, maybe it wasn’t that high on my to-do list either. Having worked in the education sector, coming into a transcriptions company and having to learn about things like braille very quickly was quite a change.

But it’s a cause that I took to very quickly, and I am going to be one of those people who say they are ‘passionate’ about a cause – because I really am. For me, it’s absolutely necessary that people with a visual impairment can expect organisations to work to proper standards, that there is somewhere to turn to for evidence of, and to police those standards, and to find support for their demands of their service providers.

My many years in content accessibility have also made me feel that commissioners and creators of content also need to know what standards there are to help them as well. They need to be working towards requiring the transcribers to provide good quality, accurate documents everyone can get value from.

Given the number of people not receiving accessible and accurate information about their finances, health and so many other aspects of their lives, brands need to work better to deal with this. Many of us, of course, will believe this was sorted out years ago, when disabilities regulation and World Wide Web standards were meant to guarantee accessible formats. But while these have helped, technology has continued to advance, websites keep getting made ‘prettier’ – and the needs and concerns of the blind or partially sighted user are pushed to the back of the consideration queue.

At the end of the day, it’s about us all doing our jobs

Sometimes, I do worry that the work will never get finished – that we will never solve this. But then I see that a lot of great work is being done with things like PDF/UA and other attempts at equal content access. Maybe the work will probably never be done to its fullest extent and there will always be issues in terms of accuracy, but organisations, once their awareness is raised about these problems, genuinely do strive to solve their document accessibility issues.

There’s even a cost savings element in getting this right. It’s quite often the case that cost per unit for providing the accessible formats will be higher than the few pence spent on producing a print version of a particular transactional mail. But an organisation really isn’t doing its job properly for our fellow citizens, or its potential customers and repeat buyers if it doesn’t care for them correctly. If you as a bank want us to bank with you rather than keep all our money under our mattress, you need to make sure that we’ve got all the information we need about our own money. That’s equally true if you are trying to sell me any other kind of service, or if you work for the public sector I pay my taxes to support, or are trying to raise money for a campaign you want me to care about.

Accessibility is a problem we will never fully solve. Which is why we need to keep on solving it.

The author is a former teacher turned accessible assessment project manager who is now Managing Director of Pia [www.pia.co.uk], which provides accessible format transcription services throughout the UK. Since 2009, she has also been Treasurer of UKAAF [https://www.ukaaf.org]



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