A few thoughts on Software Accessibility

🎶 Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve played the silver ball… 🎶

Well, hello there… ten points to you if you got the reference 😉

I really don’t have to explain this post’s topic to you. If you’ve got a pair of working eyes… oh… ehrm… this is awkward

ACCESSIBILITY

During my time learning about software development, I rarely came across this topic, simply because not many people think of this step. At least that’s my assumption, based on eight years of learning. I mean, most of you reading will probably have somewhat functioning eyes or other body parts. This isn’t the case for a pretty significant amount of the internet’s visitors though.

Since I’m a hyper-professional blogger I obviously don’t have any statistics on hand. If I recall correctly, around 10% of males and 1% of females have some sort of color blindness. That might not sound like much but that’s just one of many possible impairments and that alone is something pretty significant if we think in the grand schemes of the internet.

Also, the effects of non-inclusion mean that these people will have a pretty hard time enjoying the internet, like the rest of us. Maybe even impossible.

So yeah… All of this interlude just to say that accessibility is pretty important and forgotten. You needed a few hundred words for that… Really? Let’s just start talking about different important things in this field.

First, it’s pretty important that your general content is on point. Keep it short. Keep it simple. No real need to be fancy with words or jargon. I mean. If a non-impaired person has trouble understanding you, how do you think an impaired person would fair? Yeah… This also includes providing your elements with fitting metadata. What does that mean? Give your image a description. Say that a specific element is actually that element. Give your video subtitles. Make also sure that your content is easily navigatable. Your basics should be… On. Point. The cool thing is that also the corresponding tools will help you out a lot more if you’ve got those basic things down. Take a screen reader for example. If you provide element metadata in a web project, like “alt” tags or not using “div”s all the time, but rather their fitting counterpart, they will help you to interpret that information a lot better.

Listen to this audio track of a screen reader, for example.

I don’t have to tell you which one is easier to understand.

Second, let’s look at colors. I mentioned it earlier. Colorblindness is a big deal. I could talk about this for an entire blog post by itself. Maybe I’ll even do this… Who knows.

To put it in a nutshell, I’ve encountered too many standard themes that would be impossible to differentiate because they only use green and red colors. In these cases, I had to adapt the standard theme to make it more accessible, which of course came with its own problems. As I said, not ideal and there’s always an interesting story that comes with this scenario. I say this in the calmest of tones.

USE SOME FREAKING SYMBOLS AND ACTUAL SENSIBLE COLORS

It helps, phew…, to differentiate. Look at this picture, for example. One with “normal” colors and one simulated picture. You can see how information gets lost this way.

By the way, if you can’t see a difference between those two pictures it means two things. Yay. My simulation worked. Second, you have red-green color blindness. Congratulations, I guess.

A comparison picture which shows the percieved colors for non-impaired and impaired people.

Okay, so last I wanna mention (user) feedback. This, not only, includes feedback from your target group of impaired users but also feedback from the different tools you use. There are so many different assistive technologies. USE THEM

Just because you aren’t impaired doesn’t mean they can’t help you. They give insight into how such users would use your piece of software thus you don’t have to guess. Also, stuff like that isn’t hard to configure. Think about it. One such user should be able to install/use such software. So I think you can do it as well… This way you can encounter roadblocks in your software earlier and make it more accessible.

About physical user feedback. Sometimes it’s not possible to conduct user testing. That’s okay. You can’t test for everything in life and sometimes that isn’t needed. But if you rely on color as a means of information, for example, get someone with red-green colorblindness, there are enough people who have this kind of impairment. Chances are you’ve got someone at your office. This will help you further identify other barriers or challenges your users may encounter. Take their feedback into account and make the changes necessary to ensure your digital creation is accessible to all users.

So yeah. There you have it. I could go on and on and on and ooon… As I mentioned, this is a pretty deep topic but this isn’t the main point of this post. The main point of all of this is that you keep accessibility a little bit more in mind than you did before, just so those impaired people can enjoy the digital world as much as we non-impaired people can.

If I managed to strike that thought in you, I succeeded and hopefully, you will do your research on how you can improve this world a bit more.

Thank you and see you.