How Thinking About Disability Makes Your Content Better
A few weeks ago, blind and visually impaired people on Facebook kept coming across the words AWESOME TEXT STATUS in their newsfeed. If their friends used the coloured background for a status update, it couldn’t be deciphered by screen readers.| July 27th, 2018
Blind activists pointed out that this error took days for Facebook to fix, and that wasn’t the first time Zuckerberg’s crew had broken accessibility features.
Making sure that your software can be used by the maximum amount of people would seem to be, on the face of it, completely obvious. But if Facebook, who have enormous programming resources, can’t get it right, then perhaps it’s just too hard?
Except it’s not. Google endorses the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which are standardised principles for making websites accessible. SEO experts are familiar with the W3 Guidelines, because Google prioritises good user experience as part of its rankings.
his means that a site with hard-to-read font, that doesn’t work on a wide range of browsers, and with no descriptive alt-text, risks being penalised by the world’s biggest search engine. For brands, this is a clear incentive to get their websites in order.
Software designers could do with studying an urban planning phenomenon called the Cut Curb effect. It happens when changes made to accommodate people with disabilities end up benefitting a wider group of people. Ever used the wheelchair-friendly curb cut on a pavement to drag your wheeled suitcase off the road? Or turned on closed caption subtitles to watch a video while hoovering? The best design is often invisible, which is why we don’t notice public signs that have clear icons and make intuitive sense – we only get annoyed when they’re missing or confusing. This is a unique aspect of disability rights: it empowers everyone.
Facebook’s Business Tools has great instructions on making videos for hearing impaired users. Except they don’t call it that, they call it “Creative Considerations for the Mobile Feed”. Knowing that most users have their sound off when they scroll through their newsfeeds, they discovered that 76% of video ads needed sound to be understood. To increase engagement, they encouraged creators to make videos more comprehensible with text and graphics. This is the Cut Curb Effect in action, but it’s not going to do much to change a systematic reluctance to consider accessibility in design. Instead, more powerful voices drawing attention to these issues can help bring awareness. When Netflix’s Queer Eye star Karamo Brown found out that closed captions weren’t working on his show, he retweeted disability activists to draw attention to the issue. Netflix jumped to fix the problem, avoiding any more social media shade and ensuring that many more viewers could binge watch their shows.
Making content more accessible isn’t rocket science. What’s needed is a shift in thinking about design and audiences, and asking ourselves – can everyone understand what we’re trying to say? If you’re not sure, talk to the SEO team about creating better user experiences and smarter web design choices. And stop with the unreadable hipster fonts, already. The internet doesn’t need any more captions written in Lobster.