#AccessMeans - our event for Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2021
Senior Account Manager
2 minute read
Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) was created to further the discussion about digital access and inclusion across technology, digital tools, assets, and software worldwide.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD)
Last week we celebrated Global Accessibility Awareness Day with a chorus of voices from the Nexer team, and some special guests. Accessibility underpins everything we do at Nexer, from auditing digital products and services, writing accessibility statements, delivering training and most recently working with Umbraco to launch an accessibility training course.
This year, to celebrate the 10th Global Accessibility Awareness Day we really wanted to put the focus on creating accessible content and talk about our personal experiences navigating a range of digital touchpoints. Every day at Nexer Digital we dedicate our time and passion to a human-centred approach in everything we do. In an effort to bring accessibility to life, we wanted to highlight some of our own team’s experiences and tips, as well as various advocates in the field, to help elevate the message of inclusion. Whether you are new to accessibility, already working in the field, or you just want to know more, we created this event to cater for anyone and everyone, just how we would on any other day.
Our dedicated content team Justin, Will and Lisa highlighted ways in which we can engage with audiences more inclusively, by looking at alt-text techniques and using Plain English in practice. Ever wondered how to describe images to those who cannot visually access them? Justin even explained how poetry can help. In an ever-growing diverse society, we have to ensure our written content is understandable. Gone are the days we write to impress, let’s encourage writing to be understood. Will talked about benefits and tips on how to write in Plain English in practice.
Lisa shared her lived experience of living with Dyslexia, and how this acts as a superpower but also a curse in some situations. Lisa shared a real-life account of how good content can be designed to enhance user experiences and evoke feelings of belonging. It’s worth recognising this was Lisa’s second time ever, talking about her personal experiences as a dyslexic person. During her presentation, she used her experiences as a poet to artistically express and convey her experiences with dyslexia.
We heard from Holly Scott-Gardner who has been blind from birth and relies on a screen reader to access her degree at Leeds University, her work as a Usability assessor as well as day-to-day life. Holly shared her thoughts on how inaccessible spaces, including digital environments, can easily exclude people with specific access requirements. Holly expressed that even websites that meet WCAG guidelines, in theory, may not meet the needs of people with access needs, for instance when she is shopping for makeup or clothes.
Our very own Molly Watt, an accessibility and UX specialist, produced our #AccessMeans film, which features enlightening and inspiring stories from a wide range of people. The film plays an essential role in opening the conversation and discussion around the importance of designing inclusive and accessible products. We hope that this film will continue to encourage others to share their own stories and experiences using the hashtag #AccessMeans.
Finally, our panel shared personal and moving accounts of their experiences, which prompted candid and open discussion from attendees. Taking the time to listen and understand perspectives and experiences is the first step to building services and products that better serve a wide range of users. Accessible content benefits everyone, not just people who may have access needs.
The full event recording is available below for anyone who'd like to watch and share the message.
Hilary: okay so good afternoon everybody, just do a quick thumbs up Chris you can hear me okay yeah? Yeah, so welcome this afternoon this is our event celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day. My name's Hilary I'm just introducing the event, I'm not doing any of the hard work today, I'm just going to go through the speaker list and a few notes on guidance for the session there's quite a few for about 80 people so thank you very much for signing up. Given the subject matter of what we're covering today, I think it's fair to say that we're pushing the limits of Microsoft Teams and we're going to have some fun with it, and we'll get quite creative. But what I would ask is if everybody can stay on mute, please, if you could also avoid using the chat, the messaging feature unless you specifically asked to do that as part of one of the exercises that will be really helpful to people who are joining today and are using screen reader or voice over technologies. Okay so I will very quickly say hello to the rest of the team, so today's event as I say we're going to make it quite creative so we have Holly with us, Holly's going to speak first we're going to move into a more of a creative session with Justin he's the head of our content team at Nexer, and Will and Lisa who are part of the same team are they going to do some more sessions with you and then we have quite a nice celebration video to share with you that has been produced by Molly, who's also on the team today. That's the break that allows us to then kind of gather for the panel so you know as that video is playing, we'll just take stock and then there should be plenty of time left to answer any questions at that point we will probably open up the chat and try and relay the questions to our panel of speakers. We are recording, I did say that I think in the invitation so we're recording now, there will be an upload of the meeting and a transcript to our YouTube channel after the event, probably not this evening but at some point, in the next week because we'd like to caption everything so that will follow.
A couple of content warnings there will be some moving images, there is a video and some audio in there as well so just be prepared for when they're coming but there are placeholder slides throughout that tell you who's up next. So, unless I’ve forgotten anything I’m going to mention that Chris is my co-host, Chris is driving the session and moving through the slides and Chris will host the panel discussion. Okay so Holly Scott- Gardner over to you please, we'll be quiet.
Holly: Hi everyone, it's really great to see so many people joining this, I think that's really, really exciting. As Hilary said, I am Holly Scott Gardner and I’ll tell you just a very quick bit about myself I’ve been blind since birth, I've been involved in disability rights advocacy for over 10 years now, I’ve been quite heavily involved in online activism and advocacy around access to government facilities and access to government services for disabled people. I'm also a postgraduate student in the field of social and public policy and in addition I work as a usability assessor. I think it's fair to say I’m quite busy at the moment!
I'm going to talk a bit about accessibility but I’m also going to talk about accessibility in a very personal context so rather than quoting accessibility laws or accessibility guidelines at you, I’m going to share really my own personal experiences with access or with a lack of accessibility, so firstly I think often when we talk about something not being accessible we think of physical accessibility so perhaps a building doesn't have a lift, which would make it inaccessible to a lot of wheelchair users or perhaps a building doesn't have braille signage and an example of this I use all the time is signs on bathroom doors, because they can be quite useful as a blind person. But something I come across all the time is digital inaccessibility, it's fair to say the majority of websites don't meet web accessibility guidelines but I think guidelines only go part of the way to making sure people have accessible experiences. I like to say we should have a human-centered approach, so guidelines can't cover everything, and we need to look at the kinds of people who are accessing our content and think about how I can make this as accessible to the widest number of people possible. I think a really interesting example of this is in education so we quite often have very rigid ways of expecting students to access content, we'll say well you know the content is only going to be available in a textbook and not all students learn very well through reading and that's got nothing to do with disabled students so some of those students might be disabled, I think it's about looking at everyone and saying how do different people take in information, how do different people work, and try to adapt to that. So different areas in which I’m denied access, and I’m going to talk about a few of these and some of the most common ones would be images on the internet, that don't have an alternative text description.
So alt text is used to provide descriptions of images and the text is only visible when you're using a screen reader so one way in which this has had kind of a big impact over the last year is Coronavirus briefings and graphs and such, that have been put on the internet after these, so a lot of those are just uploaded as an image and if there's no description that a blind person can't access, so that's some quite serious public health data that we miss out on and infographics as well, often share really interesting and important information and unfortunately if there's no text-based alternative I can quite easily miss out on that so another way is videos which have no or insufficient audio content.
So you've all seen them these videos where there's some really great background music and then maybe some text and some images over the top and I’m here, I'm like well the music's nice but there isn't a lot else I can get out of this, so actually last week I was in a lecture at university and we were discussing various different things and someone said: ‘Oh I’ve got this really good video, which shows this,’ actually what they were showing was how photos are edited in different countries, for advertisements and how different countries choose to edit images differently, you know in their perception of beauty and this video was played and it was just three minutes of music for me because there was no voice over or there was no other way for me to access it, and it was just one of those moments where I was like: ‘oh okay well, I guess I have no idea now.’
So another thing that I come across a lot is: unlabelled buttons, whether that's on the internet or in apps, if a button doesn't have a label I just don't know what it's for, it may have an image which can indicate someone who can see what the function of the button is but for me, as a blind person I would have absolutely no idea and these are really kind of very directly inaccessible piece of content, but I also talk about indirectly inaccessible content which is content that maybe doesn't violate any guidelines but what it does do is make it difficult for me to access it, I see this all the time in online shopping, an image could have alt text, but it's not detailed enough and product descriptions don't describe the exact cut or length of the product and colour names aren't specific, so there's these really interesting colour names that you'll see on the internet, I can't even think of the top of my head but it will never say like blue or anything like that it will give some really odd description of a colour and I’m like I have no idea what that means, I see that especially in makeup where it will be like, ‘most relaxing’ or something like that, and then you will just be very confused because you're like I have no idea what colour that would even relate to.
I also want to say that it's really important to build in accessibility from the start so a lot of people view access and accessibility is something that's expensive or difficult and I think it can be, but only if you're trying to add it at the end, so I always say like view it as a priority from the very beginning and it will be not that much more difficult than anything else. Accessibility will also help your design, it won't ruin your design, again another thing that happens all the time is people like: ‘well I'm just really worried that the accessibility is going to ruin the aesthetic of my product,’ ‘it's just not what I want,’ and I kind of listen to people who they say that, I just think but if your design doesn't work for people, it's not a good design in the first place and the whole purpose of producing a product, is so that people can access it, so I find that justification quite strange.
I think it's really helpful to provide some clear-cut examples of just ways in which I'm denied access and I’ve tried to do that throughout this, but there are a few more so I couldn't register for the GP because the form wasn't actually accessible, it had an inaccessible Captcha on it, we've all seen captchas and this one, had no audio alternative or anything like that. So, I had to try and call them and try and do it over the phone and it was just an experience. Ironically, I couldn't apply for legal aid because the form wasn't accessible, this is ironic both because I was applying for legal aid for an accessibility, well for disability discrimination case but also because they're not complying with laws that should bind them, which is quite interesting as a legal aid agency.
One example I gave was about coronavirus briefings, but something I saw during the pandemic was the World Health Organization released some interesting information, but it was posted all over social media as just pictures and so unfortunately that shut out a lot of people, and not just blind people, it shuts out people who maybe need colour contrast, maybe people with dyslexia, who need to change the font of the text- if it's all in a photo then so many people can't access it. One kind of, another interesting one in education was when I was an undergraduate, I couldn't very easily access my assignment feedback, I could access my grade but not the comments which were written on my assignments, so I always had to email lecturers to find out what exactly the feedback was, and sometimes I just thought ‘this is going to take way too much time,’ so I then didn't do it, which is another thing we have, this idea of a disabled person can find an alternative and I think that's true but it places the responsibility and the burden on them and it can make it quite difficult.
I really hope this has given you a very, very brief overview of accessibility, kind of out there in the real world and what it means to me as a blind person and you know obviously later on in the panel then you'll be able to ask some more questions, but I hope this was helpful.
Hilary: Very helpful, thank you Holly useful context to set us off and given the next session is specifically on smart ways to write meaningful alt text, I think you've tied in beautifully. I would say though, I’m not a huge makeup wearer but if I was going to choose a brand and something with a description: ‘most relaxing,’ might be quite useful for me at the minute, so thank you for that tip, I will look that up. I think you've listed some wonderful examples we've seen many scenarios like that, and hopefully today we can start to give people some pointers on subtle, small changes you know, very simple things they can change to their content that is available to them now, in everyday tools.
So, Justin, I’m going to hand over to you and I think Chris is going to put you on spotlight as well, and yeah, no pressure but you're going to teach us how to write alt text well please!
Justin: Okay, don't know what you're going to do Chris, so just thinking can you take control of the deck yeah and if you keep clicking you should be good, got it okay.
So, everybody should be seeing a slide that says, ‘alt text is poetry’ hopefully that's worked, I'll click ‘take control,’ I have yeah, and it says stop presenting so I am presenting. slide there Chris, yeah let's click through for you, that's pretty awesome okay so thanks Chris.
So, I’m going to talk about alt text of poetry, which was an idea that I found, it wasn't my idea, I'm not taking credit for it, I mentioned in here, whose idea it was originally.
But it's really interesting way of thinking about alt text because when you're writing alt text you're doing in some ways, quite a similar thing that to what you're doing when you write certain kinds of poetry, you're trying to describe something, convey something physical but using words, you're trying to be sort of minimalist, in your use of language you're trying to condense meaning into something that's not too long, so I thought it was a really interesting way of looking at alt text.
Okay so we're going to talk about what alt text is and why it's important. We are going to talk about the fact that it can be hard to do, it's not something that I find particularly easy, find it enjoyable but I don't find it particularly easy, and we'll talk about how poetry is going to help and then I’m going to give people on the call an opportunity to have a try at that. When we come to do that obviously, we'll be needing to look at the images, so if there's anyone on the call who has accessibility concerns and I’ve already spoken to Holly about this, then we can talk to you about how you feel other people have done. in writing the alt text, then whether it works for you, so we're trying to be as inclusive as we can with the exercise. But what we're aiming to do is, to get some good alt text written that works for everybody and then at the end there are some reasons.
Oh, sorry I’m clicking. What is alt text and why is it important, yeah next slide.
So, a billion people around the world have a long-term disability and that's one person in every seven, that might be having some kind of accessibility needs that's correct and, in the UK, bringing it kind of closer to home, that's 13.3 million people, that's just over a fifth of everyone. We quite like to point out that that anybody can have challenges, this way disability is more common than you might think, and it's highly likely if not definite, that we will all experience some kind of disability at some point in our lives.
So, by the age of 45 most people will need glasses you can probably see mine, but many websites don't support dynamic text that don't allow you to increase the size of text many people on iPhone use large text, as a setting but a lot of apps aren't compatible. And then we've got a picture there that, ‘you know you're getting older when you admit defeat and increase the font size on your phone.’
So how does this impact you, well even if you never edit a website, which I’m guessing probably lots of people on the call, you have the option to improve accessibility in lots of cases, so every time you tweet, every time you post on Facebook, every time you build a slideshow or write a blog post, then you are potentially writing alt text, if you're including images in any of those things then there are ways that you can write alt text, they differ for the different mediums but there's a way to do it on all of those. At the bottom there is alt text poetry.net so that is the website of the people who gave me this idea, through old python text hyphen as hyphen poetry.net
Thanks Chris. So I’m guessing probably most people know this already, but it's best not to assume, so alt text is the alternative text that gives a text alternative to non-text content so the most common example is images on web pages, it can be on the page in description around that non-text content and that's, for example, you may have seen people on Facebook starting to do that in their kind of status updates when they post a picture, that they include a description in their status of what that picture is.
In html it's an alt attribute and that text is read out by screen readers, so that screen reader users can access the image and I’ve got a quote here from Web Aim so, ‘adding alternative text for images is the first principle of web accessibility it's kind of accessibility 101.’
So I’ve got an example here so, on the right we've got a picture of some of my colleagues and the alt text says ‘alt equals two hexagons shaped photographs with a smaller picture slightly overlaid by a larger picture in the small picture people are grouped around a table chatting and drinking tea and in the larger picture a ginger haired white man is sat down concentrating and looking at a laptop’ and I hope you can start to see, as I read that out, you're immediately starting to prioritize so the guy looking at the laptop is my colleague Francis, is it relevant that he's got ginger hair? I don't know, it depends on the context is it relevant that he's white? Again, there's a huge debate to be to be had about that, he's also got loads of stickers on his laptop, but I didn't mention those, he's sitting in front of some post-it, I didn't mention those, so there are decisions that you have to make right from the very beginning when you're writing alt text. What's the context, what are you trying to convey with that image, because once an image is anything more than something incredibly simple then you can't describe absolutely everything that's there.
I got this one from the BBC, so we've got alt equals ‘a woman that looks unhappy and the one cherry tomato on her plate,’ and then the picture the alt text for the PowerPoint slide actually includes the text that's on the picture, but the text there says ‘why are brits up obsessed with the same four vegetables,’ and again I’ve made some decisions, the woman in the picture is not white, but I haven't mentioned that, but it depends on the context, I've mentioned that she's looking unhappy, I’m guessing that's what it is, but it seems that that's likely, given that we're talking about boredom around eating the same vegetables all of the time, so there are always things that you need to figure out.
Thanks, so I think I’ve probably already started to make this point, that writing alt tex is not always easy, it can be difficult to do.
So, I joined slightly late, but I don't know if Chris and Hilary said at the beginning that we're trying to avoid using this chat too much because we have people on the call we know, who are using screen readers, it triggers the screen reader and then that reads over the top of people talking. But for the next couple of minutes, you all have permission to use the chat in the call so, for those that are able I’d like you to have a go at describing the image on the screen and type your answer in the chat.
I hope everybody's sitting thinking rather than deciding they're not going to do it, because I’ve got nothing to say on this slide if no one types anything.
Thanks Lucy, thanks Sarah.
Okay so already these are fascinating, I just read some of these out, so we've got ‘a woman looks in the camera and holds the hand over her chest,’ so ‘picking up on her hand,’ and ‘staring right at the camera,’ somebody mentions that she's holding up this above her heart, which is interesting to hear, Amy you've mentioned she looks concerned, somebody mentioned the ring on her finger, that is her left hand so yeah that's kind of potentially interesting. Lisa ‘white woman looking a bit wistful,’ ‘a woman is looking intensely,’ okay so I get you two just pause, and we'll go to the next slide please.
Okay so for those that are not able to see the picture, we've got it again, but I’ve given some context, so this is from the MIND website, so a mental health charity and you can see it's next to a box that says ‘When you're living with a mental health problem, or supporting someone who is, having access to the right information- about a condition, treatment options, or practical issues - is vital. Choose one of the options below to find out more’ so we now know that that's in the context of MIND it's in the context of mental health, it's in the context of someone needing access to information, so again I’ll just give you just a few minutes to see, does that change what you've written? Would you write something different now that you know where this is from?
So, you can type yes it would, or you can try typing something that's different from what you typed before or explaining what the difference might be.
‘pensive’ great word
Yes thanks, it is hard to know quite how you would get that across, okay so can we move on, Chris.
So ‘how poetry can help,’ we're going to look at some exercises from poetry or some approaches from poetry that might help us to do this all right, yeah next slide please.
So yeah, Lisa who is going to be speaking, who is a published poet and a content designer with us at Nexer, she sent me this website ‘alt text poetry’ which was created by disabled activists and artists, bianna cochilot and shannon finnegan and I wrote to them and said is it okay if I use your materials because I thought they were really great, there's loads more on that website than I couldn’t cover today and much more, but I wanted to have a go at least so just obviously they said yeah, and the materials are available under a creative comms license which means you can use them too, provided you give them the credit.
Okay next one, so there are three kind of ideas or approaches from the world of poetry that we can apply to alt text and we're going to look at some of those. So, the first one is attention to language, second one is the word economy and the last one is experimental spirit, sometimes it's worth thinking about left field and coming at it from a different direction to get some ideas for how you might do things. Okay next one please Chris.
So the first one ‘attention to language’ it's good to think about what words are you using and what are the connotations of those words, so I saw in the chat some someone's pensive and someone else said thoughtful, is there a difference, is one of those more likely to be understood than the other? Is there a reason that you might choose one over the other? and that again feeds into what's the tone of our writing, the way in which we're doing the writing so you probably wouldn’t write jokey alt text about this picture. how do they fit so today do they contrast with what the picture is there for and what it's trying to achieve? Do they match the tone and the perspective of the image?
Next one please. So that's the word economy, so it's normally important to make alt text reasonably brief and there are other techniques that you can use if that's not possible but when it comes to things like describing complicated charts then you need to take a different approach because you can't put enough in alt text to do that, so for most images one to two sentences will do and that's great for poetry particularly like haiku's poetry has a lot to teach us about pairing down language to create something expressive, but concise you can great way to work out how can you say a lot with not very many words, thanks Chris.
And lastly experimental spirit, so as we've already seen there are lots of really complicated and interesting questions that come up when you're trying to explain a picture with some words and I think we need to try out different ways of doing this and talk to people and talk to each other and have discussions about ‘is this good for this picture,’ or ‘is this better for this picture,’ I have a feeling that this is this is probably rushed sometimes and someone will run an accessibility check on a website, find out that they're missing some alt text and quickly bash in three sentences and I think sometimes we need to take a breath and take a bit longer than that. Next one, so over to you all again. We've got a couple of exercises to do. When I did this session before people did it in groups, but that's going to be a bit difficult on here so what I would like you to each do, we'll do this in two parts so part one is the series one of the images, so the first image is the image we've already seen of the pensive woman with the ring, and the hand on the chair and the other one I don't want to say too much about it, but it's a picture of I think it's by an American artist and it's two black women standing in a street having a conversation, so I’d like you to choose one of those and then in the chat just list what's in it so this is the kind of first quite simple approach to it just list what's in the picture, what objects what people what nouns are in there, and see if you can get to five, but if you get more than that, knock yourself out. I'll give you a couple of minutes.
Thanks for this one
Are you sure Elizabeth, you've been here too long?
So, we've got streetlights, people, pavement sky, roads building, short huh. Thanks Elizabeth
Okay just a few more seconds
Elizabeth when you mentioned the chalk, i think you were perhaps thinking of the medium that the picture was done in, is that right? Yes, I thought I might get told off for that.
Because it's a painting you know, it's interesting to people, I think it’s. really good that you saw that. Okay so part two, so you've done nouns it's like going back to school, the nouns now it's adjective or descriptive words that describe the image, or a part of the image or how you respond to it or the mood of the image or association, so descriptive words how does it make you feel? how would you describe it? and not using nouns reflecting what's in it? But what descriptive words would you use?
Okay so again, we'll just go with a couple of minutes, seemed to be long enough.
Just while people are doing this and anyone else who is using an assistive tech, isn't able to see the picture clearly how does this how are they seeming to you, are they are they interesting, is there anything you notice about them?
Holly: I think like certainly for me, it's really interesting to see what different people prioritize and I don't think there's anything wrong with that because how we view images is inherently personal, it obviously does mean as a blind person I’m always viewing an image through kind of someone else's perspective, because you know when they write alt text, I’m getting their perspective which may not be someone else's but I do think it's interesting to see how that there are some similarities as well in what people you know, pull out of these.
Justin: I guess this really is putting you on the spot a little bit, but things like Francis being having ginger hair and being white or the woman in the first picture is white, the two women in the picture underneath are black, do you have any thoughts on that do you do you think it's helpful to always say, I know this is your personal opinion
Holly: I'm not turning into a spokesperson, but it's interesting to think about yeah I actually do think it's important I think it's very difficult to guess what race or gender someone is just by looking at them, but I think you know you can easily say a light-skinned person or a dark-skinned person or you know a dark-skinned person with long hair or a light you know a light-skinned person and just grab their hair and things like that so I do think this information matters and I think it’s important because so there's so much context that we can get in images, certainly in political context as well you know, it does make a difference and I think it absolutely changes how people see the image.
Justin: That's great thank you. Okay so we will move on to the next exercise, thank you everybody. Unless I've misremembered, this is the last exercise so, choose that same and maybe one more but anyway choose that same image and what I want you to do is in the chat, write one sentence and then once you've done that write a second sentence, so the first sentence is what do you think is the most important thing to capture about that image and the second sentence is, what's the next most important thing and then we'll do three and the third, obviously is the third most important thing, prioritizing and thinking we've only got you know, a little bit of space here, two or three sentences what do we say first what do we say, second say not say, it what do we say second and by implication what do we not say, so a little bit longer than two minutes since I’m asking you to write whole sentences.
Great thank you
So, we've got two women waiting on the street no traffic can be seen a couple meeting and a quiet street on a cool autumn day
and we got men chatting, two black women having a conversation, cloudy dark building contrasting
I think it's interesting to note that the second picture I don't think I told you this, but I think it is somewhere in the slides, I think it's from an exhibition of an American city and I think it's by a black photographer, so I think in this context the race of the people is really important but again, you would only know that if you've done some research which I think is another interesting thing to note.
Okay we seem to be slowing down, so Chris can we go to the next. Okay so there's some resources there, I hope that was interesting and useful, we can find a way to make some of this available for people to take away, I’m not expecting you to write down all of those resources, there's a lot there.
There we go so, it's important, I've said alt text, it can be tricky, but poetry helps you, can make a difference you know we are all nowadays the advent of social media, we're all content producers. If you have time have a look at that ‘alt text with poetry.net’ I’ve really only skimmed the surface of what's on there and yeah if you want to continue the conversation with me or with others my twitter handle is there it's Just_UX and I think other people's handles are around and about in the information about the meeting.
So, I hope that was useful thank you very much.
Chris: Cool cheers, thank you very much Justin, that has been a really insightful talk. I hope you guys enjoyed that or I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did, and I think the thing that I personally really took out of that is the whole idea of trying to understand the context of how you're using imageries in within your pages and making sure that your alt text reflects the purpose of the content not just the descriptive elements that are in the image.
So i thought that was excellent, there have been a couple of requests during the session for access to the files, the presentation I’ve tried to upload them into the chat but for some reason they're not going in, so apologies for that but I will share them straight after the session with everybody so they're ready to go, I just can't get them to you, so apologies for that. Moving on we're going to be moving over to Will, who is going to be giving a presentation on the importance of plain language. So, I will start sharing his slides and I will hand over to Will to introduce himself.
Will: Good afternoon everyone, can you hear me, unmuted myself
I can take control of this slideshow because otherwise I’m going to say next slide a lot it's just getting ready now, just a couple of seconds and we'll be good to go. Excellent okay, I should introduce myself in the meantime my name's William Caston Cook, I’m a content designer for Nexer, part of the team with Justin and Lisa. Yeah, I’ve been creating content for the internet for my entire adult life. That will be probably enough about me to say we'll just wait for this to load, there you go, excellent.
I have taken control it's going swimmingly so far right, so this talk is called the ‘importance of plain English.’
But it would be easier to understand the message if I’d called it plain English is important, but why is that? Hopefully I can explain in the length of time it takes me to drink this giant cup of tea and get out of your way, okay, so we're going to talk about how we are taught to write, we're going to talk about plain English obviously and we're going to talk about how to write to be understood, I’m aiming this talk at people who kind of have to write for their job or in their day-to-day lives but, that aren't super nerdy about it like I am, if that isn't you please just bear with me I'll be out of your way pretty shortly and we're going to cover some pretty big topics quickly. I'll try and all the way through share kind of universal rules and tips that will help you with your own writing, it's important to say that people devote their whole careers to topics so I’m about to strip of nuance and summarize in about 10-15 minutes, the truth is that i'm not going to say anything that people much smarter than me haven't already said but, the internet is still full of content that is inexplicably difficult to understand, so instead of just banging my head against a brick wall here, I am sharing some tips.
Okay, we are taught to write in order to show how smart we are, we learn to impress our teachers and our peers with complexity we write to pass exams, we write essays to get good grades. We are taught to write to express ourselves to communicate our feelings to a potential partner to show how much we have understood or how much we've learned. We learn to use complexity as a way of standing out from the crowd and we begin when we write, when we learn to write, we begin to write for ourselves and this is the fundamental thing that we need to understand and the key thing that I want to impress you in this. When we write we need to worry a whole lot less about appearing smart to other people and worry a whole lot more about being understood by other people.
So I found out that this isn't a Maya Angelou quote, I was distraught but hey ho, it's by someone called Carl Abuna who I don't know anything about, apart from his name and that he originally said ‘they may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel,’ it's a quote that I’ve got on my wall behind my screen, just over there and I think about it all the time when I’m creating content. We need to write to be understood, we need to communicate with respect for our audience, they might not remember the nuance of the language that we use but if you make people feel stupid or you create something or publish something that people can't understand or they can't use you know you really have to think about how you're making them feel. Making your audience feel okay in plain English is a way of showing respect for the people who interact with your content ultimately, it is communication that allows your audience to understand first time, it's easier to understand and it allows you to get your message across more easily and in a friendlier way.
The person interacting with your writing doesn't have the benefit of knowing what you're thinking as you write, that's really important using plain English gives them the best chance of understanding okay in plain English, is a message written with the reader in mind and with the right tone of voice and that is clear and concise. You need to think about who your audience is, the context in which they'll receive your writing can you say the same thing with less words, are there any vague words or are you using jargon that you can swap out for something more direct? You're looking to remove any element of doubt it's not about what you are thinking, the reader only has the content that you give them, they do not have your thought process basically and so plain English helps people who are multitasking who are stressed, in a hurry and honestly my speaker notes for this slide just say, ‘I feel seen.’
Plain English helps people who have cognitive visual or motor impairments there is an accessibility issue and as I’ve said it's a sign of respect, that's why I’m so passionate about using plain English and everything that we do right, so we'll go through some quick tips.
So, use: short simple sentences, clear writing should have an average sentence length of 15 to 20 words 25 words is a good maximum sentence limit, you can mix up shorter and longer sentences to build up a sense of flow to kind of feel kind of creative in the way you're working it doesn't have to be, but generally the longer the sentence is the harder it is for people to comprehend. A good way to test this is to read it aloud, if you can't read it aloud without rushing and gasping for air, then you need to edit it.
Okay so you can split those long sentences up or use bullet points you know, often using a list is the easiest thing to do, avoid complex sentence structures. So we're trying to reduce the cognitive effort for our audience again, it's important to remember that your audience is not blessed with the knowledge of what you are trying to say, they only know what you are saying but you know what you're trying to say and your brain will fill in the gaps without you even realizing so it's really, really important to get someone to look at your writing before you send it or before you publish it.
It's so important and choose easy and short words not formal and long ones that's really key to all of this, like write for the reading comprehension of a nine-year-old, your writing will reach most users, then it also becomes easier to scan read for everyone so try to use short higher frequency words which are much easier to read.
If you google the Hemingway app that's a good website, you can put your content in it will tell you reading ages, it'll go through and give you a readability score for your piece of writing.
Okay so explain specialist terms, do not assume that your audience will understand the technical language that you do, it's okay if you do need to include technical terms but explain it the first time you use it, give the reader the context. You can also make sure that the surrounding words are in plain English, in more high frequency words so that that extra cognitive stress you're giving them by using words that they don't necessarily understand is taken away or is negated a little bit.
Okay and never use vague words and jargon okay, so here's the point you should think about what you want to say or more importantly what you want the person to understand and just say that vague words and jargon introduce an element of doubt for the reader that isn't fair on them it helps to picture your audience and write as if you were talking directly to them with the authority of someone who can help and inform.
Okay so, let's look at a few rules that we can follow that will help make your content easier to understand. Okay to be understood use specific meaningful headings, when people scan when they first come to a piece of content they look at the headings first, this is where you decide if you're in the right place or not, front load your headings so they're easier to scan put the point or the action you need someone to take at the very beginning it makes it easier to scan and understand if you do that okay keep paragraphs short blocks of text are hard to digest if you see a big wall of text it's intimidating and it's needless use subheadings for longer pieces of content and you use your subheadings to indicate what's in the paragraph that follows it makes it much easier to scan it's the most is the fairest way to treat your content and use bullet points to split up longer sentences should be stressed.
I can't stress this enough that content designers love lists. But there's a point you break it down into a list, it just takes away so much of the cognitive load and it's an easier way to easier way to present your content make link text meaningful, don't use ‘click here’ or ‘more information’ or ‘find out more’ tell the person what more they'll find out when they click on the link, don't just be don't be ambiguous about it and avoid putting your links in the middle of a sentence, it can be distracting and cause readability challenges. You either put the link at the front of the sentence at the start front load it or you put it at the end if you put it in the middle, it can get confusing.
Okay so when you create content when you're writing it's best to be clear what the main things are that you want to get across. I’ve put three here, but it can be as many as you want it's best to break it into smaller chunks if there's lots of things you want to accomplish but just be clear about the point of what you're doing what you want your audience to understand and make it practical.
Write in plain language as I’ve said short sentences and paragraphs make it easy to scan with headings and subheadings and once you've done all of that, read your writing aloud ask someone to read it for you, pair write pair write, is advise that we use basically if you ask someone to tell you something, to talk to you about something, they will say it directly and they will tell you exactly what they mean but if you ask someone to write about it, they will spend two or three hours just freaking out and staring at a screen so pair writing is a device that you can use where one person talks, the other person types. You start by agreeing on the kind of the point of the piece of writing, what you're wanting to achieve by it and then one person talks the other person writes then you switch after five minutes or after they've lost their flow and then once you've written, everything you can start.
Back again all of these three simple things to do, is that you need someone else to interact with your content to see what you've missed because your brain leaps to the point that you're trying to make, and you inevitably miss steps.
Okay so another way to check your heading in the right direction is to follow Jerry McGovern's six C's this from a book called ‘Killer web content’ which is one of his older books, but I recommend reading everything by Jerry McGovern if you want to nerd out about books we can talk afterwards, jump up in the chat.
Okay so the six c's who cares, is it compelling, is it clear, is it complete, is it concise and is it correct, if you ask yourself those six questions for everything that you write, you're heading in the right direction.
Okay and this is my final thought it's a quote from Ernest Hemingway he said ‘I love to write but it's never gotten any easier to do and you can't expect it to if you keep trying for something better than you can do’ writing is hard making things appear simple is really hard but we learn as we write, so we learn as we do it makes sense then so that we look at what we've done already with the new knowledge that we've gained from creating the thing or things we've read, in the meantime and we think that it's not good enough that's called the creative curse and there's been loads written about that, if you want to google it but it's also a really good and positive and healthy thing because it shows that you are reaching to do better and you are learning as you go, so you are, we all are, we're on the path to get better and that's really all we can try to do okay.
That's it, thank you for your time. I will jump out, thank you very much, fantastic session absolutely aware I’ve just hammered you all with lots of information
Chris: If anyone's got any questions if you save them up and as we get into the panel discussion if you can stick around for that we'll start like picking Will's brains about how we can improve our own writing and hopefully bring that into the work we do. You know on a daily basis. So that was really cool cheers Will, so without further ado and keeping up with time and things like that I’m going to stop presenting and we have Lisa who's going to be talking to us know about her experiences with dyslexia so Lisa if you want to start introducing yourself and I’ll get the slide queued up
Lisa: Hi everyone, great to see you here thanks for sticking around, I’ve really enjoyed the other talks.
So I’m going to talk but like Holly was saying at the beginning I'm going to give a personal perspective on my dyslexia and what access means to me so as a citizen who uses websites and digital products and as a content designer, who designs content for those things so and it's only the second time I’ve spoken about my dyslexia and the first time was part of a collaborative art project as Justin said I’m a poet, a creative writing scholar as well and I’m at this very moment finishing off my PhD in Poetry and Poetics in sequentially and it's taken me 10 years so obviously I’m move at a pace, but it's great to work in a place where I can work and you know not have to hide my dyslexia so it's a personal perspective and I’m going to see if I can take over, can someone tell me about and see if you can see my screen because I’m just going to, yeah.
Brilliant, thank you everybody.
So, I’m just going to turn my camera off as well just it helps while I’m going through the slides, so this is called ‘dyslexia note from the field.’
Just before we get going I wanted to say something about the format of my sharing and the presentation is made in PowerPoint which is a Microsoft office tool and it's a slide deck and we use those a lot at work to share business information, but I could always also call this presentation a durational artwork and I could do that without actually laughing because in with my poets head-on and I use PowerPoint a lot to present text in artistic ways, so today's kind of a bit of both because I wanted to share some experiences of my dyslexia so and I’m going to do that with just text and I will read some slides aloud, but sometimes I won't read aloud so if you can see the slides, you should keep an eye on the screen and if you for those of you using assistive tech on the call I’ll let you know if there's a gap coming up.
So, this order I’m going to give you a definition of dyslexia and I’m going to talk about my dyslexia in the day-to-day sense the experiences I have and then I’m going to talk about the superpower then things not to say, things that help and then the good and not so good.
So that's the order of play field note 1 the definition dyslexia are a common learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading writing and spelling it's a specific learning difficulty which means it causes problems with certain abilities used for learning such as reading and writing it's estimated up to one in every 10 people in the UK has some degree of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a lifelong problem that can present challenges on a daily basis, but support is available to improve reading and writing skills and help those with the problem be successful at school and work.
Field note 2 my dyslexia day to day the next few sides are a series of single word slides so there'll be a gap for those of you using assistive tech and then I’ll start to read again.
When expected the unexpected things happen especially at work and especially using digital technology my cognitive load goes through the roof and I can't keep up with what is happening around me what is cognitive load will be talked about in his presentation as well in simple words cognitive load is the amount of working memory used during any activity when the cognitive load is reasonable the working memory is able to process information more easily and I’ve edited that from Wikipedia.
High cognitive load creates lots of challenges for me and these challenges are always very stressful so I just thought I’d collect a selection of my most common ones so to do with words and pages my challenges include letters in words jumble and scramble words and letters jump around on the screen or on a page by themselves, i should say as in I can't control it at all and I don't know when it's going to happen, it's happening now as I’m reading this slide, words and numbers invert and mirror themselves especially sequences like one two three or seven eight nine any sort of run of consecutive characters they can swap around and mirror each other, so EA will become a or IU UI vows and letters do that a lot and I miss type all the time and miss typing is not the same as making some typos. I type D instead of B and vice versa all the time again, I can't control it I know I do it, but when I’m doing it, i don't see that I’m doing it. It's incredibly difficult to convey that to somebody who doesn't experience it.
I miss T and R out of a lot of words and I won't see it till I go back later or a good editor and luckily I work with good editors point it out to me, words are replaced in what I read and I have no idea when that happens as well, so I’ll read a passage and I’ll misread like a key word which can be a big deal now I’m just going to move on to screens so during periods of anxiety usually triggered by high cognitive load. I explain what I call screen blindness or screen blur screen blindness and screen blur on clinical terms the descriptions I’ve made up to try and convey what happens as part of my dyslexia.
My anxiety is triggered a lot of the time by the digital technology itself, as well as my own fear of having an attack of screen blindness so one kind of feeds on the other I know I’ve got to use the screen I know I’ve got to share it then I start to worry about having an attack of screen blindness and that kind of, so I am in there as well fuelling that fire.
So, people have asked me at work what it's like and actually that's really appreciated that people ask me, because people are scared to ask you what it's like and for fear, I don't know why people are scared to ask, maybe for reasons that I’m scared to ask other people other things but it's great to be asked what it's like.
So what I’m going to present now, is this is sort of what my screen blindness and screen blur looks like and there is a big caveat, I have a caveat so just I’m just going to use a few screenshots of the same home page this is our Nexer digital home page and you don't need to read the words on the screen if you can, what I want you to notice that it's sharp and in focus you could read that if you needed to if you can read a screen this is what screens look like for me at low cognitive load there's no blur. When the cognitive load starts to rise this is sort of what it looks like it starts to get a bit blurry but because I’ve already seen this screen might be able to work this out that's if I know the screen. When I get to 60% and above that's what I see on a screen and that happens to me in the middle of making presentations, luckily, it's not happening right now, but it does happen to me quite a lot probably at least once a week at work. It happens less at home because I’m in familiar surroundings and I can be in control of stuff more, but that's what's great about working in a team, you don't, you can't control everything as well, so I am learning new skills all the time in terms of how I adapt and use technology.
I also, when things are really bad can lose colour, I’m colour blind which is something else that happens which is something that has colour can go black and white and that's very disconcerting if it happens in the middle of something. Also, this is a bit of a shonky example, but things do invert so they go back to front and sometimes inside out and again remember I can't control any of this it just kind of happens and it can happen quite quickly. So, you can imagine it's quite hard to read on a screen. Words jump and jumble around again here I’m going to use a series of single word slides so there'll be a gap for those of you using assistive tech.
When I read words when I read words jump around on the screen.
This causes confusion, that's putting it mildly! Once my screen blurs it's hard for me to take anything in. People speak, I can be in a meeting or with a team and the people will be speaking with me and all I’ll hear is that. The description for that is just a slide full of the word blah because that's what I hear but if I am at high cog load people will be talking to me and I really genuinely won't be hearing a thing they're saying which is very disconcerting for me but also for the people around me as well.
So, field note 3, the superpower. Dyslexia allows me to see the world in creative and unexpected ways which is absolutely brilliant when I want to see the world in unexpected and creative ways, however dyslexia are often the opposite of a superpower especially in certain situations. My dyslexia can be extremely useful as a content designer and as a poet but it's kind of my kryptonite when I’m in specific situations and these include in an interview, I’ve had some corker job interviews over the years! During a presentation, giving them not attending them should say! Driving in new places. In an exam or a test, one of the biggest fears about my PhD is the test at the end because I have to sit and talk, and I’m just terrified I’m going to get the equivalent of screen blindness in my entire head, and I won't be able to say anything. In real time messaging like teams and slack, all the things that happened to me with text come to bear and also when people use jargon technical terminology are lots of long words and it's hard to overstate that we all do that as well because we have areas of specialism or passion, but it just makes it incredibly difficult especially when you’re cog load is rising.
Field note 4, things not to say. Again, there's a series of statements there'll be a bit of a gap for those of you using assistive tech.
Things not to say, try and avoid them; oh, you have a superpower I wish I had a superpower too, I’m a rubbish speller too we're all a bit dyslexic don't worry about it don't worry about it we all struggle with this stuff. I know I’ve said some of these things to other people as well and the intention is to help and support but it's like, often especially when cog load is really high these things don't help that much, and so I think it's best to share that rather than not say it because that's how I’ve learned as well that people have told me this in other areas.
Field note 5, things that help. So, there's a list here, and we do like our lists as Will said, so having time to prepare and others being away I think are the two main ones for me if I can prepare and know what's going to happen and that other people are aware that I’ve got these issues that really helps a lot and that's something that we do at work and it's a gift it really is. Also, the next few are about to do with content design, that's sort of my job the clear messaging and microcopy is really important so in a web in websites by microcopy what I mean is the labels the sort of the instructional text on a website or an app it's not the thing you've gone to look at or read, it's what gets you there. Being clear with that and with microcopy is really helpful for people with dyslexia and having consistent and congruent content is really important as well. In websites and apps probably these three things at the bottom of this list are really important to me; breadcrumbs which are on the top of the page so you can see where you are so you can navigate backwards and forwards, then the back and undo function are just like they're just a gift to people like me because you get into a mess and no one's ever going to be able to stop me getting into a mess when I use things but actually being able to go back or to undo it is really all I need. For me as a dyslexic person Lilac helps me for some reason to stop the word jumping that I described so the colour Lilac I’ll have on a screen filter on my computer, and I use it like an acetate overlays on a page when I’m reading other dyslexic people use green or red colours, so I don't know why science behind it, but I don't understand. I’ll always use the dark mode if there is one available so it's great that more products are becoming available with the dark mode and the last one is one that we're starting to think about at work in terms of how to use chat bots and sort of the new AI technology which I have to say I don't understand the tech end but I know as a user I’ve noticed probably over the last six to eight months I’ve started to use chat bots as an alternative to navigation which I think as a content designer is really interesting, so it doesn't make the navigation or the information architecture of a website or a product defunct, it just means there's another way for me to find it if I struggle. I'm doing that more and more and I just think if that's really exciting and interesting as a content designer and something we'll be looking at more.
Just to wrap up I wanted to sort of share a good and not so good content design experience that I’ve had and both of them I can't actually show you the specific thing because what to do with a specific part of an experience but this is this might not sound very glamorous but the best UX by far and the best user experience I’ve had in content design, is with these people, the TV license people and they do fantastic forms so I don't know whether it's the GDS (government design service) who do them, but they're incredibly good at making their forms. I’ve had to use them a variety of times and I never ever get stuck filled in the form in five minutes no problem seamless experience and because they use, we talk about animation being very difficult for people with dyslexia, but when you use animation wisely in a design it can make a huge difference so the TV licensing people take you through that form and I couldn't show you because I wasn't in the form at the time but the user sort of like little yellow sticky notes that point to where you know in a legal form where you have to sign they'll put a yellow sticker, well the TV licensing people use this system and this animated mode drops down the form as you go so you never ever get lost and you can go back. I just think, I would love to meet the team who made those forms because I think they're absolutely fantastic.
I’m going to talk about a not so good experience and I never like to dump on anybody's content design because it's really hard designing good products and there should always be in iteration and we should always be improving but this app that I actually now use all the time, because once you're on board on it it's really good, I do use it and it's really convenient but the first time I used this app I had to download it before I went for an interview and to be totally honest it was a bloody disaster because when you're doing a parking app you have to put in lots of data a registration number I would imagine I put the registration number in backed front upside down that wasn't that app's fault I do that all the time but there was no way for me to get back, there was no way for me to sign out, it just put me in this insane loop for 20 minutes and when it said they said the thought about accessibility and when you press the help button just took you to this general help number and you are ringing and it just went on years. The important thing here is, it's not just an inconvenience and Will touched on it before as well this app made me feel really stupid and I just can't tell you how powerful that is, I know I mistype, but I just want to be able to go back and put it right and this app didn't allow me to do that this was a couple of years ago so I don't know what their onboarding is like now it may well have been iterated I hope it has.
I just want to close with the thought, design can't cure my dyslexia and no design will ever be perfect, however good content design and awareness and issues like the ones we've talked about today can really really help. That’s why I choose to be a content designer at Nexer digital, and I think it's why Global Accessibility Awareness Day is so important, and this is what I posted this morning I just wanted to finish by saying this accessibility and design and development matters, let's all do what we can and then then let's do a whole lot more!
Dyslexia notes from the field thank you very much everybody that's my email address on the bottom and I am on Instagram and twitter I’m at Poetech which is p o e t e c h underscore p o e t e c h and on Twitter I am poor tech three p o e t e c h three and thanks very much for sticking around this late in your day and enjoy the rest of the talks as well thank you.
Thank you, Lisa, again another amazing talk, all the little celebrations and hearts popping up on that one as well so thank you I don't know if you guys are like me but on my phone, I was checking out the TV licensing website in the back of that just trying to see what they're doing. Again if you've got any questions and you can stick around for a few minutes at the end I think what I’ll do is extend the session by like five minutes or so, so if you've got any questions we've got one more talker we've got Molly to present and then we'll start capturing your feedback any questions that you put in the chat if we can't answer them today in the session we will write them up and share them with everybody as well. So, everyone hopefully should get an answer to their question as well, so thank you very much Lisa that was amazing and I hope you don't mind me saying but we were talking before about what might happen if Lisa felt that everything was going a bit blurry and going through when she was presenting, and you got through that amazingly well it was brilliant thank you.
Moving on to Molly I’m just going to stop presenting for one second, cool. Molly are you there?
I am, hello! It’s not so much a presentation form me but it's the video that I have spent the last few weeks creating and it's got a few influential people in it, and I wanted to take a moment to say a big thank you to people that contributed. I've been busily tweeting with the hashtag access means, so if there are any thoughts whilst you're watching this clip or later on in this evening when you're reflecting, please do feel free to tweet those with the hashtag so we can all keep an eye on those. Without further ado, Chris do you have access to the video?
Yep so, I will get that started now, so I’m just going to share my screen again.
And if you make sure you've got the captions on as well in case anyone would like those.
Captions are on, I will minimize here, and I will press the go button.
It's Global Accessibility Awareness Day! And it is brilliant because word is getting out there! The hashtag today is Access Means. So, A double C E double S M E A N S. Now, don't forget, please don't forget, to put a capital A and a capital M within the hashtag so screen readers can recognise the characters and read it out correctly. So, first things first my name is Molly Watt, and I am deaf blind. I’ve had nothing but tech to access my day-to-day life since I was 18 months old and that started with my first pair of hearing aids, now as a deafblind adult I aspire nothing but independence without the correctly built accessible products reach out to as many people as I do now, to educate on a bigger larger stage, to actually advise on how to make products more accessible more inclusive and not just for people like myself, but for many others!
I'm Neil Milliken, I’m head of accessibility at ATOS. I am dyslexic ADHD and I use technology every day to help me cope with the demands of my job and everyday life. We need to be inclusive in how we design deliver and conceive of technology. When we do so we're making better products for everyone, you're also making better products for me. Accessibility is a civil right, it's a quality in products it's so much easier to use and enables me to do things that otherwise I would really struggle.
Hi everyone, Rebecca Alexander coming to you from New York city and I’m constantly navigating different environments as a person who has deaf blindness. I use a lot of assistive technology to be able to navigate my world and the world around me I invert my colours I enlarge my text I use a cane when I’m on the street, I have cochlear implants without them I use ASL so when I think of accessibility I think about inclusion I think about thinking creatively thinking outside of the box I think about working collaboratively with technology innovators, to try to create a greater more 360 view of the information that we put out there to the world, or providing that information in a more accessible way. But for me, it's about really trying to create change so that everyone can feel included and can feel like they're being accommodated no matter what the circumstances are and no matter what their disability is.
Accessibility means not being excluded from something because I have atypical needs, it means using clear language direct communication and unambiguous instruction, it means having a calm and comfortable environment, accessibility means being empowered to live my life to its fullest with minimal frustration.
My name is Shane Prendergast, I’ve been deaf since around 11 or 12 years of age, so I make use of hearing aids, at work and day to day I make use of software such as subtitles and auto captioning so the code that I write will have a direct impact on how users can access websites and applications. What does accessibility mean to me it? It just basically means making something that is accessible to as many people as possible, that means putting no barriers up to prevent them entry in any way.
Access means being able to participate equally whether that's in social experience such as gaming or social media or something more serious like being able to study I need to know that I’m going to be able to access all of the information and that I’m not going to have to wonder will I be able to do this just because I’m a blind person who uses a screen reader? It's about having equal opportunities and not being denied experiences that everybody else automatically has access to.
Dr Donal Fitzpatrick:
Accessibility is the facility to do things on an equivalent basis with people who don't live with a disability. If a supermarket website is accessible, I can order my groceries. If a newspaper website is accessible, I can read the football results. If a hotel website is accessible, I can book a holiday. If the environment is accessible, I can move around and navigate safely. But you know, accessibility doesn't have to be a high-tech solution. Accessibility is a football with a bell in it and with one of those I can go into the back garden and have a kick about with my eight-year-old. Accessibility is independence.
Cool, Molly should I just hand back to you for a second?
I have no words really. It's funny I’ve been re-watching that over and over, editing and listening to the words over and over, and just then it still gave me goosebumps. It's something that I’m very passionate about and again wanted to echo that I was really grateful to the people that contributed, if I could have had many more people, I totally would have but didn't want to make it too long! Yes so, I think it's I think the message is clear, you know accessibility is more than just an afterthought and it's certainly something that needs to be brought to the forefront of everyone's work and day-to-day life. If there are any questions, are we going to the panel now Chris? I want to give everyone the opportunity to contribute.
Yes, that's exactly what we're going to do, so I just wanted to thank all the speakers so Holly, Molly. Justin, Lisa, Will you all do a fantastic job it was a delight to hear from you I know I personally learned a lot and my sketchbook is filling up with notes from a session like that. I knew what was coming as well so I really enjoyed it. If anybody has any questions if you'd like to put them into the chat window and I think Justin will chair a panel for about 10 minutes or so if people can stick around.
Yeah, hi everybody so the first question has just come in from Charles Smith, a global question, how about being aware about the variations in language between dialects in the same language (London versus Edinburgh) English in different countries (UK versus Ireland versus India versus Australia versus USA) and to non-native speakers (Japan versus Brazil). What about the age of the target audience? So, Charles, it might be worth you just adding a bit to that, so what kind of awareness are you thinking about when you when you ask that? So, the aim is to get clarity let's put some more in the chat.
If you want me to, I can speak first, it's the role of the content designer to speak in the language of the audience. If the audience uses a particular terminology particular words, then we should use those. Often when as a content designer you join a new project it is like learning a new language, you're researching how the audience would talk to each other how the context of the content that you're creating. That’s really the most fun and the most challenging part of our role as content creators is speaking in a way that is inclusive and accessible and then using the right terminology.
I'll just add as well that it’s a really good question Charles, you’re right it's a big one and I think that there's a hole within the content design practice and across design and development, there's a whole sort of movement to understand localization better. Whether that be within a country or a region or you know a continent, is that there was a sort of a proliferation of digital products people just thought ‘wahey we could make one thing’ and push out all over the world and make loads of money. Of course, it doesn't work like that because we have similarities, but we all are very different, and we communicate in different ways with nuances of language. It takes a lot of investment and a lot of time to get that right, that’s another thing that content thinks about but it's also wider definitely than content because it's a whole design approach. There’s some one-on-one questions then about who you are talking to so if you have a product that can go across continent then you have to take that into consideration and design for the nuances within your user group.
Okay thanks everyone! We have another question from Lucy Southall, ‘what content design techniques help with accessibility for dyslexic or lower cognitive users’
I think for me, I’ll speak as a dyslexic rather than a content designer here, the things that we've talked about in terms of simple clear language is really important. I think that that's probably one of the most important things for me. It's born out in the data around content design that it's not about dumbing down your content, it's not about making it simplistic, it's about actually using words and language that can be accessed by as many people as possible. It's one of the golden rules of content design if you, if it makes sense in terms of communication if you want to communicate something you don't want to say it in a way that doesn't make sense to people, because it's using words they don't understand. For me that's one of the easiest things, and as a poet I understand lots of different sorts of multi-syllabic words and lots of complexity in language but I go and read a poetry book when I want that kind of communication, when I’m on a website and I’m trying to find something out I want clear precise language the clearer the less ambiguity the better because ambiguity really gives me stress and makes everything a lot less accessible, so that's from a content designer's point of view that's a response.
I might have a sort of an anecdotal chip in on that, I’ve actually just spent the last three days testing a website with users with various accessibility concerns and a couple of those were dyslexic and some of the kind of standard things that you're really in the literature came across. For example, people struggling with the background and finding it easier when it wasn't a white background, I think that's fairly well established. Things that I wasn't expecting to see, I saw dyslexic people accessing the site in a very similar way to the visually impaired people that we were testing. So, I saw dyslexic people who didn't have any visual issues zooming in, in order to read text, and highlighting text in order to read, so I thought those were some quite interesting things that I hadn't seen before. Also using text-to-speech software so screen readers and so on for longer chunks of text.
There's often quite a bit of a crossover between the cognitive and the visual side of things I’ve found with some of the work that I’ve done. Even with what Lisa was saying with the screen blindness I was like wow it's like looking through my eyes! That's why like a lot of the time when we've done on these inclusive design workshops and we talk about the different categories of vision, the hearing, the cognitive, and the motor, they're a great starting point but actually when we think inclusively, we have to bear in mind the Gray areas between and the overlaps. With the plain English stuff like that, as a deaf person its really useful for me because I had to work really hard to get the speech and the English that I know now and that's similar to someone who picked up English as a second language. We’re not necessarily cognitively impaired, but plain English is actually something that myself as a deaf person, but yeah, it's interesting how many overlaps there are between the dyslexic experience and the low vision experience for sure.
Okay I think we probably have time for about one more question and then I’m sure some people will be up on twitter to answer questions.
One of the things that really struck me throughout the whole talk is that there's clearly a lot of services that are shouting at people trying to get their attention to get them into their service so that they can access the information, that they think is important to their users. How do you as a group, and as individuals, think we get the balance right between helping people find the things that are valuable to them without overloading them or making them feel distracted or confused in those processes so that we're actually providing better services?
It's the same answer Lucy's question really about what content design techniques help with accessibility. You only create something if you if there's a there's a reason to create it. You do the research, you find out what the user need is, and you find out the acceptance criteria how you how you meet that need, and then you do just enough to meet that need, and then you test it, and you take away everything else the rest is all Just needless fluff. You just need to be speaking in in a way that people can understand, speaking plainly and directly to meet a need that that you've researched.
I’m not a marketeer, or an entrepreneur, but from what I’ve seen over time I think I would echo what Will just said. I think people are pretty wise at being sold to or being kind of bombarded with stuff, as well as being subject to misleading marketing and stupid pop-ups. If you treat people well and if you give them the thing they came for, and you give it them as unobtrusively as possible, then that that pays off. Sometimes we talk to people when we're doing usability testing and accessibility testing, and we have to steer them away from some of the things that they think they need to do. They feel they need to shout their marketing messages at users. This is just anecdotal it's just my opinion, but I think people are past that now, if you if you give people a good user experience then and you tell them the things they need to know, when they need to know them, then they'll thank you for it.
I was thinking, it's a good question because it is a fine balance. One of the interesting things about content design is context is really everything. An audience is everything, so I don't want to experience things that are the same. There can be uniqueness and beauty and aesthetic in things, but it shouldn't that shouldn't be the first thing if there's a thing I want, I want to be able to get that thing in the easiest way possible. There's a part for design too, so I think it's a balance between usefulness but not everything being homogenized. That’s why we dress differently, it's why we decorate things differently, we do all sorts of things differently as well as the same. I second everything that Will and Justin have said, but I do think it's a balance because I don't want everything just to be designed the same. If you apply the content design principles of context and research and audience and user needs, then you get around a lot of that. I’m interested in advertising as a content designer, not because I’m an advertiser, I don't want to be an advertiser, but the way I am advertised that as either a dyslexic person or I get niche advertisements about poetry and stuff they're things that I’m interested in. That’s why they've got that right, and so that's fine. I play around with loads of chat bots and ask questions and I can smell in a second if it's not a personal response, it's too much to go into now all of the bad practice but actually when it's targeted and it works it really works. If its respectful it's useful. People just think, oh if you chuck enough that the wall will be able to sell enough to make a profit, and that's just the wrong reason to do things.
I guess recognizing the personality and the relationship that you're trying to build and bringing that into play as well?
That's right, there's loads of people doing loads of great things whether they're individuals or organizations and if those are of interest to me then I’d want to know about them! So, it's really hard getting the right message to the right person but that's where the gold dust if you join up the dots right and that's where content design can really help.
Cool, really good really good. Holly I don't know if you want to add anything to that you've been quietly sitting in the background
Sorry I think I was muted! I had a couple of things to say, actually if that's okay quickly! So, I thought the question about how we get people to where they need to be was really interesting. I saw there was a comment in the chat that said, ‘with the fewest steps possible’ and I think that's actually quite a good thing. I think sometimes we can over complicate things and it can become quite overwhelming. Whether you're a blind person trying to access it, or whether you're someone with a cognitive disability, I think the idea of the fewest steps is actually quite a good one and making it really clear and concise. I also like what Will said about giving people what they need and don't give people too much based on your research because again we can get very bogged down with trying to invent the next best thing which may not be actually what anyone needs or wants. That was just a couple of thoughts on a few of the questions.
I’ve seen a couple of excellent presentations around that, around people who want to be the next big tech entrepreneur and have an idea of what they think people want and it's just not. It can be as beautiful as you like, as well designed as you like, but if nobody wants it. The research point is a really good one.
I'm conscious that we've run quite a long way over time. I know people will leave as and when they want to, but we should perhaps wrap up, I know people have tea to cook for children me included. Our contact details are available, I don't know if Hillary is still on the call and wants to say any last words or Chris if you want to?
I was just going to put up the slides but just to say thank you to everyone thank you to all the speakers, thank you to all the attendees for sticking with us and providing us some great questions and lots of applause and hearts, that that was very much felt. We will share slides if there's any outstanding questions, we will answer those when we share the slides and the videos and things, but just to close thank you very much everybody
If you'd like a copy of the slides we covered at the event, they can be found on our Slideshare page