An article by Minu K, Mitra Jyothi Coordinator on occasion of GAAD with relevance to current pandemic situation – 20th May 2021!!!
Every year Mitra Jyothi celebrates Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) along with Prakat Solutions. GAAD is an awareness day focusing on access and inclusion for the more than one billion people with disabilities and impairments. This year it is falls on 20th May 2021, as it is annually celebrated on the third Thursday of May. The purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about access and inclusion. It aims at ensure the access of people with disabilities on web-based services, content and other digital products with the same successful outcome as those without disabilities.
Mitra Jyothi in association with Prakat Solutions Inc. has been hosting Global Accessibility Awareness Day since 2015. Last year, GAAD 2020, was focused on Cognitive Disabilities and needs that have to be addressed in addition to brainstorming sessions on the impact of the Covid Pandemic on PWD and people with special needs. Eminent speakers from different corners of the world have participated in the event and spoke about accessibility. Ms Madhu Singhal also spoke about cognitive disabilities and digital accessibility.
This year, on the background of COVID – 19 pandemic we would like to discuss about ‘Existing Situation and Future Scope of Digital Accessibility’ through this article.
Elevated need of digital accessibility at the time of pandemic
Digital accessibility improves the productivity and inclusion of persons with disabilities through participation in educational, economic, and political spheres. Even though digital accessibility has been a discussion topic for the past a few years, at these times of COVID- 19 pandemic, it became more crucial topic. To fight against this pandemic, we are practicing social distancing and self-quarantine measures and also most of the time we are not supposed to go out of the home even for essential needs. This situation made everyone consider online shopping as an easy way to fulfil their basic needs. At this time, digital accessibility is very important when we think about disabled people who are in special need of some assistance even when it comes to shopping in brick-and-mortar shopping. For example, these days street vendors, small vegetable and fruit shops, etc also started accepting money through digital channels such as GooglePay, Paytm, etc. The disabled people not only go online for shopping, but they also try to access information about health problems, medications, online banking, as well as many different details about COVID -19.
The COVID-19 has resulted in schools shut all across the world. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom. As a result, education has changed dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms. However, majority of the educational institutions lack an inclusive platform for online education, which is major challenge for the differently able students.
Working from home became the “new normal” for many workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of people sheltered in place, staying at home and working remotely, and connecting to colleagues through email, cell phones, and web-based video conferences. However, the inequities in design and function of much technology continues to create gaps between able-bodied and disabled workers.
Web accessibility challenges at the time of Pandemic
People of every age and with a wide range of disabilities are now working online, learning online, shopping online, connecting to medical care online, socializing online, and a lot more. We have replaced in-person events with virtual conferences, Zoom meetings and remote learning. Many medical facilities are asking patients to go online for information or even complete online visits. In this situation there is an emergency need to ensure that online activities are thoroughly accessible to people with disabilities. Some of the challenges that are faced by persons with disaiblities at this pandemic time are discussed here;
- Web accessibility of health care facilities: Disabled users previously who would go for regular physical doctor visits would need to shift to the virtual meetings with their doctors for consultation and medication. Health care websites and apps which include hospitals, insurance, and pharmacies are not easily accessible to them then it will be a setback.
- Inaccessibility in Online Education: The platforms and content formats used many educational institutes, for online education, are not optimized to meet the needs of students relying on assistive technologies. For example, Flash-based e-learning tools or photocopied images of text in a PDF amplified the barriers to their engaging fully with online learning. Many institutions and faculty members still haven’t received enough guidance on how to design remote instruction to meet such students’ needs and to comply with laws and regulations.
- Inaccessible learning platforms (other than regular educational institutions): The anxiety, changes in routine and loneliness will be more among the disabled users now when compared to the normal time. The parents of disabled kids look for online activities which help them to reduce the anxiety a lot now among the autism affected kids. Now a lot of learning platforms, entertainment websites, fun activities applications announced a lot of offers since everyone stays at home. However, the real fact is most of the websites are lagging behind in the barrier-free website accessibility for everyone who accesses the website.
- In accessible accessories to serve work from home: Many of the employees including individuals with a disability need to work from home at this pandemic situation. However, most of the time the kinds of tools and resources that they need are not accessible. A few examples are given below;
- Websites are often not compatible with screen readers and do not enable them to order food or supplies online.
- Documents and correspondence are often emailed without consideration given to color contrast ratios, fonts, and text size that would make them accessibleto people with low vision.
- PDFs are being sent that are not created in an accessible manner, causing challenges for screen reader users.
- Video recordings of recent meetings or conferences are often sent without captions or a transcript, added. For someone who is deaf or hearing impaired, these videos can be hard to understand without a transcript or close captioning, especially in circumstances where they cannot lip read.
Recommendations/suggestions for improved web accessibility across different area
A few solutions/recommendations for the above-mentioned accessibility challenges in different areas are given below;
- Creating Accessible Visual Content: For students with visual impairments, navigating online courses can be difficult if the content is not compatible with screen readers. A few solutions that can be applied by the instructors to ease these challenges are given below;
- Descriptive headers and titles. When assigning reading or providing other text-based materials such as handouts or reference sheets, ensure that the information is presented in a format that is optimized for assistive technologies. Effective use of headers, lists and other mark-up styles allows a screen reader to navigate the page and make it easier to understand how it is organized. This practice applies whenever you are presenting text, such as on webpages or in Microsoft Word or PDF documents.
Similarly, when referring students to other locations on the web via hyperlinks or URLs, use a descriptive title that will allow learners to clearly understand the link’s destination. As a best practice, avoid inserting the link by itself as a web address.
It is found that these guides from Microsoft helpful for creating accessible documents in Microsoft Word and customizing the text for a hyperlink. Free screen readers (such as NVDA for Windows and VoiceOver for Mac) are found to be fully sufficient for the needs.
- Font color and contrast. To make text accessible to learners that have colorblindness or low-contrast sensitivity, the font color should have sufficient contrastto be distinguishable from the background. That includes any text on images, maps, diagrams, icons and buttons. The Colour Contrast Analyser is a cross-platform accessibility tool that helps determine the contrast of visual elements.
- Alt-text for images and graphics. Courses that rely heavily on charts, graphs and photos can use alt-text, which allows a screen reader to convey important content that would be otherwise inaccessible to learners with visual impairments. Instructors can differentiate between informational images -- which are photos or graphics that convey meaning or content (e.g., tables, charts) -- from decorative images -- which do not convey content and can be marked as stylistic. Software applications like Microsoft Word, PowerPointand some learning management systems include the option to add alt-text to an image.
- Creating Accessible Audio Content: Captions or transcripts allow learners to access content that is delivered via audio. Many video services, including some licensed lecture capture (e.g., Echo360) and video creation software (e.g., TechSmith Camtasia) provide options to provide transcriptions. YouTube automatically generates captions and transcripts, however, the accuracy depends on audio quality, so instructors may need to review and edit the file. In Microsoft PowerPoint, you can include your transcript in the notes section. For example, an add-in called STAMP (Subtitling Add-in for PowerPoint)can be used to add closed captioning to video or audio clips in your presentation. For synchronous sessions, Zoom and some other videoconferencing systems provide autogenerated real-time closed captions.
- Adopting Accessible Learning Technology: Universal Design for Learning provides instructors with a comprehensive tool kit for presenting their own course content in an accessible way. However, many instructors also rely on educational technology platforms in their courses that may not offer the same level of customization or control. To guide decisions about selecting and implementing accessible instructional technology, instructors should look for several features. Many educational technology companies will provide a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) that explains how the technology conforms to the Revised 508 Standards for IT accessibility.
- Suggestions for accessible work from home facilities
- Complex layouts need to be simplified to make navigation accessible for individuals with cognitive disabilities.
- Animations and videos on sites need to have a pause option built in to reduce seizure risks, and in some cases, avoid interaction issues with screen readers.
- Forms need to be fully accessible by including such items as matching visual and programmatic labels, screen reader accessible requirement instructions, and accessible error notifications.
Wish we all will move towards fully accessible and inclusive society a day; when there won’t be any challenge/dependency for persons with disabilities.
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