Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Accessibility vs Inclusion. What's the Difference?

The World Report on Disabilities says that 15% of the population today lives with some form of disability. If you're not in that 15% today, chances are you may be In the future. That's because in the years ahead, the prevalence of those with disabilities will rise as the population ages. In fact The Institute on Disability reports that more than 1/3 of those over 65 have a disability. 

It's the law

Making the world accessible to those with disabilities isn't just the right thing to do. For some it has become law. For example, in 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. More and more businesses are following this lead, not just for ethical reasons, but also because accessibility means more customers.

Defining accessibility

When accessibility is addressed, everyone can understand a space, integrate in it, and/or interact with its content. It lessens the burden for those needing accommodations to fully participate and engage. 

Those trying to address accessibility understand the importance of technology. In fact, in many cases, digital is what makes accessibility possible. There are numerous ways that technology can serve as the eyes, ears, hands, and mouth for those with disabilities. 

But creating with accessibility in mind, is just the beginning. 

From accessibility to inclusion

Accessibility and inclusion are closely related, but inclusion goes even further. This chart outlines what happens when we move from accessible to inclusive.

Opens the door to an equivalent experience.
Provides the same experience for all people.
Considers people with varying abilities and differences afterwards.
Includes those with varying abilities and differences before and during the design process.
Designs "for" those with differences.
Designs "with" those with differences.
Usually refers to accommodations for those with disabilities.
Designed for all people. Those with disabilities as well as those who speak other languages, observe different religions, make different lifestyle choices, and anything else.
Designing afterwards by making adaptations, retro-fitting, and/or creating new and specialized design. 
Designing, from the beginning, products and environments that can be used by all people.
You must take extra steps to make something accessible.
You don't have to take extra steps to make something accessible. It is a design feature.

Uses neutral language for example, avoid saying things like "all rise" and use gender neutral language.

Two photo panels use boxes as accommodations for three people to see over a fence. The last panel removes the fence so all can see without accommodation.
A box is an accommodation to make viewing accessible. Removing the fence makes it inclusive.
Photo credit and a super interesting story from the photo's creator Craig Froehle.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Does Social Media Need To Step Up Its Accessibility Game?

Back in the 80s Tim Berners-Lee was launching the World Wide Web, Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates had become the wealthiest person in the world, and Mark Zuckerberg was busy being born. 

Fast forward a few decades and all these formerly young-spry tech-preneurs are aging. Even Zuckerberg will age out of the young professional category in a few years.

Chart showing percentage of people with disabilities. Under 5: less than 1%, 5-17: 5.4%, 18-64: 10.4%, 65+: 35.4%
Source: Rehabilitation Research and Training Center
on Disability Statistics and Demographics
Technology was not designed by or for those with disabilities. However, as the population ages, whether it's visual, auditory, cognitive, or physical, their likelihood of acquiring, or having those close to them acquiring, a disability increases. 

Designing for all should be "a part of," not "apart from" the development process. But is it? Is accessibility baked into to the development process? 

Let's take a look by looking at social media examples.


 You must take ten steps too many on Twitter to use alt text

Their site says: 
When you Tweet photos using the Twitter app for iOS or Android, or on, you have the option to compose a description of the images so the content is accessible to people who are visually impaired.
Who wouldn't want content to be accessed by people who are visually impaired? This should be a feature, not an option.

Twitter has not stepped up its accessibility game. 


Facebook is a bit better. It auto generates alt text using object recognition. However, to customize the alt text, it still takes too many steps. 

The steps to add captions are too complicated. Rather than go through a confusing list of steps, captions should be auto-generated, then users should be able to go in and edit them.

Facebook has work to do in their accessibility game.


Facebook purchased Instagram, so it's no surprise, that they also auto generate text that can be customized. However, like Facebook, rather than bake in the customized alt text option, you must navigate your way to it

Adding captions. Not so easy. This article takes you through the process while acknowledging what a hassle it is.

Instagram needs to step up their accessibility game.

And the award goes to...


The least accessible of these social media platforms is SnapChat. There's even a user who started a petition to bring attention to the issue. USAGov provides a complex guide on making accessible stories, but mainstream users won't have time for that. Some innovative users have found ways to hack accessibility, but accessibility should be a feature, not a hack.

SnapChat has a ways to go to meet the needs of their disabled users.


The most accessible social platform of those presented is Google's YouTube. It auto generates captions. No extra effort for the video creator. If the captions are wrong, you can edit them without too much effort.

While there is always room for improvement, YouTube is doing a good job. Others should take note.

The power of the Web is in its universality.
Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.
Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

Looking Back - Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. The law (29 U.S.C § 794 (d)) applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508, agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information comparable to the access available to others. 

In 2009 Berners-Lee expanded that view finding the World Wide Web Foundation to promote Internet accessibility and equality for all. In 2018 Berners-Lee kicked off a global campaign that included a “Contract for the Web,” urging governments, Internet companies and users to commit to a set of principles to protect the openness and accessibility of the Web. The Washington Post reported that upon the campaign’s unveiling, more than 50 organizations had endorsed the principles underlying the contract, including the French government, Facebook and Google.

The Verdict - Yes: Social Media Needs to Step Up Their Game

Though it is only Federal agencies that are "required" to make digital content accessible, tech companies need to step up their accessibility game too. It is a moral, ethical, and financial imperative for technology companies to develop and iterate their platforms with audience in mind following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Tech companies can start by having the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Checklist in hand as they develop and update their platforms to be designed for all.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

4 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Limit Tech Use to A Communal Area

Girl sitting with computer
Youth need privacy for healthy growth, development, and to work through ideas. Yet in these monitoring-obsessed days of child-rearing, privacy is often thrown to the side in exchange for surveillance

That's why innovative educators help parents see past simplified safety advice like: only use technology in a communal area. While imposing such restrictions is easy and may give a false sense of security, it is ineffective.

Here's why:

Does not foster trust

What's better than monitoring is working to foster trust and staying connected with your child. When you have developed connections and communication, your child is more likely to share what she’s up to.

Drives behavior underground

Monitoring doesn't stop bad behavior, it drives it underground. Find out for yourself. Ask a teen who's monitored if it makes them stop doing something or just become better at lying about what they're doing.

Your child needs privacy 

Wanting privacy goes along with the development of independence. A young person doesn't want all their thoughts, feelings, and creations on display. Privacy allows young people to work out their thinking and feelings in a safe place.

Does not promote safe independent use

Your child is not always going to be using technology at home and you are not always going to be there to monitor them. More effective than surveillance is supporting your child in using technology effectively. This means fostering a trusting relationship where you can speak to one another.

Your turn

What do you think? Is this in alignment with advice you give parents? How are you helping to instill responsible use in the youth with whom you work?