Among disability bloggers, the first day of May has become synonymous with Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD) — an international blogswarm to raise awareness of disability oppression. In the United States, we call the system of disability oppression ableism. In the UK, where the founder of BADD originates, the term is disablism.
I really love BADD, and I make a point of participating every year, regardless of how tired or sick or busy I am. (Here are my BADD posts from 2010, 2011, and 2012.) I love being part of this massive effort every year when bloggers all over the world unite around a common purpose. I love the diversity of topics and voices, and the learning. I always learn so much.
And it is always a source of pain, disappointment, and surprise to me how many participants have blogs that are not disability-friendly. How many have major accessibility barriers. I think if you’re going to take part in an anti-ableism blogswarm, you must want your blog to be accessible to disabled visitors, no? Thus it behooves me — since BADD falls on a Wednesday this year — to write a Waspish Wednesday post to say, “HEY! BADD bloggers! Howsabout we all make an effort to make our blogs more accessible in the coming year, OK?!”
Yes, Waspish Wednesday posts, as the name implies, tend to be heavy on the snark. But I snark with love. In fact, I will even offer tips, so this isn’t just pointless railing, but an attempt to create change! However, since I can’t cover everything (I’m starting this post at the eleventh hour as it is!) if you feel passionate about an internet accessibility barrier that I haven’t covered, I encourage you to mention it in the comments. [UPDATE: There are already some excellent questions, resources, and points in the comments to this post.]
Speaking of Comments . . . Dump the CAPTCHA!
I like to comment as I make my way around the BADD blogs. It’s a great way to support the bloggers and let them know you’ve read their post and that you care about what they have to say. Unfortunately, in my experience, most of the BADD blogs I visit require I pass a CAPTCHA — also known as “word verification” or “image verification” — to comment.
This is a problem because CAPTCHA is evil! It is a pernicious barrier to access that is like a genetically modified invasive weed that has spread to every corner of the interwebs.
What does it generally say above the box with squiggly letters or numbers? “Prove you’re not a robot.” Well, no. It should really say, “Prove you’re not a person whose disability makes solving this CAPTCHA impossible.” But maybe that’s less catchy.
CAPTCHAs are a barrier to people who are blind or low vision, deafblind, people with various neurological disabilities, mobility impairments, cognitive disabilities, and elderly people, to name just a few. I have posted before about why CAPTCHA is a problem, and how you can get rid of it, so I won’t repeat all that here.
I’ll just say two things:
1. You may not know that your blog has CAPTCHA. It is the default setting on Blogger, so if you haven’t disabled it, you have it. (Note: If you’re ever thinking about moving your blogging platform, I strongly suggest WordPress. I’ve had several blogs on both WP and Blogger, and WP actually goes out of its way to integrate disability access into its software, whereas Blogger frequently makes “improvements” that create barriers to disabled bloggers or readers.)
2. CAPTCHA is actually not all that great at eliminating spam, so the great majority of people I know who have disabled CAPTCHA do not find they are buried under an avalanche of spam. However, if this happens to you, an alternative option is to post a note above your comments section that says, “To reduce spam, word verification is enabled. If this is a barrier to you commenting, please email me your comment at myemail at cooldude dot com.”
AutoPlays or The Fun Features that Trigger Migraines, Seizures, and Screen Reader Inaccessibility
Autoplays are any feature that starts up automatically when you enter a site. They can be auditory (music is a common one), visual (animated GIFs, falling snow, slide shows), or a combination (videos that include both movement and sound).
The big problem with autoplays is that they start up automatically, without the visitor’s consent, and they can wreak such havoc on a blog visitor that they may be unable to turn them off or leave the site without shutting down their computer. For example, movement autoplays can trigger instant seizures or migraines when they start up, audio autoplays can interfere with a screen reader, making it difficult or impossible to navigate away from the page.
And they are completely unnecessary because if you want to share music, video, or a slide show with your blog visitors, you can set one up that they can click on if they choose. Sliders seem to have become the latest hot fad on numerous disability websites I’ve visited, and I find them so distracting (and sometimes nauseating), that if I can’t move the browser window to block them, I just leave the site.
Alt Tags, Transcripts, and Captions: Making Your Pictures and Videos Accessible to ALL Your Visitors
Pictures and videos are an integral part of many blogs. They can add interest, color, personality, and depth to the discussion. Often they are central to explaining or depicting the topic. It seems only fair that everyone who visits your blog should also be afforded the opportunity to enjoy these elements, especially when they are crucial to the point. This is where tagging, descriptions, captions, and transcripts come in.
Images — whether drawings, photos, or charts — should be described for readers who are blind or low vision. The description should tell the reader the important points about what the image shows.
You can either post a description of the image in the visible text (usually below the image) or you can use an alt tag, which is a description that is not visible but which a screen reader will read aloud or print in Braille. Alt tagging is not difficult. With WordPress, when you load an image into your media library, a box that says “Alternative Text” is included, and you can just type your description there. To alt tag in Blogger, after you have loaded your picture into your post, click on the image and then choose “Properties” from the menu that appears. In the pop up box will be two fields, the second of which says “Alt text.” Write your description there.
As to how to describe images — this is a learned skill like any other, something that I’ve found has gotten much faster and easier with practice. Some people use a bare bones approach and others (like me) get more detailed. If I think the details of the image are really important, I try to capture as much as I can in my description. For example, for the three images that make up my blog header, I went into detail because they say a lot about what my site is about. The alt tag for “Writing and Erotica,” is unusually long (in part because it’s two pictures):
Two side-by-side pictures of Sharon sitting in her powerchair which has a gray seat and wheels, black frame, and a cherry-red base. In the left-side picture, both Sharon and her chair are facing away from the camera. Sharon holds the sides of her tan trench-coat open, as if she is flashing someone in front of her. Sharon’s legs are bare except for four-inch-high patent-leather heels. She has short, black wavy hair and is turning her head toward the camera, so her face is in profile, smiling mischievously. The word “writing” is in white capital letters across the back of the chair. Between the two pictures, in black lowercase, is the word “and.” In the right-side picture, the back of the chair is still to the camera, but Sharon is straddling it backward, with bare legs, shoulders, and arms, the rest hidden by the chair so she appears naked except for her heels. The word “Erotica” is in white capital letters across the back of the chair.
This is quite a contrast to the alt tag for a recent post about my service dog, Barnum, shutting my door. In this case, I assumed that most readers had some familiarity already with what Barnum looks like, and I just wanted to get across the basic action occurring in the image:
The alt tag for that image is, “Blurry photo of Barnum, a black Bouvier des Flandres, turning behind a wooden door, pushing it shut with his nose.”
How long my alt tag is, or how many pictures or videos I include, is often a factor of how sick and exhausted I am. If I don’t feel well enough to write a lot of descriptions (which I find more difficult than writing the post, itself), I either limit the number of images or I give myself more time to write the post — sometimes it takes me several days longer. For me, it’s worth it to know that all my readers are getting as high a quality post as I can offer.
For videos, too, you want to provide written information about what occurs for people who cannot glean this information by watching the video. In some cases — a speech, for example — a simple transcript of what’s said might be perfect. In other cases — where an action is described (often the case with my dog training videos) — it feels important to me to describe the step-by-step actions taking place. Sometimes it works best to just provide a summary of what takes place in the video. If it’s a short description or summary, I might post that right below the video. If it’s a long transcript, I usually link to a separate page that’s just the transcript.
The other side of the coin in videos is including captions or subtitles for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Some people are able to use Youtube’s captioning or transcription service; I find it confusing so I post the video on Youtube as-is and then subtitle it on another site, such as dotSub or Amara (formerly Universal Subtitles). Since I sometimes use sign language when I’m nonverbal, I need to caption my videos for both hearing and Deaf viewers! Here’s an example of a dotSub video where I used a combination of signing and voicing.
Transcripts, descriptions, or summaries of videos are important because some people will access neither the visual nor the auditory aspects of the video but will still want to know what’s happening in your post! This could include some deafblind people as well as people whose internet connections are too slow for watching video (as is the case for many rural people in the US, for example). Here’s a post where I include the video transcript at the end of the post.
Colors, Contrast, Wallpapers, and Other “Interior Design” Faux-Pas
The second most common access barrier I run into (CAPTCHAs being the first) is a blog with an inaccessible visual design. Of course you want your blog to be aesthetically pleasing and unique, but you also want it to be READABLE, don’t you? I mean, what’s the point of writing for the public if the public can’t read what you’ve written?
Readability includes using a decently large, not-too-silly font of a dark color on a light background or a light font on a dark background. Texture or designs behind text is not going to work for people with neurological or visual issues. Lots of bright colors going in every direction is similarly nightmarish for, for example, me. I will flee a website that’s too visually busy and “loud” because it makes me nauseous and gives me a headache. I’ve written more about blog access dos and don’ts — including design — here.
There’s always more to learn. Fortunately, you don’t have to learn (and implement) it all in one day.
There are a lot of other steps you can take to make your blog more disability friendly, but Rome wasn’t ramped in a day. Also, we’re all human. As a blogger whose own disabilities sometimes make it challenging to post at all, there are trade-offs I sometimes make in terms of what I am willing to do based on my own limitations. While I do the best I can to make my blogs as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, I still hear about glitches from my readers on occasion. The main thing is, when I hear there’s a problem, I thank the person for bringing it to my attention. I try to listen, and then I try to address the problem.
Everyone goofs. But if you put in some pretty basic research and then practice it, you’ll be on your way. And then you can tell people, “I’m trying to make my blog more accessible, so if you have a problem, please let me know.” I’m definitely not suggesting that you rely on reader feedback to identify and fix accessibility problems instead of doing your research and putting in the basic effort first. Relying on reader feedback to alert you to accessibility problems has two major drawbacks:
1. If people cannot read your blog or cannot comment on it, they won’t be able to tell you there’s a problem!
2. It’s not the job of your visitors to be accessibility consultants. Some people like this role and are good at it, but others may just want to get on with their life and not be in teaching/education/awareness mode all the time. They also might know there’s a problem but have no idea how to fix it.
Fortunately, there are lots of lots of people who are devoted to web accessibility. You can find some of them at my “Making your blog disability friendly” page. You can also get tons of great info from the Web Accessibility Initiative.
If someone tells you about an accessibility problem with your blog, they’re giving you a gift because it would probably be much easier for them to just give up on your blog — to not tell you there’s a problem and not come back — than to spend the spoons (and risk potential defensive blowback) involved in telling you something’s not working. The fact that they’re spending their energy on you and your blog means they think you’re worth their effort. So, take that for the constructive compliment it is, thank them, and do your best to fix the problem.
Happy Blogging Against Disablism Day! Here’s to a bevy of accessible BADD blogs! (You can go read ’em here: http://tinyurl.com/BADD2013.)