Well meant is not well done – the importance of being a reliable accessibility ally!

In a world where people are becoming increasingly aware of issues around diversity and inclusivity, it makes sense that we want to do better. We want to do more to help people feel welcome, and we want to highlight those things that have been causing problems, or those beliefs that need to change.

I have seen some fantastic examples of this in action recently.

After some conversations about accessibility, I found that one of my business owner friends had gone to one of her suppliers with a request that they do better in terms of accessibility for screenreader users. It was great to hear how they’ve taken the first feedback on board and turned it into real action. This makes me happy!

It also makes me happy when I see people on my pilot course taking what they’ve been learning, from me, both generally and in the course, and putting this into practice in their businesses. This is helpful for me and for any other customers who come across their products or services.

Through inclusive action in their businesses and spreading awareness of what they’ve learned, they reach a wider audience, but they also lighten the load for people like me. There was a post in a Facebook group recently, and another business owner friend had already suggested how it could be more accessible – before I’d even seen it.

This is what being a good ally is all about.

I hope I can do the same for members of other parts of the community. I may not share their same access needs, or experience exclusion in the same ways, but if I know what helps them, and similarly what causes a problem, I can be an inclusivity ally to them too.

The danger

The danger is that in our eagerness to do something good, we can end up spreading misinformation if we’re not careful.

I wouldn’t usually think to write about this, but I’ve seen three instances of it in the last week. Two were on Twitter, and one was an article that someone forwarded to me because she thought I’d find it interesting. I did find it interesting, but not as an example of inclusivity!

I’m not talking about people just not knowing the most up-to-date information. The world of accessibility is changing all the time. Words go out of fashion. Technology is updated, so that things which weren’t possible in the past suddenly become possible. New technology or tools are developed. Companies bring in new features and updates.

Even in my own training, Some things stay the same, whereas others need to be updated.

But I’m not talking about that.

The three examples I came across were general statements about what screenreaders can’t do.

“Screenreaders can’t read PDFS” – retweeted lots of times, but it’s not true. They can’t read inaccessible PDFs, but if the PDF is created well, it’s not inaccessible. I use PDFs in my courses or for invoices etc all the time.

“Screenreaders can’t read hashtags if you don’t capitalise them.” This is more about my need for exact communication, which isn’t blindness-related, but still bothers me when I see things like this.

Uncapitalised hashtags don’t read well, and sometimes I have to spell the word letter for letter to work out what it means, but that’s not the same as not being able to read it. I can’t read hashtags in a language I don’t speak. Uncapitalised ones just make my life harder. Ultimately I prefer it when people don’t make my life harder!

The last one is a bit specific and it wasn’t in English, but it was basically saying that screenreaders can’t read a certain type of punctuation properly. Except some of them can, including my own, and there are a lot of customisable options in a screenreader. So some screenreaders, if set up in a specific way, can’t read the thing. But others can.

If we help to spread a message that you can’t use PDFs, uncapitalized hashtags are unreadable, or a certain type of punctuation shouldn’t be used ever – that gives people the wrong idea. It makes the job of creating accessible content even harder than it needs to be. It’s not the intention, but it creates a lot of extra work and expectations unnecessarily.

Why do these things spread?

Sometimes people struggle to express things clearly. They know what they mean, and they assume everyone else has the same level of knowledge. This can lead to misunderstandings.

Sometimes a respected person shares something, and their followers trust them, so they share it too.

Sometimes people such as screenreader users themselves make statements about how accessible things are (or aren’t), but the truth is more that they don’t know how to do it, or how to get the screenreader to do what they want it to.

Sometimes people just don’t have the most up-to-date information.

So what can we do?

Check before you share

It’s like everything else. There’s so much stuff on the internet. Some of it is useful. Some of it isn’t. If you’re not sure, either don’t share, or find someone who can tell you either way.

Avoid sweeping statements

Some things are facts. But often we’re talking about big groups of people, who are influenced by so many other things and not just the one small thing they have in common. Especially if you’re talking about what people want, need, or feel, it’s better to say

… people may

Some … people

And then you won’t annoy all the people who don’t fit that definition.

Take a bit more time

I don’t want to single this person out, but when I queried one of the statements mentioned above, the reply I got was along the lines of “I know that, but I didn’t have enough characters to explain it properly”. Take the time for that extra paragraph or that extra tweet if it means you can avoid spreading misinformation.

Find trusted experts in the field

If you’re interested in a specific topic, find some good sites or people who share information about it so that you can learn from them.

Final thoughts

I know it’s hard sometimes. I don’t want to discourage people from sharing or helping – because we need the world to make changes and become more inclusive.

Even when it comes to recognised organisations, some of them are rejected by the people whom they claim to represent, because the people don’t feel that the organisation is representing them fairly.

Where you can, go to the source. If you want to know about people with a certain type of access need, go to someone with that access need, not some information written about them by a third party.

Of course it’s good to share and raise awareness, but equally it’s better to be sure of what you’re sharing. Otherwise it ends up being like those posts that keep doing the rounds on Facebook. People just share because they want to be helpful, whereas a bit of research would show they aren’t true.

Find out more

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If you’re interested in finding out more about accessibility, you may also be interested in my accessibility course.

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