Improving accessibility for people with hidden disabilities or mobility access needs

One of the benefits of my accessibility course is a monthly meeting for participants. Sometimes we look at an accessibility topic in more detail, sometimes we do a practical exercise that can be replicated in our businesses to make them more accessible, and sometimes we have a guest speaker – because I don’t teach on the subjects that I don’t know about and I’d rather listen to someone who can share their experience and add value.

Vie from Vieness Discover You Love You community interest Company came to talk to us about ways that business owners can be more inclusive and accessible for those with hidden disabilities. You can listen to Vie’s talk using the media player, or read her words below.

I don’t have a hidden disability, but I definitely relate to some of these points – as I often say, making life better for one group of people often helps several other groups too. But I also learned some things through Vie’s talk, which is why it’s so important to listen to those with other experiences so we can learn how to best meet their access needs.

Who am I?

“I look healthy. I look robust. I’m even prone to bouts of energetic activity, especially on a dance floor or when playing with children or when I am at my favourite place, Monkey World.

I don’t look disabled.

Unless I am using a stick, you cannot see that I may have difficulties moving around.

And, sometimes, when I am using a stick, you may see me participate in some behaviours that may seem peculiar and at odds with my stick.

I was born with a rare genetic skin blistering condition, Epidermolysis Bullosa, with subtype Simplex Generalised Intermediate. This means that I am prone to blistering and shearing on my hands, feet, mouth and throat; I can also blister in other areas where there is friction. For those of us with EB, our blisters can be big. Imagine the blisters you get on the back of your heel when you are wearing new shoes; for us, that blister could grow to cover our entire heel. There were many times before diagnosis that a blister would engulf all of my toes. Simple childhood scrapes would result in large patches of skin coming off and long recovery times.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult, which meant that, for the first, almost thirty, years of my life, I was walking on heavily blistered feet, which has probably been a huge contributor to some of the other conditions I now have, degenerative spinal disease, thoracic outlet syndrome, bursitis, and peripheral neuropathy.

Every one of those conditions is an invisible disability. A person would not know I have them unless I told them.

This can make things difficult. I would imagine that, for most of us that live with disabilities, things are more difficult than for those that don’t.

What can you do as a business owner to be more inclusive?

As a business owner, which often includes organising events, I understand how difficult it is to be fully inclusive; to include every possible consideration for making an event accessible. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try at all.

That hotel, surrounded by a natural forest is truly stunning! It’s a beautiful setting for any kind of event. As the event organiser, you probably drove there, looked around, loved everything, great parking.

But what about the attendees who are unable to drive? How could they get there? That beautiful hotel in the middle of a forest is unlikely to be accessible via public transport, especially if it’s not in the centre of a town. Maybe there’s a bus that stops ten minutes walk away. Great. If your mobility is good.

For me, to get to anywhere like that would usually involve at least two buses, possibly a train, and a walk, which would all take at least twice as long as someone driving in their car. And there are the elements to deal with as well. So, for me to get up and get somewhere like that for a 10am start, would mean leaving my house by 8.30 at the latest, hoping no buses or connections are delayed, being jostled on buses that are always busy at that time, then walking, possibly up uneven ground. I’m exhausted before I have even reached the event. Then two hours of schmoozing and the journey has to be repeated in reverse. So, for a two hour meeting, it would involve at least three hours of travelling time, and me being exhausted and unable to work for the rest of the day and possibly the next day or two as well.

What could you do, as a business owner? I understand that you wouldn’t want to change the venue, so make plans instead. Organise lift shares. Yes, the person that needs the lift could ask, but, one, as the organiser, you have more power, and, two, for the person with disabilities, it can be so demoralising to have to ask, to have to explain, over and over. As the organiser, you can start a thread, or send messages, and say anyone from this area please travel together if possible. You can say it’s an environmental effort; why use four cars with one person in, when you can use one car with four people in?

For bigger events, especially ticketed ones, consider the venue. Is it accessible by public transport? Does it have lift access? Are the seats tiered? Tiered means steps, which aren’t always accessible by everyone. Is there good leg room?

All of these things would be things that need to be considered for someone with most kinds of mobility difficulties. For me, having to walk up steps can cause additional pain; sitting in seats where I can’t move my legs causes additional pain. It’s also not too pleasant for people seated around me if I start spasming because of the excessive pain.

Do you want your attendees to go away, feeling uncomfortable, pained, and not having enjoyed the event, or go away knowing that you made every effort to be inclusive?

The spoons theory

Have you heard about the Spoon Theory? It says that those of us that live with chronic conditions only have so many spoons a day. Imagine we have twelve spoons a day.

Some days, we can use just one spoon for an event; other days, whether it’s due to lack of sleep, higher levels of pain, exhaustion from previous days’ activities, or because you are fighting off an infection (which is quite frequently in my case), it can take a spoon to sit up and get out of bed.

Making breakfast can take another spoon or two. Having a shower and getting dressed can take another two spoons. That’s five spoons before you have even left the house. Waiting for buses or other public transport, another spoon; travelling, another spoon; walking, another spoon; chatting to people (an enjoyable activity but it can be exhausting!) can be another spoon; travelling home, which is now harder because you are more tired, will be at least double the spoons, which is six spoons. The mathematicians amongst you will have worked out that that is 15 spoons. Which means you are already in deficit for the rest of the day, the next day, and possibly beyond.

So how can you, as a business owner, make things easier?

Ask!! And listen to the answers.

Know that one size does not fit all; know that every day is different even for those of us that live with the conditions.

Be considerate. As I’ve mentioned previously, arrange lift shares.

In addition to this, offer to get drinks and bring them to the table. Don’t make events all standing. Don’t judge us on how you see us on one time; as I mentioned at the beginning, I can have huge bursts of energy; other times I can struggle to walk.

Always remember that before we are anything else, we are human, with the same thoughts and feelings as you, and that we want to live life as fully as you do, whenever our disabilities allow.

You can make it much easier.”

Find out more

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    8 times people assumed and got it wrong with my access requirements

    Sometimes people have a general idea about accessibility, alternatives or adjustments, but a one-size-fits-all approach is often as bad, if not worse, than doing nothing at all.

    What’s the problem?

    Everyone is different. People have different needs, different abilities, and some adjustments just won’t make any difference to them.

    Often, the worst thing you can do is to make assumptions. The best person to know what will be helpful is the person who actually needs the help. Or maybe they don’t need any help – you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve just been going about my day, but people saw the guide dog or white cane and automatically assumed I needed something!

    Most of these adjustments would have been helpful to someone – just not to me. Some aren’t adjustments at all – just a bad way of doing things.

    I have no problem with people asking questions. In fact I have more of a problem with disabled people getting snappy when others are asking questions because they want to offer help or just be friendly and aren’t sure what to say.

    But assumptions are a problem, because you can get it wrong, and in some cases you might communicate the message that you, as a stranger, know better than someone who has possibly been living with their disability or medical condition for years.

    Most of these people were well-meaning or trying to do something helpful, but I want to use some of my own experiences to show how that worked out in real life!

    1. I’ll send you the information in large print

    This was a utility company. I was having a long drawn-out issue with them, which had nothing to do with my disability. However, as soon as the customer representative found out that I had a visual impairment, she insisted on sending everything to me in large print.

    This would be fine if I could see well enough to read large print, but I can’t see anything. Email would have been great, and it is the solution that we finally agreed on so that I could read the correspondence. It somehow took a while for the large print to stop coming though, and this made me sad – it went straight in the shredder (more work) or the recycling (waste of paper), and it was really not necessary!

    Tip: accessible formats are great, but only if the person can access that format. Braille would have been ok for me too, but not all blind people can read it.

    2. We don’t have step-free access, so that might be a problem

    A lack of step-free access is definitely a problem for people who need step-free access, but that doesn’t automatically include all people with a visual disability.

    My last four houses have had stairs. I often took the stairs rather than the lift at work because it was good exercise. Not being able to see doesn’t mean that a person is looking for step-free access.

    Tip: Step-free access is a way to make sure that your event, building etc is accessible to as many people as possible. This is a good thing. But if you make the assumption that all disabled people will have a problem if you can’t provide it is not helpful.

    3. I’ve brought a wheelchair

    My pet hate at the airport. It hasn’t happened to me as much recently because I’ve usually been accompanied by my partner, but when I was travelling on my own a lot, you could be sure that they would turn up every single time. The obligatory wheelchair in which I was expected to travel. I never did.

    To be fair, this was more of an issue in UK airports than anywhere else, but it often took a robust discussion before the wheelchair was taken away.

    Some blind people just go with it because it’s easier, but I can’t do that. For a start, there may be someone who actually needs the wheelchair, and they might be waiting for it. But really it’s the blanket assumption that all disabled people are unable to walk, and the suggestion that I should use it because it’s easier to transport me that way than to walk alongside me, that I object to.

    I’ll get on the carts with my luggage – that makes sense and is faster. But keep the wheelchairs for people who genuinely need them.

    Tip: Ask people what kind of assistance they require and don’t assume that everybody wants or needs the same things. Wheelchairs should be provided for people who need them.

    4. I’ll make it nice and loud for you

    Most blind people don’t need things to be louder. In addition to my blindness, I have noise sensitivities, which means that loud things are particularly unpleasant and I will generally try to get away from them.

    Tip: people with vision-related disabilities don’t need you to over-compensate with another sense. We don’t have super-senses as some would have you believe, but we are generally good at using our other senses and don’t need things to be louder. People with hearing loss may, but sometimes just making things louder can distort the sound.

    5. I’ll take your luggage off the plane for you – even though you asked me not to!

    This made me angry!

    An air hostess asked if I would like her to take my carry-on luggage off the plane at the end of the flight. I declined politely. She did it anyway.

    This meant that A. I had no idea where it was, B. it was unattended and could have been stolen or tampered with, and C. she completely ignored what I wanted, thinking she knew what was best for me. She succeeded in making problems for me, even though I was doing just fine before she got involved.

    Tip: Don’t ignore someone when they ask you not to do the thing that you think would be helpful. Maybe someone who had difficulty lifting or carrying things would have been grateful, but that wasn’t the case here.

    6. I knew a blind man once and he …

    In this particular instance it was that he wanted his food to be cut up for him, which I definitely don’t. Whatever it is though, one person with a disability is just one person with a disability.

    Most of my friends have never met another blind person before and to be honest, I quite like that! It generally means they’re more willing to listen to how I do things or what they could do to help!

    I do have some friends with lots of blind contacts, but they respect that we are all different. Some are more independent travellers than others. Some have better IT skills. We don’t all access information in the same way or want the same information about our environment.

    Tip: Our diversity is what makes people interesting! Please remember this because even if people have exactly the same disability, there are so many other factors which influence their life, access needs, and way of interacting with the world!

    7. I’ll speak to the person with you

    There are very few occasions where this is a good or helpful thing to do. Does she want a coffee? Would she be interested in…? Would she like to…? None of these things are good. Nobody likes being spoken about in the third person.

    My partner doesn’t engage with it and is likely to say “ask her yourself!” It’s actually quite infuriating though and in a business context I have made sure that companies have lost our business because of it!

    Tip: just don’t do it! Speak to people directly.

    8. Why do you need a guard dog in the restaurant?

    I just included this because it made me smile. Really it was a misunderstanding. I often had people try to deny me access because I had a guide dog, but this person thought I was famous and needed to bring a protection dog. That’s not what I was asking for when I said my guide dog would be coming along!

    Find out more

    This wasn’t supposed to be a ranty post, but I did want to take some of these examples to show how well meant doesn’t always mean well done!

    I don’t want to see people withdrawing and not doing or saying anything for fear of saying the wrong thing to an unapproachable, prickly disabled person (I’ve seen that too, and whilst I can understand some reactions, I don’t think it’s the best way to fix the problem!)

    I want to generate discussion and do something useful to bridge the knowledge gaps, hopefully showing why some things aren’t helpful, and others depend on the individual set of circumstances.





      yes


      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

      If you’d like to contact me or sign up for the monthly EwK Services newsletter, which will also contain links to new blog posts, please use this contact form:





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

        The three levels of online accessibility

        I navigate the online world with a standard laptop, a smartphone, and a screenreader – something that reads aloud the text that is on my screen.

        One of my goals at EwK Services is to bring what can be some very dry and technical documentation to life by using real examples and everyday anecdotes about how getting this stuff wrong affects real people.

        This isn’t a recognised way of dividing things up. You won’t find it in any official guidelines. But I find it helps when I’m trying to explain the extent to which online accessibility issues affect me and others.

        1. Accessible, with a good user experience

        These are my favourite websites. I can use them with no problem. I never need to ask for help. I can accomplish any task using my screenreader that a sighted user could accomplish with a mouse. I know exactly what I’m clicking – all graphics and buttons is labelled correctly and there are no barriers for me to overcome.

        These sites keep me coming back. I know their owners care about me as a customer because they make sure that I have equal access to their site.

        There may be one or two little things that could be better, but generally I have no complaints, and I’m likely to be loyal to a site like this ,rather than to shop around on other sites that may be more of a hassle to use.

        The only thing I’d add here is that we can have web standards, but everyone has different needs. I am not affected by how good the colour contrast is, but other people are. I might be confused by an unlabelled button, but someone with a bit of vision might be able to work out what the graphic means.

        Also, sometimes the user experience is as good as the skills of the person behind the keyboard. Someone might claim that an app isn’t accessible, even though many other access technology users are using it regularly and successfully. There is probably a training need here, and there may always be people, particularly those who are less familiar or confident with their software, who might try to tell you that something isn’t accessible, when the issue is that this individual hasn’t figured out how to use their own tech.

        So, the issue might have something to do with the user experience, or it might not. You shouldn’t have to be a power user of access technology to have a good experience, but if one person tells you something about your site is inaccessible and other people haven’t had a problem with it, it may not be something you need to fix.

        Also, there are many other combinations of browsers, devices, versions of software, and types of assistive technology that people may use.

        There will always be a degree of subjectivity here when it comes to what’s an accessible and intuitive experience, but every barrier you remove brings you one step closer to a more accessible experience for more people.

        2. Not completely accessible, but not unusable either

        This is the grey area between the great sites and the horrible ones from my access technology user perspective, and it really depends why I’m on the site as to how much time and effort I’ll put in to figuring out a way to make things work for me. These can be workarounds like

        • You can only do that particular task on the app, not the site.
        • Click the first unlabelled button to do X, or “unlabelled3” to do Y. (Not intuitive, but consistent and it gets the job done.
        • Use one of the more obscure report formats, because you won’t be able to read the standard one.
        • Export the data, because the graphical presentation won’t work for you.
        • There is a button/an input field that appears in an obscure place, usually right at the bottom, and you won’t be able to continue unless you find it, interact with it, and move on with your day. It isn’t intuitive, but once you’ve done it a couple of times, you know what to expect and where it will be.
        • This site doesn’t follow the standard practices for the use of headings – something you’ll want to read will be above the main heading where you won’t expect it – but if you know it’s there, you can easily navigate to it with your keyboard.
        • These are all things that can, and really should, be fixed from an accessibility point of you. I wouldn’t advise anyone to create a site that results in access technology users having to do any of them. But my point is, they are all tactics I employ on sites that are important to me in some way. Less familiar screenreader users might not figure it out, and to be honest, nobody should have to click unlabelled buttons just to find out what they do. I usually get assistance with that the first time because I don’t want to find out by chance.

          The decision about whether I persevere with sites in this category is based on my motivation to use it. If it’s a service, I’m more likely to persevere and try and find a work-around. It’s a good investment of my time, because it’s something I’ll need to come back to. Ultimately it would be better if the site owner fixed the glitches so that I didn’t have to, but realistically these things don’t happen overnight and in the meantime I have things that need to get done.

          I do point things out when I think companies will listen, but I have a life to lead, businesses to run, a home to manage – I only have 24 hours in the day and I don’t have time to point out to everyone when they’re making my life harder with their web design. I have to prioritise.

          So, if it’s a one-time purchase and the process of buying feels like too much effort, I’ll probably go elsewhere. If it’s a service that I’m likely to use more regularly, I’ll have a bit more patience with it – on a good day. But this does mean that I’m doing more work than a non-disabled visitor to the site would have to, and that’s not really fair. People who already love what you do or know about your products might stick around, whereas others may look for the path of least resistance, which in this case will mean buying the product or service elsewhere.

          3. The inaccessible sites

          Here it doesn’t matter how well a person can use their access technology software. There is something about the site that prevents screenreader users from doing things such as logging in, using some of the functionality, or completing tasks. These sites are annoying. They are frustrating. They are basically turning people like me away.

          Wherever I can, I will avoid them and take my business somewhere else.

          The only time I will stick with it or go and get help is if there is no other way – some official form that I need to submit, something that I really, really want that can only be obtained from the inaccessible site, or something that would be more hassle for me if I didn’t use it. For example I use a service for one of my businesses, and although I’d like nothing more than to not give them another penny because they made their site inaccessible overnight, I know that the work I’d need to do to change this particular service provider would be annoying, so it’s easier to get a bit of help on the few occasions when I need to use the inaccessible interface.

          Usually I just avoid them though, because the experience makes me more dependent on others than should be necessary. This can be a pain to organise, make me feel dependent, and I don’t really want to support businesses that don’t care about making an inclusive experience for all of their customers.

          In which category would your site appear?

          So, do you know where your site would be? Would it be in the first category, that I’d love to visit, in the second, where I’d need to figure out some things that fell short of the accessibility best practice standards but at a push I could still use it, or are you in the third category, because you have features that make the site completely inaccessible to a screenreader user?

          If you’re not sure, I offer screenreader accessibility usability consultancy and would be happy to talk through the details with you. I also have a free factsheet about some of the biggest problems I encounter on websites, social media platforms, in training materials, and at events. To find out more about my consultancy work or the free factsheet, you can visit my accessibility page.





            yes


          The F word in online accessibility – frustration!

          I’m not a writer who often talks about feelings – whether I’m writing articles for my business blog or my personal one. Of course I have feelings, but a lot of the time it doesn’t occur to me to share. That’s not just when I’m writing articles, it’s pretty much the same in real life. It’s a need to know kind of thing, and most people don’t need to know. Especially the more negative things. I don’t mind so much if people know when I’m happy.

          So when it comes to writing about problems, I tend to focus on the facts. Problems and solutions. What makes it difficult for a screenreader user to use a website? How can people make their social media posts more accessible? Actionable tips. Explanations. Cold hard facts. But the thing is, we’re working and interacting with people, and they do have feelings.

          Reading this post frustrated: the F word of disability” made me stop to think. Have a read about the research if you’re interested – even as someone involved with this subject every day, I found some compelling arguments that I hadn’t even considered before.

          I don’t relate to all of the emotions listed in the post, which evaluates feedback of disabled consumers talking about inaccessible websites, but I nodded my head at a few of them.

          Frustrated – yes, I’ve definitely been there. I sometimes even make it to the check-out, and then some inaccessible web element means I can’t make my purchase.

          Angry – yes, I’ve been there too, especially if I really wanted the thing, or if the thing is on sale and likely to run out before I can get some assistance. Bonus points go to the wonderful individual who takes a perfectly accessible website and breaks it with the next update – you can read my thoughts about careless updates here.

          Stressed – yes, that too, especially if I don’t have much time, and sorting out the problem eats into the time that I don’t have.

          Anxious – not so much, but I can see how this would apply to someone who is relying on the thing, and they can’t get the thing due to some website accessibility problem.

          Less independent – well yes, because if you have to ask someone to do the simplest task for you, an example today was selecting a date on an inaccessible date picker widget before I could continue what I was doing, it does make you feel less independent – because you are indeed less independent.

          And the list goes on.

          I don’t want this to become a rant into all that’s wrong with the world in terms of online accessibility, but I think it’s worth highlighting that there are emotions involved when people can’t use a service or website that others can use without any problems.

          Many disabled people, and certainly many blind people, use online shopping or online booking sites more often because when designed well, they do offer a sense of freedom and accessibility that going to a physical shop often does not.

          Our fridge freezer broke last weekend, but once we got the new one, I was able to do a new grocery shop to restock it, quickly and easily. It would have been a nightmare if I’d had to go to the shop on my own, locate the things I wanted with “help” that may or may not have been helpful, and then get the goods home without a car. Online shopping made that a 10-minute task for me, and for that I’m grateful. The alternative can be more costly, in time, money, and nerves.

          If you’re a business owner, having an inaccessible site can result in money being left on the table, because although sometimes we get help – my fiancé gets involved with my online shopping habit from time to time – often people just choose not to make the purchase.

          Sometimes I just think “oh well, I’ll go and buy it somewhere else”, and the competition gets the business. I tend to be a more loyal customer too – I get a lot of my cosmetics from one store because I know their site is accessible. If I know they stock the thing I want, I’m less likely to try a brand’s own website, because it’s often hit and miss as to how well their site is designed.

          But it’s about more than that. Every purchase that isn’t made because of some accessibility problem has a person sitting behind that keyboard. They may be thinking “screw it, I didn’t need the thing anyway”, or they may be feeling any one of these other emotions.

          It goes the other way too – when I find something accessible that works really well, it makes me happy, and I’ll probably share the experience with my friends without even being prompted too. Free marketing for the site owner! I might even blog about it on my private blog!

          Much of what I do at EwK Services is to help business owners see the real impact they have, and the massive changes for the better they can set in motion when they start thinking about accessibility.

          It’s not just something to do because it’s a box to tick. Despite the challenges in an increasingly litigious world, it shouldn’t just be about putting the right measures in place so that nobody tries to take legal action against you. There are real benefits to having accessible websites that go far beyond that. Because for every terrible experience I have, I also have good ones that make me feel empowered, independent, on an equal footing with everyone else, and just able to get on with life like everyone else who can use the site. If you have a website, you also have the power to have that kind of effect on someone’s day!

          So please – if you can, don’t be the cause of the F word in accessibility – Frustration! To be fair, certainly in my case, the frustration can quickly lead to the other F word as well!

          Get in touch

          EwK Services offers consultations in a number of areas to ensure that your products and services are accessible to blind people (specifically screenreader users and Braille readers). Visit the accessibility page For more information about these services or how else I can help you and your business.

          If you’d like to contact me or sign up for the monthly EwK Services newsletter, which will also contain links to new blog posts, please use this contact form:





            Braille signs and accessibility – why these signs didn’t help me find my way around

            Not all blind people are able to read Braille, but for those of us who are, having information in Braille can be really useful. I particularly like to find it on hotel bedrooms. This means I don’t have to meticulously count the doors (no good if there’s a group of people or a trolley of towels in the way), and it’s a sure way to stop you accidentally trying to break into someone else’s room.

            However, putting up signs in Braille is not just like translating the sign into another language. There are a few more things to consider. A recent trip to a hotel really brought this home to me, so I thought I’d share my experiences here.

            Problem 1 – I don’t know about the signs

            Some blind people have a degree of sight and they may notice the signs. They may be travelling with someone as I was. It was my fiancé who first alerted me to the signs in the hotel, and he’s pointed out other random signs on our travels too. Signs about safety, opening times, toilets, or how to use a piece of equipment. The problem is, if he hadn’t been there, I would have walked straight past them, completely unaware that they were there, which rather defeats the object of having the sign there in the first place.

            Signs don’t work for me in the same way. They don’t grab my attention. They have to be pointed out.

            So, if you’re thinking about putting Braille signs up on your premises, there needs to be some training too. You or your staff have no way of knowing whether a blind person is able to read Braille, but if you think that they might, for example because they have a white cane or a guide dog, it’s worth them explaining that there are Braille signs around the venue. Otherwise your shiny new signs may just go unnoticed!

            Problem 2 – I can’t reach that!

            Now we come to the three problems that I found with the signs at the hotel. I’m not looking to make an example of this particular hotel, but I thought the issues illustrate my point.

            After we discovered the door numbers, my fiancé started showing me other signs – but there were a few issues with them. We did point out the problems to reception so that they could get them put right, but apparently the signs had been around for a number of years and nobody had commented on them before. See problem 1!

            At 1.55m, I’m not very tall. But the point of Braille signs is that you read them with your fingers. We found one that was so high above my head that I could only reach the bottom of it. This is a problem! Ok, many people are taller than me, but a building can’t just cater to tall blind people!

            I understand the thinking behind it – you can get away with putting printed signs higher up – but different rules apply when your sign has to be read with fingers.

            Problem 3 – the writing is upside down

            I couldn’t figure out what the writing said at first, but it was in fact upside down. The rest of the sign was not – all the arrows were pointing in the right directions and the printed lettering was right, but the Braille text had been printed upside down! Maybe the person creating the sign had been watching Stranger Things and wanted to send Braille readers to the Upside Down? Or maybe they just didn’t check. Either way, nobody was aware of the error.

            Problem 4 – the text is incorrect

            On these particular signs, I could read the printed text too because it was in raised letters. So I could tell that the Braille letters did not say the same as the rest of the sign. The printed letters were correct – the Braille was not and might have sent someone in circles looking for the room when they were actually right outside it!

            Conclusion

            I’ve no doubt that the hotel wanted to do something good that made their venue more accessible to disabled people – and this is a good thing. I’ve no doubt that they also spent a lot of money on those signs because they were printed on durable plastic, which I’m sure wasn’t cheap.

            The part that was missing here was quality assurance checking – making sure that people for whom the signs were intended could actually use them, and that the company had paid for a quality product. If there had been some kind of strategy that had included user testing, or someone who explained some of the things you need to think about when putting up Braille signs, all of these problems could have been avoided.

            EwK Services offers consultations in a number of areas to ensure that your products and services are accessible to blind people (specifically screenreader users and Braille readers). Visit the accessibility page For more information about these services or how else I can help you and your business.

            You can also use this form to sign up for my monthly newsletter, or to get your free copy of “common barriers to accessibility” in terms of websites, products, social media, training materials, or events.





              yes


              Accessibility – it’s not enough that your website started off being accessible

              The worst time to ask for feedback is the time immediately after you’ve annoyed someone!

              Have you ever had that experience? You’ve been kept waiting on hold in a queue that went on for what feels like hours, or you’ve had the worst customer service ever, and then you get a request to give feedback about how satisfied you were with the service? Sometimes people are so annoyed, that they do in fact give feedback – and it’s rarely positive.

              I had a similar experience yesterday evening. I’m not going to name and shame the site here. I do sometimes use social media or my personal blog to highlight problems and try and get them fixed, but this blog is more about good practice. I will however explained what happened, because I think it’s important.

              The site is one that I’ve used before. It’s not the most accessible, but I can get most things done without too many work-arounds. Recently they decided to make some changes and update the page I wanted to use.

              I wasn’t aware of any improvements. Maybe it does look nicer. As a blind user, I can’t comment on that. What I did notice however, was that only two of the buttons that I might want to use had graphic labels. As luck would have it, the one that I wanted to click had not been labelled correctly. So I had a 50% chance between unlabelled0 and unlabelled1.

              Would you click unlabelled buttons if you didn’t know what they would do?

              I didn’t want to take my chances, so I asked someone to take a look and tell me which one I needed. I can remember for next time if I need to use that page again, but I shouldn’t have to. Sighted visitors to the page know what the buttons do.

              Apart from the obvious frustration, there are two issues here:

              1. Inconsistency

              Someone on the team clearly knows how to label buttons correctly, because the other two had graphic labels that my screenreader could read. In the same way that site owners want consistent branding and use of colour across their site, consistent web design and coding is important too, especially on the same page.

              If none of the buttons had been labelled correctly, I might assume that the person designing it didn’t know how to. But that’s clearly not the case here.

              2. Updates shouldn’t be a step backwards for accessibility

              Previously, the buttons on this page did have correct graphics labels, and these somehow got lost or overlooked when the page was updated. This actually makes the experience worse for me now.

              It’s easily done if you have more than one person working on a site, or if someone inherits a site that was designed by someone else, but it’s really important not to lose the accessibility features and basic good practice that were already built into the site.

              Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you can’t see a problem as someone didn’t bother to label a page control properly that nobody will notice.

              In terms of the site in question, it’s not the first time that I’ve flagged an accessibility issue, it’s been fixed, and then the changes were lost in the next update.

              This is a strong argument for why accessible and inclusive design should be on the agenda as a matter of course, not an afterthought whereby people have to fix all the things that get broken with an update.

              Then they wanted my feedback!

              Directly under the unlabelled buttons was a request for user feedback about the new design. I was happy to oblige and I hope that my feedback will be acted upon. I’d still have preferred it if I hadn’t had to spend time tracking down someone who could help me with something that previously hadn’t been an issue.

              I’m fortunate. I do have someone who helps me with visual tasks in my businesses, but it’s an unfair and unrealistic assumption that blind people always have someone close by that can help them out. I don’t have help full-time, and if I want to use your site in the middle of the night when nobody is around, I should have that freedom just as any other visitor does!

              Take-away

              People are creatures of habit and generally we’re not fans of change. This is even more so if you break someone’s user experience with your next update, so it’s worth making sure that anything you’re planning to do won’t have a negative impact on the accessibility of your site.

              Get in touch

              If you’d like to contact me or sign up for the monthly EwK Services newsletter, which will also contain links to new blog posts, please use this contact form: