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.





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