Last Updated on 26th September 2023

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Thursday the 19th of May is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (also known as GAAD). It’s a day to reflect, discuss and learn about digital access and online inclusion.

In a time in which we rely on online spaces and technology more than ever, it’s important that everybody has equal access to the digital world. Unfortunately, the reality is that many people don’t have equal access due to accessibility barriers on websites, apps and platforms, such as the lack of subtitles or inappropriate colour choices on website text.

However, making the online world more accessible isn’t just the responsibility of websites and content creators. There are small steps we can all take to be more inclusive in our everyday online activities.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) Logo

What is Digital Accessibility and Why is it Important?

Digital access is something that many of us take for granted. Think of how many times you use the internet during a day and all the reasons why – for social connection, for education, work, shopping, playing games, reading, listening to music, accessing the news and much more. Now imagine all those things are suddenly unavailable to you because of a health condition, impairment, or disability. It would probably feel frustrating, unfair, and oftentimes isolating.

There are many reasons someone might need extra support or adjustments for digital access, such as visual impairments, being deaf or hard of hearing, having dyslexia, a learning disability or a motor skill disorder. It’s important to note that people that fall into these groups are not homogeneous. Every individual will have different access needs and it is rarely helpful to make assumptions about what someone needs simply by a diagnosis, rather than having a discussion – communication is better than conjecture!

Oftentimes the barriers that are in place can be overcome with the right adjustments – from the user having the assistive technology needed (like a screen reader) to the creators of digital products ensuring that they make their products fully accessible.

The removal of these barriers is what creates digital accessibility – technology that is inclusive for all.

Digital Exclusion

Also sometimes referred to as the ‘digital divide’, digital exclusion refers to the factors that act as a barrier to accessing the internet. These include access, ability, and affordability. The impacts of being digitally excluded include reduced opportunities to find work, access healthcare, greater cost for goods (due to lack of access to online shopping) and fewer opportunities for social interactions.

Children and Young People and Accessibility

A report by the Council of Europe in 2019 across six countries, including the United Kingdom, explored the experiences of children with disabilities online. Lack of accessibility features was cited as a reason for which children’s ability to access digital environments could be discontinued or disrupted.

  • Lack of subtitles in videos
  • Inability to magnify images and/or text
  • Lack of use of alt-text
  • Lack of spoken explanations on content
  • Lack of accessibility features available

Alt text (short for ‘alternative’ text) are descriptions of images that concisely explain what is seen in the image or content. By adding this, people using a screen reader can understand what is happening in a photo and have access to the full context in which the image appears.

Alt-text should be concise but descriptive. For example, “a woman is dressed in red, sitting on a park bench and smiling at the person capturing the photo” is much better than just hearing a screen reader repeat “smiling woman” for multiple photos without context.

illustration showing the difference between the good example of alt text of the woman sitting on the park bench versus the bad example

Children and young people being digitally excluded is particularly concerning because of the impact this could have on both their education and their opportunities to socialise. Both of these factors also hold the potential to affect a child or young person’s mental health.

How Can I Be More Inclusive and Accessible Online?

Digital accessibility isn’t just about accessing the ‘important’ parts of the online world, like educational resources and news websites. Just as someone without access needs may enjoy browsing social media sites for the latest celebrity gossip, to catch-up on what their friends have been posting, or to look at photos of cute cats, so too, of course, might someone with access needs. It’s about having access to the exact same parts of the internet – even the cats.

illustration showing an example of alt-text of a ginger cat playing with a toy on a bed

Here are our top tips on how you can be more accessible with your own social media posts, blog or website.

Use auto captioning features on social media to add subtitles to video content on your feed or Stories. This ensures that users who are deaf, hard of hearing or whose first language is different to that in the video can watch your content.

Avoid using an excessive amount of emojis used one after one another in text posts or in usernames.  Screen readers read out each emoji individually, for example – ‘Sam 🌿😄🤖✍🏻’ could read as “Sam Herb Grinning Face with Big Eyes Robot Writing Hand with Light Skin Tone.”   

This can become even more confusing when emojis are used between words in a sentence or in the middle of words. Try to limit the number of emojis used and place them towards the end of the text. 

Also known as ‘CamelCase’, it is important to capitalise the first letter of a word in a hashtag because, when using screen readers, uncapitalised letters are often read as part of a string of letter rather than individual words.  

This also makes it easier for people with dyslexia or cognitive disabilities to read and understand hashtags.  

Ensure that the contrast between text and background colours on posts meets the minimum requirement to be easy to read – you can use a Colour Contrast Checker to make sure.

Avoid using text on images because this can be harder to read. You can opt to use a solid background instead.

If you’re posting a graph, avoid using colour as the only way to convey meaning – use symbols, patterns, and shapes as this will help to ensure the meaning isn’t lost.

By using colour appropriately, you’ll be including other users who have colour blindness, visual impairments and/or learning disorders and more.

If you’re aware that a friend, family member or someone on your social media profiles has access needs that they are comfortable talking about, consider asking them if there’s anything you can do to make your posts and online interactions more accessible for them. No one will be a better expert than them when it comes to what they need! However, bear in mind that not everyone feels comfortable sharing private medical-related information so only do this if it is a topic that you’re sure they are happy to discuss and broach the subject in a private forum – whether that’s in-person or through private messaging.
Nobody is perfect and when it comes to accessibility, we’re always learning what’s best practice. For example, we recently added audio recordings to our articles so that people with visual impairments or reading difficulties have full access. Also, although we already provided alt-text to imagery on our websites, we’ve also pledged to add alt-text to all our social media posts.

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