From the beginning of class, I think we all waxed on about how the digital sphere has democratized research, information sharing, and access. Yet, as we have learned in last week’s module focused on issues related to bias and ethics, and this week’s module which is focused on accessibility and design, this is not entirely true. We have a long way to go to make the internet a safe, ethical, and accessible space. Not to say that digital historians have the ability to change the entire web to fit these needs, BUT we do have control over our own projects and can lead the way towards a more accessible history-sphere.
As we approach our own digital projects, I wanted to make a “cheat sheet” of accessibility tools that I could refer back to whenever I needed. In light of the accessibility unit, I thought this list should also be accessible to readers of my blog:
- #AccessibleHashtags: When using hashtags, capitalize the first letter of each word if it is more than one word. If someone is using a speech reader, it will sound like nonsense if the words are smashed together, but capitalizing makes the them read like individual words. For example, use #InstrumentalWomen, not #instrumentalwomen. This technique is also known as CamelCase.
- Alt-Text for Photos: It is important to provide descriptive text for images, describing what the photo looks like, for those who are visually-impaired.
- Wave Accessibility Tool: This amazing plug-in will scan your own websites and let you know how accessible your content is for people with disabilities. I used the Wave tool on this website, and was happy to see that I didn’t have any errors!
- Color Oracle: This open source tool allows you to simulate how your digital content may look to people with various types of colorblindness.
- Get creative, and keep it simple: It is easy to get over eager when doing complicated data visualizations or web projects. But if you are trying to reach the most people, keep it simple. Just because you know everything about a topic, doesn’t mean your readers do. Help them learn what you want them to know, and get creative! Working on data related to blind communities? Consider doing aural data representations instead of visualizations. Design for people with cognitive impairments? This article is a great resource for designing websites for users who may struggle with conditions like ADHD, anxiety, seizure disorders, and others. Again, it reminds us to keep things clear and uncluttered.
- Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI): This wonderful resource is aimed towards providing “strategies, standards, resources to make the Web accessible to people with disabilities.” The Wave tool uses guidelines that this initiative puts forth, but it always nice to go to the source for questions.
Throughout this module, I have been reminded of an amazing new movement which is a response to universal design, called design justice. Design justice is a movement which envisions how “design might be led by marginalized communities” and that by doing so, it would “dismantle structural inequality, and advance collective liberation and ecological survival.”1 I have previously been thinking about this in the realm of guitar design, and how many women are thinking of new shapes and designs for electric guitars that are lighter weight, more ergonomic, and better for the environment. But I think the principals of this movement also relate to DH. Having read about the issues related to biased algorithms, etc, it seems like the concept of design justice would address some of these very things.
While we may have to take some additional steps towards accessibility as we design and implement our projects, but by doing so, it will make our work accessible to everyone, and as a public historian, it seems worth it.