Musings on Digital History

Accessibility and Data Visualization: Towards an Inclusive DH Space

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.

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9 replies on “Accessibility and Data Visualization: Towards an Inclusive DH Space”

I really enjoyed reading your post! Thanks for bringing up so many different recommendations, especially for social media. As someone who uses Twitter often, I had never thought about the accessibility of hashtags for those who use speech readers. It’s a good strategy to make things as clear as possible, even on social media, that way everyone can understand the content your posting. Excellent stuff here!

Holy crap, your checklist is AWESOME!

I have NEVER heard of CamelCase before but advocating its use – not just for normal readability but also for text-to-speech conversions – makes such good sense! I run an Instagram account and regularly use hashtags to self-promote my photography so I will definitely be using CamelCase in the future!

And Color Oracle is itself incredible since it takes basically all of the guesswork out of accounting for colorblindness design.

Like, Terence, I am also impressed by CamelCase. I went on googling to collect more info on this cool thing. Thanks for sharing this info.
The design justice topic is interesting. The statistics provided in the reading was really impressive: “Approximately 75% of Americans need vision correction, while around 4.4 billion people worldwide have myopia and other vision impairments. Color blindness affects 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women worldwide.” etc (source: Megan R. Brett, Jessica M. Otis, Mills Kelly, “Reframing the Conversation: Digital Humanists, Disabilities, and Accessibility”.)
In 1824 Louis Braille invented the famous Braille system for visually impaired people. It looks like some devices can work with Braille now. However, the design justice requires further development of both hardware and software so that computers, laptops, netbooks, or iPads will become available to disabled people. One good reason to believe this will happen (apart from the humanitarian aspect) – they are a potential market, they are potential customers. So, the demand and supply curve will eventually do the job and will make this happen.

I am appreciative of how you laid out all the tools and resources we looked over this week for anyone else who reads your site! It’ll be good for other scholars to read about and consider these issues, especially since most of our classmates agreed that we haven’t considered this much or at all before this week.

I agree with CamelCase and Alt-Text! I know we plan on using it on our Twitter but I’m working on adding Alt-text on my website as well.

As others have already commented, creating this punchlist to refer back to is a great idea. I referenced some of these apps in my blog as well, but the bulleted design makes it easy to look back to and use. And I, too, was unaware of CamelCase and any reasons for using in. Thanks for this tip that we can all start using. While I do think WAVE is an incredible resource, I didn’t find it as user friendly as it could be for novice webpage builders like myself, although it did help me identify some contrast errors.

This is great — can I share this with my student teachers? As they are teaching online and learning how to use multiple teaching platforms, one of the issues that they are having is overlooking the needs of those students who have visual and hearing impairments. While they aren’t desinging websites, this would provide them a quick overview of some of things to at least be aware of and plan for it.

Thank you for sharing that resource about Design Justice — it’s been mentioned in some of our library workshops around Universal Design, but this is a good reminder for me to take a deeper dive!

Also, your post (and Brett/Dr. Otis’/Kelly’s article) made me think of something… much of these discussions are talking about accessibility for finished products and considering a user. What about accessible tools for project contributors? For example, working through the text encoding materials this week, I wonder if something like the platform designed for the Transcribe Bentham is accessible? Your questions about better-designed instruments is a great parallel (and it seems like electric guitars would be a fair bit easier to rework than instruments relying on full hollow bodies!)

I love that you went through and compiled this accessibility checklist, Jayme! I personally have see Alt-Text used across many platforms like Tumblr and Twitter. It’s honestly an excellent idea. I also appreciated using the WAVE tool for my websites. It definitely helped me tinker with them in the end! I also just have to say that learning about CamelCase was certainly useful as before I wrote my hashtags in undercase. Now I know better!

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