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Why We Need to Close the Accessibility Gap for People with Sight Loss

By Kyran O’Mahoney, Chief Technology Officer– NCBI, National Council for the Blind in Ireland

As the digital era moves at an unprecedented pace, it presents a great opportunity for those with visual impairments to gain access to online assets that heretofore have been difficult to utilise. However, the Accessibility Index by the NCBI highlighted that progress is still needed, even among Ireland’s education websites and apps, many leading universities and secondary schools require additional steps to improve their digital accessibility.

Technological progress can allow those with visual impairments to engage in the world with much-improved autonomy. However, many institutions continue to trail in providing tools that deliver better digital experiences for the visually impaired. This technology should be a priority because removing hurdles and providing new resources makes life easier for the user.

For those with a visual impairment, navigating digital interfaces can be challenging, particularly for individuals dependent on-screen readers who rely on keyboard-based interaction. Web pages and applications lacking accessibility pose obstacles; it could be course enrolment, accessing content or joining virtual conversations or communities. Enterprises that fail to address these issues inadvertently alienate potential customers who cannot find the necessary information.

For accessibility to work effectively, it shouldn’t be an afterthought or just something to mark off a list when we create digital platforms or content. Accessibility should instead be at the centre of all decisions to ensure everyone can have digital access and control. When we design digital tools with everyone in mind, it helps all people use technology to a high standard. If organisations start including accessibility right from the start, they can make sure their products and services work well for all.

Making accessibility a priority means considering it from the start of any design process, particularly when selecting or designing digital platforms and content. Here are some top tips to help:

  • Vary formats:  Provide information in different ways and formats, like audio, big print, or electronic Braille, to help others. This allows those who can’t see well to access information in the way that suits them.
  • Keyboard tools:  Ensure you create websites using keyboard navigation to support special tools like screen readers to access and move through the content.
  • Visual support:  Add captions to help people who can’t see well understand what’s in the pictures and follow videos.
  • Feedback:  Test platforms and content on those with visual impairment to help find any issues. This can improve everyone’s accessibility.

The NCBI is determined to change these people’s lives. As Ireland’s agency for people who are blind or have trouble seeing, they work with 55,000 kids and adults nationwide, helping individuals live confidently and independently.

Through their work, NCBI knows it’s essential for everyone to be able to access the digital world and get to the content they need. Using Blackboard Learn from Anthology to help with this alongside Anthology Ally, they can change class materials into different types, like audio or electronic Braille. This lets learners get the class content in the most suitable format.

This technology makes a real difference to the people using it; one user said, “Being able to get class content in Braille made a big difference. Now I can use my electronic Braille tool without any problems.” This shows that technology that’s easy to use is essential for people who don’t see well.

Another area needing attention is social media platforms, which have created additional hurdles for those with visual impairments. In particular, image descriptions and accessible hyperlinks must be presented inclusively by incorporating image descriptions, appropriate hyperlinking and video captions to deliver true inclusivity.

Although there has been encouraging progress, to improve accessibility, there is significant work ahead. The Accessibility Index compiled by Inclusion Accessibility Labs highlights a growing necessity for enhanced digital accessibility and inclusiveness.

We know that technology has the opportunity to transform accessibility for individuals with visual impairments; to unlock and empower the user, organisations must prioritise accessibility thoroughly. By creating inclusive digital environments and adopting accessibility tools, we can bridge gaps, regardless of visual impairment.

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