How to create inclusive personas, without creating inclusive personas

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I watched a webinar earlier today about creating inclusive personas to encourage accessible, human-centred design. The instructors talked about the disabilities people have, the assistive technologies they use, and how to create inclusive personas that describe those needs.

A young man with brown skin and dark, cropped hair. He is wearing glasses, and a navy blue jacket over a grey t-shirt. His hands are held in front of his body in a pose that suggest he is in the middle of explaining something.
A porttrait we used in one of our personas. This is a real person, who we’ve supported. No AI, no stock images.

And that’s all great, and laudable. But, with all my experience, I am not convinced it’s always the right approach.

Let me explain.

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On colours

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Some readers may have noticed that Scottish Enterprise launched a new brand identity recently.

Our logo was updated, and our typefaces and colour palettes changed.

I’m not a marketer, so that’s not my domain and I have nothing to say about that.

But I am a designer. And, when you’re designing communications material, whether it’s a website, an app, a brochure, a poster, a letter … these things matter. They are constraints you have to design within.

And yet, you have to produce an experience that’s accessible.

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WCAG 2.2

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WCAG 2.2 is now a standard.

That means it’s (probably) now the de facto default against which your website or apps will be judged if a case is brought against you.

Although I would guess most jurisdictions will give you 6-12 months to catch up, depending on the scope of your organisation.

Update your accessibility statements, if you need to. Basic standards are still:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandanle
  • Robust

Under the hood, not much has changed. Biggest updates are on :focus styles, and the visibility of focused elements. Oh, and authentication. Not being able to rely on cognitive challenges is going to be a big change for many organisations.

On twitter

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A screenshot of my Twitter account on 6 October 2023

I rarely use twitter (I refuse Musk’s nomenclature) any more. There are more than enough fascists in real life.

But I saw some posts on Mastodon about how the site has removed headlines from links to news sites. So thought I’d have a look.

The #a11y implications are terrible. There is no link text any more, just an aria-label attribute on an <a> element.

But these also have tabindex=”-1″ meaning, for keyboard users, you can’t focus links using the tab key.

Images have empty alt attributes.

Screenreader users can probably still find them by asking their AT for a list of links.

But many people navigate websites primarily with a keyboard for reasons other than blindness or low vision.

Although this was … not unexpected … it’s still just so disappointing. Twitter had a very good and very active accessibility team who did a lot of good work. They were all fired.

Twitter is degrading its #UX –intentionally – to fulfil the whims of an oligarch.

I’ll not be back.

Providing text alternatives for non-text content

Reading Time: 6 minutes

I recently ran a session with some of our content developers covering alternative text, and the difference between alt text and captions. It seemed to be well received, so I thought I’d write it up.

A screenshot of HTML code showing markup for a <picture> element
Modern web design includes a variety of techniques to provide text alternatives for non-text content. In this example, a <figcaption> provides additional context,

“Text alternatives” is the first guideline of the first principle of WCAG 2.1. It’s literally the first thing to think about – and the reason why is pretty simple: not everyone can see images.

That may be because they have a vision disability. But it could also be because the image has been deleted, renamed or moved. Maybe their network connection is poor. Or their browser doesn’t support the format. Or they have disabled images in their email client because they have a 500MB monthly limit.

Whatever. It happens. Text alternatives are what users rely on when images are not available. Like this one right here:

This image is not available

The alternate text needs to replace the image. So your question becomes very definite:

What text do I need to provide if this image is not available? How might I describe the appearance, purpose, function, or meaning of this image to someone who can’t access it?

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On alternatives

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This is for everyone

Tim Berners-Lee

As a content author myself – I am, actually writing this, with fingers – I know it can be hard to choose how to provide alternative text for non-text content.

Do you go full-on and launch into a full description of the image? Or is just a brief alt=”cat” sufficient?

Delicate white blossoms against blue sky.
Tree blossom

So, how would you choose to describe this image to someone who can’t see it?

I gave it a <caption>Tree blossom</caption>, and alt=”Delicate white tree blossom against a clear blue Spring sky”.

Is that perfect? Probably not.

I don’t pretend to understand the lived experience of people whose experience is not like mine.

Then I stumbled across this article on the w3c website.

And I thought, “this looks handy“.

And it is.

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How to create accessible Word documents

Reading Time: 7 minutes

First, some definitions

An accessible document is a document that people with a range of physical and cognitive impairments can read and understand.

An accessible document is, typically, also a document that people with no physical or cognitive impairments can read and understand better, and faster.

Also typically, an accessible document is easier for content authors to maintain. Because it uses tools that are baked in to Word and other MS Office applications to support accessibility and improve workflow.

So, here are some tips on creating accessible Word documents.

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How we are improving the application process for customers with accessibility requirements

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Introduction 

As an organisation we are  committed to do more testing with people with accessibility needs. This will ensure that our services can be easily accessed by everyone and to meet our legal obligations as a public sector organisation. We aim to recruit participants with accessibility needs in every round of research that we do to ensure that accessibility is considered at every stage of the project. 

We tested extensively the prototype for the Green jobs grant which was launched in the summer of 2021. 

Our goals  

We had a number of aims for this research:

  • To test the application journey with users who have a range of accessibility needs and to find what the challenges were for them in our journey  
  • To get clarity on what areas worked well  
  • We wanted to discover if different needs give conflicting priorities  
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Writing for people, not businesses

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As an enterprise agency, our role is to support economic development, and this includes offering support and information to businesses in Scotland. This sometimes results in the misconception that our users are simply ‘businesses’.

But that’s not strictly the case. Even though our services are aimed at businesses, it’s still individual people that read our content, navigate application forms or contact our experts. They could be business owners, CEOs, accountants, finance directors, department heads, or any other individual within an organisation. And, being real people, there are a whole range of different needs and situations we need to consider when writing for them.

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Accessibility – Sharing knowledge between organisations

Reading Time: 8 minutes
Using Skyscanner and Scottish Enterprise brand colour palette to show the same visual explanation to a11y being used for short for accessibility
Accessibility can be written as a11y for short — 11 is the number of letters between the first and last letters

Heather Hepburn is the Accessibility Lead for Skyscanner and has been running their accessibility programme for just over a year.

Stéphanie Krus works as a Service Designer and is a member of the ‘Disability Positive’ group at Scottish Enterprise.

We ‘met’ virtually in October 2020 after a talk at the UCD Gathering from Heather Hepburn (Skyscanner) and Adi Latif (AbilityNet): “Digital Accessibility – How to get your organisation on the right track” 

Screenshot of a slide presenting Heather and Adi at the start of the talk
Slide from the talk during the UCD Gathering conference

We realised we had a lot we could share regarding how we address and improve accessibility in our organisations.  So we planned a knowledge sharing session which was held online on 27 January 2021 with about 20 people.

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How we are improving accessibility in our practice

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When I started at Scottish Enterprise in May 2019, my team had a whole day of Accessibility training with Hassell Inclusion. This was all the User Researchers, UX/UI designers and Service Designers being trained.

The developers and QA testers also got their own training and the content authors had a full day of training as well.

We were not starting from scratch. A lot of people in the team are really into accessibility. But it should be everyone’s responsibility. We should not rely on just a few people with a keen interest to make sure we deliver on Accessibility.

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Neurodiversity (Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia) – Some simple tips

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Neurodiversity is not a well known term. It’s used to reflect one the diversity of ways people’s brain functions. There is no ‘normal’ or ‘right’ way. People with autism, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or dyslexia are part of this neurodiversity.

infinity symbol with pride colours
The infinity symbol represents autistic pride (Istock art)
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Why accessibility matters

Reading Time: 3 minutesMy mother-in-law has cancer.

It’s been painful, these last few months, watching a woman who was skiing in the Alps at Easter hobbling around on a crutch this summer. Though not a fraction as painful as it has been for her.

The disease has entered her bones, causing them to become so fragile that she has fractured her pelvis. Which is where the crutch comes in.

Fortunately, her prognosis is good. Radiotherapy, not chemo, was prescribed. Bones can recover, and injections speed the healing process. Her health improves daily. Continue reading “Why accessibility matters”