Accessible Advent

Against a yellow background, the hashtag Accessible Advent in large bold letters is repeated 4 timess, in red, purple, green and turquoise.

Merry Christmas! 🎄🎅 It’s a strange one for us all this year, and will be very difficult for many, but I hope you’re able to find some happiness, comfort and support, and can immerse yourself in things that you enjoy.

Throughout this month I took part in Accessible Advent on social media, created by Ginny Butcher, where each day I highlighted something that would make life more accessible for me and other visually impaired people. So I thought I’d share the full list here as well. I hope you find it interesting and useful!

1. Audio Description – Theatre

Audio description has really helped me to understand & enjoy theatre in recent years, enabling me to attend shows and try genres I couldn’t otherwise, thanks to VocalEyes and venues like The Old Vic Theatre and National Theatre. I wish more shows & venues had it.

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2. Touch Tours

Following on from yesterday, I wish more theatres would do touch tours. Getting close to the sets, costumes, props, etc, greatly aids my appreciation & understanding of their design & use, which combines with the audio description for a full experience.

Costumes

3. Image Descriptions

Please add descriptions (aka Alt Text) when posting images on websites and social media. If you describe your pictures, blind people with screen readers can understand and interact with your information, products, services, photos, art, jokes, etc. Don’t exclude us!

You can find instructions for adding alt text on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, WordPress and Tumblr, as some common examples. If you can’t find the option on the site you’re using, you can add the description to the text of your post. Or you can use the “alt” attribute when adding images using HTML. Keep your descriptions concise and relevant too.

Selfie of Glen with Emily Davison, sitting together on some grass in the shade, with trees and sunshine in the background.
Photo Credit: Emily Davison

4. Colour Contrast

Poorly contrasted text is nigh on impossible for me to read e.g. red on black, grey on white, etc, preventing my use of websites, printed material, signs, etc. Even normal sighted people will find it hard. Please bear that in mind when designing content.

Glen sitting in front of a background that's mainly dark purple apart from a bright white section at the bottom. Text has been placed over the background using different colours for each line, some of which are poorly contrasted e.g. red on purple or yellow on white, while others are a lot clearer e.g. light green on purple or dark blue on white. The text reads Poor contrast makes it really difficult for me to read comfortably, whereas colours that contrast clearly against the background are a lot easier. So please be mindful when designing your online and print content, it benefits everyone.

5. Large Print

Having things in large print enables me to read them much more comfortably, but it’s often not available. It’s important & very useful for bills, letters, leaflets, manuals, signage, menus, theatre programmes, museum labels, etc, to name just a few.

Glen smiling as he stands next to a tall sign, made of black bordered rows with black lettering, showing what's on each floor of the building. Most say ITN or ITV, but the sign also mentions Globecast, Warner Brothers, TRT World and Metapack, plus the reception desk.

6. Website Navigation

If websites & apps aren’t clear & easy to navigate, I can’t find the information, products, services, etc I need. And the owners often don’t fix issues when alerted to them. So I end up taking my custom & money elsewhere, or I don’t buy anything at all.

Glen wearing sunglasses as he walks down a busy street.

7. Captchas

Captchas on websites are often difficult & frustrating for me to solve e.g. reading messy text or trying to find items in a grid, and the audio alternatives often aren’t any better. I’ve had to surf away from sites where I couldn’t bypass these before.

Glen looking at and touching a piece of art on a table, that has curving lines forming a grid. Other artworks with intricate patterns hang on the wall.

8. Online Bookings

Booking accessible tickets for plays, concerts, events, etc, is made less accessible if you’re unable do it quickly & conveniently online like other customers, and have to ring a busy phoneline instead. When I can’t easily get through, I miss out.

Glen pretending to use an old rotary dial phone.
Photo by East London Vision

9. Self-Service

I find self-service checkouts & ticket machines slow, frustrating & sometimes unusable, because the interfaces are unfamiliar, confusing & difficult to see. Please ensure there’s also a manned checkout or desk, or staff are available to help use the machines.

Self-service ticket machines at Waterloo Station.

10. Directions

If I ask where something is (e.g. a building, a room, a product in a shop, an item in a room, etc), don’t just point and say “It’s over there”. I could spend ages hunting in that area, even if the item’s right under my nose. Please be more specific!

Glen next to Usain Bolt's waxwork at Madame Tussaud's, copying his lightning bolt pose where he leans on his back foot while pointing up and ahead with the opposite arm.

11. Staff Awareness

If you’re promoting your venue’s accessibility offerings online, please ensure your staff know about them as well. I’ve been to a few places before where staff didn’t know about the audio description devices mentioned on the website, for instance.

Glen smiling as he holds the receiver of a morse code device to his ear in a museum.

12. Prominent Information

Please ensure your venue’s accessibility information is prominent & easy to find on your website. And if you have accessible videos (audio described, captioned, etc), don’t unlist them on Youtube. You won’t reach the intended audience if you hide things away.

Glen looking around as he flies down a busy London street at night on a broomstick.

13. Unmarked Steps

Please make sure the edges of steps are clearly marked at your venues. It’s amazing how many places I’ve been to where this still isn’t the case, and it is very dangerous sometimes.

Glen as a child walking down a few paved steps from a patio into a garden, while his Dad watches.

14. Audio Description – DVD & Streaming

It’s very frustrating when audio description isn’t included for programmes & films on DVDs & streaming services, especially when it is provided for the TV broadcasts, so you know the AD tracks exist. Content should be accessible across all platforms.

Glen posing with a waxwork of Benedict Cumberbatch at Madame Tussauds. Benedict is dressed in a smart suit, with a black jacket and trousers, long black tie and a white shirt.

15. Pavement Parking

Please don’t park your vehicles or dump your dockless bikes on the pavement. It creates a big hazard for people who can’t see, and it’s very dangerous to go into the road to get past if you’re disabled, elderly, pushing a pram or trolley, etc.

Tall blue police call box, very similar to Doctor Who's Tardis, on the pavement outside Earl's Court Underground Station.

16. Pavement Clutter

As well as parked cars & dockless bikes, I wish pavements had less clutter in general to make walking easier & safer – e.g. uneven paving, bollards (and ropes/chains between them), overhanging branches, signs outside shops, litter, dog mess, etc.

The entrance to Glen Road in E13, with a sign for Glen Road Medical Centre in the distance.

17. Silent Vehicles

Silent vehicles are impossible to detect if you can’t see well. The subset of cyclists who ride on pavements, jump red lights & zoom by at close range are dangerous enough, but now electric cars & e-scooters are a growing hazard. I need sound to be safe!

Glen smiling and sitting on Hagrid's motorbike, which has an empty white sidecar attached.

18. Pedestrian Crossings

Accessible pedestrian crossings make it a lot safer to get around, with bleeping, the tactile spinning cone under the button box. showing the red/green man on my side of the road & tactile paving for the blind. But many still don’t have these features.

Glen's fingers touching the ridged surface of the small black spinning cone underneath the button box at a pedestrian crossing.

19. Bus & Train Announcements

Audio announcements on buses and trains confirm to me that I’m on the right service and know where to get off. They’re very common in London (though there are times when they can’t be heard or don’t work), but availability is very hit & miss elsewhere.

Standing in front of a tall London Vision banner, Glen is smiling and holding up a white board with handwritten text on it that says What does accessible transport mean to me? Being able to travel independently because of audio announcements.

20. Guide Dogs

Respect guide dogs. Don’t illegally refuse them entry to businesses, transport, events, etc. Don’t stroke or distract them without their owner’s consent. And don’t fear them. Just let these beautiful animals do the vital support work they’re trained for.

My friend's golden retriever guide dog smiling, as I shake his paw that he's lifted up onto my leg.

21. Airport Assistance

I’ve never understood why some airlines insist on a wheelchair reservation when I want to book assistance, or try to make me use a wheelchair at the airport. I can walk fine, it’s my eyes that are dodgy. Save the chairs for those who really need them.

Glen in his childhood, standing on the steps leading up to Concorde, looking very small in comparison to the huge tail wing behind him.

22. Home Appliances

The obsession with touch screens & small displays on appliances like cookers & washing machines makes them impossible to use when you’re visually impaired. It’s severely limited our choice of appliances with tactile controls that we can safely operate.

Close-up view of 3 dials, 1 big and 2 small, on a washing machine, with red tactile dots called bumpons stuck on a few of the numbers to indicate their positions.

23. Include Disabled People

Don’t exclude disabled people from things on the assumption we’re uninterested or incapable, or you don’t see the point in making it accessible. We’re keen & able to do more than you realise, we just need a bit of help sometimes. Don’t be afraid of us.

Glen and Claire doing a free-fall abseil off the Orbit tower, as viewed from below by a spectator on the ground.

24. Involve Disabled People

It’s vital to plan accessibility & involve disabled people as employees & user consultants from the start, when designing buildings, infrastructure, products, services, events, apps, websites, etc. It makes life much easier for everyone in the long run!

Glen sitting and grasping the steering control in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, the dashboard of which has black, white and blue chunky, tactile buttons that contrast well against the grey surface.

Conclusion

That’s it, I hope you found that informative. Some people and businesses are of course very good at accessibility, and are keen to engage with disabled people to meet their needs. But there are still many examples of inaccessibility where awareness and education is still very much required, hence reminders like these are always useful and important.

So thank you again to Ginny Butcher for creating the campaign, and thank you for reading my contribution to it. Do have a look at the other issues that people have highlighted too, as naturally there are many things I haven’t mentioned. I hope it all gives some food for thought!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger & Youtuber with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

3 thoughts on “Accessible Advent”

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