Straightforward steps to making nature more accessible

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Logo: AbilityNet

By Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion, AbilityNet

Being blind doesn't mean I don't enjoy nature as much as the next person. In fact, not being in a position to appreciate the stunning visuals of all those spectacular television documentaries we can consume without moving from the couch, I value much more highly the richer sensory experience of actually ‘seeing’ nature first hand - if you see what I mean.

Landscape of sheep grazing at dawn
Image: Illiya Vjestica Illiyapresents

As so many others who wish to immerse themselves in the natural world - whether it's in the countryside, a national park or even any number of urban conservation settings - my first port of call is a website or app to do a bit of fact-finding and getting the lay of the land, so to speak.

I’d want to be able to easily access information on the destination or project and, if planning on heading their myself, on how I may be accommodated as a disabled visitor.

Just as I rely on spoken explanations (called ‘audio description’) to gain some appreciation of the beauty and majesty of what David Attenborough has encountered on his travels, I also rely on websites and apps to have had a little thought and care applied to ensure that I’m able to understand and use them.

It’s not just blind people who need valuing in this way. People across the broad and beautiful spectrum of disabilities and impairments need to have their needs accommodated also. Together, the adjustments we need make your apps and websites extra usable for everyone – oh, and it’s the law too.

Making your information inclusive

Accessibility doesn’t happen by chance, and it can be a daunting topic if you’re just beginning to get to grips with it. There are recognised standards for website and app accessibility, but let’s look at some simple, straightforward steps to get you started – for websites at least.

These five tips will make your site slicker and better to use for a wider audience and will help you meet your legal obligations to eager users like myself (under the Equality Act 2010).

1. Hide your mouse to check keyboard accessibility
Making your site accessible without using a mouse is a legal requirement, and something that will benefit many of your visitors. People with little vision rely on keyboard access as they cannot easily see the mouse cursor on the screen. Sighted users with motor difficulties (such as Parkinson’s or a stroke) can find keyboard access simpler as well. Using a remote control on your smart TV to access a web page? You’re actually tabbing through it just like me.

Just by hiding your mouse and trying to access your site and all its options with only a keyboard can show how you're doing and how to improve this. In particular, make sure that each link and button gains a nice, visible focus as you tab through the page, and that that tabbing order is logical and doesn’t jump all over the place (making it difficult to follow). If you want to ‘click’ something with focus, that’s Enter or the spacebar.

2. Avoid poor contrast
Everyone finds low contrast text difficult to read, particularly people with low vision. Use a contrast checking tool such as Tanaguru's Contrast Finder, this allows you to enter two different colours and check the contrast between them. It can also suggest alternatives if the colours have insufficient contrast. Alternatively, a colour picker tool like the Contrast Analyser from the Paciello Group will help.

Hint: Trust your eyes too - it can be simple to spot offending text colours by eye, and then just verify them with the tool. This is best used early in the design process, so that issues can be addressed before the site goes live.

3. Do a free accessibility check
The organisation WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) provides a free, automated, online checker here. This can give you quick feedback on some more technical issues on your website – e.g. if forms are correctly labelled so a blind person knows what info they need to enter. This is a great way to highlight issues during the development process. Be aware that any automated testing can only cover a small subset of all possible accessibility issues. However it is a valuable technique when used alongside manual testing.

4. Provide an accessibility page
An accessibility page is often an opportunity for organisations to state what measures they have taken to make their site accessible. You can also use this page to let people get in touch with any difficulties they experience while using your site. See AbilityNet's accessibility page for an example.

Getting feedback from people visiting your site is very valuable. By making it easier for users to feedback to you directly, you will benefit greatly by both demonstrating your commitment to improving your site, and being able to respond to individual issues as they arise.

5. Content is king: know your audience
People come to websites to find information, or to carry out an action. It makes sense to make this process as easy as possible for people. Know your expected audience, and write copy accordingly. Using eco-jargon, say, may be fine for visitors with that background, but lay visitors may miss out. Good practise is to avoid jargon, or if it is necessary, provide a glossary.

Make use of headings, paragraphs and bulleted lists to break text up into meaningful sections. Make one key point per paragraph and use different methods to convey information. Some users will prefer to read text (like me), others will benefit from a video, others prefer a simplified or illustrated guide.

More accessibility means more access

The path to the natural world may often start with a digital first step – a step that can help to inform and reassure disabled visitors that a fantastic experience is in store. As you care for making nature and natural habitats accessible to everyone, please consider some simple steps that can get those real-life experiences off to a great virtual start.

Discover more

Here’s some useful links on the various ways that AbilityNet can help:

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Posted On: 28/10/2022

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