Chris Ashton

fortnight11y issue 74

It’s been a little while since my last fortnight11y, partly because Mailchimp have recently upped their prices, meaning I’m no longer within the free tier. I’ve been procrastinating moving to a different provider, but will give that some more thought. I’ll also be on annual leave for a while now, so you won’t hear much more from me until June.

With that out of the way, onto this fortnight’s issue!

What makes writing more readable?

A fantastic deep dive into how to write in ‘plain language’. The entire article is written in normal literary style, but every paragraph has a plain language equivalent adjacent to it, which you can toggle to switch to.

The interactivity of this article is a joy to play with and really helps to demonstrate the processes that go into translating text into plain language. We see Rebecca Monteleone’s thought process behind how she translated an example paragraph into plain language.

We then learn about the Flesch-Kincaid formula, which measures readability based on the length of words and sentences. It’s not hugely effective: “the dun fox cleared that slouch of a dog at full tilt” is at a 0.89 (1st grade) grade reading level, compared to the allegedly more difficult 2.34 (2nd grade) reading level for “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog”.

The Dale-Chall Readability Formula considers the proportion of “difficult” words instead. This, similarly, isn’t all that effective. “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” is at 0.45 (4th grade or below) according to that formula, but drops to 0.25 (also 4th grade or below) by simply prefixing the sentence with “Yes!”.

Finally there is the Lexile Framework for Reading, which is a proprietary scoring system whose exact algorithms are unclear. But it oddly rates The Grapes of Wrath as far easier to read than The Library Mouse (32 page children’s book).

Formulas aren’t a great measure of ease of reading:

None consider how well organized the information is, or whether the sentences and paragraphs are coherent. None consider the role of grammatical tense. None account for the explanation of acronyms and jargon. None would balk at Jack Torrance’s rambling and meaningless draft in The Shining, endlessly repeating “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Well worth a read.


How to use the accessibility tree for a11y testing

Giovani Camara uses a simile to describe the accessibility tree’s relationship to the DOM as being like a ‘filter’ for your emails: the DOM contains a lot of information, but the accessibility tree shows only the data related to accessibility.

This article is very short – it describes how to access the accessibility tree in Chrome DevTools, which is to right-click, Inspect, click the double arrow in the bottom right panel and select Accessibility.

What’s more interesting is the embedded video (10m) where Giovani demonstrates this visually, and then goes on to show how he uses the accessibility tree as a development aid, by using it to examine the W3 WAI ARIA example implementation of tabs. He explains how to use it to see the computed properties, ARIA attributes and the child/parent relationships of a component.


AI-Generated Images from AI-Generated Alt Text

Adrian Roselli explores the topic of AI and accessibility, as claims are being made that AI could make up for things like a lack of human-provided alt text. He feeds several different images into the following browsers/software and has them generate alt text descriptions for the images:

  • Microsoft Edge
  • Google Chrome
  • Apple iOS VoiceOver Recognition
  • Microsoft Office

He then feeds the generated alt text into AI image generators, Craiyon and Midjourney, to see what they create from the alt text. He does the same with his own manually created alt text, to compare the image outputs.

This is an exercise to highlight that automated alt text still isn’t particularly good, and that the quality of alt text greatly influences the quality of generated images (a metaphor for how a screen reader user uses the web and relies on good alt text to be able to properly understand an image).

There’s a follow-on article, AI-Generated Images from AI-Generated Prompts, which explores the idea of feeding images into tools that then spout out AI prompts you can use to try to generate new images (very cyclical!).

Also cool to note that the opening image of each article was generated by AI, using the title of the post as the seed phrase.


Washington Post Design System

The world is divided into people who like perusing design systems, and those who don’t. I actually fall into the latter category – I find that these systems require a lot of time sunk into them, and often just reinvent the wheel – but even so, here’s the Washington Post version.

It’s worth a quick click through to see the accessibility checklist, the screen reader shortcuts, and the pretty comprehensive overview of alt text (from a technical implementation and content writing perspective).


10 Ways Designers and Researchers Can Meaningfully Engage With Disabled People in 2023

A thought-provoking article with some really useful takeaways.

Some tips are practical/logistical:

  • Bring disabled people into your process “from the very beginning”, before you’ve locked in your design problem or research questions. Doing so allows you to make the best use of these community members, allowing them to lend their expertise and be true collaborators, rather than just ‘rubber-stamping’ your design.
  • Offer remote and asynchronous participation. “Can you offer to do interviews over instant messaging or email? Can you run a focus group on Slack or Teams chat? Can you provide workshop materials and interview questions in advance so that your participants have extra time for cognitive processing?”
  • Consider what changes you can make to properly reward your participants.

Others are a change in mindset:

  • Reframe your design thinking: instead of “designing for” trust, you should “design against” abuse and exploitation. “Designing against” helps to avoid feature creep and lets you focus on just “the structural factors that are really, materially shaping those problems”.
  • “Be Deliberate About How You Categorize / Segment Disability”, i.e. instead of asking “what kind of disability do you have?”, ask “which of these things are difficult or inaccessible for you?”. Understand that some people don’t yet have a medical diagnosis for their disability. Ask about barriers and difficulties rather than disabilities.
  • Related: how should you hire disabled people in the first place? Traditional networking and going through large-scale disability charities is not inclusive, says the author. Instead, they propose hiring “a couple of disabled people as outreach coordinators”: people who are “politically engaged enough to be connected to small grassroots organizations, to be aware of current and ongoing issues within disability communities and how those need to be reflected in design research questions and recruitment profiles for research participants”.
  • There are also sections in the article about “thinking about power”, stopping “ignoring invisibilized disability”, and “thinking about accessibility in terms of time and energy, not just space and matter”.

Progress Over Perfection: The Better Way for Communication and Accessibility Advocacy

This article by Meryl Evans really resonates with me.

Accessibility is big and daunting. It needs to be considered in every facet of an organisation: “HR needs to ensure the hiring and employee benefits processes are accessible. Procurement needs to ensure the company buys accessible products and services”. People will inevitably make mistakes – even Accessibility Advocates!

Progress isn’t always a straight line – sometimes it will go backwards. They key is to get started and keep moving. You can start with something as simple as an accessibility statement on your website, giving people an avenue for reporting accessibility issues. Don’t spend years trying to perfect everything behind the scenes before launching your 100% accessible product – be iterative.

One exception that muddies the rule a bit is the use of overlays. Whilst these have the feel of “progress over perfection”, they make your product less accessible, not more so. Better to ask companies to remove these overlays, through educating rather than berating. Meryl follows these four steps:

  1. Show gratitude for what they do right.
  2. Provide the suggestion.
  3. Explain the reason for the suggestion.
  4. End on a high note or with a thank you.

“Progress over perfection”, and being kind, gets results.


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