Chris Ashton

week11y issue 121

Only two articles this week, but both super interesting, and related to one another. They both concern big tech sites that pander to the majority at the expense of disabled users.

The negative impact of stylised captions on TikTok and Instagram

It used to be that there was not enough captioned content on social media. People were posting videos but not captioning them, either because it wasn’t possible on the platform at the time or because they couldn’t be bothered.

Auto captioning has become more and more popular, and it’s now quite simple to enable closed captions on your social media videos. As Courtney Craven puts it on their LinkedIn post, the resulting accuracy of caption can be “useless”.

But another problem is how the captions are displayed: there’s an increasing trend for captions to display

one

or two

words at

a time.

Courtney touches on some of the issues with that, as does accessibility consultant, Meryl Evans. This style of caption can be really hard to follow, and detract from the video itself, as one is so focussed on trying to keep up with the text. You understand language ‘as a unit’, not as one word at a time.

I don’t think we can blame the content creators; they’ve been given a tool, and they’re using it. But social media companies need to work harder to not build inaccessibility into the tools they provide people.

I’d be interested to know what kind of impact this has on screen reader users – send me an email if you have any insights!

Tech Journalism’s Accessibility Problem

Monica Chin, computing reporter at The Verge, writes about the lack of accessibility content in tech magazines. She notes that most accessibility content is written by freelance journalists, or by staff journalists whose primary focus is something else.

The lack of mainstream content makes it hard for disabled consumers to know whether the latest game, mobile phone or software will work for them. “I’ll often have to research reviews and watch like, six or seven so I can find all the information”, says Chris Reardon.

Some journalists feel that the solution is to hire an accessibility reporter, to provide dedicated accessibility coverage, such as accessibility reviews that sit alongside standard product reviews. Others feel that every tech reporter should have accessibility in mind when writing content.

Monica also highlights the risk of perpetuating harmful tropes and stereotypes. The solution isn’t to flood magazines with stories about ‘inspirational’ disabled people (a phenomenon disabled journalists have been protesting for years).

There’s also the risk that exclusively allocating accessibility articles to disabled journalists has them become the ‘token person’ to represent specific topics. That said, journalists with a related disability should be given the first opportunity to cover an article, if they wish. John Loeffler writes “it’s one thing for me to talk about the Microsoft Surface Adaptive Kit. It’s another for someone who’s like, when this review is done, I’m going to be using this on my own personal device”.

An example of where mainstream opinion differs from accessibility focussed views is the ‘touch bar’ integrated with MacBook Pros. CNET, The Verge and Engadget have all derided it as a useless piece of hardware that nobody asked for. (I happen to agree. They’re also prone to hardware failure; my sister has had no ends of issues with this aspect of her relatively new MacBook, just outside the warranty period!).

But Steven Aquino writes about how useful he finds the accessibility features of the touch bar. It makes shortcuts easier to trigger for those who lack the fine motor skills required for keyboard shortcuts. It allows the sending of emails or adding of emojis with a single tap, instead of multiple interactions.

Steven often felt in a minority, reporting on this. The mainstream sites just don’t touch on this stuff. Monica’s article is a call to action for tech reporting to do better.


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