Accessibility means that everyone, regardless of their abilities and situational constraints, is able to use our products, be they tangible or intangible.  It could be something as basic as being able to open a medication bottle, prepare a meal, or get around in the city using sidewalks and mass transportation, or something more involved, such as reading the paper or enjoying works of art.  Accessibility means leveling the playing field according to our users’ needs.

Shorter people standing on bigger boxes to be able to see the baseball game over the fence
Accessibility in action

We need to make our environment more accessible for many reasons – first of all, we are humans and we need to respect our fellow human beings. We can become easily become situationally disabled, when we are in a loud place, and can’t hear well. There are also business and legal reasons to do so.

For a UX designer, that primarily means Digital Accessibility — making all digital content (not just websites) accessible. Technologies such as screenreaders and AI solutions such as providing alt text to images) made some significant advances, but fall short. For Alt text to be informative and useful, one needs to understand how an image relates to the textual information, and choose relevant aspects to describe. The description are often “childlike” 

Or they are simply missing the context and end up being offensive, inaccurate or overly generic to the point of uselessness. And the key word here is context – how much if any alt text you provide hinges on the context. For a good overview and examples, check out Sheri Birn-Haber’s article

So, how can we design for good alt-text? MS Powerpoint has some interesting ideas implemented (which WordPress clearly has not).

Powerpoint slide with image – AI suggested description, plus a way to edit the alt text

Digital Accessibility

includes web accessibility, but also addresses making documents, pdf files accessible for people with various disabilities.  While significantly more users produce documents than web pages, there is very little awareness of techniques for making files accessible.

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