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Bristol Inclusivity and Accessibility Meetup

Posted Jun 11, 2019

Photo: Jon Gibbins, co-organiser of Bristol ID&D
Photo: Jon Gibbins, co-organiser of Bristol ID&D

I’m very keen on learning as many techniques as I can to improve the accessibility of the sites I’m building for clients so their users can all have a great experience no matter who they are.

Attending this new inclusive meetup really opened my eyes to the wider world of accessibility going beyond the basics of supporting tab navigation and basic screen readers.

The first Bristol Inclusive Design & Development was hosted by accessibility engineer Léonie Watson, accessibility consultant Jon Gibbins and Ben Cubbon of OVO Energy. 

The meetup was hosted at the impressive offices for OVO Energy, a green energy provider. With enough foliage to make the best green-houses look sparce and a treehouse featuring it’s own slide, this was a very impressive venue.

Experiencing digital accessibility using your smartphone

Jon Gibbins got the meetup started with Experiencing digital accessibility using your smartphone”. A talk about how different the user experiences are on mobile devices.

The talk began with summarising where accessibility support comes from as developers. We can’t physically have empathy for the potential disabilities we’re trying to support, but we can try to get enough of a grasp to build projects with as much empathy as possible.

Our product is fully accessible is a lie.”

Jon is also trying to discourage developers, agencies and businesses to use the phrase Our product is fully accessible” because accessibility is never a one size fits all’ practice.

Everyone’s experience and abilities are different so the work we do to make our projects accessible can be subjective.

My takeaway from this is that it’s impossible to test for every possible user case. The way our users are using the web and the multitudes of potential disabilities are so diverse that it’s not possible to test every single interaction.

As a perfectionist/​completionist, I found this very eye opening, because I tend to work to lists and modularise my tasks, so the idea that there are issues out there I can’t identify and may never identify from an accessibility point of view is something we all should come to grips with.

Jon also gave live walkthroughs of the accessibility tools readily available on iOS devices including the built-in iOS voiceover and switch controllers.

Accessibility is a human right.”

Finally, accessibility for all users is something we should strive for.

As developers, the projects we’re delivering for our clients may look spectacular on a super-spec 27″ iMac to creatives in the industry, but your project could be unintentionally excluding some users from accessing your information if we don’t take the time to think about accessibility from day one all the way through to delivery and beyond. 

OVO Energy's impressive lobby
OVO Energy's impressive lobby

Talking Technology

Up next was a talk from Léonie Watson called Talking Technology” about the available tools out there for speech in tech. Some of which, Léonie herself uses on a daily basis.

Firstly we were introduced to Web Speech API. A modern speech-to-text tool from Google that allows users to dictate text by talking what they want to write.

But most fascinatingly was an entire CSS Module that has never been rolled out: CSS Speech Module.

It’s an entire family of CSS properties that would allow developers to style the way screen-readers read your website in the same way they style a background colour or heading size.

.tessa { voice-family: tessa; voice-pace: fast; voice-balance: left; }

Using simple styles like above will change the reader to a pre-defined British female speaker, with a faster pace and a left-leaning balance for stereo outputs.

Tools like this can give speech users the opportunity to bring a touch of excitement to their web experience.

However, Léonie made it very clear that no matter how boring listening to the same voice every day can get, offering an option to disable custom voice styling should be compulsory.

We must give our users the opportunity to decide that they want the unique speech experience or not in the same way we are offering dark or light themes, small or large type or no stylesheets at all.

From what we learned CSS Speech Modules are not coming any time soon, but it’s definitely something to be aware of moving forward into an ever-more accessible age.

You can experience CSS Speech Modules yourself with an online mock up built through Web Speech API and SpeechSynthesis interface for a live example of the potential for CSS Speech.

The next Bristol Inclusive Design & Development meetup is scheduled for the 2nd September 2019, so if you’re interested in coming along you should join the meetup group!