As Spirit of The Times and others know, I have for some time been concerned about access to the blog for users of screenreaders. While there has been some discussion of the lack of captioning of YOUTube and other videos posted to the blog, there hasn’t been any discussion thus far about the exclusionary implications of posting images, pictures, graphs and other visual representations. (This is not permitted on any of the disability research lists I subscribe to.) One contributor to the blog recently commented that “images speak louder than words”. That may be true for some, but it is not true for all. If one is blind or has low vision, pictures and images probably don’t “speak” to her at all unless they are raised, tactile pictures of the sort philosopher of art Dominic Lopes has written about. At present, some pictures/images are textually identified in this way: “Cover of So-and-so’s [book title]”. What is on the cover? What does it look like? If there were textual description accompanying these book covers, pictures and images, access to the blog for users of screenreaders would be improved. Even videos which have an audio element would be made more accessible to users of screenreaders if a textual description accompanied them: What is happening in the frame behind the person who is being interviewed? Is she seated in a wheelchair? Are there people in the background who aren’t saying anything? Does the interview take place in a bookstore? In a park? Elements such as location, scenery, colours, and objects in view to the sighted person create a context for the video and the action that takes place in it. Someone who uses a screenreader won’t get these from an audio presentation. So they should be provided in the form of textual description.
I would like to open up a discussion about this and encourage you to contribute your ideas in the comments to this post. I’m not a screenreader user, so I hope those who do use screenreaders will give feedback, even if only to correct me about what works for them.