#TechTuesdays

Ken Reid: Making it Work (1)

Writing for Assistive Technologies

With the extraordinary advancements in modern technology we now have access to incredibly powerful assistive technologies, often in our pockets crammed into our smartphones. However, assistive technologies rely on those who are creating the content ensuring that they format it in a certain way to ensure its accessibility. This week’s #TechTuesday blog comes from SCOVI member Ken Reid, campaigner, public speaker and fundraiser for RNIB. Ken details three very simple steps that we can all take to ensure that our online content is accessible to all.

by Ken Reid, 5th March 2019


Creating accessible communication and documentation is not easy. There are many guidelines available, some of which may seem to conflict, and some may not be that helpful to all people. As a blind user of screen reading technology, I have come across both good and bad examples of accessible communication. And of course, that just means it is accessible to me, with my assistive technology and my experiences … others will almost certainly have different views!

I have headed this blog as Making it Work 1, because I might, if the feedback warrants it and I come up with a few more ideas, write further editions.

Today, I’m going to describe a few of my top frustrations with communicators, and how they could make it work for me.

Hash tags that become gobbledegook

Hash tags tend to be created by running several words together to make a single word. This works very well in German, but in English, the result is a string of letters that doesn’t make any sense. It can take a long time reading over a hash tag, trying to spell out the individual words to work out what was written in the first place!

Capitalising the initial character of each word makes a huge difference to all users, even those unfortunate people who must look at the screen to know what is there. Screen reading software will turn this sort of tag in to meaningful speech. So, #MakingItWork is much easier to read than #makingitwork.

Emotional about emojis

Emojis were introduced to represent the emotions that were already being communicated in a message. They were made from a handful of characters from the keyboard, such as : - ) for a smile. Now you can get a nice little graphic that represents a smiling face ☺️.Cleverly, the powers that be have added descriptions to these graphics for those of us who can’t see them. Could be helpful, and “smiling face” is not too bad in that respect. But when it becomes “laughing face with horn rimmed glasses” there are suddenly lots of words to describe what should be just an aside to a message. It is getting in danger of having more words in it than the original message especially if used in Twitter! Then we get a string of them, that not only show emotions, but what you had for breakfast, or how you got to work and so on, then there is the habit of repeating them multiple times. I have created the hash tag #LotsOfWords to highlight this issue, and remember the initial capitals.

Quote and unquote

Did you notice that I placed the text for the emojis inside quote marks in the previous section? You might not, that is because a quote is the appropriate character to use, and it will blend in well. There is a tendency to replace the quote with an apostrophe. That does not blend in at all. My screen reader will read it as what it is – an apostrophe. So, the earlier example of “smiling face” is read to me as quote smiling face quote. But if you use apostrophes, it becomes apostrophe smiling face apostrophe. This clearly detracts from the meaning of the message, and as the point is to communicate a meaning, you will struggle to achieve your objective. It also takes my screen reader much longer to read out.

Bear these simple hints in mind when drafting text messages, tweets, Facebook posts or longer documents and blind users of screen reading software will forever be your friends. Or, at least, this one will!


You can follow Ken Reid on twitter here: @kenreid59

If you have any feedback or would like to write a blog for SCOVI we'd love to hear from you! Get in touch via info@scovi.org.uk

Make sure you are designing for inclusion!

Visit the SCOVI Toolkit here for more info on how to design accessible websites, marketing materials, email newsletters and social media posts. The internet should work for everyone - let's make that happen!

Accessibility doesn't need to mean compromising. We want to show you how you can make a snappy design that is accessible to everyone! 

Make use of "Alt Text" and picture descriptions to bring your pictures to life for blind and partially sighted users.

An accessible website doesn't need to come with a big price tag. Find out more about the simple steps you can take to make the internet open to everyone.

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