What do that yr’s TCDSU elections educate us about web accessibility? – The college hours

This year marked a series of milestones in the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) electoral history, both for the union and the wider college community – the first fully online election, the first all-online campaigns, and the First Zoom Hustings, not to mention Acting Ents officer Hugh McInerney, was proud to have counted the night: “The first person in long, illustrious TCDSU history to be voted online. “When the dust settles, it’s time to turn our attention to the milestones we haven’t reached yet.

According to Virginia Jacko, President and CEO of the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, who advised US presidential candidates in 2020 on improving their website design for ADA compliance, “Website accessibility is the wheelchair ramp of this generation.” Like Jacko however, knowing well, some serious steps must be taken before we can make use of it.

A similar idea is concretized by a senior standardization and monitoring officer of the National Disability Authority Dónal Rice in an interview with the University Times: “Everyone would be aware of the need for buildings to be accessible, regardless of whether they are ramps, barrier-free toilets or tactile toilets are about paving outside the building … because it’s something tactile – you can see it, you can feel it, you can touch it. ”


However, he explains: “In the online world, making something accessible is a little more difficult, it doesn’t always mean changing the look or feel.”

In saying this, it is important that we recognize the more noticeable gestures that the union and this year’s potential candidates have made in this direction. Most online TCDSU hustings were accompanied by either Irish Single Language (ISL) interpreters or audio descriptions, and occasionally both. Similarly, image descriptions under social media posts and audio descriptions in campaign videos were increasingly used, indicating increased awareness of accessibility issues.

In the online world, making something accessible doesn’t always mean changing the look or feel

One of the driving forces behind this change was acting communications officer Philly Holmes, who focused his own 2020 campaign on the importance of internet accessibility. Speaking to the University Times, Holmes said that this year the union has “been a little more committed to candidates” to make content accessible.

Due to the impossibility of personal campaigns, candidates were increasingly given TCDSU’s online platforms to disseminate their campaign materials. This enabled Holmes to create an accessibility checklist document for all campaign content preceded by the agreement: “If your content does not select the accessibility check boxes, it will not appear on our website.”

In Holmes’ eyes, the union’s understanding and implementation of accessibility has “grown in strength year after year”. When he took up the position last year, he finally wanted to “draw this line in the sand to say: if it can’t go out accessible, it won’t go out at all”.

Put aside the election results and polls, how have this year’s TCDSU candidates performed in terms of internet accessibility?

Holmes recognizes that this year’s online requirement has made the campaigns “already much more accessible”. Mary Geraghty, a mature social sciences student and member of the Trinity Ability Co_op, agrees with this statement. “I love to watch online campaigns,” she tells the University Times of Zoom. “You almost hear the story or the narrative of the candidate more … I think [seeing things visually] very dedicated as someone who is dyslexic. “

Another member of the Ability Co_op, law and politics student Sarah McGowan, found online husting to be a positive experience. McGowan, who is visually impaired, finds “visual presentations [to] Be more of a barrier ”and therefore often switch on a negative contrast when viewing visual presentations, while reading software, magnifying glasses and audio software are used if necessary.

“There weren’t many powerpoints or visual presentations or anything like that for the hustings – it was mostly just acoustical, which was pretty practical for me,” she says, expressing her appreciation for the inclusion of ISL interpreting as a “representation for the other handicaps” out. .

If your content does not select the accessibility check boxes, it will not appear on our website

On the other hand, McGowan points out that she is less inclined to use image-based social media platforms like Instagram. “So if there is content there, I don’t access it.” Although this is not a general rule for blind or visually impaired people, “she confirms,” ​​social media campaigns are not as effective for me personally “.

For Geraghty, the main obstacle to the content of the candidates was the formatting of their manifestos. She described it as “a mixed bag” where “in some … I see there was reflection and in other cases I can see that [accessibility] was not taken into account at all ”. The disadvantages she found included insufficient contrast between font and background color, font size and signage.

“It’s important that candidates don’t use [accessibility] as a catchphrase … to get into their campaign and then be contradictory and use manifestos that other students with learning disabilities may not be able to access, ”claims Geraghty. Instead, she encouraged future candidates to “really get involved with what it is like to be a disabled student and find different ways to make material more accessible”.

Geraghty wasn’t the only one to draw these conclusions. During the campaign period, Trinity’s Disability Service published all 13 candidate manifestos via Blackboard Ally, which allows administrators to receive accessibility ratings for their content via a red, orange and green traffic light system. Blackboard Ally only gave the green light to one manifesto that received a 79 percent accessibility rating. The least accessible manifesto received a score of just 3 percent, with six out of 13 scoring less than 10 percent.

According to the Disability Service, these percentages were “mostly related to how knowledgeable and attentive they were [candidates] It was about formatting content, e.g. B. Headings, paragraphs, titles, and whether they contained alternate text for images that no one had. “The highest-scoring manifest encountered issues with color contrast and the lack of an image description in alternate text. However, it was crucial that the document was correctly formatted before being converted to PDF.

Speaking to the University Times, the Disability Service wanted to point out that “this was not a formal exercise in viewing material,” but “something that has caught on [their] Eye ”, which they then wanted to look into. That is why they “do not want anyone to feel under the microscope – nobody was perfect”.

However, the fact remains that candidates may have lost votes if their information simply couldn’t be communicated through assistive technology such as a screen reader. In a nutshell, as the Disability Service stated in an email: “Basically students with pressure disabilities [did] do not have access to the same experience as other students ”.

It’s important that candidates don’t use accessibility as a buzzword … to get into their campaign and then be contradicting and using manifestos that other students with learning disabilities may not be able to see

When the first 2020 Democratic presidential debate was held in Miami in 2019, Virginia Jacko, a blind voter, found herself in a very similar situation: “After analyzing the website of each campaign, I was disappointed to learn that none of the candidates did so had an accessible website and [was] forced to send the Miami Lighthouse Accessibility Scorecard to every campaign. “In an email to the University Times, she noted that of those who contacted,” Biden’s team was quick to respond and worked with us significantly. ”

This exposure to Jacko’s influence culminated in an updated WhiteHouse.Gov website under the new Biden administration: “My joy was on inauguration day reading about the revamped Whitehouse.gov – seeing our previous advice through the Including a widget to increase the font size or change the color contrast. ”

A pioneer in Internet accessibility that has caught the attention of media giants like TIME Magazine and the Wall Street Journal, she hopes, in the context of Trinity, that “every student union candidate will make the simple changes to make it happen To ensure all students can access and learn about their platforms. ”

Building on this ambition, Dónal Rice claims that not just the public but “everyone needs to know something about accessibility”.

“Not only is it a polite thing to do, it’s also a good thing to ensure that your writing can be accessed, understood, and used by as many people as possible.”

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