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Explaining accessibility through a jam jar

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When I mention accessibility in relation to digital communications, most people ask “what does that mean?” or “what do I need to do?” I explain that we need to make a product or a service available to the widest audience possible, or provide an alternative format. By making something accessible you make it usable, useful and used.

I like to use the analogy of opening a jam jar as an example of accessibility. It has been designed to make the product easy to ship, easy to store and ready for the consumer. We go out and buy the jam, take it home and that’s where the fun can start.

Is the jam jar useable, useful and used? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’, but is it accessible? The answer is… ‘sometimes’. We have all had that jar where the lid refuses to come off and have experienced the frustration that comes with not being able to get our hands on the contents. Imagine how it would feel if that was information inside that jar and you simply can’t open it.

Taking the analogy further, what can we do to open the jar or make it accessible?

  1. ask a partner or friend to open it
  2. hit the side of the lid with a knife breaking the vacuum seal
  3. use a specially designed gripping device
  4. smash the jar (not recommended!)

In recent years alternative containers have also been developed because of this very problem. You can get jam in a plastic bottle, where all you need to do is squeeze. (Avoids me resorting to number 4!) So, next time you are producing a publication, writing for a website, or creating a leaflet , think about the audience and whether it is in a format that can be used by all. How can you help reduce the frustration of your readers or users?

Is your product in well written plain English with correct formatting? If you’re writing a long and technical document remember that your audience are busy people too. Have you provided a useful and easy to read executive summary? I’m unlikely to read a 100 page document so I assume other people won’t either! Examples of good and bad accessibility:

  • a good example is creating a graph with a supporting table of information so everyone can consider the data that is presented
  • a bad example of accessibility is producing a leaflet for visually impaired and blind users on paper, rather than electronically or in an audio format.

To make electronic documents fully accessible takes time and software, but the majority of the problems we see can be avoided through careful formatting.

A well formatted document is one that:

  • uses headings correctly
  • use italics, bold and capital letters sparingly
  • does not underline text  (it can make the user think it is a link)
  • uses plain English not complicated language. Why use ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ instead of ‘very happy’?!
  • has been checked to make sure it makes sense when it is read aloud

These really are the basics.  If a document makes sense when read aloud it helps people where English is not their first language, as well as those that are visually impaired. And it is a very good way of proofreading a document as well!

The next time you are creating a product, service or policy document just take a moment to think ‘accessibility’.

Read the Government Digital Service guides to accessibility.

Further information on assessibility:

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