Digital Inclusion: It’s Not All or Nothing

by Yin Wah Kreher (@yinbk): I’ve lived in 2 continents and travelled to 4. I am a thinkaholic who likes to use multiple languages and modalities to communicate with others. Books, music and art are the best inventions of humankind. Helping someone to read and write is one of the kindest things you can do for someone. Tweet me at @yinbk. I blog at (Yin’s #AltCV)

A night photo of Brussels and Antwerp. Two areass of bright light in a night sky

flickr photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Do we have to talk about accessibility? (Again?)

(Since we are talking about digital creations, I’d much rather use the less frequently hyped phrase “Digital Inclusion.”)

From prior experience, workshops on accessible design of online courses don’t go down very well with busy digital content creators. (Sure, it could be me and not the topic!) Accessibility engenders mixed and extreme emotions.

Image of three professors arguing

Text Equivalent (Opens up a Google Document)

To be honest, the first time around I was intimidated by these responses. I wanted to be the cool kid in high school. Not the unpopular accessibility police officer. But what is the point of learning if I don’t share it? It being knowledge that will impact the lives of some 1 billion people in the world (the world’s largest minority)?

Writing a blog post on accessible design of digital media doesn’t make me a better person than you, the reader, on this topic. I prefer to see everyone as being in a potential zone of change. Some may be teetering on the edge of transformative learning whilst others are making strides to improve the accessibility of digital content creation. It is worth emphasizing that accessibility has to begin with us, the digital content creators. Ideally, we cannot and should not wait for web developers or the Office of Disability to fix any problems that arise from the digital content we create.

Accessibility is not an US versus THEM matter. “WE” co-create content together on the open web with all kinds of people; we build on and enlarge our learning experiences together. We can innovate by consulting with accessibility specialists and listening to each other’s views. If we are unsure as to why or how to make any digital content usable by everyone, I suggest we consider a few things as we participate in #DigiWriMo this month:

1. Rethink how we view accessibility.

Disability is a porous state; anyone can enter or leave at any time. Live long enough and you will almost certainly enter it. – Cecilia Capuzzi Simon

We frequently associate accessibility with disabled people, the “other” ones and forget how disability can happen to anyone of us, anytime. Indeed, consider the porosity of this concept and how ability is, maybe, a social construction?

Accessibility is also about inclusion that enriches all of us. I like how Steven Taylor put it when he talked about making accommodations beyond compliance in the context of higher education:

My starting point on the issue of accommodations for students with disabilities is the
philosophy that we do this not for the students with disabilities, not for compliance, and not for diversity for the sake of diversity, but because universities are enriched by the experiences of students with disabilities.

We are ALL richer for the effort we put in to make informative content findable, available, usable, shareable, efficient and collaborative as much as possible on the open web. Doing so, we invite everyone to participate in our conversations and connect with us for deeper learning. Accessibility, someone said, is about the heart, not the law. Lennard Davis reminds us that the Americans with Disabilities Act has opened some doors but discrimination against people with disabilities still exist: economic discrimination, marriage inequality, and “discrimination in more powerful but hard to regulate ways – the job interview, dating websites, social engagements, and the like.”

2. We can learn how to create accessible digital content.

Learning how to make digital content begins with what I would call an awakening to the needs of others around us. This thoughtfulness benefits not just the person with a disability, but also content creators, who then have opportunities to pause and be reflective in their design; to go about acquiring new knowledge and skills on how to include others in their digital craft-making. The web is not short of resources on how to create accessible digital content. I will list a few helpful sites that describe how we can get there, by listening, and by working at our own pace:

The template of guidelines is embedded in the article and can also be found as a viewable article on my Google drive. Benetech, a nonprofit organization with a focus on developing technology for social good, also has a webpage that describes the accessible e-book publishing criteria.

I will highlight a few of the 9 tips pertaining to Twitter that DigitalGov has published because I find that I have a lot to learn to make my tweets more shareable with people on the web. A number of #DigiWriMo participants are also connecting via Twitter. Moreover, I will be creating a #DigiWriMo Make prompt with these tips!

A. If you are posting an image, video or audio file, use these words, e.g. [PIC], [VIDEO], [AUDIO] to indicate that you are linking to any of these file formats. This prepares people using screen readers to know what to expect before clicking on the link. Uppercase letters are recommended to improve clarity for those with visual challenges.
B. Compose your tweet in such a way that it acts as a descriptive caption and provides context for the picture/video/audio file. Then link back to a webpage that hosts a tagged photo [image with alttext], video or audio with full caption.

I have an example of this on my #VCUTHINK course. I have a mind map which I posted as an image, which will be unreadable to screen readers. Thus, I created another representation of the digital content. I created a text equivalent using a Google document which I posted, shared and linked to the course page. I didn’t post a tweet about this though. I have a lot of learning to do!
C. Use Camel Case for the first letters of compound words used in Twitter hashtags. For example, #DigiWriMo instead of #digiwrimo. [Yikes, slap me for my earlier ignorance with my tweets. #ICanBeWrong]
D. Try to link to accessible digital content (a tagged photo; audio or video with transcript). If that is not possible, or you are unsure, include a brief description of these limitations in your tweet(s). [This is a new one for me to learn!]

3. Inclusive design is not all or nothing.

Ronald Mace first introduced the concept of universal design (UD) as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” (1988). My interpretation of UD is that it is about degrees of possibility.

Inclusive design, a related term used more broadly in the UK, incorporates the idea of reasonable-ness.

“The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible on a global basis, in a wide variety of situations and to the greatest extent possible without the need for special adaptation or specialised design”.

Once our senses are awakened to the needs (not wants) of people around us, can our brains lose that empathic understanding? Some research has shown that even toddlers can be primed for empathy. Apparently, empathy can be nurtured throughout life. Yet, the busyness and distractions of life can hinder our desire to be attentive — not unempathic — to inclusion as we create digital content. I want to encourage you to keep on with this practice of digital inclusion and stop beating yourself down that you can’t find the time to do it. We can learn how to create digitally inclusive design, and we can start at some point to make digital inclusion as reasonably possible as we can. Develop an ambitious imagination. But more so, remember, it’s about the heart. Where the heart is, we will find the means and resources.

An Activity: Make Writing Digital
#DigiWriMo Make:

  • If digital inclusion or accessibility were a song, movie, image, book or a short poem, what would it look/sound like to you? Make a short note, tune, video clip or hum a tune using any online app, e.g. Notegraphy, Vocaroo, PicMonkey, etc.
  • Before you share your image/audio/video file on Twitter, create a text equivalent of this note on a web document. (Apply Tip B)
  • Share your digital content on Twitter using the #DigiWriMo hashtag and the #A11y (short for accessibility) hashtag. Remember Camel Case? This way, we show our support to the community or network that’s working towards creating accessible web content. (Apply Tips B and C and/or D)

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.


15 thoughts on “Digital Inclusion: It’s Not All or Nothing

  1. A fascinating article, thank you. It will take some time to go through all the links – something for later.
    I often groan when I read about inclusion and accessibility: as if any of us want to deliberately create material that is exclusive and inaccessible, and yet, that seems to be the norm with many of the programs we use, so that designing materials to be inclusive is then something special and different, and we have to learn new ways of doing things.
    I’m currently doing some volunteer computer training in Nepal, so I’ll be checking my training to make sure that I’m including some inclusivity tips as the norm, not as an optional added extra.
    Thanks again for the links :)

    • Thanks for checking in, Sue! Appreciate your feedback.

      I’m with you. I doubt that a majority of digital content creators set out intentionally to be exclusive. It’s mostly (?) or frequently due to a lack of awareness and knowledge about how we all read/access information in different ways, whether we have, or not, any disability. I like to watch videos with captioning, and sometimes read the TED talks’ transcripts instead of watching the videos.

      I hope you have a fruitful training time in Nepal!

  2. Accessibility begins with us:
    the digital content creators,
    the ones dangling access in our fingertips
    with every line we write,
    with every image we share,
    with every sound we produce for others to hear in the world,
    or with every immersion of our audience in an interactive experience,
    and the question of whether we keep these doors
    and locked
    and off-limits by our own lack of attention
    or whether we ensure the web becomes a place to be
    and invited
    and included by our design
    sometimes hangs on a few simple choices
    we all have to make before we hit

    PS — I did some early morning line lifting, working a poem around your idea. Thanks for the great post that has me thinking deeply today.

    Here is the podcast of the poem:

  3. Thanks for this, Yin – there’s some really useful hints and tips about how to be more digitally inclusive. I also usually read transcripts rather than watch video – as you say, it is not necessarily about a disability, it can just be a preference. And, of course, it can be a bandwidth issue as well.

    I’ll be sharing your post with colleagues involved in learning design – thank you for this wonderful resource. :)

    • Sarah, that will be awesome in getting the message out! And thank you for helping in so many ways to let my voice be heard. You, Maha and Kevin worked behind the scenes, unbeknownst to others except me, to help bring this to fruition and to amplify this message. Onward!

  4. Hi Yin – this is such an important and inspiring post – it’s not often (ever?!) you read a post on accessibility that makes you genuinely understand why it’s important and inspires you to want to implement changes to your digital content process and production. This is the first that I’ve read that does that. It is exactly as you say – often what you encounter are groans, complaints and excuses for why you needn’t make your content accessible (and I’ve both made and frequently hear those examples from professors you posted!).
    I really value how you’ve included concrete tips for making digital content accessible (which don’t seem too hard…!), but I think the bit I appreciate most is the 1. “rethink how we view accessibility” – as a social construction rather than a finite state. That change of perspective is so important in helping us understand why it is a consideration and concern for all of us – not just those of us who have a ‘disability’, or those interested in social justice and equity. Thanks again – I’ll be sharing this widely and also sharing with you examples of how I’ve improved the accessibility of my content as a result of this post!

    • Thanks, Tanya! I started from zero, not knowing anything, to knowing something, not everything. Some days I don’t get it right, but what makes me persevere is the choice I made to be sensitive to people and their needs. As I had written, to have it come from the heart is the greatest motivation to design inclusive digital content, that I’m not doing it because I have to. For me, because of my experiences with disability groups and people, perhaps my sensitivity radar is a bit more fine-tuned. Regardless, I think we can all work at it.

      Not that I’m Ms. Know-It-All, but if I can be of any help, don’t hesitate to ask. I’m learning all the time from everyone, those with questions and those with answers. :)

  5. Yin, you have brought life to this conversation for me. I have experience with disabilities, and yet, I find in your post a fresh perspective. All of us have barriers to overcome and boundaries to cross, and if we want the readers that Sherry Spelic speaks of in Author, Audience, and Parts of Speech, then we must work to build bridges in our writing. Bridges have two feet, one on either side of the divide, and your post reminds me. Thanks.

    • Keith, that’s what access is about — building bridges and connections that enrich us all.

      “All of us have barriers to overcome and boundaries to cross…” how beautifully put and how precious these thoughts. Wish I had written that in my post! This is exactly what I had in mind as I thought about the porosity of the concept. One day, we might need to apply for that “disability” placard we didn’t think we would need.

      Thanks, Keith!

  6. I have two lives, sort of: my other Website is

    I enjoyed reading this. And I read it twice. You present ideas that I simply had not encountered before. Thank you. Always refreshing to see where you haven’t been thinking, or noticing, or considering. I will read it again tomorrow.

    I had one thought, though. For us, up here in Vermont, inclusion and accessibility centers on a much different matter that I don’t see mentioned: economics. And that’s the accessibility we deal with most — kids with dial-up. Yes, really. Kids with 10 year old computers. Schools with old PCs. And, even, schools with a host of iPads but no real idea of how to use them to their capability.

    And while you’re at it. What about kids? In school? Who can’t get to parts of their own identities — social media sites, sometimes their own blogs and in some schools our organization’s Web site,, because occasionally a youth uses the f-word. I can’t even bring myself to say it here. I don’t want the point lost.

    And while we’re at that topic, the reason most given for why schools don’t permit youths to use their own communication devices in school, why they can’t access YouTube or FaceBook is because of security. Or because the powers that be think it’s too hard to control. And there you have it — with innovation comes chaos come leaders who seek to simplify and control and reduce accessibility and maintain walls around the school instead of making the school inclusive — allowing the community in and the students out.

    I apologize for getting on a mini-rant here, but I think that the issue of accessibility is important. I am glad you brought it up. I am glad you made me think about things I hadn’t thought about. But I think there is a broader accessibility here, too.



    • Geoffrey, you bring up very good points about access and equity in general. I sadly could only cover a bit about accessibility in crafting digital content, due to space constraint. But we can always continue the conversation.

      Access to education, access to learning opportunities… these are all topics very dear to my heart. I salute you for helping your students to write and giving them opportunities to voice their thoughts. There are many dimensions of access — the technology divide, the control over who/what gets published, who gets help, who doesn’t. I taught a summer online course which reminded me again how income levels prevent some students from doing their best. Without financial resources, the digital is out for some, no time, no money.

      But you are doing a fine job, Geoffrey, by connecting some of your kids with us at #DigiWriMo. I may not totally understand your school situation, but I get what you are saying. We can keep working at it, just as I can only share my message with everyone, and not give up. I get the snub a lot of times, talking about an unpopular topic with faculty. But it is important to the community we serve; it’s important if we all want to be a part of making the web a rich place to learn from. You have a lot to do. Let us know how we can work at it further with you even after DigiWriMo is over?

  7. Pingback: Screenreaders, Twitter and OCR | Yin Wah Kreher

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