A cooperation between The Guardian, Google and Britain’s RNIB is helping reinvent the web for sight-impaired readers.
The initiative addresses issues for the 300 million people who have accessibility issues with all but three per cent of the top million websites.
Google UK creative lead Kate Baker says the trio first got together to raise awareness about the issue, united by the belief that everybody should have equal access to the vital news and storytelling that helps make sense of the world.
The result was Auditorial, an experimental storytelling website featuring content from the Guardian that could adapt to suit each reader’s personal sensory needs.
Readers are able to choose how they’d like to experience a story, reading, watching or listening to it, and can customise visual and audio features.
“So, if they’re blind and have sensitive hearing, they can remove ambient background noise and focus on the narrator’s voice,” she says.
Those with light sensitivity can flip the website into dark mode; if they have motion sensitivity, they can turn motion graphics into static keyframes. Users can adjust the size of buttons and text, tweak the playback speed, enhance imagery, add button sounds, or call up a transcript to support them at any moment.
“The experimental, adaptive website is intended to spark a broader discussion about how the Web at large might be designed more flexibly to become a more inclusive place for people with disabilities.”
Project partners as a group were unsatisfied with the status quo. “The best experience people with sight loss could hope to have online was one where they must laboriously navigate around disruptive features that weren’t made with them in mind, using assistive devices.
“It was the digital equivalent of expecting wheelchair users to bring their own ramps to a building full of steps instead of encouraging building designers to ensure equitable access,” says Baker.
Experiences for blind and low-vision users are often laborious, confusing, dull, uncomfortable, sometimes even actively unsafe – for example in instances where motion graphics start flashing automatically with no quick, easy way for users with motion sensitivities to turn them off.
The Auditorial team questioned what the internet might be like if it were redesigned from scratch, with people with sight loss in mind. Blind and low-vision collaborators were included in the design team from its inception, and offered ideas, validated concepts and posed challenges the team would never have considered on their own. It allowed them to address bias from the inside out.
The result is a template of ideas made to be used, repurposed and reimagined by website creators everywhere.
An ‘accessibility notebook’ supporting the project offers the inspiration and instruction needed to build inclusive websites and have some creative fun doing it. “While one site may never cater perfectly to the endlessly diverse range of human abilities – we are a complicated species – the more modes of interaction you build into a website, the more readers you open your work up to,” she says.
“The internet is in its infancy, but what it becomes next is up to us.”
For inclusive tips to try on your own website, play with the adaptive story written by The Guardian, at Auditorial.with google.com, and see the full list of techniques used in the Accessibility Notebook.
• This article first appeared as an INMA Ideas Blog.