Dr Scott Hollier:
I always love travelling to Melbourne, yes, it’s Round Table, and there is some great information to share, and this relates to a guide that we’ve created, called The Cognitive Guide. So, what I want to talk to you in this session is breaking barriers to adopting simple English, and this is about supporting people with cognitive disability. Some of the very specific issues that come up in terms of IT and how they can be addressed. So when we talk about cognitive disability, there’s a lot of different disabilities that come under that, mostly relating to print disability, hence wanting to share it here. The list is quite large, you know, things like Acquired Brain Injury and Autism, and many, many different disabilities.
What I’d like to do is talk about that more in terms of where that becomes difficult in accessing online information. And, with access in mind, Web-AIM have a really great resource around cognitive disability and some of the issues that happen when it comes to accessing content in terms of web and apps. And really, it breaks it down into things such as memory, the challenges of being able to remember content, as you work your way through it. It’s about problem solving, so the challenges when you’re presented with something that you have to solve, and how to do that.
It’s about the attention, trying to keep the attention while wading through, well can be quite a lengthy amount of text, and information on the screen. Talking about reading comprehension and trying to work through that. And we’re also talking about visual information, so making sure that information say is represented as a map – how can we understand that in an easier way, or at least an alternative way. And also comprehension relating to mathematics, so some of those captures that try to figure out if you’re human or not, using a computer.
Some of those have now changed to be using maths equations, for example, to address those. So, there’s a lot of information online which is really difficult for people with cognitive disability to be able to process. And so, what we’ve found is that people have approached us, saying we really appreciate information more broadly around disability, but how do we specifically provide for the needs of people with cognitive disability?
So to explain a little bit about the current state of play in this area, we’re talking about policies, the first question we often get asked is, is there any really good policy or standard, or something out there that is going to effectively make sure that information is prepared in an accessible way for people with cognitive disability? And the answer is absolutely, and it’s nice to be in a position to say that.
The WC3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG 2.0 as we call it, does have a lot of information about how to make things accessible. The web standard is also an ISO standard, ISO 40500, so it’s an international standard for those who aren’t familiar with it, and it provides 12 basic guidelines on how to make things accessible across all disability, and there are a number that are particularly applicable to people with cognitive disability. The standards are divided up into three different levels. There’s Level A, AA, and AAA. And where some of the issues come in is that nearly all our policy and legislative frameworks around the world stop at AA. And there’s a lot of really good things for cognitive disability in AAA that isn’t usually implemented. So what I’d like to do is just explain a bit about what those things are, what we can do to try to address these, how it applies to different roles, and a little bit about the resources kicking around the room here.
So, firstly just to run through in terms of the 12 guidelines of WCAG 2, the main ones that apply in terms of cognitive disability are things like being able to make sure there’s captures, so that the same information is in text as is spoken, giving people more opportunity to process the information. But it’s really important to make sure that people have information presented in ways that are different, so if you do have that map, maybe as well as a map of Australia you could have each state listed individually. Make sure people have enough time to complete their tasks. Even just having a ‘plus 5 minutes’ button on the site, could make a really big difference. Making sure that we have information that is presented in a predictable way. Making sure the language is both readable and understandable. And also, the need to make sure that people are able to avoid incorrect mistakes, particularly in forms, it’s really important.
So to go through that in a little bit more detail, now this is going into Level AA. So this is what the government here in Australia, and others have said that they will do for their information. They have committed to captions, which is great. So captions being pre-recorded or live, the WCAG 2 Level AA standard requires that all video is captioned, and it also includes live captions. We’re talking about things like sensory characteristics, and that really incorporates that bit I was saying about if you have something really visual, you need to have some text explanation as to that nature. Like I was saying, the map of Australia, it’d be also good to have text links saying Western Australia, ACT, and so on.
We’re talking about making sure that timing is adjustable, maybe adding a ‘plus 5 minutes’ button, or just giving people more time to finish things if it takes them time to comprehend what’s on the website. Poor stop-and-hide is an important characteristic, and this is particularly the case for pages that refresh themselves, so if you’re reading say a currency exchange site, which updates every 30 seconds, it can be very frustrating for people when they’re just sort of trying to read through the site, and then suddenly it flashes and it changes and it starts all over again. So, making sure people can control how that happens is an important thing. Making sure pages are well-titled, so it’s obvious what page you’re on, makes sense. Link purpose – this is about making sure that you don’t use links like ‘click here’, or ‘read more’, which aren’t very descriptive and aren’t very helpful. So making sure your links are really descriptive on the website or app is really key. And yeah, making sure that there are multiple ways to navigate around information. So it might be a search box. People might find maybe the breadcrumbs, like where it says you are here, or some of those other options are easier to understand, or there might be one that works better for people than others.
Making sure the language of a page is declared. Last year I was lecturing in Saudi Arabia and it was very interesting when people didn’t declare the language on a page. Hearing a screen reader trying to read English as Arabic was a very interesting experience. And that’s what happens if we don’t declare the language on a page. So, it’s really important to make sure that if people are using assisted technologies, that it is presented the way information, the way it’s intended. And making sure that there’s a declaration.
I also have a point here on focus, which basically means don’t have your page do weird crazy stuff when you move the mouse arrow over something, and I think that’s certainly good advice for everything. Also it’s important to make sure that if there is a drop-down list, that you don’t instantly take people to whatever they choose, because it might be the case that they made a mistake. So making sure that there’s a Go button, or something like that. So if people have made a mistake, they don’t get lost and stuck, that they can make sure they’ve made the right choice and then take it from there.
Most of the other points relate to making sure that when we use forms, that the forms are well-labelled, and that if people do make a mistake, then they know what that mistake is. Even just the other day, I was looking at a form and it just said ‘date’. It’s like okay, do I type here the month, day, year… day, month, year… slash dash, no matter which one I tried it was wrong. And when it just gave me the form back with a red line at the top, I didn’t really know how to fix it. So, these are some important things to assist people with cognitive disability.
So those are all the things that the government has committed to, those are the things that should be happening now. Now, there is a discussion to be had whether or not the standard is being implemented right now and I’ll save that for another occasion, as that one could take a while. But suffice to say, that’s what should be happening right now. So, with that in mind, what isn’t happening right now that should be happening right now? And what Australia hasn’t committed to, or any other country that I’m aware of, is going to Level AAA of the WCAG 2 standard. And the trouble with that, is that there’s four really important things that could be really beneficial if we did include these parts of AAA.
So in particular we’re talking about the need to make sure that unusual words are really clearly defined, and making sure that abbreviations are also very clearly defined, if they’re used quite often. It’s also about the need to make sure that any site that has a reading level is written at a lower, secondary reading level age. And also making sure that if there’s anything around pronunciation, that there’s clear guidance on how to pronounce things. So these are the four things in AAA which aren’t currently undertaken, and we think to some degree they should.
Now what I want to stress is that from our point of view, in terms of Media Access Australia, we’re not actually advocating for an entire implementation of Level AAA. There are very good reasons why people don’t go to AAA. There are some things in AAA which are very, very difficult to do and again, I could have another presentation on that but I’ll save that one for another day. But suffice to say, because there are very hard things in AAA, a lot of the good things in AAA that are relatively straightforward to do get overlooked.
I mean for example, one of the things that people do sometimes say is tricky, out of that list of four, is that lower secondary reading level. Now look we do acknowledge that if you are writing a website for a legal firm, or a medical firm, it is going to be difficult to get your information down to a lower secondary reading level. However, there’s no reason you can’t have a sheet or a downloadable document that has a great summary in easy or simple English. So we would advocate for the importance of doing those four things, but for the reading level, rather than making the whole website to that level, at least make the key content of the site available to a lower secondary level. So at least people can understand what’s going on at the site, and what’s possible.
There are also other roles, and one of the other things that we’ve tried to look at when we put this guide together is to say well look, it’s quite often the case that people just assume that if it’s anything to do with IT, then only IT people need to know about it. But what we’ve found is actually marketing people need to know about it in terms of preparing emails that go out, and people that use social media need to be aware of how to prepare social media messages, and there’s actually a need for content producers, and people throughout an organisation to make sure that information is prepared in the way that effectively supports people with cognitive disabilities.
So, in this resource we’ve looked at ways to support people across a variety of organisational roles, and again advocating that yes, go to WCAG 2 Level AA as our current standard requires, but also include those four key things. And make sure that when emails do go out to people, that you do make those links descriptive, that you do make sure that if you have a video that captions are provided, and so on. Especially in social media, like YouTube.
In terms of people at the coal face, quite often tablets are used, and there’s some really good reasons why tablets are a favoured device. And feedback we got for cognitive disability specifically is that they want to use Android or iOS. And the main reason is that tablet interfaces are much simpler, apps are usually single purpose, in terms of what they’re trying to achieve. Are much easier to comprehend, much more intuitive, very similar to the presentation in this room just before lunch, with all the important benefits of having a tablet-based device. So that was the feedback we got, that they were very eager to make sure that iPad or an Android tablet were the preferred choices. Some of the assisted technology, things like the voiceover screen reader, like the ability to play back captions, and Siri… I haven’t tried asking ‘Siri, are you Cortana?’ yet, so I’m throwing that out there for you.
But it’s great that the iPad, I mean as we’ve already talked about, has great accessibility built in. Particularly for disabilities like autism, there are a truckload of great, educational apps, and the iPad is certainly the winner between the two. But as we were talking about before, if affordability is an issue, Android is catching up. It has the talkback screen reader, it does playback caption video. And one bit of feedback that has come back, is that you can change the interface on Android much easier. One of the ones that’s quite popular is the app called Big Launcher that cost $12. It simplifies any Android tablet or phone into six big buttons, with things like phone messages. And these buttons are customisable. Pictures, camera, and an SOS button if people need help. I have that app on my phone, I’d be more than happy to show people at the break if you’re interested. But yeah look there’s, so Android does have a little bit of an advantage in terms of the customisable nature of the device, but the iPad is arguably running iOS the winner, in terms of what’s available.
So yeah, essentially the guide, this is the launch of the guide so I’m happy to share this with you today and yeah, you may very kindly put copies across the table but I do have spares up here if anyone would like to grab another printed copy, and yes we do have it available online at mediaacess.org.au. We have both PDF and accessible versions. So look, essentially that’s it from me. It is always a privilege to share information at Round Table and yeah, thank you for indulging me today, really appreciate it. Thank you.
(applause at end)