Hello Rebels, welcome to episode 180 of The Rebel Author Podcast. Today, I’m talking to Jeff Adams and Michele Lucchini all about making our books and content accessible.
In this episode we cover:
- Why accessibility is important
- What is assistive technology
- Easy ways to make our content more accessible
- How to use alt text
- The four main principles of accessibility
This week’s question is: Tell me something interesting you’ve learned this year.
Recommendation of the week is: Guava Flavored Lies by JJ Arias
***this show uses affiliate links
Find out more about Jeff, Michele and accessible content:
Rebel of the Week is: Angel Ackerman
If you’d like to be a Rebel of the week please do send in your story, it can be any kind of rebellion. You can email your rebel story to firstname.lastname@example.org
1 new patron this week, welcome and thank you to Wendy Karas. A big thank you to my existing patrons as well. If you’d like to support the show, and get early access to all the episodes as well as bonus content you can from as little as $2 a month by visiting: www.patreon.com/sachablack
Sacha: This is The Rebel Author Podcast, where we talk about books, business and occasionally bad words.
Hello rebels, and welcome to episode 180. Today, I’m talking to Jeff and Michele all about accessible content and making our books, our social media, our websites more accessible for more readers.
But first to last week’s question, which was: what book has gotten you out of a reading slump? Carrie says, “I’m still in a slump. I’m always so tired by the time I have time to read that I can read a few pages before I shut down. I think I need an audible subscription again.”
Heather says, “The book that recently got me out of reading slump was the rage read that was Iron Widow, and it was just what I needed.”
Claire said, “Another Stupid Love Song by Miranda McLeod and Em Stevens. Last summer, I was racially abused on my way home and followed to the train station by a group of white man.” I’m already fucking livid reading this. “It was really traumatic, and I fell into a deep depression afterwards. Stopped going out, stopped writing and reading.” I hate reading this. I’m so sorry. “But then I saw Miranda mention that she had a new age gap romance. And the part of me that felt curious about stories began to wake up when I started reading the straightforward writing style, fast pacing and promise of a happily ever after made a good book to start with.” I seriously don’t know what the fuck is wrong with people. Like, I’m not going to get into a whole load of politics and opinions right now, but just know that reading that made me really crass, and I’m really sorry that you experienced that. I’m really really glad that reading and story and happy ever afters have helped you to at least heal a little bit from that experience.
This week’s question is: tell me something interesting that you’ve learned this year. We are heading towards the end of the first quarter. What the fuck? And so I want to know, what have you learned this year? It could be something small. It could be something not at all about writing. It could be anything really. So yeah, it can be about yourself as well. Let me know what you have learned about something this year.
Okay, the book recommendation of the week this week is Guava Flavored Lies by JJ Arias. JJ is a fucking master of bickering. This is the same JJ who interviewed me in the Ruby Roe launch episode. And JJ is coming on the show. We are literally just in the process of booking a date.
Oh my god, I had the pleasure of reading Guava Flavored Lies in audio, and it was so good. It was the breath of fresh air that I needed. And okay, so let me tell you about it instead of just keep fucking ranting about how good it is. It’s a contemporary romance, sapphic romance, contemporary sapphic romance with two Cuban families rowing. They’ve got a shit ton of like history, familial history, and like generational arguments between them. They’re both pastry chef families and they own like pastry shops.
The bickering went back to school girl days, and I’ve just never read anything where the bickering was so real and so funny and so brilliant. And I just like I literally laughed, and I don’t know, I don’t know. I think it actually will go down as my favorite contemporary romance that I’ve ever read. I loved it that much. It’s kind of rivals to lovers as well. Yeah, enemies to lovers, rivals to lovers. Probably rivals to lovers, I would say. Just because there are no like stabbing knives. But it is just fantastic.
So if you are looking for an example of dialogue that is sharp as fuck, and bickering that is just fantastic between two love interests, this is the story for you. I highly, highly recommend this book. Of course, links will be in the show notes.
So in personal news and updates, I’m sick again. Literally can’t fucking believe it. Woke up a couple of days ago feeling like rough as a dog, and I just honestly, I really want this to be a positive episode. I hate being whiny, you know what I’m like, I like to charge forward at 1000 miles per hour all of the time, and always look to the goal, to the future, to the whatever. I just, I’m struggling this week. It is a struggle. I am exhausted again. And I genuinely don’t think it’s any one thing in my life particularly, I just think it is the fact that it’s all combined. And I really need to fucking slow down or like, not slow down, but just like take something off my plate before I crash and burn, because I sort of feel like this is a mini physical burnout.
I have decided to reduce boot camps slightly. Instead of going five times a week, I’m gonna go three times a week for now. And I’m going to move one of those to the weekend so that I get a little bit more time in the week during the working days so that I can, you know, not work in the evenings so much. But yeah, I’m really over being sick this year. It is alarm bells to me. I am acutely aware that this is a problem and that I need to have a holiday or take some time off. The problem is I’m really shit at taking time off at home because my office is at home. So, you know, that’s why I like to travel because then the office isn’t here, the temptation isn’t here. It’s probably a very privileged thing to say. But you know, I do struggle to take time off at home. It just is what it is. It’s a fact. So that’s kind of where I’m at. Yeah, I don’t feel well, and I would like to not be working today, if I’m honest. But there are things that need doing and things that have deadlines. So on I go.
In terms of what I’ve been working on, I have started The Villains Journey. I’m super excited. I have been trying Rachel’s method, which I know you guys will have heard about last week on The Black Herron. Oh, no, no. So for those listening on the podcast, you won’t have heard about this yet. But for those on Patreon, you will have heard about it. So in the coming episode, Rachel and I discussed the fact that she started writing 500 new words a day on anything. They can be any project. And I was like, oh, that’s amazing. And basically, if you do it every single day of the year, I think it’s about 182,000 words a year. That’s like three books, or more if you write nonfiction and shorter word counts. And I’m not going to do it every single day, I’m just trying to do it every working day.
And so yeah, I have started The Villains Journey, and I’m already 3000 words in. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’m not supposed to start writing this until May, you know, and at this rate, I can go to May with about 20k in the bag. So feels like a lot to me. I’m very, very happy.
I’m about 19,000 words into the second Girl Games book. This is the one that I already had 30k in, but no, as you know, I more or less scrapped it. I have salvage some of the stuff from the first version, and so yeah, I’m 19,000 words into the book. I’ve been doing about 5000-word days, which is great. And using a write to sprint in the morning, and that’s really been helping.
So yeah, I feel pretty good about the writing projects. And it’s really nice to be writing words. I find that I get to a point where I’m exhausted and don’t want to write anymore, probably because I burned so hard, and then I like get very sick and tired of doing the marketing or the entity or whatever it is, and want to go back to doing the drafting. So it’s a good schedule to have to be able to switch between the two.
So when you hear this, it will be my birthday week. And I am considering, given that I’m not feeling very well, that I might take a couple of days off. I don’t know, we’ll see. I would like to go down to London and go to the Big Waterstones and like spend some time in there, but we’ll see. I don’t know whether or not I’ll actually get to do that. But it would be nice to, so we’ll see. You know, given that I’m not feeling very well, I think that is probably everything that I’m going to update you with this week.
So the rebel of the week this week is, and I have to say, I did pause for a second and have to reread the name, It’s Angel Ackerman, which when you write it and you read quickly, very much read as Angela Ackerman. Not Angela Ackerman, ladies and gentlemen, it’s definitely Angel Ackerman. So let me read Angel’s story to you.
“I work in the Stitch Fix warehouse in Pennsylvania folding clothes for eight hours a day. I’m a former journalist and needed a low stress job that could allow me time and energy to pursue my own creative interests. At the warehouse, which Stitch Fix refers to as Hizzies, with cute names for each, we are the Buzzy Hizzy, but there is also the breezy, the hoozy, the dizzy, and the fizzy. I’m allowed to listen to podcasts, and so as a writer, I discovered The Rebel Author podcast and many others in the industry.
“I have racked my brain trying to capture a rebel story from memory and suddenly I realized my whole creative side hustle is rebellion. I founded Parisian Phoenix Publishing in 2021 as the brand behind my paranormal women’s fiction series, Fashion and Fiends, debuting with the first volume, Manipulations, in September of that year.
“One of my best friends is a graphic designer with an obsession with typography. In her first job as a graphic design professor had invented the name and logo for the company and a complete boxset of the novels in 2008, just to have something to submit for the faculty art show. At the time, I was shopping my novels to traditional publishers and agents, attending conferences and serving on the board of my local writers group. Motherhood prevented me from giving proper effort to that, and the book industry was changing so much in the aughts.
“When the pandemic happened, I thought it would be fun and rebellious to self-publish preserve these stories for my now teen daughter. But the project barrel rolled into a full-fledged craft press as more people asked me to publish their books. I asked fellow writers and artists for help with projects being proposed because linking creative communities is one of our goals.
“As of 2023 Parisian Phoenix has nine published books ranging from an anthology of marginalized voices, LGBTQ disability, mental health, body image, ethnicity, etc., to a romantic comedy with original photographs, a devotional focusing on how to protect yourself in a violent modern world without violating your Christian values in production, and an 11th book of short stories in the editing phase. Not to mention, poetry, a holocaust memoir, and nostalgic fiction.
“Each book seems to host its own rebellion. Our tagline is: publishing unique voices and diverse perspectives. And many of our staff members and peer review board members have disabilities. I have cerebral palsy. My assistant editor has been blind since birth. And we have primarily women on board.”
This is an awesome, awesome rebellion. And yeah, look up Parisian Phoenix if you are interested in finding out more about them. I think this is such a cool rebellion, and the fact that you are creating communities and collecting people and helping to bring diverse voices into the world is just fantastic. So I absofuckinglutely love that rebellion. And also thank you for listening.
If you would like to be a rebel of the week, please do send in your story. It can be any kind of rebellion, something big, something small, or something in between. You can email your rebel story to Becca over on email@example.com.
A huge welcome and a warm thank you to new patron Wendy Karis. And of course, a gigantic thank you to all of my existing patrons. You guys help keep the show running. You make me feel like what I do is worthwhile and having a wonderful impact, so I really, really appreciate each and every single one of you. If you would like to support the show and get early access to all of the episodes, as well as a ton of bonus content, then you can from as little as $2 a month by visiting patreon.com/sachablack.
Okay, that’s it from me this week. Let’s get on with the episode.
Hello, and welcome to The Rebel Author Podcast. We are in for a special treat today because we have not one, but two guests on the show. First, we have Jeff Adams. Jeff is a creative entrepreneur, as an author of both queer romances and young adult fiction, as well as the co-host of The Big Gay Fiction Podcast. In his day job, Jeff’s a certified professional and accessibility core competencies by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. As the Accessibility Operations Director for UsableNet, a company focused on making the digital world more accessible and usable, he consults with clients around the world about digital accessibility.
Next up we have Michele Lucchini. Michele is the Vice President of Delivery and Accessibility Operations for UsableNet and overseas the teams responsible for ensuring client success in their digital accessibility program. Michele’s background is rooted in software development first, and moving to team and operation management later. Thanks to experience gathered in over two decades, Michele is an expert at helping companies from the largest to the smallest, making their digital experiences accessible. Hello, and welcome.
Jeff: Thanks for having us, Sacha. It’s great to be here.
Sacha: So Jeff, you were first on the show back in episode 55, which I can’t actually believe because that was October 2020.
Jeff: It feels like a year ago, like years and years and years ago.
Sacha: I know. I know. I mean, honestly, time is a lie. I was texting one of my friends this evening who was talking about the movie, Everything Everywhere…
Jeff: Everything Everywhere All at Once, I think.
Sacha: Yes, that one. And I was like, “Oh yeah, yeah, that was out like three years ago.” And she was like, “Oh, actually, no, it’s up for the Oscars now.” And I was like, “Wait, what? No, no, no. It could not possibly have been out last year.” Though it was. Yeah, time is a lie. It’s weird.
So normally I ask people like what their journey is, how they came to writing the book. But I’m gonna ask you first of all, like, what have you been up to since then? Because obviously, we know like your journey from the first episode, which I’ll link in the show notes.
Jeff: It’s interesting as I went back to look at 55, and like what was going on in October of 2020. Like, within the month before you dropped that episode, so between the time we talked for that interview and you dropped the episode, we actually ended The Big Gay Author Podcast, which is one of the things we were talking about on that show. Mostly, because with pandemic and other things that were going on, like some of our priorities shifted, and it’s like, we weren’t sure that show was really relevant anymore. So as it’s so popular, now, we learned how to say no and learned when to end something, and put that aside. Big Gay Fiction Podcast continues on. It went into its eighth year last November, so we’re 400+ episodes now there. So that’s been exciting.
I’ve written the book we’re about to talk about. And the neat thing about that, I think, is writing this nonfiction book, I think has resparked my fiction side a little bit, because I’ve been really stagnant over the last couple of years. I’ve done some rereleases of some things I got the rights back on, but writing new stuff has really been a struggle. So my fingers crossed, that the nonfiction kind of broke that kind of cloud over my head, if you will, and I’m gonna be able to hopefully get some new fiction out this year.
Sacha: I always find nonfiction is a real palate cleanser. Like I adore fiction, but I definitely need to also write nonfiction, because it gets me excited to go back to the fiction. Otherwise, I do tend to find it’s a bit of a burn. So Michele, have you written other books? Or is this your first one? Or?
Michele: That’s the very first one.
Sacha: That’s exciting.
Michele: The last thing I wrote was my thesis at the university. And that was far from exciting. Well, actually, it was in home automation, so it was actually an interesting topic. But I’ve always loved writing, but I never dedicated myself enough to call myself like a producer or a writer of a proper book.
Sacha: So before we dive into the questions like about the book, then how did you find writing, and writing together? Like what was the experience like for you?
Michele: Well, let’s also consider that it’s not my mother language, right. So it was an extremely interesting experience. So I had the opportunity to learn on many different threads. So one is the challenge of transferring something that is my daily job knowledge, and the knowledge that has been built across 22 years, that I would use the word dedicate to this topic. Plus, learning the ability to put in words for somebody who is not an expert. One of the limits that I realize I have is that sometimes when you gather so much experience, you can lose the ability to explain and translate it in easy terms.
I think that Jeff has experienced the same. I remember the first iteration of our review process, we were asking ourselves, does it make any sense for somebody if it’s their first time approaching the topic of accessibility? So it was an interesting learning curve, but it was what made all the project extremely interesting for me.
Sacha: Well, you both absolutely smashed it because it’s the most meta book possible. For a book on accessibility, it’s extremely accessible for someone who knows nothing about it. So you absolutely smashed it out of the park. So well done, both of you. And that is what we’re here to talk about. And your new book is called Content for Everyone. And it focuses on the topic of accessibility.
So before we dive into some more technical, practical tips and tricks, like why accessibility? What made you want to write a book on this topic? And why is it so important, particularly for the authors and writers listening?
Jeff: The whole thing kind of became this big smashing together of my day job in accessibility. But the things that I do on the creative side, so even before the book was kind of a seed in my head to do, I was trying to make sure that my sites, my email, my social media, were as accessible as I could make them. You know, because I’m not technical. Knowing what you need to do and actually being able to do it can be two different things, you know. So, moving through this, and as I talked about content accessibility all the time, it’s one of the things I trained UsableNet clients about, is that very topic.
It’s so in my brain, I can’t not see issues almost everywhere I go on the net. No alt text on Facebook, bad color combinations here, things that don’t work with keyboard. You know, all these things just keep being in front of me. And I know that nobody sets out to do that. You know, nobody sets out to make inaccessible content that can exclude, potentially, a lot of people. They just don’t know what to do. And they don’t know what the topic is.
So it’s like, why don’t I try to create something that distills what you can work on, and also to a degree, things to watch out for, because there are things in the book that are–and keyboard navigation is a great example of this, and we’ll probably talk about a little bit more about that piece of it later. But you’re not going to fix your own keyboard navigation issues, but if you know you have them, you might get a new template or do something to start to mitigate those problems. And so that’s kind of where it started. And then one day, as I was talking with Michele, as we do all the time, I was like, I’m gonna write this book. And he was interested, so we decided to kind of tackle it together.
Sacha: I love this so much. And like, I think it was such a humbling experience for me to read as well, because my stepfather is disabled, and he uses a wheelchair. And so I have a reasonable amount of knowledge about accessibility in terms of like mobility and physical issues. And so I kind of went into the book thinking, oh, yeah, like, I’m gonna understand.
Holy moly, I was so ignorant of digital issues. Like all of the bits and bobs, like on social media. Like just things that I wouldn’t even have thought would be an issue. And that’s what I love so much about this book is I genuinely feel like every single person listening to this podcast will go away having learned something. So I think it’s really important that listeners do go and educate themselves, and buy your book, I read your book, because it’s fucking brilliant.
So in your book, one of the things that you talk about are the four main types of disability. And I think it’d be helpful for listeners to understand what they are to give some context to the rest of the podcast. And I don’t know if you are able just to give some like references to a couple of the numbers, which were really quite significant. And I was quite shocked when I read it and saw some of those stats. You know, and by that, I mean, sort of how many people are affected by disability. So yeah, because this is an important topic.
Michele: Yeah, it is. And numbers are shocking. And I think that we can identify four main categories of disabilities, which is mobility. And this is the largest group, so over 13%, almost 14%, of US population as some mobility impairment. So translated into a digital experience, it could be something preventing the user to use emails, or a regular pointing device.
The second category is the cognitive disability. And here we are talking about over 10% of the US population. Any cognitive disorder, it could be learning difficulties, dyslexia, and I’m not just talking about very, very bad disabilities, but just simple conditions that are not preventing an individual to conduct a normal life.
The third category is the auditory ability. The count is around 6% of the population. And the auditory disability is any form of hearing loss. And last but not least, is the visual disability. Here we are around 5% of the population. So within the visual disability, of course, we include the blind individual categories, but we might have any kind of low vision, color blindness, contrast deficits, and all impairments that are preventing a user to be able to see colors or transfer the content as the mainstream, which is a word I hate and a concept I hate, will experience on this side.
There is one more, in my opinion, a shocking number. Beside the fact that with easy math, we are seeing that 20% of the population as a sort of disability. 20% of your audience, your customers potentially have a sort of visibility. But in these 20%, we’re not counting all the temporary impairments. So somebody that broke his arm, somebody that is using his mobile phone under the sunlight, and the sun is hitting the screen and he’s not able to see as well as he’d be able to see the screen in the dark.
We are now also considering that the age of the digital population is increasing year after a year. I always use an example, so my dad is 74. He is active, smart, quick. His expectation is to keep interacting with his mobile phone, for example, as it is right now. Why should he accept that as his sight is becoming a little bit lower, as his precision with the movements might degredate. In the course of the years, he won’t be able to use his phone, he won’t be able to do what he’s doing with his computer. So that becomes a basic expectation. So we need to take that in consideration.
So that 20%, actually, is much, much more if we are considering all the, let’s call them disability induced by the context of use. Or simply the population getting older.
Sacha: I think one of the things that I found enlightening is the term assistive technology and what that captures. Because I think many of us are actually using some of these technologies without even realizing that actually, they are tools that help those people who do have accessibility issues. I know I certainly was like, oh, you know, I was just using this because this is a handy thing. And actually, they’re integral to ensure that our content is accessible for everybody. So I wondered if you could talk about what assistive technology is and give some like examples, just to put it into context.
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. It’s something that, as you noted, we use it every day and don’t even think about it. You and I are wearing assistive technology right now, Sacha, because we’re both in glasses. Think about what you would not be able to see if you didn’t have your glasses on.
Sacha: I really couldn’t.
Jeff: You know, it’d be a mess. Using speech to text technology, I think we use it all the time. Authors certainly use it a lot to dictate their manuscripts. You know, if you’re dictating a text to your phone, and then sending it that way, or interacting with any home assistant, that’s part of it. But also for some people who maybe are restricted in the mobility area, they may use speech to text of that kind to literally navigate the web. And that would be what they’d use in place of a mouse is speaking to the computer.
The keyboard itself is a big assistive tool for some people, because theoretically, you know, by the rules of accessibility, you should be able to interact with the site completely on your keyboard, without interacting with the mouse at all. So things like that, you know, are some of the high level things. But then each of our computers, if we’re on any kind of, you know, modern Mac or Windows machine, or if we’re using Android or iOS phones and tablets, all of those have a huge array of accessibility things built right into them. Whether it’s a screen reader, Zoom technology, more around voice to text, a whole bunch of things. And I would really encourage people to look in their settings for their computer and their devices just to see the long list of things that are present that people could use to be interacting with their digital content.
Sacha: So like what is the consequence of this to authors if they don’t engage with making their content accessible?
Michele: I think that the easiest to perceive consequence is they may leave out of the door a good portion of a potential audience or potential customers. But besides the numbers, beside the, let’s say, business aspect, I like to think about the impact on potential reputation.
Michele: The impact on the idea that the audience, the customer, might have on just ignoring categories of people. So we need to, I think that it is time for us to all get sensitized on the fact that we need to build a more inclusive world. I mean, it is everyone’s responsibility, it is not Jeff’s, it is not Michele’s, it is not Sacha’s responsibility only. It is not an expert’s responsibility only. Everyone can provide a contribution. So, in my opinion, the impact on the reputation is probably getting to be the most prominent one. And this is what my advice is.
Jeff: If you think about the whole idea that not doing this excludes people, and of course, I think all of us creatives really want to be about inclusion. We talk in the book, we talked to four different people in the book who have different disabilities, and in some cases, different multiple disabilities. And one of the things that struck me was speaking to one of my fellow authors in the queer romance space.
They were trying to interact with courses, you know, there’s a whole array of courses available to independent authors for ads, and for marketing here, and marketing there, and writing craft and all these things. And repeatedly, they are not finding courses where like the live courses don’t have live captions through whatever venue it is. And certainly Zoom is really good at live captions for any call that you’re doing there. But even in the replays, captions or transcripts weren’t available.
So they either, you know, don’t get to interact with the training at all because they’re deaf and hard of hearing. I mean, they’ve got hearing aids, but those only give them about 30 – 40% of the full picture. So they either strain to hear that content, and try to work on it, which of course is taxing and tiring, or they abandon it all together. And they really feel like they’re not getting information that other authors get because, you know, they’re not included in that experience.
Sacha: Yeah, transcripts is a real sticking point for me, because when I first started the podcast, I used to do transcripts for the show. But at moment, I only have school working hours, and you know, each transcript for an episode is a two hour job. You know, when you do four a month, that’s a whole lot. That’s more than one working day, and I just can’t afford the time. But it is something that I provide for courses. And I do try to make sure I do video audio transcript, and you know, all of that stuff.
It’s very frustrating for me because I would like to have the sort of AI transcription software be more accurate because I can’t just transcribe and leave it and put it up because there are things still that don’t make sense. It’s not accurate enough. And obviously, outsourcing, it’s costly. So that’s one of the things for me that I know that I could change, and I would really like to change. But obviously, it’s a costly exercise one way or the or another.
So we know that it’s important to make sure our books and websites and social media are accessible to everyone. So what are some easy wins that people could take away from this episode? Anything practical that we could do to make our content more accessible?
Jeff: You kind of hit on one of the things there in what you just said around auto generated. Auto generated anything doesn’t make it accessible. Auto generated transcripts or captions are just riddled with mistakes. They come close, they’re about 95% of the way there, and they’re a great point to start the editing process, but they’re not complete. And they will leave your audience feeling the same way, like if you just put out a first draft of a book without any copy editing and without any fixes to it.
That’s also true for alternative text because Facebook and Instagram, for example, will put alt text on anything you upload to it, and it’s horrible. It’ll be like, “might be one person standing outside with a beard,” because they’ve got a beard on their face. And they’ll just kind of tag that on the end. And it’ll also try to read any text that’s actually in the image. And if you think about those very popular book promo graphics right now with the book in the middle and all the little arrows pointing with like tropes and plot points and stuff.
Sacha: I posted one of those today.
Jeff: The AI will actually read left to right, trying to read each line of that, including the book title and the bylines, and present that. That’s what Facebook offers. So you need to make sure on social that you’re cleaning up the alt text that’s present there so that it’s not just some real garbage that’s sitting there.
Then another key I would give, knowing how everybody loves to use emojis, really limit the use of them. Like put them at the end to like finish the punctuation on a post or a sentence or something. Don’t start with them, because especially for screen readers, each emoji has its own thing that it reads out, that may not be the context that you want it to be. Don’t put emojis between the words for the same reason.
Also you think about cognitively disabled people and emojis as well. The context and the way you want those to be perceived, if somebody is already having to parse the words you’re putting in there because maybe they’re dyslexic and they need a very clean line of text, or some other cognitive disability, you’re just making it that much harder for them to get the message that you’re trying to give because you’re trying to add some visual sparkle with the emojis. So I would say that those are my three quick hits on some things that can start to make the content more accessible.
Sacha: Yeah, I still remember the first time somebody asked me to put captions on my stories. And as far as I’m aware, they have no accessibility issues, but they used to watch my stories at work, and they couldn’t watch them with sound on. I was like, “oh,” and I was like, “yeah, sure, I can do that.” And then, obviously, there were other comments from other people who were like, “Oh, actually, now I can like watch your story, like watch/read your stories.” And like, that was a real eye opener.
I just think so much of this is just pure, like, what’s the word? Not nefarious, but it is still ignorance. You know, it’s just accidental ignorance in a way. But the emojis, I definitely do far too many emojis and I am going to make an effort to make sure they’re at the end instead. I definitely start with emojis, I put them in the middle, you don’t even think about it. So yeah, now I will be thinking about it going forward.
Okay, so you’ve just mentioned alt text there. But I wondered if you could give me an example of what good alt text is because I do some freelance work managing a blog, and I know that when we have pictures, we’re supposed to put alt text on there. I never really know what it is I am supposed to be describing or what I’m supposed to be putting into the alt text sections. So like, how do I know where I’m supposed to use it and when it’s not actually needed? And how do I know what a good sentence is to put in there?
Michele: Somebody says that finding the right alt text is like an art. And I actually agree with that. There is no magic recipe to define a good alternative text. We always recommend it is important to understand what role an image plays within the context. The context of what? It could be the context of the page, the context of the message we are communicating. So in the case an image is purely decorative, you’re just using an image as a sort of placeholder, an extremely nice placeholder, but it’s only conveying a decorative meaning, in that case, your alternative tags should be empty.
It does not mean that you don’t have to put the alt attribute, because if you don’t, assistive technology will read the file name of the image, making it very difficult to understand for the final user. But setting the alternative tax as an empty, the assistive technology will know that that image will need to be ignored. So it won’t be read.
Instead, if the image is conveying a message, an important message, you should describe it with the right message. I mean it was funny for us, not in the context that we found the issue, it was the classic search icon, the magnifier lens, and so the site we were reviewing had, as an alternative text of the magnifier lengths, magnifier length. Instead, there was supposed to be search, because the function of the image was search, it was not magnifying something. So you can just imagine how confusing would have been the experience of a blind user using a screen reader that was hearing that there was an input text field on the page, so maybe that is what I can use to search something, and then magnifier lens. When you experience that, people with disabilities now have a bad website. With very little effort, you can fix it, you can make your site more accessible and more meaningful to everyone.
Sacha: Yeah, that’s so interesting, because obviously, you derive meaning from seeing the image, but actually, it’s the function of the image that’s the important bit. I think that’s a fantastic bit of learning for everybody to take away. One of the other things you talk about in the book are the four main principles of accessibility on a website. And I think these are things that authors should be aware of. So I wondered if you could just briefly go over them.
Michele: Yeah, sure. The web content accessibility guideline, which is the sort of Bible to determine whether a digital property is accessible or not, are four. And actually, those four principles also apply to everyday object accessibility. So the first one is perceivable. It means that any user must be able to perceive the content and the interface of your website. So we just did the example around the alternative text, that falls under the perceivable principle.
The second principle is operable. So it requires to provide the ability for all users, independently by their abilities, to operate with user interface. The classic example is, let’s consider a motor impairment, and it prevents the user to interact with the mouse. So the site must provide the ability for the user to use just the keyboard to interact and browse the site.
The third principle is understandable, which probably is the easiest to understand. So the interface and the content must be understandable to the user. This actually, on some of these success criteria, it becomes extremely interesting because it also covers cultural disabilities. So the use of an easy language and all these aspects are, I think, extremely interesting for authors.
And last but not least, is the final principle, which is the robust. It is probably the most technical principle that is included into the guideline, but it is all about respecting the standards, and respecting the core compatibility. One of the things that we always have to remember is that users with disabilities are massively relying on their system. So they are probably not upgrading them 30 seconds after the operative system notifies us that there is an upgrade ready to be installed. They don’t do that because the risk of losing the ability to, for example, have the system working as it was working before, it might generate a big problem. Imagine a blind user that relies on his computer or any screen reader to order the food, to book the train ticket, to book a taxi. If after the upgrade, it won’t work anymore or won’t work as it was working before, considering that learning how to use a screen reader is probably a multiyear experience.
Sacha: I find that so interesting. Actually, that’s going to make me slightly more empathetic, I think. So with my stepdad, we often help like change bills over and do things like internet swap over, but there’s a lot of resistance to like upgrading. And I was like, you need better internet, like you need it. And, you know, I wasn’t particularly empathetic about it, but actually I get it now. I get it. Yeah, I can understand because so much is reliant on the existing system. And I’m just like, yeah, well, we can change it and upgrade it and make it better. But actually, when there are so many systems, you know, phone systems and call systems and nurse systems that are based on it, I can understand why there’s that resistance and reluctance to change it. And so yeah, thank you for that. Now, I’m not very empathetic person, but I’m going to try very hard now to be better. Yeah, thank you.
I’ve read the book and learned so much and I’m still learning even more. This is a fantastic interview. Thank you, guys. One of the things, speaking of, that I learned was that using color to differentiate isn’t always helpful, which blew my mind because I am an extremely visual person, and I actually rely on color to learn. Like when I was studying at university, I would put my psychology studies in certain colors, so that I could close my eyes and picture like my big brainstorm thing, like with all the different colors on it, and then I’d remember the numbers and the words and the authors and things. And so that helps me to categorize and it’s how I find books on my bookshelf. And I was ignorant of, obviously, the fact that that’s a huge problem for people who are colorblind. So what are some of the things that those of us who are able bodied take for granted that you wish that we would change?
Michele: Yeah, relying on color to convey information is probably one of those. Just the color is not enough, you should use something else. Let’s do an easy example. So imagine that the style that you have on your website highlights the links only with the color. Let’s also make sure the links are underlined, which is the standard, let’s say link style, because otherwise, people might not be able to perceive the difference between the link and the plain text.
The same when you are providing instructions on how to do something. Recently, I’ve seen a sign that was suggesting to use the red button. But what if I’m using my interface only on a scale of gray? I will not be able to perceive what is the red button, and I will not be able to distinguish between the other buttons. So again, it is not necessarily a hyper technical aspect, it is the ability to start understanding which are the difficulties. And these are difficulties that you might be able to perceive, not just on the web, but on the everyday life. So this is, I think, one of the nicest thing around accessibility, that when you start learning, and Sacha, you confirmed that before, right? When you start learning it on a field, then you naturally apply it to a number of different fields. And the use of colors is a classic one that you can find on books, guides, instructions, websites, on Facebook post. It is a very popular mistake.
Sacha: I think it’s so natural for so many of us to, you know, we go through the world with our own rose tinted spectacles on. We go through the world with our own experience. And so often we take that for granted that that’s everybody’s experience. And it’s not. And that’s why this is so important because none of us are perfect. We all have things to learn. And I think as long as we are open to being humble, and to putting our hands up and say, “Actually, yeah, I had no idea. I’m going to change that now.”
I think that’s one of the magical things about your book is that you say throughout it that nobody’s expecting you to do everything in this book immediately. You can do one little thing this month, another thing next month, you know. And I think that’s what’s so encouraging because I actually left the book very motivated to try and fix some of these things.
Jeff: The thing to remember, and you kind of touched on it there, that we tell you, you don’t have to do everything, but it’s also a mindset of progress over perfection. It’s one of the big things talked about among all the advocates in this space, because you can’t do everything all at once. And especially for who we’re talking to here, which is really creative entrepreneurs, probably little to no technical experience, working with little to no budget, you know, maybe if they’re lucky, a PA who helps with this stuff. But to know you can choose to do nothing on your existing content and always do better going forward, those little things add up. You don’t want this to feel like a crushing like, oh god, now I’ve got two thousand other things to go do. Baby steps, parse out what you’re gonna do, what you think the most important thing is, and just do something. Yeah.
Sacha: And like, speaking of doing something, I think one of the things that authors spend a lot of their marketing time on is social media. So what are some of the things that we can do to be more inclusive and accessible on social media?
Jeff: Really think about that emoji use. I mean, I will tie back to that, because emojis is one of the places that I think most people, if they’re going to abuse emojis, it’s abuse on social. Put them at the end of the post, don’t bury them in the middle of it, so that your message comes through. And that’s really what I look at in every instance when I’m thinking about social. It’s let’s make sure the message you’re giving actually comes through.
Instagram stories and TikTok, when you can add your own text to those, make sure you’re using text that’s actually big enough to read. Those stories, you can’t pinch and zoom and do all that stuff. And there’s so many Instagrams, people type these big, long missives on their Instagram stories, and it’s really teeny, tiny text, and I’m like, I have no idea. And if I am not reading it with my glasses on, it’s like, yeah, you’re gonna lower your interaction with that. Make it bigger text, more screens, whatever that takes to get that across.
The same thing when you’re doing caption fonts, like I love your caption fonts when you’re doing your stories. It’s good, big text. I think I could read that with my glasses off, perhaps, which is great. Think about how you’re using images and what you’re doing with them. Images of text are used a lot, and you know, they’re catchy, like those graphics we talked about with all the arrows pointing to the books. But make sure that that message is coming out into the post itself. Because, you know, we talked about using alt text, which is great, but there are people with low vision, who aren’t going to use the screen reader to get to the alt text.
So for that book example, all of those little pop points that are running around the outside of the book, make that part of the post in a sentence format. You know, “this book features these things,” so that it’s equivalent information presented. That comes back to the perceivable principle that Michele mentioned. Different people perceive in different ways, so make sure the content is available in all those different perceivable ways.
Sacha: So I got halfway there with that trope’s post because I put the tropes in the caption, but then I put a tick emoji by each one. I was so close.
Michele: You need to read the book again.
Sacha: Clearly, I do. Okay, last sort of major question then. Talk to me about font. You’ve mentioned font, about having it large in captions, but also there are things that we should know about choosing font for our websites or for our books or social media where possible.
Jeff: I would say this is less about books and book covers because that’s going to the brand and the feel of the book, and that kind of thing. And the book cover itself is really art. And yes, there are certain things you could do, but you don’t want to like take away from the feel of your cover for that. When you’re promoting the book, you want the text around that art to be properly accessible and stuff.
You can’t really adjust the font on aspects of social. You’ve got some font choices on stories and areas like that. But if you’re gonna look at font families, for example, like Tahoma, Times New Roman, Verdana, and to a large degree, Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, those are generally well accessible fonts because the things that you’re looking for are easily distinguishable letters. So a font where a lowercase L and an uppercase I and the numeral one, don’t all look the same. Because then you’re gonna start having people having difficulty parsing the letters if they’re visually interacting with them. And then, of course, it’s a good font size. So you know, well 14 size font on websites and in emails and stuff.
Think about are you using on your emails, for example, a mobile friendly template so that somebody doesn’t have to pinch and zoom even if you’re using a big font, because it’s not reformatting in the mobile window well. And if you’re doing tiny text, don’t go too tiny. Even if you’re doing like rules for something, somebody’s trying to read that. So you know, be considered about that as well. Very thin fonts, things with big flourishes in them, be wary of those. Those will be much harder for people with cognitive disabilities, potentially, to parse and low vision to parse out what those are.
Coming back to like images of text and that promo graphic, if you do have swirly stuff in there because it’s part of the brand feel of the book, just make sure you’re getting that message in the post and in the alt text so that it’s all considerable.
Two other things I’ll throw out about fonts, and one of these ties back to color, is color contrast. So beyond the use of color that Michele mentioned, think about the color contrast and the ability to discern what’s in the background versus the foreground. So if you’re thinking about text, does the text pop enough off of the background color to be readable. And I’ll send you for the show notes a link to a color contrast checker that’s available, you just put in the hex codes for your foreground and your background, and it’s gonna tell you if it passes color contrast. It nice little sliders on it so you can darken and lighten text to find the right balance to ensure that those visually interacting can see and discern the color appropriately and not have to like work too hard on it.
The last thing I’ll mention around text is the alignment of the text. Centering text, especially large blocks of text, we’re not talking like headlines, but large chunks of text, very cognitively draining to read because your eye is always have to find where the start of the line is. Same thing with justification because there’s inconsistent spacing between words. Left justify it so that I can follow, you know, not so much with the indents because indentations are expected, but you know, start left align copy so that it’s just a straight line. It makes for the easiest readability.
Sacha: Yeah, do you know I’ve always hated center justified text and I’ve never really know known why. And it is actually exhausting to read it. Yeah, that’s so interesting.
Thank you both so, so much because I think this is a really, really important topic. And I hope that listeners, even if they’re only got to go and do one thing, please do go and take one action after listening to this podcast. Well, two actions. One, read the book, and then two, take a take a practical action.
But this is The Rebel Author Podcast, so tell everyone about a time you unleashed your inner rebel. And I don’t mind who goes first.
Jeff: I will say that I prepared better this time than the first time that we did this because I know Will I found this question to be like, oh my god, what is this even mean? I have one for this though. And I challenge everybody after they read the book to start doing this kind of same thing. And it’s gently educating people about accessibility. As you learn it, pass it on. Like, even before I wrote the book, every now and then I would talk to an author colleague, a podcaster colleague, about newsletters or things that I saw that just very clearly popped out to me because of this work that I do. Like maybe think about doing this thing different than this thing, to spread the word. And I’m even more kind of out there with it now. Whether it’s a colleague, or a business that I that I work with. You know, I use maybe widgets and plugins on my websites to get to make certain things happen. I’ll either go look for new ones, or be like, hey, this is bad, can you do something about this place?
It’s all about gently. It’s not about aggressively coming out of the gate and be like, oh, my God, why aren’t you doing this. It’s like, you may not know this, but XYZ. And that way, accessibility becomes something that we all start to think about a little more. So it’s a little rebellion and it takes a little courage to just know you’re gonna go reach out to somebody go, can I just give you some unsolicited advice about this? But it’s all about trying to make everything more inclusive.
Sacha: Yeah, absolutely. Exactly. And the more welcoming we can be, the better our community becomes, and the more, what’s the word, the more appreciated our readers feel. So I love that rebellion. Michele, what about you? You’ve got to have a rebellion, too.
Michele: I do, I do. It might be considered close to Jeff’s one, but the message I want to convey is that we live in a world that relies on accessory to use something that has been just purely designed. And we need to stop. The concept of an assistive technology, or even worse, an alternative, it needs to stop. So the fact that the product that you are designing, often we see the main actor as the designer, not the user, is what causes the majority of the accessibility issues.
So we need to invest something that is not necessarily related to the technology only, but in the way we speak. And I include myself, I mean, this is a message that I send to myself as well. So to be more inclusive, but in a way that we think we will learn, which could be all the difficulties, all the possible different abilities of our audience, and we try to be more inclusive, but in a way that we don’t just consider that if he’s not able to use my website, for sure, she will have an accessory that will make her able to. Well, it’s not always like that. We can design better, we can write better, we can produce better products to be available for a wider audience.
Sacha: Yeah, I love that. And I think the best marketers who are authors keep the end user being the reader at the fore of their design of their books and their marketing campaigns. And you know, they’re the ones who are the most effective at this. And so I think that’s an amazing rebellion.
Okay, tell everyone where they can find out more about you, your book, and anything else you would like to add?
Jeff: Absolutely. So you can find all about Content for Everyone at contentforeveryone.info. Information where you can get the book, we’re also going to be putting up routine blog posts there to talk about examples that we’ve seen, news that would be of interest to creatives. So we’ll start to have you know that be kind of an ongoing resource to help share even more around the book. And Content for Everyone is available everywhere, eBook, paperback, large print paperback and audiobook. And you should find that anywhere you want to pick up a book, or pick up an audio, it should be there.
Sacha: Are you narrating?
Jeff: I am actually, yes.
Sacha: I love it. I love it.
Jeff: If you want more about me, JeffAdamsWrites.com for the fiction, and BigGayFictionPodcast.com for the podcast.
Sacha: Excellent. Thank you very much. Okay, well, thank you so much for your time today, and of course a gigantic thank you to all of the show’s listeners and all of the show’s patrons. If you’d like to get early access to all of the episodes, you can do so by visiting patreon.com/sachablack. I’m Sacha Black, you are listening to Jeff Adams and Michele Lucchini, and this was The Rebel Author Podcast.
Next week I am joined by one of my fav humans, Ines Johnson, and we are going to be talking about business, processes, efficiency, and basically how she is a fucking badass author. So join me next week for that.
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