SRCCON Spotlight: Accessibility in Media
A close look at the practicalities of making interactive and data journalism available to more people
This year’s SRCCON—our fourth—begins next week. To kick off the run-up to the event, we’re featuring a selection of sessions from last year’s conference, including transcripts and audio when we have them, and brand-new interviews with the session facilitators.
The session on accessibility and media run by Joanna S. Kao and John Burn-Murdoch in 2016 was one of our favorites, and deals with one of those topics that hovers at the fringe of most newsroom-dev conversations.
Notes & Docs
From the session description: Readers are increasingly interacting with news content from a variety of locations, environments and levels of ability. As a result, news organizations need to think about creating platforms and stories that readers can access in as many ways as possible. This session will discuss best practices for web accessibility, graphics, closed captioning, and social media and facilitate a discussion about what news organizations are doing and how we can improve as an industry.
…to give you an idea of the numbers of people affected by that, about 15% of people in America have some kind of auditory ability issue, which means they can’t hear either at all or properly.
2 or 3% of all U.S.—the whole U.S. population has visual impairment whether that’s complete blindness, an ability to recognize, contrast, or colorblindness. But if you look at people age of over 65, that goes to 7 or 8%. So coming from the Financial Times where most of our readers are that kind of age. Something we have to be particularly worried about. Essentially those are the core physical ability groups that most people think about, when they think about accessibility. But the key thing we’re trying to say is that actually extends—accessibility extends far beyond that.
So think about just as I’m talking, think about times when you’ve had to—I don’t know maybe you’ve been on a crowded, like, metro, and you want to watch a video, but you can’t fumble out to put your earphones and this video is playing and you’ve got sound. In that environment, there’s an accessibility there that’s affecting you. Similarly there might be something you have a coffee in one hand, and you’re trying to tap the phone screen with the other one and the tap bar is too small. That’s another one.
Really simple one. Think about when you’re designing something for a mobile phone rather than for desktop. That’s an accessibility issue. You may just think about it as a core part of your design process, but it’s an accessibility issue. It’s about making sure that people in certain scenarios and environments are able to access your journalism easier.
One other thing I guess is the lack of knowledge all together about what these people need. I don’t know what a screen reader looks like. And we can use plugins and things but is that real? Is that going to be an accurate representation of what’s happening? Can I go out and find someone in the world who uses those and needs them? We don’t do that enough, and it’s not something that we really do.
We became more structured of the same way you do device testing. Do, like, mandatory, like, colorblindness and, like, no volume on the computer and low contrast, make the font really small.
Put headphones on them, start shaking them as they’re trying to read!
Our Q&A with Joanna S. Kao & John Burn-Murdoch
We checked in with Burn and Kao before SRCCON 2017 to chat about how their session had gone, and how their thinking has changed since it took place.
Q. What was your session about, and how did you land on that topic?
Our session was about accessibility in journalism, why it matters and how different people in the newsroom can help make journalism more inclusive.
Q. What was the session’s structure like?
We started our one-hour session with a short 10-minute intro to introduce the definition of accessibility and to help set the tone and context of the session. We then broke out into groups according to newsroom roles (product managers, social media and audience engagement, developers, designers) and had two 10-minute discussions followed by short debriefings. The first was about what newsrooms are currently doing to make their content more accessible, and the second was about potential solutions for making content more accessible. We then came back together as a group to conclude and share a list of resources.
Q. Do you remember any specific highlights or surprises from your session or its aftermath?
There were several aspects of accessibility that participants brought up that we hadn’t really thought too much about ourselves. For example, several participants brought up that paywalls are one barrier that keeps many people from accessing certain stories or perspectives, an issue we hadn’t specifically considered before the session. Getting to share and learn about different perspectives with people from different organizations was a highlight.
Q. Looking back, has the way you think about accessibility changed since SRCCON?
Making content accessible requires talking to many people in many different contexts, and SRCCON only helped us better understand what creating accessible content in media means. I don’t think the way we fundamentally think about accessibility changed, but our discussions helped enrich our conversations after the conference.
Q. Are there threads from the session that have led elsewhere? Anything else we should know?
Notes from SRCCON were also passed around at Mozfest, and I know the tip sheets have been shared on at least one prominent technology mailing list.
We started a mailing list last year for accessibility in the context of journalism (firstname.lastname@example.org). We haven’t really used it yet, but I’m planning on kicking it off this year.
John Burn-Murdoch is a senior data-visualisation journalist at the Financial Times, where he uses statistics and graphics to find and tell stories on subjects ranging from politics and demographics to climate change and sport.
Joanna S. Kao is a data visualisation journalist at the Financial Times. She was previously a multimedia reporter and interactive developer who covered veterans issues, immigration, and homelessness at Al Jazeera America. She creates immersive long form story templates, experiments with audio storytelling, and explores theater-related data in her spare time.
Editor, Source, 2012-2018.