Accessibility for Digital Outreach

Accessibility for Digital Outreach

Accessibility for Digital Outreach

By Elizabeth Reetz, Director of Strategic Initiatives, University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist (2020)

No one imagined a month ago that we’d be where we are today—businesses shuttered and schools closed, with teaching and learning done through web-based virtual classrooms and social media. Although 2020 has already felt like the longest year ever, some things are moving very fast! Those of us in the education and outreach world are rushing in to offer remote programs and services for school children learning from home and the general public looking for educational distractions. Many of us are diving into realms we may have only dipped a toe into before, including video production and social media and web-based live streaming.

Remote WorkThose in the Project Archaeology network are continually acknowledged for creating some of the best archaeology education materials available. In my opinion, this is because we take the time to carefully outline goals and objectives, applicability to teaching standards, and effective assessment tools, and apply research-based best practices for pedagogy and instruction to our programming and curricula. Recently, we learned about archaeology and accessibility and an amazing pilot project for visually impaired learners from Network coordinators Valerie Feathers and Gwynn Henderson. Regarding the digital realm though, it’s fairly new to many of us, and the pivot to providing online resources is happening pretty fast! But because we’re looked to as leaders in our field, we need to make sure we’re modeling best practices for accessibility with our online resources and following regulations put forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In the Project Archaeology network, most of the organizations we work for fall under title II entities (State and local government services) and title III entities (public accommodations and commercial facilities) of the ADA. This means that we must provide aids and services when needed to communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. I certainly don’t have the knowledge or expertise to cover all the various types of aids and services for this blog, so my goal is to address accessibility concerns in some of the common types of outreach becoming popular during this pandemic. I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface here, but I hope this helps, and I encourage you to look to your institutions and agencies for additional guidance, tools, and solutions!

Pre-recorded Videos

Youtube BlogIf you want to have more visual control over your digital content or are intimidated by unpredictability and intimacy of going live, you can create and upload a pre-recorded video to the web or social media. One very important factor to consider when creating video content is accessibility for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. My university requires that all videos created by its units and departments must have closed captions. Closed captions also greatly benefit low-literacy and English as a Second Language viewers!

Captions are not just subtitles. You should use captions to indicate silent pauses or breaks, background music and sound effects, and who is speaking. Your goal is to give the reader of the captions the same rich experience as those hearing the various layers of audio. Your captions should also use proper punctuation, spelling, and capitalization!

Some platforms, like YouTube, can auto-caption videos, but auto-generated captions do not yet meet federal accessibility requirements. I repeat, auto-generated captions do not yet meet federal accessibility requirements. Still, YouTube’s auto-caption feature is handy, because it’s easy to go back and edit for accuracy and punctuation. You might be alarmed by some of the translations generated by auto-caption. During an ongoing project where I’m updating the closed captions on a series of vintage Iowa Archaeology videos, I found more than a couple incorrect translations that might cause someone’s mom to wash their mouth out with soap! It happens. And therefore, it’s important to review all captions!
Not sure if a Facebook video has closed captions? Here’s how to check.

  • Edit auto-captions on YouTube.  Hot tip: You don’t have to share your videos on YouTube – you can make them private or unlisted; use YouTube Studio to generate and edit captions; download the script file, and upload the script into other platforms.
  • If you’re only sharing your video on Facebook and don’t want to download a script, edit through Facebook Pages or Facebook for Business.
  • Making a video from your phone? Use an app! iOS device users have the advantage of using Cliptomatic, a closed captioning app notably used by Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her Instagram stories. Android users can use AutoCap. So far, it’s one of few mediocre options that requires a lot of review and editing, but it’s better than nothing!
  • See if your organization can recommend a paid captioning service provider – many universities and colleges offer this service. It is not cheap, but if you have the resources, pay to have professionals caption your videos while you focus on other outreach initiatives.

Live Streams

Are your notifications pinging every hour or so with another live stream notification? Mine sure are! Live streams are popular on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Zoom and are a great tool for doing tours, narrating story books, and conducting virtual lessons and presentations. The upside: It’s quick and easy to generate a live video and followers really enjoy this option! It continues to be a BOOMING marketing tool. The downside: It’s 2020, yet no social media platform offers in-app captioning for live streams. Zoom doesn’t either. There are third-party products that offer what is known as “live captioning”, “real time captioning”, or CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation) services, available as downloadable software or mobile and cloud-based applications. They vary in both price and quality, and unfortunately I don’t have any recommendations from experience.

Visual and Print Media

As an alternative to video-based outreach, organizations may be circulating more Word or Google docs, PDFs, or PowerPoints and the like; writing blogs; or setting up websites to share resources. There are best practices for creating each of these types of resources that allow for a screen reader to translate that resource into a braille display or speech synthesizer for people who are visually impaired. Bottom line – it involves strategy, planning, and review, but once you get into the practice of creating accessible documents, it is second nature! In the most basic sense (and I’m glossing over a lot here), creating visually accessible digital resources involves checking for color contrast, structuring your headings for compatibility with screen readers, and writing descriptive alt-text for hyperlinks and images.

The University of Iowa provides a pretty great website regarding accessibility for resources shared online that includes PDFs, Word docs, PowerPoints, and websites.
What is alt-text? 
Writings headings for accessibility
Creating charts, slideshows, websites, infographics, or social media graphics? Check out: 3 Free Tools to Ensure Color Blind Friendly Designs

Don’t Feel Overwhelmed!
This feels like a lot, right? Educators are typically understaffed and under-resourced, and in-depth strategy and planning sometimes feels like it takes time and resources that we don’t readily have. Your Project Archaeology Network is here to help! Let’s bounce ideas off each other, share tools and tips for quick and effective ways to incorporate accessibility, enlist each other to co-host as caption writers, and help each other review scripts and alt-text in files. There’s a lot we’re still learning and even more that we don’t know, but we’re all in this together.