How long has it been? Where did we last see each other? How could I forget your face? Finding and remembering the face of others in digital spaces and personal learning networks is a personal mission. As my digital house grows and more people enter in, I find myself wondering who’s left outside the door. Has someone not been included because they couldn’t access the digital rooms where I’m “hanging out”? Jean Vanier often comes to mind when I’m looking to find a human face in digital spaces (It’s Only Human). Vanier reminds me it’s about revealing the heart and head.
Why should I worry or wonder about who’s left out? What can I do to make sure my digital constructs are accessible to others?
What does an inclusive digital space look like, sound like, or feel like when those who enter the space may not be able to see, hear or feel it the same way.
How can I humanize the digital spaces where I collaborate, engage and play with others when these others may experience the space with different abilities or come from different cultural contexts?
Remembering the human face of those I meet in digital places (twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc) will help me to connect text and tweets to a fully human need to belong, to feel connected and to be a part of something that’s meaningful.
Whenever I need a reminder of what is important, I return to the work of Jean Vanier. His voice, face, and presence on my computer screen speaks to me of forgiveness, belonging, and purpose. I find myself fully present to his message of inclusion and reflect on the importance of making digital spaces open and accessible for all.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sets out standards for accessibility in the Web Accessibility Initiative. Part of this initiative is the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines. As I work with digital tools, I deepen my understanding about affordances and issues when the human side interacts with the web design and production side. As I extend my awareness of the W3C guidelines and my efforts to establish standards for accessibility, I can remember the face others in our collaborative digital places. Although much of what I read and review on the W3C site is beyond my control or my digital skills, knowing how to do small things that will make a difference is important in my efforts to make the web an accessible place for all.
So what can I do that will make a difference?
This question brings to mind one of my favourite stories while I worked with exceptional learners in the classroom. It’s the story of the starfish. Bit by byte I can do small things to make my digital creations accessible. If I remember there are human faces with a range of abilities accessing my digital work, I’ll remember to consistently follow through on small things to make my digital spaces a more welcoming place. It’s the human face of those in my digital learning network that keep me focused on making a difference and remembering to design spaces inclusively.
What small actions can I do consistently (like in the starfish story) that will make a difference? For each digital space I can consistently review my work by using the W3C Easy Check guidelines. Simple things like not using an auto start on video or audio that I embed onto my course site or blog page. Another small thing is making sure close-captioning is included, that it accurately represents and is synched to video content, and that I include a transcript with my video productions.
What else can I do? Using a web accessibility checking tools can help. There are suggestions of tools available through the W3C site. I’ve personally used WAVE to review how my course site needs improvements in accessibility. A more detailed report generator for those proficient in web accessibility guidelines is also available. Remembering to check the look and navigation of web spaces using various browsers can help me spot issues. Taking a look at what I have designed and created on a tablet or mobile device can also help me identify and correct issues in the production and publishing stage.
Since my #oneword2016 is colour, I looked for connections between colour and accessibility. I wanted to find out how my colour choices impact the readability or feelings of inclusion of my digital creations. I discovered an accessibility colour wheel that shifts my thinking about how colours may improve the content and accessibility of my digital creations. The WebAim Web Accessibility site provides a simpler version of a colour contrast checker. Since I’ve been playing with colour hex codes, I can test these colour codes and the colour palettes I plan to use in my web productions. Checking the colours I use consistently, eg. my Twitter settings, can improve how other people may or may not be able to access the digital media I produce in this space. I’m becoming more aware of the cultural connections to colour.
Even with these guidelines and best practices, it’s still up to me to build a sense of the person behind the ‘nom de plume’ or avatar image. Bringing my ‘self’ to electronic and web interactions creates a humanizing presence to digital spaces. While some individuals mask or shade their identities with unusual monikers and interesting avatars, as I develop a relationship, their personalities and attributes shine through. My own reluctance to share or reveal myself in digital spaces is something I consciously work to overcome. I need to remember that those with unique ‘abilities’ may also need some encouragement or patience to reveal their ’self’ before they feel a sense of belonging in digital spaces.
It’s the small things I can do to look beyond the disembodied blog posts, text messages, or tweets and seek the human face of others in these digital spaces. Looking for the human characteristics and qualities of the people I meet will help me find their face in these ever shifting digital places. Doing small bytes to make sure my digital house is an inclusive and accessible space will continue to be a primary and consistent consideration.
If you need a reason to think differently about how you design digital spaces to include the face of others, watch this video:
Couldn’t have said it better!
How do you make a difference and build inclusive and accessible digital spaces? Any comments are welcome. I’ll remember to look for your face the next time we meet!