(Anna Lawson sits on a sofa, smiling while stroking her guide dog, Finn.)
Anna: I’m Anna Lawson and I’m a professor in the School of Law, and I’m also joint director of the Centre for Disability Studies.
(Anna smiles as she walks along a path on the University of Leeds campus led by her guide dog.)
Anna: I’ve just had a proper diagnosis for the first time, actually, and it’s Stargardt disease. It’s an unusual manifestation in my case, because it’s meant I lose all my sight completely.
Providing that things are as accessible as possible, life is actually good, but it can be incredibly frustrating when you do come across accessibility barriers.
(Anna sits at her desk in her office using a computer keyboard to operate the JAWS screen reader.)
Anna: On my computer, I use the JAWS screen reader.
(JAWS screen reader announces some text.)
Anna: It basically recognizes text characters and speaks them out. So, we have application forms. If I end up having to write quite a bit in there, because there’s lots of boxes with ticks, which I can’t use anyway, or lots of tables, it’s just so big that the screen reader just can’t cope with it.
The digital revolution has made things so much easier than it was when I was relying on tape. But it’s frustrating, very frustrating, because it has the potential to make things an awful lot better than they are still.
Livi: I’m Livi Roberts, and I study Japanese. I’m the founding president of Neurodivergent Society. I myself have combination type ADHD.
(Livi sits in a lecture theatre writing notes.)
Livi: I guess kind of a misconception about ADHD is that it’s a lack of focus, but that’s just not true. It’s actually lack of ability to control your focus. One of my biggest problems can be audio processing. Because I do Japanese, sometimes that involves dictation. That means, like, a minute-long
clip that I have to process and then write down and comprehend. And that’s quite difficult for me without any sort of caption.
Another part of ADHD, sometimes, can be visual processing. For example, if something’s a really long, kind of like, chain of text, that can be really difficult for my brain to process.
(A simplified graphic representing a document is displayed with two blocks of straight lines to represent text. The blocks of text change to two lists of bullet points.)
Livi: For example, it’s really easy if you put it in bullet points, because then my mind automatically thinks that’s a list of separate items.
(Livi sits at a desk making notes at her laptop. Words are highlighted in a document as a screen reader announces them.)
Livi: and I can process those things really easily. Just making things look visually different really helps my brain to pick up on, like, that this is the end of this section, this is the end of this section. Which is also the same with subheadings. It shouldn’t be some sort of challenge to find deadline information on the bottom of maybe, like, a six-page document.
Miro: I am Dr Miro Griffiths. I’m a Leverhulme Research Fellow in the School of Sociology and Social Policy.
(Miro enters his office in a powered wheelchair with his assistant walking ahead of him. Miro stops near his desk and his assistant arranges a cushion between his wheelchair and the top of the desk.)
Miro: So, I have spinal muscular atrophy type 2, which affects muscle strength from the neck down. So, I predominantly require assistance with all activities and I also require a powered wheelchair, which means environments need to be adapted and accessible for a wheelchair user.
So, I use voice recognition software for all typing and I use that for everything. So, whether that’s emails, whether that’s filling in a form online, my entire dissertation when I was an undergrad.
(Miro sits at his desk in his office looking at his laptop while the assistant moves a microphone closer to him.)
Miro: So, it does take a longer time process than just typing something out, but it’s obviously essential for me to participate and engage with my studies and my research.
(Miro turns on speech recognition software on his laptop and uses the trackpad on his keyboard with his right index finger.)
Miro: So, for example, some PDFs, if you try and input information into it, for example, if I’m writing comments on a student’s piece of work, I can’t do it if it’s on a PDF.
(A simplified graphic representing a PDF document appears with straight lines to represent text. Simplified graphics representing comment boxes move onto the PDF graphic. Crosses appear across the comment boxes. The PDF graphic is replaced by a simplified graphic representing a Word document.)
Miro: So, if they give me a PDF, I have to write it on Word, then I have to copy and paste it into the PDF. So, for example, I say to all my students, ‘If you send me work for me to comment on, send it in a Word document, because it’s going to be much more efficient and much more accessible for me.’
(Miro’s assistant flicks through a book on his desk. The assistant uses a scanning device called an IRIScan to scan the text in the book.)
Anna: Online access barriers often mean that the, the impact is hidden.
(Anna stands on a path on the University of Leeds campus near her guide dog, using gestures on her iPhone to operate the VoiceOver screen reader.)
Anna: Because it happens to you in your own private living room or wherever it is, people can’t see you just tearing your hair out, on the verge of tears because it’s taken three hours to do something which should have taken three minutes.
It’s also emotional energy because each time you hit one of these barriers or you lose work because it’s just crashed or you’ve, you know, you’re battling with a screen reader that keeps crashing, it’s emotionally draining.
Miro: So, sometimes as a lecturer, if I’ve created a script that I’ll use for my lecture and I know it’s going to be auto-captioned, sometimes I’ll just upload my script as well because then students can cross-reference it and use it. If you think about accessibility at the beginning of the journey, we can create sustainable and legacy approaches, which then can be improved or tweaked over the years. So you don’t have to continuously recreate the wheel.
Anna: Keep things simple. Don’t try and complicate with lots of graphics and pictures and beautifications.
(A simplified graphic representing a mobile phone is displayed. Check boxes, text and a graphic appear on the phone. The check boxes and graphic disappear from the screen, leaving only the text displayed as straight lines.)
Anna: But if you do do that, please have a simple, text-only version. Just imagine all you can do is hear what’s on the screen because that’s what we’re doing.
I do find that people on the whole are incredibly helpful and want to do something positive to, to make the world a bit more inclusive and easy for disabled people to use.
Livi: When it comes to making websites more accessible for neurodiverse students, it’s often little effort, little time, but really high reward. And, actually, a lot of the changes that would benefit neurodiverse students specifically would just benefit all students. So there’s basically no reason whatsoever not to do it.
Miro: I think it’s important not to assume that you need to know all the answers, and it’s much better to create dialogues with individuals, groups, community networks and be creative together to find the answers and find the solutions.
Anna: So even when there are difficulties, if you’re essentially working in a supportive environment where your colleagues have so much goodwill and enthusiasm to make the digital world and the physical world inclusive, that’s what can make the difference between whether you stay or whether you go. And I’ve been exceptionally lucky with, with mine.