How to make online information about the heat more accessible for the visually impaired

Photo of phone with the Facebook app on the screen.
Posted at 4:35 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 19:28:28-04

IDAHO — We get a lot of information online, including important things about the weather like how to tell the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion. But how accessible is that information for individuals who are visually impaired?

“I don’t use my computer or the iPhone to get information on the weather, I feel like there’s enough information on TV," Dana Ard, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho, said.

A lot of information online is easily accessible for people who are blind through screen reader software. But Boise State professor Don Winiecki says graphics like the one below showing the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke aren’t always accessible.

“Most of the graphics that are posted online are just pictures. There’s nothing in the picture that a screen reader can deal with,” Winiecki said.

There is something people can do to make these graphics accessible, though.

“The individual who created the picture and posted it could put alt text associated with the picture and literally type in the thing that the screen reader would find and verbalize,” Winiecki said.

But this doesn’t always work well.

“The issue is that not all websites are developed and programmed in the same way,” Winiecki said.

Ard said the National Federation of the Blind advocates for accessibility.

“We’ve worked with Google and we’ve worked with Microsoft, certainly in accessibility issues.”

The National Federation of the Blind also works on hiring individuals who are blind, something Winiecki says is important for website accessibility.

“We really do need individuals who are blind and low vision, and individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing and individuals with motor deficits to become part of the programming teams that develop these things,” he said. "In fact, Facebook employs employees, developers who are blind and low vision. Microsoft does, Apple does and they’re very well regarded individuals and very sought after to get advice."

Winiecki said most of the things you might post or see on Facebook are pretty accessible through screen reader software.

“Facebook has done an awful lot of work to make its product--products accessible. It’s not perfect, but they have a unit inside Facebook, as does Google as does Microsoft as does Apple to focus on those things," he said.

Adding detailed alt text to any pictures you post will make it even more accessible.