Digital Inclusion in Action: Your Questions Answered | TTC Global

Digital Inclusion in Action: Your Questions Answered

Our Digital Accessibility Team answers questions shared during our annual GAAD webinar

  • Simone Wisniewski, Ben Crompton
  • 24 May 2024


Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is an annual initiative that gets people talking, thinking, and learning about digital access, inclusion, and people with disabilities.

To celebrate GAAD, TTC Global's Digital Accessibility Practice had the pleasure of hosting a live discussion with guest speakers Nadia Mattiazzo, CEO of Women with Disabilities Victoria, Joe DiNero, Assistant Program Director of Assistive Technology Services from Hellen Keller Services for the blind, and Sam Nuttall, Founder of The Neurodivergent Coach. We discussed their lived experiences of disability, use of assistive technology and barriers that exist in modern digital environments. During the webinar, there were a few questions submitted by audience members that we will unpack and explore in this blog post.

Question 1: With respect to using TTY technology, is it helpful or buggy? Could you recommend any assistive technologies that people who are blind or with low vision - could use to work with Microsoft Teams?

Teletypewriter (TTY) assistive technology enables people to make and receive phone calls by converting text into audio content, and audio into text content. When TTY technology first emerged in the 1970’s, it enabled people with hearing or speech related disabilities to participate in phone calls. Today however, telecommunication experiences have improved as there are many more available digital communication methods, in addition to using TTY devices.

Engaging in TTY conversations through Australia’s National Relay Service requires a Relay Officer to convert audio or text content into the required format during a phone conversation. This process needs to be scheduled in advance with the National Relay Service and requires using a rented or personal TTY device. While some people find this to be a helpful service, others may prefer alternative communication methods such as emailing, text conversations or video calls.

Microsoft Teams is an application used for virtual chat functions, video conferencing, file storage, and third-party application integration. While this tool provides improved methods of communication for users with hearing and speech related disabilities, it does introduce access barriers due to poor compatibility with screen reader technology.

We touched base with Nadia to get a better understanding of her experience with Microsoft Teams:

"I use Job Access with Speech (JAWS) which is a screen reader. Frankly my thoughts around Microsoft Teams are not very positive. I find it tries to insert itself into pretty much everything (other apps etc) and tries to make itself your default setting for everything which Teams can do. I think the Teams application which people use for meetings is getting slightly more user friendly but again, Microsoft is clearly trying to retrofit something which was developed with not much consideration for access."

As discussed in the GAAD webinar, users can tell when screen reader usage has been retrofitted into a product because the experience is not intuitive, or the user must memorise how to interact with the product to successfully use it. Hopefully over time, the Microsoft Teams application will improve its compatibility with screen readers so users can have better interactions. If you have encountered a problem using Microsoft teams, or have feedback to improve the experience, you can report it by selecting ‘help’ in the app, then ‘provide feedback’.

For users with low vision, consider customising the app to improve your experience by changing settings such as the text size, enabling TTY mode, or editing the application appearance and accessibility settings.

Question 2: Certain accessibility features might conflict between different disabilities and neurodivergence - so what key accessibility aspects (besides easy read/ plain English read) must be considered for better digital accessibility and work practices?

The risk of major barriers being introduced for users can be mitigated by ensuring a workforce has a robust understanding of how to create inclusive digital content that is accessible by assistive technologies. These ways of working can be encouraged by strategies such as procuring systems that are useable by everyone, encouraging accessible internal digital communication, and providing training to teach employees about inclusive digital work practices and assistive technology. Through these approaches, barriers that prevent people from having equitable digital experiences can be avoided. If you would like to learn more about accessible, neuro-inclusive work practices, we recommend attending our upcoming Deep Dive webinar with Samantha Nuttall.

Question 3 - Have they improved the voice sounds and speed options for screen readers like JAWS etc? I haven't heard one for a long time.

JAWS has seen many iterations since its inception and has very much progressed in terms of customisations, including to the rate, speed, and pitch of the voice.

We asked Nadia, who has been using JAWS for 20 years what her experience of the changes have been:

"The speed has definitely improved as well as internation (e.g. reading with expression). There are also improvements in the voices which you can access in JAWS, but you can also add extra voices to your program."

JAWS provides a range of customisation features as well as support for a range of languages. This is why it is essential to set the correct language of your site, so JAWS can pronounce words with the correct pronunciation and tone! JAWS also allows for the setup of different schemes, providing different profiles on one application for different circumstances, for example identifying certain elements in a different voice or speed.

Question 4: How can employers be encouraged to refer to assistive technologies, is there a dictionary or any other forum that helps with a better understanding of assistive tech?

There are many resources online regarding assistive technologies people can use. The options can be overwhelming, especially if you are unfamiliar with them. A more practical approach to broadening understanding of assistive technology and workplace adjustments is to discuss it with your team members to understand what will work best for them. This is an effective strategy for providing employee workplace adjustments, because one solution is not always suitable for everyone. People may also use assistive technology in different ways or for different purposes and may have varying degrees of digital literacy. In addition to this, a great way to learn more about assistive technology is to use it yourself! For example, try sending emails using a keyboard only, or use a screen reader to explore a website.

Question 5: Do you have any suggestions for alternatives for online whiteboard in meetings?

This is a tricky one, as whiteboards are generally inherently inaccessible due to the visual nature of them. One of the biggest fundamental issues is that these tools often require users to visually perceive the location, size, and other sensory characteristics to make sense of the information. Additionally, much of the content itself is visual (not just plain text), things like icons, shapes, handwritten text etc.

We asked Nadia about her experience of the use of electronic whiteboard collaboration tools:

"Whiteboards are really an issue. Especially if you are using this feature as an opportunity to interact in a meeting. If it’s a way of showing how something might look like, is set out etc., then using things like Alt Text to describe graphics is vital. But where things need to move around, and people get to do things like prioritize a list of things or suggestions or comments etc."

If you do use such tools there are some ways you can make them more accessible, keeping in mind there are always going to be barriers with these types of tools, including:

  • Ensuring all content added to the whiteboard is verbally communicated by the user adding it.
  • Having someone responsible for relaying any changes – such as the reorganization of priorities or the endorsement of ideas.
  • Check to see if the platform has screen reader support for a person to add their content to the whiteboard.
  • Provide all users with an alternative way to add content, such as sending it via chat function for someone else in the meeting to add.
  • Include text alternatives for any meaningful non-text content such as images or diagrams.