The Arts & Everything in Between

June 26, 2023 | Duration: 37 mins

Live from RECHARGE! Website Accessibility with Catherine Turner


Catherine Turner

Trustee at Colchester Arts and technology accessibility advisor Catherine Turner shares her personal experiences as a disabled person trying to work with less than ideal accessible technology.

Catherine is also a Web and App Accessibility Advisor, helping developers understand the human impact of technical decisions. She has been the lead consultant for Ticketsolve on their web accessibility project and has supported the system in achieving the goal of reaching the benchmarking required of WCAG 2.1/ AA compliance. 

In this episode Catherine takes us through the evolution of digital accessibility and how arts and cultural organisations should approach website accessibility. Her key takeaway? Don’t just implement accessibility for the sake of it – get real users involved. When you work with the people who will ultimately benefit from accessibility improvements you empower those groups and get an end result that works infinitely better for their needs, creating inclusive spaces for all. 



Investigate new ideas and learn from your arts, culture and heritage peers! Join us every two weeks as we interview arts industry experts and get their take on the biggest issues facing the arts and culture world today. You’ll get ideas to try and practical tips, plus hear from arts and culture managers working in every role from marketing to management –  and every area –  from theatres and music venues to festivals, museums, heritage sites and more.



Got a great topic for the podcast? Want to share your story with the arts and culture world? Get in touch! [email protected]



A big thank you to Catherine Turner for her invaluable insight and guidance.



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About Our Guest

Featured Guest

Catherine Turner

Catherine Turner is a a Web and App Accessibility Advisor, helping developers understand the human impact of technical decisions. She is also a Creative Producer in partnership with Colchester Arts Centre and a Non Executive Director for Eastlight Community Homes. Passionate about arts, technology and support which fosters freedom, education and debate. She is passionate about helping create an inclusive online environment where everyone has equal access, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities. 

Welcome to the Arts and Everything in between. Podcast brought to you by Ticketsolv.

Lucy Costelloe: Hello, good morning and welcome. My name is Lucy Costello, and I have the absolute privilege of welcoming our next speaker, her, Catherine Turner, a really, really great colleague and friend. And I’ve had so much fun working with Katherine over the past few months, and she’s been working with some of our colleagues as well, sergi, who’s here today, and James, on a really important project that we’ve been focusing on at Ticketsolve, which is our accessible website design. So we’ve had so much fun working with Catherine, learning from her wisdom, her wish, and we’ve made some serious developments. And when we were designing recharge, one of the most, I think, important parts of designing a day where we had speakers was to really bring the sense and the energy of what recharge meant to us as a team at Ticketsolve. And without question, Catherine was one of the first people who sprung to my mind. So I have great fondness working with Katherine, and I’m delighted to welcome Catherine today to Conway Hall. And I will hand it over to Catherine now.

Catherine Turner: Hello. Yeah. So I’m Catherine. I’m a trustee for Colchester Arts Center and I’m an advisor about technology accessibility. I say technology because it’s not just about websites. It could be washing machines, apps or all sorts of things these days. But let’s talk about websites today. And what I want to try and give you is a personal perspective and sort of help you put into context. What does this stuff mean and why is it important? Because I want to give you something that you can’t just find out by Googling. So how did I get interested in this whole website accessibility stuff? I was born with a visual impairment. That meant that during my childhood, I was slowly using, losing my sight. And then by the time I got to about age 16, I couldn’t really use my site for reading or using computers anymore. And also in the meantime, I’d acquired this physical impairment as well. That meant I became a wheelchair user and couldn’t use one of my hands and missed a year of school. So in a pretty short space of time, I had to learn to living life in a wheelchair, learn how to how to type with one hand, learn braille I’d known it a little bit before, but not in any useful way. And learn how to use a screen reader on a computer. In case anyone not familiar with a screen reader, it does what it tries to do. It’s supposed to read the screen, and it’s not the same as Siri or Alexa or any of those things, although those things sometimes might read you snippets from websites. But a screen reader literally is supposed to read any part of the screen. So whether that’s the ribbons in Microsoft Excel or your log on screen or your notifications on a phone, all sorts of things. So, Lucy, if you could play file number one.

Speaker C: Netscape Navigator ticketsold forum recharge 2023 back, forward, home httpsblog ticketsold okay, that.

Speaker A: Wasn’T file number one. File Number one is called BBC Micro. I don’t know if you’re able to find it or if they’ve gone in a different order.

Speaker C: Netscape.

Speaker A: This is a demonstration of Deck Talk software, text to speech technology. Yeah, so that was file number two, but.

Speaker C: Some.

Speaker A: Rats yay that’s farm number one. So that voice was like the voices that I heard blind friends of mine using before I became blind. And we all thought, this is a funny voice, and I laughed at it and stuff, but I didn’t have to use it. And then I had to start using that thing. And we’ve already heard file number two, which was just before that, which was a bit better. It said, this is a demonstration of Deck Talk speech synthesis. So we had to use these voices all the time just to type while we were learning to use computers and so on. And then I got to going on the Internet and discovered all this stuff that you could do online, and I found it really empowering. For the first time, I could choose to read what I wanted to choose to read newswise, rather than waiting for the talking newspapers that someone else had put together, which was great, but it was really nice to be able to choose myself what to read. I started buying books from this little shop called Amazon and ordering food, talking to people from around the world, especially learning from other blind people how to do things and learn from each other. And it was really empowering. But it wasn’t comparable to what you would hear today on a web website. If you’re using a screen reader, they weren’t as advanced as they are today. Let’s play file number three, which we did play earlier, but let’s listen to it again. This was how a website would have approximated it, because it’s actually impossible to get them to read so badly nowadays. But this was something like what you’d hear if this was a snippet of one of the pages about Recharge Read, it read in a way that it would have been at the time when I was first using the Internet. File number three. Old style web Page.

Speaker C: Netscape Navigator ticketsold forum recharge 2023 back, forward, home httpsblog ticketsoldforum recharge 2023 FileDIt view, go, tools BOOKMARKS help ticketsolve it’s only around the corner. Recharge accept recharge our biggest event decline of the year. Click here. Will welcome delegates from all across the four features arts and cultural sector. Click here to London and Dublin for pricing next February and March. Community 2023.

Speaker A: Now, I don’t know how much of that you’ve picked up, but what they used to do, the screen readers, they used to read the entire screen, left to right, top to bottom. Miss nothing out. So you got it saying Netscape, Navigator, File, Edit, View, reading the whole Https thing, then reading the whole web page itself. I mean, at one point it sounded like it was saying that recharge was going to be the decline of the year. That was because it was reading the decline button that was to do with cookies and mixing it up with the content. And every time you clicked a link, it would read all of that stuff all over again. And in those days, a lot of people for the links just called them Click here. I think it was because the web was so new, people didn’t realize that if you didn’t tell people Click here, they wouldn’t realize that they could click there. So if I wanted to find a link, because nowadays with screen readers, you can navigate by heading and buttons and all sorts, but all you could pretty much do then would be press tab to move through the links. So I had to listen, figure out which link I wanted, and then count the number of times to press tab to find the right link. And they all just said, Click here, press Enter and then wait for the thing to load and read out the whole stuff again. But despite all that, it was still for me really empowering. But I started to think, surely it could be better. Why are some of these pages reading better than others? Is it me? Have I forgotten how to use this ****** screen reader again? Have I pressed the wrong key on this one handed keyboard that I’ve only just started to learn to use? And I just started to learn how web pages were put together. And when I came across a problem, I emailed the website person or webmasters, we always used to call them and asked them, can you do this? Can you do that? And that was pretty easy to do then. But now let’s come up to where are we now with websites and accessibility? Because what I’ve just told you about was all before we had any guidelines about accessibility. So what have we got now? We’ve got guidelines about the content of websites and about how to make authoring tools accessible, the tools that you use to create the websites. We’ve got better assistive technology. The screen readers can do much more nowadays. The voices sound better and the technology is cheaper. Voice recognition technology is cheaper as well. And we have got more awareness of accessibility as well. So is it all better now? Well, I would say with the evolution of the solutions and all the abilities that we’ve got, you’ve got the evolution of problems as well. So, first of all, the guidelines, how do you interpret them? One of the guidelines talks about what you should do with images and it says unless you should do X, Y and Z with images, unless they’re purely decorative. Well, do we all agree what’s purely decorative and does something that’s purely decorative on a website for booking a train? Is that going to be a different context than a museum website? It also says things like all elements of the user interface should be programmed, the purpose of them should be programmatically determinable, and we can’t all agree on that. Also today, there’s such a blurred line between who is creating content and who is consuming it. Anybody can make a website without needing to know anything about coding. Everybody that ever puts anything on Twitter or YouTube, we’re all creating content. So what do you do about the accessibility of all that stuff that everybody’s creating? And when I was saying how when I first used the internet, it was easy just to get in touch with someone, and the chances are if I got in touch with someone, they either wrote the code themselves or they knew the person that did. It’s not like that anymore. There are so many layers of tools that you can use which rely on other tools, which rely on other tools, and layers of people in between, that it’s very hard sometimes to get to the person that you can talk to who can actually modify the thing that’s causing the problem. The other thing that’s different now is that I think that digital accessibility matters now so much more than it used to when I was using the internet to do all those things. Before, the Internet was like a tool for me to make the world more accessible to me. But now it’s like, really, if you think about it, all the things that the internet does. We’ve got cryptocurrency, the metaverse NFTs apps for just about any task you want to do. It’s like the internet is the world or it’s a huge part of the world. So when that becomes not accessible, it’s really a much more harsh thing than it used to be. And it’s like this tool that used to be my tool that I chose to use and that helped me, is turning against me if it’s not accessible. So let’s hear an example, though, of how things have changed with the screen readers.

Speaker D: With popular sports.

Speaker A: Yes.

Speaker D: Football icon image football link horse racing icon image horse racing link text selection lines, words, characters, actions active edit braille table vertical navigate form controls links headings next up racing heading level two Linkfield UK heading level three link right, so.

Speaker A: I’m hoping that was more understandable for you than the previous example. That was me using screen reader on my phone and hopefully you heard that I was choosing how to navigate, I was choosing, am I going to navigate by headings or other aspects? But that was all jumbled up with other things that affect the phone, like the braille table and different things. So it’s not always the most efficient way to read stuff, but nicer voice. Not reading out the whole screen from top to bottom, much more usable. So that’s how it’s advanced. But what we need to think about is how people use things and what the problems are. So I’ll give you some examples of why this matters and the sorts of things that I’ve encountered. The problems that I’ve encountered. I’ve had not been able to open bank accounts because you need to prove your identity. You need to take a photo of yourself holding your passport or look at the camera in exactly the right way within a certain time frame, moving your head in a certain way. That’s just impossible for me to do on my own. And even if I try to get someone to help me, the logistics of trying to get someone to hold my phone and get me to face it in exactly the right place and tap the button while they’re holding it to take is impossible. So I couldn’t open the bank account. I tried to use a certain investing platform and again need to prove my ID had a problem in the app. But I thought I’ll just try emailing them because everything else in this app seems to work so surely I can sort this out. Well, when I revealed about that I was blind, blah blah, blah, they started asking me about I mean they didn’t use the words mental capacity, but they said, who’s going to manage the money on this account? We only do accounts for people who are over 18 and can you make your own decisions and all this kind of thing. I got in a chat with a bookmaker about something I needed to resurrect my account that hadn’t used for a few years, needed to prove my ID, blah blah blah. Only way to do it was through chat and that I needed to upload the file. I had the file, most of the website was accessible, but in the parts of the window where there was a chat, there was a button, there were a few buttons, they weren’t labeled so I couldn’t tell what these buttons were for. I didn’t want to accidentally close the chat or something so I just said right there’s, these two buttons I just need to check with you. Is it the one on the left or is it the one on the right that I need to press because I can’t figure out what they are. I use a screen reader. What’s a screen reader? It’s software that I use because I’m blind. I’m going to have to escalate this. It seems that if you talk to a bookmaker, blind is a trigger word because I could then got lots of questions about being vulnerable and I never got that account sorted out. And this was all triggered off because a button wasn’t labeled and I stupidly naively mentioned that I was blind. Dating apps and dating websites, sometimes as part of the sign up process, ask you to pick an image. It’s not even an image. It’s not even an image of people. It’s just certain patterns which I gather are supposed to tell us something about our psychology or whatever, and they don’t describe the images. So do I just pick one randomly and get forever assigned to a certain group? Or do I get someone to help me? I don’t know. And then even if I get through that, sometimes the apps encourage people, like as an icebreaker or people just do as an icebreaker, and the app really helps to facilitate it. Just send pictures to each other and you’re supposed to say like or whatever, but the pictures don’t have any descriptions. So I feel completely like, this isn’t for me. I’m not supposed to be here. I can’t communicate in this way. I would have done if there was just a description of the picture. I’ve tried to cancel my food order just for one week and ended up canceling it forever because the calendar picker wasn’t accessible. And I’m sure you can all relate, and any of you that don’t use assistive technology, I’m sure you all relate to this, but I’m trying to just paint a picture for you about like if all these things combine and compound with each other, it’s really like a vicelike trap you can’t get out of. And if you think when you combine that with the fact that a lot of people who are disabled and I speak particularly from the point of view of being blind, just because that’s where my personal experience lies, but many of these things apply to lots of disabilities. A lot of those people don’t have access to education and training. They’re either unemployed or underemployed, don’t have all the support that they need. You compound all those things together, and with discrimination that happens. It’s really a serious problem that the inaccessible websites just add to it. So where are we with how to think about how to deal with this and what can you do about it? And where do you fit in in your corner of the world? I’ll just show you another few examples of listening to a web page just to start to think about what you might conclude. So the next one is file number five, jaws racing post. Right? Does anyone want to shout out? Did you get anything from that? Right, anyone got any thoughts? Do you reckon that was accessible or not accessible? Well, I’ll show you now the next file, which is number six. Voiceover racing post container language speaking ray.

Speaker D: Text selection lines words characters actions edit rail table swedish vertical navigation form controls links handwriting headings three heading grand Nationals Rejuvenation is a wonderful success story, so let’s please lose the hysteria. Heading level one. Author image a smiling person wearing a suit and tie, standing in front of a white background. Louis Porteous, reporter the Grand National has come a long way since the turn of the millennium. Image a group of people riding horses on a grassy field. Randups Rank A YS zero D slash the Grand National has come a long way since the turn of the millennium. If there is one thing racing does better than most sports, then surely hysteria is it. So it will be interesting to see the reaction in Liverpool on Tuesday when the weights for this year’s Randarks Grand National are revealed by BHA handicapper. Martin Greenwood, did you pick up anything from that?

Speaker A: Yeah. Now the first one that we heard just before this was exactly the same. It was reading exactly the same stuff, but using a different screen reader, different voice and at a different speed. And that is the speed that I usually read at. And the only difference between the two was the only thing that the second system read, which the first one didn’t, was a description of the picture because those descriptions of the pictures were actually put together by that screen reader. They weren’t alt text. So the point of that was different users choose to read things in different ways and they’ve always got their reasons. The first fast robotic voice I choose to use most of the time because that particular voice is much more responsive when I’m doing a lot of typing and stuff. The second one, it’s a lovely voice, but it’s a bit laggy. You press a key and it takes a slight bit more time before it responds. And when I’m spending most of my time typing and reading, it all adds up to make a difference. But other people might prefer the second version. And it depends for me, it even depends how tired am I, how much I want to concentrate, do I really want to read this stuff in detail or am I in a hurry? So the point of that is we’ve all got different experiences. The first thing for you wasn’t accessible because you haven’t had 20 plus years using this stuff. But I have. So the point is that you really need to understand the users and what their preferences are and what their needs are. And as you heard with that, we can use headings and we got all these different navigation techniques we can use now, but we are also still getting some of the old problems still hanging around. So if we can now hear number seven voiceover emagazines image.

Speaker D: No description available. I have 52 slash writing prompts to awaken your senses. Writer spring Book Preview 25 must read tomes. The romance is shahot and heavy. How to Reignite Your Spark four writing plus 40 plus for 205 Snarences digital D-C-H-A.

Speaker A: Now, I’m guessing you got some words from that. You could hear the words and it was a nice voice, a nice speed, and you got a sort of hint of what it’s about writing prompts of stuff. But it was just garbage really. It was all mixed up together. Like the first example I showed you of how it used to read the websites in the old days, because that was from a PDF that is not accessible. And that’s an ongoing problem as well, is that you get people producing digital magazines that aren’t accessible. So a few three sort of principles I’d like to leave you with, and I hope that I’m giving you ideas of sort of the principles. As I said, we’ve got the guidelines, but where do you go from there? So the first thing out of these three I want to say is this comes with increased awareness of accessibility. More people are putting on a page on their website about accessibility, and I just want to ask you, just shout out anyone, shout out some ideas, what sort of info do you think you’d put on your page about accessibility? Or what sort of info have you got on there, if you’ve already got one in your venue? Yeah. Any other ideas? Yeah, thanks. Yeah, that’s really good. And that’s the kind of thing that I would go onto that page to read about, but I have noticed something that people are doing which I think approximates to this, which is file eight, which should be a picture. So I’ve got someone to create this for me, and I’m a cynical person, as I find I need to be with all these problems. So I’m going to describe what’s meant to be there and you tell me if that’s not there. So this is meant to be a flight of steps with a sign saying, for access, you can obtain a wheelchair and then telling you where to obtain a wheelchair. Right, so sometimes on people’s access pages on their websites, they go into detail about how to switch on your screen reader or yeah, how to switch on your screen reader. It will say accessibility. Oh, in Apple, you go to settings and you can switch on Voiceover or you can switch on the magnifier. Yeah, that’s great. But if the barrier is coming from the website, there’s no good whatsoever. And to me, that is the equivalent of, like, having no ramp. But tell trying to tell people, oh, you need to go and get a wheelchair, they’re still not going to be able to get in. So I’m not saying never put any info about assistive technology or an access page, but I think you need to think carefully about it and get in touch with some users, find some users and figure out why do they come to this page, what are they likely to want to read about on this page? And the stuff you said about toilets and wheelchair access. Yeah, that would be one of the biggest things, but also lots of other things about what’s available in your venue. And you can have some stuff about how to use the website in an accessible way, but if the site is designed optimally, you shouldn’t need too much stuff about that. It should be fairly obvious what people need to do. And those of us who really rely on screen readers, for example, if we don’t know how to use them, we wouldn’t have got to your web page in the first place. And if we need more information about how to use them, I’m not going to think to go to a theater or arts venue website to find out how to use my screen reader. So that’s the first out of those three final thoughts. And the second is, please at least don’t make things worse when you are changing things these days, as comes with the increased awareness of accessibility, it comes with lots of products to get you to use and to sell to you that are going to fix everything. And let’s look at the last file, number nine, which should be headline and a bit of an article. Yeah, so it was an article last year there was a week about accessibility and there was an article entitled for Blind Internet Users, the Fixes or Solutions can be Worse than the Flaws. And it was about overlays that you can buy that claim to make your website accessible. And they interviewed this blind person talking about how that made the shop that he used unusable anymore and he used to manage with it. And that was just one example, but they mentioned other examples and this person, this blind person they interviewed said they always make things worse. I have yet personally to meet or come across online a blind person who relies on any of those overlays and for whom it made things better. So there is a place for things like that. But what I would say is where were the users in that process? If the people who use the assistive technology had been involved in designing these overlays, that problem would never have occurred. And I would just really urge you to whatever you’re doing, whatever plans you’ve got, whatever you’re thinking about products, you’re going to either, even if you’re not buying them, you’re going to get them for free. Think about ask questions, ask questions, ask how these people know that it’s helping people. Have they got any users of assistive technology involved in the design? How do they go about testing their stuff and be cynical? You got to be, because these things may be well intentioned, but also there’s just a lot of competing priorities and sometimes a lot of nonsense talked about accessibility. And you’ve got to be cynical and you’ve got to really ask questions and delve and investigate and find out whether that really is doing the job it’s meant to be doing. And look for people that use the assistive technology and think about who is using your website and why someone might want to do whatever this tool is claiming to do. And then the third and final thing I just want to say is a lot of the time people want to make things accessible and I think everybody does, I’m sure everybody does in this room, but sometimes where does it fit in? How do you budget for it, how do you do it? And I suppose I just want to say think about all those other things I mentioned, about how technology is becoming a lot of the time quite oppressive and disempowering and think about what you want to be normal. Do you want it to be normal? Because it’s normal a lot of the time for me and other blind people that I know, it’s normal that every time we want to do something like open a bank account, we know we’re going to have to search and search and search to find one that’s accessible. We got to go and see if any other blind people we know are using it first before we make the leap and try it. You know that you’re going to get into a chat and they might not know anything about screen readers, or you’re going to say the blind word, and it’s going to trigger off a warning. And that’s normal now, and it’s normal that everything we do before we do it, we have to think, is it going to be accessible? Let’s go and try and persuade these people to change it, let’s go and ask some questions. But it’s normal. I know that my chances are probably 5% of actually reaching someone that can do something about this because everyone either doesn’t care or doesn’t know about it or thinks they’ve already fixed it. And it’s not like in 1998 when I just emailed a webmaster and said, hey, please can you rearrange your columns and put some alt text? And they said, oh yeah, sure, I’ll just do that now because nobody knows what that means and they’ve had some training and they’ve got some tools that are doing the job and that’s all normal. It’s normal now that I know I’m going to have to fight and bang my head against brick wall. So what I think is just think about what do you want to be normal and how can you do it? How much time do we spend thinking about whatever beers we want in the bar or how much time and effort is to put to cleaning. And there’s lots of things that get done every day that probably is not anything to do with what we have to do, like the law. But it’s just normal that you spend time on thinking about those things. But website accessibility is covered under the law, but how much effort do we really put into it? And finally I just want to say like why it matters. Just imagine, just remember that for someone to be able to buy a ticket or read about a poet on your website or read the comments that people have put about the gig that they went to sometimes in this normal world of fighting. Battles all the time. Sometimes those things are like helping me keep my sanity going for another day. Help me cling on to it. So I hope that helps put it in perspective for you. Thank you.

Speaker B: Catherine.

Speaker A: It’s Lucy.

Speaker B: That was amazing.

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