MADE for U of T | Ep. 05 | Steven Scott
In the fifth episode of MADE for U of T (see all episodes), we hear from Steven Scott, a broadcaster and tech reviewer who is legally blind and has spent most of his adult working life promoting how accessible technology can enable the lives of blind and partially sighted people, as well as the wider disability community. He hosts "Double Tap TV" and a radio show for AMI (Accessible Media) in Canada as well as hosting a daily accessible tech podcast out of the UK called "Blind Guy Talks Tech."
If you are interested, visit the University of Toronto Accessibility website to learn more about resources and policies on accessibility available at the University of Toronto.
Listen to the podcast: Starting the conversation on media accessibility with Steven Scott
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Prefer to read rather than listen to the podcast? Below is a transcript of the interview. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Steven Scott (SS): Sure, so first off Thank you again for bringing me here today, I really do appreciate it, and is a great opportunity, and I thank you for that. Yes, so I’m Stephen Scott, I am the voice behind, and it would appear, the face behind double tap TV as well, never thought that would happen in my life but there you go. I also had a face for radio but appears it's also for TV, these days, but yeah I do double tap TV and it's been on EMI know for the best part of four years, just over four years and we're about to go into our fifth season of double tap TV, 44 episodes a year and it's quite incredible when you think what we've managed to achieve with the show but it shows, I think the hunger in information and access to resources around disability and blindness and we are trying to expand the show from being in its humble beginnings a show about technology for blind people to issue about technology for disabled people and actually going beyond that, looking at how technology can benefit everybody so that's how the show has had begun and how it is going double tap Canada is the podcast, which is the partner to that. It's very much the after party; it's where we'll kick back and have about fun and we laugh a lot occasionally we talk about some technology news and then Blind Guy Talks Tech was kind of born out of a previous show I did for the RNA be in the UK that's through the National Institute of blind people. I worked there for 15 years developed a sure they're called tech talks became very popular as a podcast in the UK in the US and, in some respects, Canada as well, and actually that's what gave birth to what is no double tap and. When I left rnb I wanted to keep that audience wants to give the audience something to continue with and I wanted to keep doing this, but I wanted to further it. And that's why we decided to do the crazy thing and go daily, which is know what we do we actually do six episodes a week in total, but it's a great opportunity to do and I absolutely love it.
Inga Breede (IB): That’s awesome, and such a great show. I encourage all of our listeners to check out Double Tap TV on AMI if you’re interested to learn more about how technology can assist with everyday life. So this leads me to my next question, Steven; why is it important to talk about accessibility in media production?
SS: Well, it's always it's always important to talk about accessibility and that's my thing. Ultimately, we have to talk about it because we have to talk about it, especially with people who know what they're talking about I disabled people. It is so important that we have disabled people in the room, discussing this. Because we all forget in our daily lives, I forget, you know even you know when I don't think about every single disability all the time I forget about, for example, captioning because I’m not there. So I don't think about that it's a visual thing, for you know, in my eyes essentially So for me it's not something I think about I need to think about it more and that's why conversation about accessibility is really key. The more we talk about it, the more we understand how it applies to us as individuals in our roles is really important it's not that accessibility is unique in one area to another's, it's across everything is from your washing machine to your games console and everything in between, it's your smartphone and that's your TV it's the course you're trying to get on you know university that you want to get on to make sure that it's accessible to you, is it screen reader friendly as it compliant with. Contrast themes are able to be made into large print or large text, can you use all these functions in your new APP you've just developed? Every single part of this has to be about accessibility and actually more importantly it's about accessibility from the ground up. We really we're in an interesting place at the moment well there's a lot of retrofitting going on, I often think that it's a bit like the way we treat old buildings we you know are having to upgrade and for a disabled person that might be installing a ramp somehow in an old building which can be difficult to do, in some cases, but it has to be done to make it compliant. And the same thing is true of software and applications were retrofitting what I want to encourage people to do is think about their product from day one, and think about how they can make their product accessible because making accessible to one mix accessible to all simple as them.
IB: And when we talk about the tools and technology that your show addresses that can benefit blind and partially sighted adults, why is it important to start the conversation around young learners?
SS: Well it's again, there's a theme that's developed in the disability community and it's a phrase that is used a lot and it's nothing about us with notice and I think that's a really important thing because there's there's no way we can do this with photo engaging with the disability community. Disabled people can be young they can be old they can come from you know come to disability from any age and, interestingly, I learned a lot in the past few years about intersection where essentially disability is not something which is for someone else we could all end up disabled in one way or another. Now I don't want to make that sound so negative in any way, that's just the reality of life. Whether it be age, which is often the way, for example with sight loss, most people will tend to experience site losses later in life, the same with hearing loss. So we have to think about that we have to think about how that works, but then for younger people who actually don't often, and I’ve certainly seen this from my own experience over the years, who haven't really had much of a conversation either towards them or with them about education space, and I know from my own experience, growing up how little I got in terms of the understanding our own my vision, because, frankly, there are so few of us who are visually impaired, as, as you know, as younger people it's not that common in younger age, it's much more common and people have older age that's not the case so much with other disabilities, but the point is that across the board anybody can be disabled. We can come to it from any race any color, any creed, any religion, and you know it doesn't matter who or what you are or how you identify or anything else disability is part of that touches every single Community but young people especially. From learning, we have to make sure that young people are able to learn and are able to access the tools they need in order to be able to carry out that education and whether that is learning Braille as a child, whether that's learning how screen reader works; utilizing all of that technology at a young age, whatever it is, I think, as much information should be given to a child, so they can decide for themselves and, of course, young people as well, not just children can actually because, again, this can happen at any age, but have the tools available just see life and innocence, the accessibility is a toolbox and give people as many tools as possible, let them decide what they need. I am not going to sit here and tell you it's easy it's not easy, because there are so many different experiences I talked about blindness now what is blindness, when this is a spectrum that can go from someone who has got reasonable vision just below the point that allowed to drive so that makes them legally blind. But they couldn't certainly drive a car, but they do have enough vision to get around unaided all the way up to someone who can see absolutely nothing at all, and we should also remember that the number of people who are actually have no vision whatsoever it's a very small number. I think it's something statistic is something like 4% of people who are legally blind can actually see nothing at all 96% of those people who identify and are legally blind.
IB: Oh wow, I did not know that.
SS: So it's very difficult, I imagine, to create a product or a service that fits all of that. So that is why I talk about tools in the toolbox and thinking about when you're designing and you're designing a learning system, an e-learning, for example, which is very popular these days I know that's a big area for a lot of I don't know as much what universities, but I know courses that use e-learning tools, they often tend to like I said earlier, the retrofit accessibility on. You need to think about it know when you're developing these platforms work with the webcam guidelines look at what is required to make the content accessible make the platform accessible. It's all very well having, for example, you wonderful ecosystem and I’ll give you an example in slightly broader terms. The fire stick from Amazon fire TV stick, which will all probably know little sticky buy from Amazon 30 $40 you buy you plug it into your TV and you watch your TV on, brilliant. That's a fully accessible platform, it has, for example, a screen reader built in, I can navigate around I can hear everything I can hear spoken back to me everything I select on that screen. The apps that I select are not accessible, so I have the ability to go in and say “Hey Netflix is here, brilliant,” and I go into Netflix. And there's no way I can bros what the content is available to me, there's no way I can find out what's on. This is the problem, so you can build an accessible platform, but the content isn't accessible you've got a problem so every single aspect has to be designed and thought about and again, that is, about engaging with the community.
IB: Well Steven, many of our listeners are educational media developers and designers. How can we begin to implement and understand the methods and tools that can help make content more accessible?
SS: Well, first off never assume. I think that's very important to say never assume anything regarding all of these questions. I’ve used this saying a lot, which is ask always seek knowledge, simple as that, ask questions and to do that, you do have to speak to the disable the disability Community now. In my experience I’ve been on a number of, on the other side of this when I’ve sat on panels and assisted companies to get their product to be more accessible and again oftentimes I'm dealing with companies that are trying to retrofit accessibility in or fix a problem that already exists. It is so refreshing when you get a call from someone to say, can we talk about this we're building it from the ground up today and would like your input on this, and then we can add our voice to it but, again, there are lots of resources out there that are lots of resources wicked guidelines is really what everything is. As WCAG guidelines which many of you will probably be aware of, but that is a really important place to start because that gives you essentially the legal framework that is in place that tells you how I mean, in essence, the bare minimum of what needs to be accessible, we want companies we want educators, we want everyone frankly to exceed that. And the way to do that is to look at those guidelines but also engage with the community at large and ask people, people who you work with maybe everyday people you're aware of. What do they do, how they cope, how do they manage? And of course, it's about setting up frameworks, focus groups, engaging with a wide range of voices. If it's our own blindness, you need to get a grip of blind people in the room, but you also need to make sure that group has got a range of different site conditions so you're talking about low contrast high contrast you're talking about large text, you're also talking about screen reader compatibility, because if you're not if you're if you're just filling in one box and you're solving one problem that's great but you're not solving it across the board and then you'll have someone raise their hand, and say “But I can't use it” and suddenly it's inaccessible. So, again we design accessibility for all we are one we do it do for all, but you have to make sure you put all the tools and to make it possible, and then are guidelines for them.
IB: Why is it important to provide alt text and describe images?
SS: The answer to that is why, would you not want to know what a graphic is? Interestingly there's been a debate on this for many years in our Community about decorative images on websites, for example. When should you describe an image if it's a decorative image that is purely there, for example, it's a business website and perhaps as two people sitting staring each other very seriously, you know, having a meeting or whatever it is it's not necessary to describe. Well if it's important enough to put it onto the site, something that that makes the site feel more interesting or more engaging, then you would want your customer, your viewer, whoever is looking at it to get the information that is there. So yes, I do think decorative images all images should be available with alt text know there's a another debate that rages about what alt text should be, in my view. It is exactly what the images, no more, no less, simple as that, so, for example, if we're putting a picture up on Twitter have a group of people who individually, we can name, then we should we should see in this picture on. Of course I know you can tag and you can do things like that, with these images absolutely should you should use all that. But maybe we want to add extra information, maybe standing in front of the university campus building. You know, that information that will resonate with whoever's getting that information is, as simple as we have to make sure the content is available to as many people as possible because, why would you not want it to be? I think it often feels quite difficult when we have these conversations, because people often think we have to do more, or we have to give more. We don't, I don't believe we do, I think it's about giving the absolute information that we need to give; that's what alt text is about. It's a text description of what the images and it's so important because, from my point of view as a screen reader user when I go through Twitter, for example, and I get “wow look at this image,” what does that mean to me? That's what happens. If it's a letter, for example, someone posts a letter, here's what the guy said: image. Okay, what does that mean? So again having that alt text tells me what is in that image that is relevant, if it's a meme if it's or, whatever it is, dancing baby gif, whatever it is that you put up there is so important, you describe it, so we as blind people, we as a community are not losing out.
IB: And Steven a follow up question to, that is, do you think it’s best to keep it to just a few key words or be more descriptive?
SS: Keep it descriptive, keep it short, I think, is the key. There are there have been a few occasions where people have used alt text and I didn't get the joke, I didn't get the sub context, I didn't you know, almost a little bit of a the blind people will get this so that's cool, but then, my view is that then becomes exclusive to people who are not accessing that. We don't know the cost of inclusion can sometimes come at the cost of exclusion and that's why I disagree with, I think we have to make sure, everything is equal. We want an equal society, we want to be part of that society equally, we don't want special treatment. As a disabled person I want the same information everyone else's getting even if it was a picture of two beautiful cakes. I want to know about those cakes, the color of the frosting, whatever it might be if it's a cupcake or not, you know that's important to me, that the detail is key and again given to me in a very simple way in a very simple to understand, clear and concise way again there's nothing to consider here as a screen reader user I am bombarded with a voice in my head all day long.
IB: Wow, no way.
SS: I can keep the numbers in mind, or of what's in my head down a little bit that'd be great, but every interaction I have with a computer involves a voice. So if I’m hearing a voice all day I did not need to hear 280 characters explain, you know what to cupcakes are the next each other line.
IB: OK, for example, what was the experience like signing into ZOOM this morning?
SS: Coming onto this call today on to zoom I would probably have listened to at least two minutes worth of a voice just reading to me everything on the screen from the clicking the join button to, you know, clicking through to join with computer audio, checking my audio, checking what microphone, I was connected to all of that is read back to me in audio. So when you have that much verbosity in your life or that much audio in your life, you want to keep it at the least amount of verbosity as possible.
IB: Wow, well thank you Steven for sharing your perspective and for taking the time to start the conversation here with me today and with the MADE community. And to everyone who joined us today and to all of our listeners, please be sure to check out Steven on “Double Tap TV” on ami-tv and you can follow him on Twitter, @BlindGuyTech.
SS: I'm looking forward to it, and thank you for inviting me, I really do appreciate it, and you know we've just taken the first step, having the conversation has begun. And you know, when we pull our resources together and we can get the answers to these questions and then suddenly accessibility doesn't feel quite so scary does it?
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