Technology has been the real game changer in removing the barriers to participation of persons with disabilities. The visually impaired can now have easy access to e-books and navigate most of the Internet with the help of screen readers. The deaf and hard of hearing can enjoy closed captioning and sign language interpretation for video material. Many persons with disabilities who were thought to be "nonverbal" are making their voices heard through modified keyboards. People who face immense barriers in even leaving their homes, be it on account of psychosocial impairments or fatigue, have built thriving communities and peer support with the power of their mobile phones. Technology has also enabled people without disabilities to learn from the lived experiences of people with disabilities, and perhaps help build a sense of empathy towards their specific needs with regard to inclusion. A contributor to Wikipedia may have a lot to draw from the lived experiences of persons with disabilities, especially in terms of understanding impairments and other disabling health conditions.

Universal design

In general, while designing systems or services adhering to the principle of 'universal design' is the best option to include the needs of all people, not just persons with disabilities16.

Video: "What is Universal Design?"

One of the most important aspects of universal design is the use of 'plain language'. There are many benefits to plain language usage, including the fact that it works better when machine translated into other languages. The layout of documents written in simple language is overall more user friendly and helps readers find specific information quickly. Writing Wikipedia entries in plain language -- these guidelines are an example18 -- would be an example of universal design. The present practice of a separate 'Simple English Wikipedia' is not, as it is specifically meant for a separate audience.

[Editor's note: English Wikipedia Manual of Style forbids "editorialising"19 and the use of euphemisms20 . It encourages the use of plain language instead of phrasing that specially caters to the sensibilities of one or more sections of the readership. For example, it is acceptable to write that the subject of a biographical article "died" instead of "passed away". Referring to someone as "blind" or "disabled" is also acceptable21.

The core policy for civility [WP:Civil], which forbids the use of profanity, vulgar language, et cetera, prevails over most of the other rules, policies and guidelines on Wikipedia and its sister projects. However, there are major disagreements between Wikipedia contributors who do not want political correctness to take over the representation of encyclopedic knowledge and those who want language to be acceptable to certain sensibilities. These differences are resolved by acknowledging in the article that certain terms may be considered offensive or pejoratives in certain contexts, geographies, languages, et cetera. For example, the article entitled "Spastic" states, "Colloquially, spastic can be pejorative; though severity of this differs between the United States and the United Kingdom. Disabled people in the United Kingdom consider "spastic" to be one of the most offensive terms related to disability." In some other cases, contributors arrive upon words acceptable to all sides.]

Other good practices to make content universally designed include:

  1. Captioning photos with clear descriptions: There may be options for 'alt-text'. This benefits users who use screen readers and also those with slow or patchy Internet connections that do not load pictures. If this is not an option, a brief description of the photograph in accompanying text will also be readable by a screen reader. (Refer to Jennifer Stuton's "A Guide to Making Documents Accessible to People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired"22 and
  2. Closed captioning of video content: YouTube supports automated subtitles for videos in English but it is not very accurate. If you have made a video based on a script or speech or lecture, you can upload the subtitle file of the video to YouTube and YouTube will synchronise it for you. For detailed instructions about how to add and edit captions to a YouTube video, refer to:
  3. Audio description of videos: Audio description is like a voiceover meant to narrate what is happening on screen to viewers who cannot see it. Audio description is important where the visuals have some narrative value. Refer to 'You Describe'23 for instructions about how to add audio description to any YouTube video.
  4. Transcripts of podcasts: While transcription helps the hearing impaired, it is also of use to people who are not able to listen to the podcast for other reasons. There are several options for transcribing audio to text which can be made available online. Happy Scribe24 is one such application. Note that it is a paid service.
  5. Sign language interpretation: This is very helpful for the Deaf community. Sign language is not a translation of spoken language. Sign language is not the same across the entire world. If you want to provide sign language interpretation for your video, ensure that you use an interpreter who is conversant with the sign language used by your target audience. Provide the material for interpretation in advance to the interpreter. Offer to help if the interpreters need better understanding of any concept, as this will impact the quality of interpretation. Get feedback from a Deaf individual on their understanding of the video before posting it. It is recommended to provide both captions and sign language interpretation wherever possible. Refer to the W3G guidelines for "Including a sign language interpreter in the video stream"25.
  6. Infographics: Infographics are all the rage but not all of them are accessible. If an infographic is interactive, ensure you have an explainer on how to use it. Some more tips on how to make infographics accessible to all are available at Piktochart26 . Additionally, you may refer to the W3G working draft on accessibility needs for people with low vision27 . While a simple solution is to type out whatever the infographic says, you can also try an audio clip of someone explaining the infographic, which may be more appealing to readers having difficulty accessing the visualisation.
next: Footnotes