When Accessible Content Meets an Inaccessible Interface

This post describes the results of submitting a paper about accessibility to an organization that does not follow best practices for accessibility. We submitted the paper to the Society for Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD), and we also recorded a video for their virtual conference. The links to download the paper and watch the video are listed near the end of this post.

Highlights from our paper

Our paper is:

“Strategies for Incorporating Anti-ableism Into Design Curriculum” by Audra Buck-Coleman, Cheryl Fogle-Hatch, and Robin Marquis.

In this paper, we share reflections about incorporating accessibility into student projects in graphic design classes. Audra Buck-Coleman taught the University of Maryland students who created the exhibit Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility. Robin and I served as consultants on the exhibit answering student questions in class and offering feedback on their content. Naturally, we filled a similar role in writing this paper commenting on Audra’s drafts.

Here are some highlights from this paper.

“disability is caused by the way society is organized and designed. For example, a person is not disabled because they use a wheelchair but rather because the building was not designed with an elevator to give them access to all floors.”

“Recruit collaborators from the disability community to share their experiences and to co-design with students throughout the project. “Nothing about us without us” is the motto of the disability community for good reason. Too many assumptions about their needs and the best ways to meet them have been uninformed, ineffective, and insulting. Invite people who not only have a disability but are also knowledgeable about related issues and are willing to work with those who are not.”

“Design with multi-sensory and duplication in mind. In this case, more is more.”

“Don’t wait for perfection. Communication is key to building trust with people with disabilities. Give audience members a clear idea of how and if they would be able to navigate a space. They then have the autonomy to decide whether they visit or not.”

Another Paper Recommendation

One other paper on accessibility was included in the conference and the journal issue.

“Cripping the Crit: Towards a More Accessible Design Academy” by Gabi Schaffzin.

This paper discusses obstacles that students with disabilities face when taking design classes. I highly recommend it.

Access Limitations

SEGD is not following best practices for accessibility. We discovered this as we were preparing to present our work in their virtual conference in June of 2021.

We felt that it was important for us to model best practices for accessibility by including captions and ASL interpretation in our video presentation. When Audra contacted the event organizers, she learned that they had not made provisions for captions or ASL interpretation. Therefore, we pre-recorded our presentation to include both ASL and captions.

watch our video.

Publication Issues

Given the lack of awareness about accessible videos, I was expecting to find problems with the accessibility of the SEGD journal, Communication + Place.

The pdf that is provided is a single file containing the entire journal issue.

The pdf was recognized as text, so it is readable by screen readers (voice output) software used by people who are blind. However, there are significant problems with the pdf that hinder navigation.

•            Each scanned page includes facing print pages (even and odd). This means that the page numbers in the journal issue do not match the page numbers in the pdf file. It is impossible to navigate directly to a specific page.

•            The document does not have headings at the beginning of each paper so they cannot be easily located.

•            Paper titles are not presented as hyperlinks in the Table of Contents, so titles cannot be activated to go directly to each paper.

It is difficult to navigate this file with a keyboard. I assume that people using a mouse will also find navigation time-consuming because they must scroll through many pages searching for a specific paper.

Citations and Download Link

Here are the full citations for papers mentioned in this post.

Buck-Coleman, Audra, Cheryl Fogle-Hatch, and Robin Marquis.

2021, “Strategies for incorporating anti-ableism into design curriculum” Communication + Place, PP. 130-141.

Schaffzin, Gabi.

2021, “Cripping the Crit: Towards a More Accessible Design Academy”, Communication + Place, pp. 112-119.

Download the journal issue.

about exhibits publications tactile

2020 in review

In December 2020, as I reflect on the year, I am struck by how completely the closure of physical spaces pushed activity online. My work was no exception. Meetings became conference calls, physical exhibits moved to websites, and in-person conferences were transformed into online presentations.

collaboration was another theme for this year. I am thankful for the contributions of my smart and talented colleagues who contributed to the work that I produced in 2020.

The Unintended Consequences of Current Events

I found myself reflecting on how responses to the coronavirus pandemic affected people with disabilities. Here are essays that I wrote with colleagues for an online exhibit called

Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility

The Interconnectedness of Covid-19 to Discrimination Against The Disabled

Bearing Witness to The Ableism Embedded Within The Pandemic

Covid-19 and Museums

A major theme of 2020 as finding ways to safeguard access to touch objects.

In this post written for the American Alliance of Museums, colleagues and I strongly recommend that museums produce re-usable tactile handouts so that individuals can borrow their own touch objects.

Staying In Touch Addressing Concerns to Allow Tactile Exploration at Museums

This post summarizes a presentation about accessible touch objects.

MCN-2020 Presentation Accessible Touch Objects

Here is another essay that I wrote for the Redefine/ABLE exhibit about tactile art before and during a pandemic.

Please Do Touch The Art

Documenting the Museum Experiences of people who are blind

Early in 2020, I presented work about museum exhibits before the pandemic. As far off as that seems now, there are still valuable data for making improvements when physical museums re-open.

Assessing Attitudes of Blind Adults About Museums

Bring Your Own Device BYOD Programming Facilitates Accessibility For People Who Are Blind Or Have Low Vision

Here is an article that Jo Morrison wrote summarizing the papers included in our MuseWeb 2020 conference panel.

Voice User Interfaces And Multi-modal Accessibility

Finally, 2020 saw the release of one of our papers that was delayed in the publication process.

Designing a portable museum display of Native American stone projectile points (arrowheads) to ensure accessibility and tactile quality.

accessibility exhibits publications tactile

Please Do Touch The Art

My second essay written for the Redefine/ABLE exhibit is titled Please Do Touch the Art

The essay is a discussion of tactile art. When I wrote the first draft in February 2020, it was about the need for more tactile objects in museums.

Then the coronavirus pandemic started, touching objects became taboo, and that essay required significant revisions. Now, it includes recommendations about safely touching objects in museum exhibits, and it links to a few resources. I offer this essay as a conversation-starter because I plan to revisit this topic in the near future.

accessibility exhibits publications



During the 2019-2020 academic year, I consulted with the 2020 University of Maryland, College Park graphic design cohort that researched and created an exhibit about disability, ableism, and the benefits of universal design. Ableism is the discrimination against those with disabilities. Universal design counteracts ableism. Universal design is an approach to creating systems, spaces and objects that meet the needs of all people.

Originally designed as a multi-site, cross-platform exhibition, due to the COVID-19 pandemic Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility is now an online experience that addresses diversity, inclusion and ableism. It seeks to engage audiences about the successes and challenges of persons with disabilities in Maryland and beyond.

The Covid-19 pandemic became a discussion topic for this exhibit. The project director and I wrote this essay examining the effects of post-pandemic responses on people with disabilities.

We also submitted this Q&A to another University of Maryland blog.

Additional content will be added to the Redefine/ABLE project website during July and August 2020. It will remain online after that date. I would like to thank the project team for their dedication to this project and their determination to display it virtually.