Accessibility 5: That’s Style

Unlock your writing so that everyone can read it: picture of pen, keyboard and padlock.

Using the shortcut which is the software app, I can ‘program’ documents that only forty years ago you would have to be an actual programmer to construct. I can touch an icon with my finger of a touchscreen, or press a key with a function prepared behind it, or just select an option from the toolbar, and a whole set of decisions get carried out by my computer without my knowing anything about it.

For example, I can go to the ribbon at the top of the screen in Word, and I can click on the ‘Home’ tab on that ribbon. There is a ‘Styles’ panel and I can click on that. I can select a style. I can right-click on that style, and I get a drop-down. I can click the ‘Modify’ option. A whole new window opens that lets me define the style: 90% grey, 12pt, Arial font. From now on, that formatting appears wherever in the text I have applied that style. Whenever I modify the style, all the affected text, using that style, is modified in one go.

Even putting in those formatting changes one by one is a kind of shortcut. If I click the icon for bold, the computer understands that I want all the code that goes with bold; or italics, or left alignment, with those icons. It’s like an automatic car, even if it’s not quite a driverless car. I do not need to understand how the machinery works, only how to work it.

Yet there is a reason we still need to know about this. That’s screenreaders.

Screenreaders are computers that read out what a document says to a human being. The human being may not be able to see at all, or they may have low vision, or they may find it hard (for one reason or another) to sustain concentration; any people you could describe like that might use a screenreader. But screenreaders are not people. They are computers, and they do not see the screen.

The screenreader engages directly with the code. If you have not got the code right, your document is not accessible; which means: if you do not use the app in the ways that the app is meant to be used, your document is not accessible.

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Proofreader, editor, writer — in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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