Barriers for the visually Impaired - an Interview with the Editor Saskia

I talk to the visually impaired editor Saskia von der Burg about the digital challenges.

Domingos: Welcome to a new podcast on digital accessibility. Today I have another guest with me, Saskia from the castle. Saskia works as a freelancer and is visually impaired. Today we want to look at the challenges that visually impaired people face when using technology. First of all, thank you very much for taking the time. Just introduce yourself to those listening.

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Saskia's career and visual impairment

Saskia: I live in Cologne, am a freelance journalist and now also work as an inclusion coach in the field of communication and another PR agency here in Cologne. I'm almost blind myself, so according to my ID I'm blind, but still a little Sightrest. This means that I can see at very close distances, but I have tube vision. That means I can't see what's coming from the right or left and as you can hear, I had a tracheostomy due to an operation and that's why my breathing is a bit restricted.

Domingos: Interesting, so you're basically legally blind but, if I understand correctly, you work more visually.

Saskia: Right, I work with a magnification program, that's Zoomtext. Well, I tried various things, including others, but I got along best with this one. I try to do as much as possible about the rest of my vision and the things that don't work or take too long, I do using voice control.

Domingos: You already mentioned that you have tube vision. Maybe you can use examples, which I think will be more understandable, to explain how visual impairment affects you, for example when using a computer.

Saskia: Sure. So in everyday life, the view is actually more of a problem. That means when I run around outside, when I'm alone I just run around with a long stick. But I can't see at all if someone is coming from the right or left, which is of course a huge problem with e-scooters, people riding bicycles and because I simply can't avoid or react. On the computer, I sit very close to the screen, so I have a 20 inch monitor or two next to each other. One is for the reading device, with which I can edit printed texts and the other is for my PC work. I sit very close to it and have an enlargement program that basically enlarges the entire screen to around level six to seven, depending on the day.

Challenges of visually impaired people at the computer

Domingos: What are the computer challenges with using magnification software?

Saskia: Well, you have to remember a lot because you obviously have a very small section. So other people who are normally sighted can read a text sideways. I just can't do that, so I just have to move the mouse line by line, remember where the buttons are on the monitor that I have to use in my work, whether I have to go right or left. A colleague of mine who was watching the screen at the time always said it's crazy, I just see you darting back and forth and I have no idea where you are on the screen.

Domingos: Do you actually use a smartphone intensively? It's all relatively small.

Saskia: Totally, that's actually my main tool now because it gives me a lot of freedom and independence. So I have an iPhone, the largest of the three versions there are.

I mainly use it with magnification, so of course I have to hold it very close to my eyes, which often leads to stupid comments from bystanders who don't know me.

But it helps me a lot and I also do some things with voice control, so when it's plugged into the socket I tell it to read a WhatsApp message. or if there are longer texts, then I also mark them here and then have them read out, because it's so tiring for me otherwise.

Domingos: From your personal perspective, what are the biggest barriers to using computers or smartphones?

Saskia: Well, I know both sides. I'm also an online editor at Funk. That means I also work in the so-called backend, so I'm also there to fill homepages.

It depends a bit on the software you work with and the topic you work on. For example, I obviously can't edit images myself. I basically always hand this over to a colleague, who then uploads and crops pictures for me when called upon. Thankfully, you can now delete a lot of buttons that you don't need in your daily work, so that my overview at work becomes a little better.

From a user perspective, I think the biggest problem for me is clarity, which means that pages are often developed and accessibility is taken into account, but in my opinion it's too late. So then the page is already there and then it says, we're testing it now instead of maybe getting those affected on board beforehand, letting them work together and saying there could be problems here and there.

For example, I often have the problem that the action behind a link is not stored. This means that I am then told that there is a table of contents, for example. This will then be read down completely. But I don't have any information anywhere that I can click on to get to a specific section that actually interests me.

Also all these “we use cookies”: These buttons or these fields are a problem because I have to look on the screen every time to find out where is that, where do I have to click/accept it? I find this difficult on both the smartphone and the big screen.

I find forms incredibly difficult, because it's quite often that you enter something wrong somewhere or have overlooked something, at least for me, and then it doesn't go any further and then somewhere on the screen it often appears in red or light green or something like that, colors that I find a bit difficult to recognize, that something is missing, most of the time it is not even communicated what is missing and I find that incredibly difficult.

Visually impaired people hardly appear in the discourse

Domingos: Personally, I actually work primarily blind, but I also have a small amount of vision. I have the impression that the needs of visually impaired people are extremely different. So for blind people the needs are a bit more uniform and for visually impaired people it is extremely different because visual impairments are also different. What is your impression?

Saskia: I think so. So it depends on the lighting conditions, I now need a light background. With a dark background I can work better with white font on a black background.

Domingos: If you had one wish for the programmers of websites/software etc., or several, what would it be that would help you the most?

Saskia: Well, I already mentioned one point: that it is considered early on and also broadly considered that accessibility is maintained, so that attention is not only paid to alternative texts in images, which is also very important, but also to the fact that that the jump labels are stored properly, that forms have to be filled out correctly, that broader consideration is given. I know that the teams that do this are relatively small, so although there is the will to implement it and it is regulated by law, there is a lack of staff. I mean, why don't you get people who are affected themselves to test early or generally to work in an editorial team or a team that is committed to accessibility.

Domingos: My impression is, that's why we're actually conducting the interview, that the requirements of visually impaired people, even though they are a much larger group than blind people, are actually not that well known. So somehow almost all the articles on the subject of accessibility that I read are about screen readers, but that is relatively irrelevant for the visually impaired, whether the website is easy to use with a screen reader, how do you see that?

Saskia: Well, I think it's still like that. This prejudice that visual impairment equals blindness. I mean, I know it from my own everyday life when I'm walking around with a blind cane and someone comes up to me and asks me or I overhear that someone is looking for a way. I can help in this situation: “you have to walk here and there”. People are completely irritated that I know the way.

I think you want to cover the group of blind people, which is important, but then you forget that there are thousands of other variants of visual impairment or impairments in general. It's so diverse and I think a lot still needs to be done become.

Domingos: The last question: If people want to follow you or your activities, where is the best place to do that?

Saskia: You can find out more about me via the homepage, it's relatively new, I introduce myself and my activities, the same on Instagram , the best way to find it is on my homepage.

Domingos: Thank you for taking the time for the interview this afternoon and good luck in the future.

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