Gold condenser microphone and computer editing audio Photo by Seej Nguyen

Accessibility and Inclusivity Matter to Word Forest

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At Word Forest we are always looking for ways to improve how we tell our stories about the climate emergency. Electronic accessibility or e-accessibility is one of the hottest growing accessibility trends of 2023 and it is so important as it relates to the way information on the Internet can be accessed better by people with visual, auditory or other impairments. 

According to the Royal National Institute for the Blind, 2 million people in the UK live with sight loss[1] and according to the Government UK Health Security Agency, 11 million people have partial or total inability to hear in one or both ears.[2] This is a huge national, and global, issue that we need to address as best we can.

Visitors to our website who have visual impairments will recognise the blue accessibility symbol on the top right of each page which offers a range of viewing options including a monochrome screen, various font and background colours, high contrast and different typefaces. Also, last year, our colleague, Sue Jueno, did a terrific job of removing gender bias by degendering our range of ethical fundraising apparel. Despite these huge strides forward, we know this is not enough and it’s time to up our game on accessibility. Therefore, by World Sight Day on the 12th October 2023, we are endeavouring to have recorded and uploaded all 457 articles in our news feed. There will also be audio players on every page on our website and we wish to give readers the option of having a black screen with yellow writing (which is a favoured option for people with visual impairments).

Head of IT and co-founder, Simon West comments: “It’s easy enough to address hearing loss by ensuring you always have an option for subtitles in videos. Solving that for historic blog entries is going to take time but I’m confident we’ll get there pole, pole (Kiswahili for slowly).”

Empowerment and equality sit at the heart of Word Forest’s mission. Our goal to have the recordings done by humans (not AI) – so that we have an eclectic range of voices, ages, genders and accents telling our stories – has resulted in a call out on Reach Volunteering and to a couple of our Corporate Partners for enthusiastic readers!

The driver behind this accessibility boost is our CEO, 57 year old Tracey West, who was born deaf in one ear. She explains: “Struggling to hear adequately has been a life-long challenge. I can usually work around it. In meetings, I try to position myself towards the front and on the left so I can hear ‘the room’. That doesn’t always work once people start getting animated and moving around. I lip read too which helps a lot.”

“Simon and I are also learning to sign because my hearing is deteriorating and he wears two hearing aids. I know we’re going to find the new signs recently added to BSL really useful, although I suspect it just means we’re going to be able to get cross in another language”, she jests.

Over the past 12 months, Tracey has been beset by two aggressive cataracts, resulting in two procedures to get her vision back on track. She has another more complex eye issue now and has another operation due soon. Over the last year, she has experienced how isolated a person can be made to feel when they have a major visual impairment.

Tracey explains: “Learning how to cope with ongoing, worsening sight has been unbelievably debilitating. It made looking at books and magazines very difficult and tiring, even when I used typoscopes. Looking at stuff on the Internet was a nightmare, and now I’m rising up from a year of darkness and I need to ensure that Word Forest’s storytelling abilities are as good as they can be.”

Helen Roberts was the Education Trustee at Word Forest until recently. She sadly had to retire from her role in 2022 due to worsening macular degeneration. Helen added: “I have just discovered that Word Forest is implementing more accessibility functions on their website.This is an incredible leap forward for the visually impaired! This offering is incredibly important to me and other visually impaired and blind souls. Well done Word Forest for this pioneering move. I’m not aware of any other websites doing this at the moment – well done indeed!”

In July 2023, Word Forest was honoured as a recipient of the NatWest SE100 award. It’s considered to be a benchmark of excellence in the social enterprise sector recognising sustainable practices alongside a profound commitment to social impact. For research purposes, Word Forest examined a sample of 60% of the other SE100 recipients to see what visual and/or audible accessibility options they offered. None of them had any recordings of news features, or audio descriptions of web pages, and none of them offered any accessibility options for visually impaired readers.”Simon concludes: “People have been talking about accessibility for ages, and there is no doubt that some things have improved. My experience supporting Tracey and some of our volunteers with vision problems is that not enough has been done. For developers to make websites accessible, it can be as simple as a couple of clicks and some configuration settings. It’s disheartening to find that so few seem to pay any attention to this but I am proud to lead this pioneering charge to making our site fully accessible. I hope it goes on to inspire other organisations to follow our lead!”

Alice Ripley and The Team

1. (Retrieved: 2023-08-15)
2. (Retrieved: 2023-08-15)

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