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Tips for promoting blind and low vision accessibility

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Caroline Karbowski is not blind, but she’s become a major advocate for accessibility as the founder and CEO of See3D, Inc.

The nonprofit company prints and distributes 3D models for people who are blind, helping people learn through touch, everything from the body’s organs to maps of the United States. Now a senior at Ohio State, Karbowski founded See3D in high school. She was recently named Co-Next Generation Innovator of the Year by Ohio State’s Office of Research.

“It makes me so excited when a blind student now says they want to pursue biology because they touched a DNA model,” Karbowski said. “We are not just a service that provides models; we work on connecting the community and finding ways the world can be more accessible for blind people.”

And it turns out there are many ways all of us can help promote accessibility toward the blind. Here are some tips Karbowski highlights:

  1. Millions of blind and low-visibility Americans use screen readers. So make sure your online creations are screen-reader capable.

    Websites and apps: Got a website? Developing an app? Make sure it’s accessible to screen readers. Otherwise, blind people can’t use them, meaning you’ve not only eliminated an entire market, but you’ve excluded an entire community.

    “Make sure to run accessibility audit checkers on your website,” Karbowski said. “There’s a lot of resources online (like these) about how to make your website accessible.”

    Describe pictures: Whether it’s in social media, emails, an online flier or a Word or Google Doc, be sure to add descriptions of photos in alt text. Simply right click on the image and the alt text should pop up. You can even include photo descriptions in social media posts. Most social media platforms have an edit alt text in advanced settings when you upload your photo.

    “If you type in a description of an image,” Karbowski said, “especially for things like fliers if you’re having a party, type out all the details. Otherwise blind people won’t know the content.”

    Video captions: Same as with pictures, screen readers need video captions to work. If you can add audio descriptions, or at least a brief description in the video summary, that’s very helpful also.

    Hashtags: Pro tip — capitalize every word in a hashtag. Lower-cased hashtags cause screen readers to read one long, mashed up word. So go with #OhioState not #ohiostate.

  1. In your own community, there are many ways you can promote accessibility.

    At the movies: If you’re at a movie theater, you can ask for audio description (AD) headphones or even if audio description is available. “Sometimes employees forget about it. So the more people ask, the more practice the employees will have with the equipment,” Karbowski said. “Then when a blind person goes the next day, it’s not a problem they have to deal with.”

    It’s not only at the movies; streaming services need reminders also. If you notice audio descriptions aren’t available, let the service know. You can also advocate for AD in multiple languages, since currently it is often offered only in English. Read more here.

    At restaurants and bars: If you notice restaurants and bars aren’t using braille or large-print menus or signage is missing braille, bring it up to the employees. Maybe they need a new sign or just never considered braille menus. Organizations such as the Clovernook Printing House can make professionally transcribed braille menus. It’s also really helpful to have a screen reader accessible menu, and this can be provided with a QR code to the website menu or an accessible Word or Google Doc. You can use the heading styles in Word and Google Docs and make it large print so the document is easier to navigate.

    Streets: If you notice electronic street signs in your community don’t include audio, advocate for it. Here’s an organization that can help. You can also check to see if truncated domes (the bumpy bricks at the edge of sidewalks) are not weathered down. It can upgrade the safety of the intersection in a major way.

    In your organization, school or building: Braille should be on signage (elevators, restrooms, directories, room numbers, etc.). If it’s not, advocate for it. You can also check if dots have broken off the sign, and if you learn some braille, you can see if it was accidently installed upside down.

    If you’re at a school, you also can recommend accessible 3D learning models or talking lab equipment, along with tools that enhance accessibility, such as the JAWS screen reader , ZoomText magnifier, Fusion screen reader and magnifier or Aira, an app that helps blind people navigate campuses, buildings, transportation and more. What’s great is if you have an Ohio State email, you can download JAWS, ZoomText or Fusion for free on you PC since Ohio State has a multi-user license. If you are a Mac or iOS user, the screen reader VoiceOver is already on your device in settings.

    At events: “Be proactive,” Karbowski said. “In emails, make sure you have a contact for anyone who might need accommodations.” And of course, advocate for accessibility prior to and during an event.

    Interesting tidbit: Karbowski said at blindness conferences, people don’t raise their hand to ask a question or make a comment. They say their name to be called upon. Research has even shown this promotes familiarity among classes, increasing study groups. Caroline suggested raising hands and announcing names so D/deaf and hard of hearing people also know who would like to speak as well.

  1. In the end, accessibility really starts with you.

    The National Federation of the Blind has a fantastic guide to being courteous to the blind or people with low vision. It includes clarifying everything from how to help blind people navigate the world to avoiding rudeness.

    For now, take some final advice from Karbowski on how to identify blind people.

    “I tend to say blind and low vision,” she said. “People have a whole bunch of different ways they like to be described and identified, so just ask what they prefer. Also check out the many blindness organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind, American Council of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind when you have questions relating to blindness and accessibility.