Accessibility in #SciArt and #DataViz

Photo of artist Vicky Bowskill working at her desk

I’ve recently discovered the excellent Data Viz Today podcast with Alli Torban and was delighted to discover episode 63 with Frank Elavsky on how to integrate accessibility into DataViz with tons of great advice and resources. As a neurodivergent scientist and visual communicator this issue is close to my heart and deserves considered attention in every project. Check out the full episode and show notes at https://dataviztoday.com/shownotes/63.

As discussed in this episode, digital accessibility is a big topic and can feel overwhelming. Rather than aiming to immediately make every piece of content completely accessible (awesome as that would be), try making each piece just a bit more accessible than the last.

Visual summary outlining the process of commissioning SciArt illustration with Vicky Bowskill.

There are some easy things that will make a big difference to lots of people. Here are a few things I actively consider when producing my own visual summaries and infographics:

  • Text: I limit the number of different script styles and keep text mainly on the horizontal unless it’s visually useful to break from that. This can help neurodivergent readers.
  • Contrast: I never use black on white text, which can be difficult for dyslexic readers, but maintain sufficient contrast for other visual impairments. Here’s a handy contrast checker that I use.
  • Colour: I use a limited colour palette and avoid highly saturated colours behind text as this can overwhelm autistic readers. And I never rely on colour alone to convey meaning, which can disadvantage colour blind readers; it should still make sense in greyscale.
  • Moving images: One of my biggest pet peeves is the increasing use of moving images on webpages and now even emails – often with no ‘stop’ option. This can cause considerable visual distress to neurodivergent readers making content completely inaccessible. These should default to off with an option to play for those who want the extra visual stimulation.

Things I aim to get better at: Alt text and image descriptions! I often forget these and there is an art to making them useful. There is a lot of advice out there and one trick is to follow @AltTxtReminder on Twitter – a bot that will pop an infuriating-but-useful reminder into your DMs every time you tweet without Alt Text. Gradually training me to remember this!

Online accessibility is an evolving issue as the way we consume content continues to change and it’s so important that we remember to include everyone as we go. What are your digital accessibility tips?

Further reading

Designing for accessibility https://accessibility.blog.gov.uk/2016/09/02/dos-and-donts-on-designing-for-accessibility/

Science Communication for Ecologists and Environmental Managers https://vickybowskill.com/2021/11/24/webinar-scicomm/

DataViz Today Episode 63 https://dataviztoday.com/shownotes/63

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