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Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus information accessibility lacking for people with vision disabilities in Australia

young blind woman with headphone using computer with refreshable braille display
Photo: Dreamstime

A Monash University study has found that graphical information relating to the COVID-19 pandemic regularly presented in mainstream media is inaccessible to people who are blind and have low vision.

Researchers from Monash University’s Faculty of Information Technology (IT) found nearly half of people with low vision disabilities surveyed wanted improved access to information about daily COVID-safe living practices.

The dissemination of information has been a critical component of the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With much of this information presented as visual graphics, a team of researchers from the Faculty of IT examined the nature and accessibility of the information shared through various media outlets.

A total of 63 sighted and 20 low vision people participated in the survey. Despite 79 percent of BLV people reporting that they were all well-informed, there were significant differences between sighted and low vision respondents regarding the type of topics being accessed.

BLV people had only 30 percent exposure to data and graphically presented information, such as those relating to infections by geographical location, case numbers over time, and ‘flattening the curve’ visualisations.

This study aims to understand BLV people’s information and accessibility in current and future public emergencies and calls for a more inclusive response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Project Lead, Leona Holloway, is a Research Assistant in the Faculty of IT’s Inclusive Technologies Research Group and Australia’s representative on the International Council’s executive on English Braille (ICEB). She believes this study has identified the need to offer information that is accessible to all consistently.

“While there are some instances in which the COVID-19 information being shared by the government and media is accessible to BLV people, it is not being done so consistently enough for BLV people to be able to rely on that source of information or feel included in the audience messaging,” Ms Holloway said.

“By not consistently sharing information that is accessible to all, we endanger those within our community who are already at high risk, due to their reliance on touching public surfaces, or their difficulty in following social distancing measures because they’re unable to see queuing markers on the floor.”

Forty-five percent of the low vision respondents had relied on sighted assistance to access COVID-19 information, suggesting that the information was not available in accessible or easy-to-use formats. One in five low vision people wanted more information about how COVID-19 compared to other diseases and epidemics.

“Information is not being provided on the same basis to those of us who have a vision disability as it is to sighted people (and) this is potentially placing us at an increased risk of contracting the virus through unknowingly entering some hotspots,” shared an anonymous survey respondent.

“Our study found that BLV respondents relied heavily on news programs for their information. However, because these outlets often summarised the key information rather than providing direct access to the data, BLV people were unintentionally denied the opportunity to scrutinise the information themselves and make their own well-informed decisions,” Professor Marriott said.

Other key findings of the study identified that television and radio news outlets, along with government or health institution channels, were the most popular information sources for all respondents. Community groups were much more important sources of information because of their ability to provide additional information and advice on low vision people’s issues.

This research paper will be presented at the 22nd International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility, October 26-28.

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