Blogging is hailed as an equalizer on the web. Anyone with a laptop, an internet connection, and a decent command of their own native language can speak their mind on any topic via a blog. It’s that easy.
Or, it should be.
When I hear fellow bloggers talking about spending 3 hours a day on their blogs I know they’re not spending that entire time writing just 2 posts a week. They’re updating interlinks, setting up monetization, downloading plugins, and a dozen other tasks I haven’t yet figured out how to find time for, or how to access in the first place.
Hi, I’m Anneliese, blogger, author, mental health counselor, and blindfluencer. Your hostess graciously offered me her platform for the day to share my thoughts on accessibility issues for blind bloggers. I hope today you’ll gain a new appreciation for the time and energy my fellow blindfluencers and I have to invest in using our voices in the global conversation.
In preparation for this post I reached out to other blindfluencers for insights into the challenges they face when building and maintaining their platforms. Their experiences mirrored my own. Living with a disability takes time, more time than life normally does. But beyond that, as far as technology has advanced in terms of the capacity for accessibility, accessibility is not yet considered at the foundational level of new technologies and new tools.
Until accessibility is written into the baseline code of every website, tool, add-on, and plugin, until it is a de facto part of design, we the disabled will always have to work twice as hard to be heard alongside our able-bodied peers.
Challenge #1: Variations on a Theme
I bought my domain name, paid for my hosting plan, set up a username and password, and opened the site builder. It was time to launch a blog, and I was inspired and ready to get writing. Of course, I knew there’d be aesthetic decisions like where to put headers, widgets, side bars, and menus, but I thought it shouldn’t be too hard to drag and drop elements where I wanted them, like the hosting website had advertised.
Then I discovered themes. These templates with pre-arranged elements ought to have made my life easier. A single click and everything falls into place, right?
But if you can’t see the theme, then how do you know what elements are on offer, let alone where they are?
“You mean I can’t even set up a blog without getting someone sighted to help me?”
While I did enlist the help of a friend whose aesthetic and marketing sense I trust implicitly, I found it very ironic that this tool of universal communication still left me begging for support. I thought “am I just doing it wrong? Are there other tools that would have solved this problem that other blindfluencers found out about? Did I just not work hard enough?”
Here’s Holly on the same subject. Check out her fantastic content here, by the way:
“When transferring from a free WordPress site to a self-hosted site, finding a theme was rather difficult – in fact, it was almost impossible without enlisting the help of sighted family members. I was able to determine themes that were accessible, but I had no idea what they looked like., when initially setting up my blog, I needed a lot of sighted help with the initial set-up and design to ensure that I wanted to get it the way I wanted.”
Challenge #2: The Pictures Worth a Thousand Words
Fun fact: The average length of a blog post is a thousand words. On some of the more informative blogs it can settle around 1500, but most of the time you’re reading about a picture’s worth of someone’s ideas formed into more or less elegant prose. But of course, these posts often come with pictures, too…
In fact, if you jump over to my blog you’ll see I use a few of those on occasion, too. But how, you might wonder, does a blind blogger take pictures? Well, you can check out this post to learn about the surprising and invisible world of blind photographers. But like most blind people, I find taking pictures, let alone editing them, prohibitively complicated. Though my iPhone now tells me if a face is centered or the object in focus is level, I have no concept of lighting and struggle to crop appropriately.
Yet dozens of how-to blog posts, eBooks, and guides all proclaim the importance of good images and offer links to dozens of free stock photo libraries.
Problem solved, right?
These wonderful libraries full of thousands of stock photos lack a little thing called “alt text.” When I, as a screen reader user like this blindfluencer describes in her post on accessible technology, run my mouse over an image my screen reader says either “image” or “an image of a chestnut-toned German shepherd curled up on a white fluffy dog bed.” The latter is an image which includes alt text, a line of text attached to the image for the purpose of interpreting the image for screen readers.
I have yet to find a stock photo library which includes alt text for its offerings. Yet I, like the rest of you, live in a world where vision is considered a person’s primary sense, the first way they engage with the world. Being able to catch the eye of my readers is a task I often have to delegate to a sighted friend.
A thousand of my words chosen by someone else. Is it still my voice?
Challenge #3: Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?
Many partially blind computer users still make use of the mouse-and-pointer combination to navigate websites, word processors, games, and other programs. But there are far more partially blind and totally blind computer users who find the tiny arrow flitting across the screen entirely impossible to use. And when programs like website hosting services and word processors don’t have keyboard short-cuts built into their fundamental functions these programs are added to the long list of inaccessible technologies.
The practical outcome of this is that if a blind keyboard short-cut-user is navigating around a website builder, she can only be aware of the features her keys take her to. She goes unaware of dozens of tools and options that could boost the functionality and ratings of her blog. Her voice is stunted by the blinders put on her by the simple failure to account for her presence in the blogosphere.
I don’t like writing about problems I can’t propose solutions for. I don’t really like writing about problems in general. This post was uncomfortable, yet also cathartic, for me to write. Everyone faces challenges. Some are easier to spot than others. Some are more easily solved. Here is the final thought I want to leave you with when considering the challenges faced by blind bloggers.
We accept the difficulties. We write anyway.
We accept the workload because we have something to say.
We accept the challenges because we believe that readers want our words, and every time someone likes, shares, subscribes to, or comments we are proven right.
About the author:
Anneliese Knop, aLC, is a mental health counselor, fantasy author, and self-proclaimed “blindfluencer.” She published her first novel in 2021, and blogs about life as a blind woman with a service dog here on The Dark side.