light mode version of chapter 1 of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Shorts #2 drawings and accessibility improvements in the next HTML book format

The last few months have been hugely transitional. I have physically moved away from a toxic situation, and am still moving through a series of emotional steps away from it.

Part of my challenge is channeling anger into something productive. But the psychological work that takes has been exhausting, and I’m running on fumes. So it’s time to slow down a bit and prioritize where to put my energy.

Interacting regularly with other people takes a lot out of me. Which is why I haven’t been as active on social media. And my marketing efforts have taken a back seat.

Instead, I’ve been taking classes. One of them is helping me design better books for people who need to use assistive devices and software, such as screen readers. (The following video is not the same screen reader demo from the course materials, but it’s the closest one I could find publicly available.)

people with disabilities still have unequal access to education

I took a class called Disability Awareness and Support (University of Pittsburgh) to find out what I still needed to learn about accessibility, and it turns out there’s more to it than I thought. I assumed that digital documents were mostly accessible by default. But screen readers rely on proper formatting to read digital documents.

Some digital books and learning materials used in education are not easily accessible to people with disabilities. Some students have to drop classes, withdraw from programs of study, and even school, because the learning materials are difficult or impossible to access.

I chose this class to learn which types of assistive technologies I needed to design for and how to improve the user experience for everyone. HTML is the most accessible digital format for documents, and my focus has been on UX from the start, so my format was already pretty close.

Based on what I learned in the class and some testing for keyboard navigability, I added a couple of things for screen reader users.

dark mode version of chapter 1 of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

accessibility improvements in dark mode press books

The Darwin build, and every future build, will have three new features:

  1. A “skip to content” link at the top so screen reader users can go directly to the text without having navigation links and title page information read to them automatically.
  2. A linked table of contents in the body of the home page and the top of every other page in the desktop version. This makes it easier for screen reader users and anyone else who uses the keyboard for navigation.
  3. A light/dark mode toggle. Dark mode isn’t preferred by everyone at all times.

light mode version of chapter 1 of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

It’s hard to tell since the screenshot is against a dark background, but the background color I used for light mode is light gray, and the text is dark gray. Black text on a white background is hard on your eyes and can be a problem for people with dyslexia.

Counter-intuitively, the alt text for the cover images and decorative illustrations needed to come out.  It flies in the face of everything you’re taught about web design and content writing — it’s pretty much written in stone that each image shall have alt text studded with keywords. That makes sense for diagrams, graphs, or any other type of image intended to convey information.

But it doesn’t necessarily make sense for images that are just there for optics. After hearing the screen reader demo, I think it would bug me if the first thing I heard was an image description followed by the text. It doesn’t seem like that would add anything meaningful to the user’s experience.

Work in progress: redrawing this image (again) to show where robots go when they break down.

coming soon: new dark mode book and Shorts #2 illustrations

I found the missing diagram by William West in Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. So happy to have found that, because the passages that refer to it are terribly confusing without it. I’m still editing, but should be done pretty soon and ready to format it in HTML.

And since I’ll have a free download page soon, some of these dark mode press books will be freely available to everyone, and not just ₳da holders. I’ll compress them into ZIP files anyone can download, and they will be fully intact, portable websites that can be read offline.

Also, I received a new drawing tablet as an early Christmas gift (thanks, Mom!) so I can finish Shorts #2 true to style. The markers are fun to play and sketch with, but I can’t get the colors right.

So all the analog drawings are going into the Love Machine accordion sketchbook that I haven’t figured out what to do with yet. And I must again alter the composition for the one I’m currently working on, “I’ll Save You, My Friend!” This series has been like pulling teeth. My own teeth. With 16th century dental tools. Sometimes making art is just like that.

A lot of good stuff is on the way, and I’m more excited about my work now than ever, even if I’m not tweeting about it as often.

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