Doing Visual Research from a Disability Studies Perspective

As usual, I’m caught up in the language. I’m searching for some resources to help me figure out how to use visuals in ways that are accessible to people who use text-readers and other technologies. If I’m going to use visual research methods for a disability studies-oriented project, I need to carefully account for the affordances and limits of using such methods. (Or at least I need to hold myself accountable for thinking through visual accommodations). Since I’m starting/documenting this research on this blog, I thought I’d start looking into visual accessibility by figuring out how to make the blog itself more accessible.

Like the millennial I am, I started with Google. My first search terms included “image descriptions for vision impaired,” “how to make my blog more accessible,” and “how to make my blog more disability friendly.” My inner rhetorician was on high alert; I don’t like calling people “impaired,” but I thought that the phrase might be a commonly used in advocacy communities and would thus generate more results. From these searches, I found a few useful pages/articles (listed in the order I discovered them):

A). The American Foundation for the Blind has a page specifically dedicated to making your blog accessible to blind readers.  They offer seven “tips” that I’ve copied here:

  1. Choose an Accessible Service
  2. Describe Your Images
  3. Avoid the Dreaded “Click Here” or “More…”!
  4. Put Your Blogroll on the Right-Hand Side
  5. Check the Comment Form—Is It Labeled Properly?
  6. Use Flexible Font Sizes
  7. Don’t Force Links to Open in New Windows

B) “The Transcontinental Disability Choir: How to Make Your Blog Accessible in Five Not-Very-Complicated Steps,” a 2009 Bitch Media article by Anna Pearce offers five similar steps that I’ve paraphrased:

  1. Use transcripts
  2. Describe pictures
  3. Make link text relevant (i.e. not click here or more information)
  4. Don’t over-ride browser defaults, especially for text size
  5. Check out how your blog looks in multiple browsers
  6. Pearce mentions that, as a bonus, you can test your website to see how accessible it is – very helpful!

C)  A WordPress community post by Siobhan McKeown titled “25 Ways to Make Your WordPress Site More Accessible” covered all of these items and a few more, which I’ll list below:

  1. Use headings correctly – use only one H1 per page and use heading sizes in order
  2. Use or add skip links to your theme – a link that allows users to move beyond the page navigation
  3. Use underlined links
  4. Use or add ARIA roles
  5. Use lists for easy reading
  6. Don’t rely on color alone and be mindful of color contrast
  7. Ensure tables are marked up correctly

I am going to attend to future blog posts with these ideas in mind, paying particular attention to the points about images. I’m not sure that my visual autoethnographic study of my swollen body parts will transform the field of rhetoric, composition, and literacy studies (or anything else for that matter), but that won’t be an option until more people can experience their glory. (HA).

Speaking of selfies, I came to a realization while I was taking one of my knees this morning: selfies are incredibly performative. Those of you who are Judith Butler fans are probably well-aware of this an anticipated that performativity and selfies would go hand in hand…but it only occurred to me that I was concerned about my performance–and the appearance of my knees–when I realized I was arranging them to portray their optimal bloated-ness. For me, Lyme Disease has been both an invisible illness and an obvious physical disability. Like many chronic pain sufferers, my pain seems more real if it is somehow marked on my body and is constantly shifting from better to worse, from joint to joint, etc. I sometimes want to mark my pain in other obvious ways when it is not clearly evident on my body because it confuses people around me, including my doctors. How could I be in pain if I look so normal? Why should I be seeing a specialist for pain that is only intermittent? In any case, despite my concerns from earlier today, I hope these Lyme selfies can be useful even if they don’t always show visual evidence of my pain. I think they highlight a key rhetorical problem: pain isn’t always clear, experienced in a linear fashion, or unambiguously attributed to one cause…but it can be helpful to claim that to get more aggressive/effective treatment.


Lyme Selfie, Day 2: Closeup of my knees resting on top of a pillow.

Lyme Selfie, Day 2: Closeup of my knees resting on top of a pillow.

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