Footnote is a new lifestyle and culture magazine for Scotland; a magazine with a little extra something. Formed as a multi-sensory magazine, innovative and creative use of modern technologies allows Footnote to interact with its audience across a variety of media, creating an inclusive magazine, accessible to all.
This project is underpinned by three key themes: accessibility, inclusion and innovation. By providing fully accessible content that does not other (alienate or make different) those with vision impairments by being marketed as a ‘magazine for blind people’, Footnote will be a truly inclusive magazine.
This project is formed around an online platform built to the highest standards of web accessibility. This is populated with supplementary multimedia content, providing articles in a variety of formats for those with vision impairments. This multimedia content can also be triggered by scanning a hard copy of the magazine using an augmented reality mobile application. This will replicate the visually immersive environment that a traditional magazine creates in audio format, using ‘micro-podcasts’.
A magazine is an immersive environment. When we pick up a magazine we do not just read the text; we are drawn in by images, colours, designs, and typefaces. It is an experience that goes beyond the words on the page. This project seeks to answer the question: how can a magazine be accessible to those with vision impairments?
The below Theoretical Framework provides an academic case, detailing the need for Footnote within the wider Scottish media landscape.
The Practical Implementation section details how the project will operate.
The Beyond the Magazine section details how the footnote app can revolutionise document accessibility beyond its use in media.
The media plays an important role in society in the formation of identity and the creation of community. Communities of people with shared identities are central to a cohesive and inclusive society (Silver, 2015; Georgiou, 2006; Jankowski & Prehn 2002). Magazines are an important element in this media landscape: they convey information on and aspirations around specific themes or genres. It is, therefore, important in an accessible and integrated society for all groups of people to have access to such media.
However, despite the rise in online platforms to supplement print media, the vast majority of magazine content remains inaccessible to those with vision impairments or barriers to literacy. It is estimated that there are around 188,000 people in Scotland living with significant sight loss (RNIB, 2017). Despite many elements of accessibility (e.g. web accessibility, access to public services, etc.) being enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (European Commission, 2018), media outlets still fail to produce accessible and inclusive content.
Print media accessibility is reliant on users engaging with websites or printed products using assistive technologies such as screen readers or electronic magnifiers. There exists no media group creating non-disability specific content in a way that is truly accessible to those with sensory impairments in a manner that replicates the experience of those without sensory impairments.
Within the realm of broadcasting, Ofcom’s 2017 Access Services Report notes that almost all domestic broadcasters exceeded their targets of creating accessible formats, however, that target currently sits at only 10% of programming for the provision of audio descriptions (Ofcom, 2018).
This project seeks to provide a truly inclusive and accessible culture and lifestyle magazine. Importantly, it is not targeted at people with vision impairments. Rather, it is a magazine aimed at a broad demographic which is also accessible to those with sensory impairment. As outlined below, it would be counterproductive to the aim of creating an inclusive magazine to market that magazine specifically at those with vision impairments.
Using innovative technologies, Footnote (the product of this project) is a multi-sensory magazine accessible to all. The primary interface will be an online magazine supplemented by an augmented reality mobile application which binds the printed copy to the online environment. Importantly, this is not standard content designed to work with assistive technologies: it will go one step further, creating an immersive environment for those with vision impairments.
This document provides the theoretical framework for Footnote. It explores the themes of accessibility, inclusion and innovation, with reference to media production and content creation.
The Theoretical Framework
Magazines play an important role in the construction of communities of people with shared identities. As outlined above, people with vision impairments are often excluded from being able to participate in such communities because the majority of print media (and online media) is not accessible. In addition, some moves to promote accessibility may actually result in exclusionary and isolating practices. However, the solution to this conundrum is not as complex as it may seem: innovative technologies, when used creatively, can overcome barriers to inclusion and othering. This literature review will explore the themes of accessibility, inclusion and innovation with regard to access to media and, specifically, magazine content.
There are few studies relating to how users with vision impairments (VI) use and interact with the internet and social media (Qiu, Hu, & Rauterberg, 2015), but the small localised studies that have taken place show that those with vision impairments are as much a part of the new online social media community as their fully sighted counterparts.
(Líbera & Jurberg, 2017)
Understanding that people with vision impairments engage with the internet and social media in much the same way as their sighted counterparts is fundamental to understanding accessibility and inclusion in terms of media production.
Assistive technologies such as screen readers and built-in accessibility functions in tablets and smartphones, allow disabled users to bridge the gap between what they want to do, and what existing social infrastructures and frameworks allow them to do (Hersh & Johnson, 2010). With regard to online content, these assistive technologies allow a user to interact with content using screenreaders or magnifiers, but this is reliant on content creators designing and constructing their websites in specific ways (SCOVI, 2018). Assistive technologies can only work when websites are designed to accessible standards.
The European Union’s Web and Mobile Accessibility Directive (2016) requires EU Member States to ensure ‘that public sector bodies take the necessary measures to make their websites and mobile applications more accessible by making them perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’ (European Parliament, Council of the European Union, 2016. §3). The proposed European Accessibility Act could see this extended to include private businesses, strengthening existing non-discrimination laws such as the UK’s Equality Act 2010. As non-discrimination laws evolve and media content does become more accessible, the technicalities of how to create accessible websites and media products will become more mainstream and normalised.
The internationally accepted standard for web accessibility is rooted in the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which forms the basis of the European Union’s directives (W3C, 2018). Footnote’s online platform is built to be compliant with the highest rating of the WCAG, as discussed in the Self-Reflexive Commentary below.
Simply producing an accessible website to complement a print edition of a magazine may make that content accessible to those using screenreaders and similar assistive technologies. However, Footnote aims to meet not just the bare minimum requirements of accessibility: Footnote embraces a more comprehensive and innovative approach to accessibility, ensuring that all measures that could be taken are taken.
Different people with different kinds of VI [visual impairments] have varied and specific experiences and needs, since mobility, autonomy, the use of optical tools, of the Braille system, of adapted materials and of assistive technology (AT) vary depending on environmental conditions and past experiences (Laplane & De Batista, 2008). Because of this variety, we must provide people with VI with as many resources and experiences as possible, so that they gain autonomy to make choices according to their own needs and possibilities, and also the available resources.
(Líbera & Jurberg, 2017)
In order to be accessible to as many people as possible, Footnote delivers its content in multiple formats allowing the user to choose how they wish to engage and interact with the articles. While providing an accessible website where a user can read the articles through a screenreader does make the content accessible, it fails to deliver an equivalent experience that sighted users enjoy. In delivering multiple formats of articles, without a user having to request such formats, Footnote goes beyond being simply an accessible website to being an inclusive website.
It is important to note the distinction between accessible media and inclusive media. Creating accessible formats is fundamental to creating an inclusive media, however, inclusion must also avoid othering those with disabilities (Mik-Meyer, 2016).
Othering is a process “through which identities are set up in an unequal relationship” (Crang, 1998, P.61). This process stems from the creation of an in-group or the self, and the out-group: the other. These groups are placed in unequal opposition by attributing inferiority to the out-group (Brons, 2015). Whilst Crang discusses othering in the context of ethnic minorities, when people with vision impairments are defined with reference to their specific and varying access to communications needs, they too are othered and treated as inferior to their sighted counterparts.
The creation of a media outlet which is marketed as being solely for the vision impairment community creates a sense of other which is not conducive to inclusion. Further, to assume that those with sensory loss would only be interested in specific content related to sensory impairment would lead to the othering of this demographic, engendering marginality and inequality. The same can be said for the commissioning of work by those with vision impairments. Jacq Kelly, a vision impaired freelance journalist recounts:
I noticed that more and more I was only writing about my sight loss. I’ve stopped writing because I don’t want to just be the blind person… A few years ago it was Valentine’s day and I wrote for the Sunday Herald about finding love when you’re disabled… all my stuff is now about being blind and that’s not really my personality.
(Kelly, 2018, online)
Footnote will implement a fully accessible process for pitching articles (e.g. allowing articles to be submitted via audio files), ensuring that those with vision impairments are given the opportunity to write for the magazine.
While there are a number of magazines which are marketed at those with vision impairments and contain disability-specific content (e.g. Royal Blind’s iSite and RNIB’s Connect) these exist to provide and promote important information relating to vision impairment, rather than to provide accessible content that would be of interest to a wider demographic. To avoid othering those with vision impairments, Footnote will not be marketed as a magazine for those with vision impairments, it will be a lifestyle and culture magazine that just happens to be fully accessible to those with vision impairments. It is important to note the distinction between how the magazine is marketed and what the target market is. As discussed in the Self-Reflexive Commentary, Footnote’s target market is the vision impairment community and this will have an impact on editorial decisions, but, importantly, will not alter how the magazine is seen in the eyes of the general public.
A recent study by Scotland’s largest vision impairment charity, Royal Blind, found that two thirds of respondents stated that they had experienced social isolation because of their sight loss (Royal Blind, 2018). Similarly, research for RNIB (Slade, 2013) shows clear links between accessible media, inclusion and social isolation. When individuals with varying levels of sight loss were asked what kind of impact fully accessible television and radio would have on their lives, more than half of all respondents said it would make them more independent, happier about life, feel less socially isolated, and feel better about their sight loss (ibid).
Despite the positive impact that accessible media could have on the lives of those living with sight loss, current targets for Audio Descriptions for British public broadcasters are set to just ten percent (Ofcom, 2018). Ten percent is perhaps an unambitious target, but within the print media there are no widespread accessibility standards, nor are there regulators to impose targets related to accessibility.
Almost all mainstream magazines are now supplemented by online versions, allowing those with vision impairments to access their content via screenreaders. However, there is no system in place to replicate the visual environment that a magazine creates. A user may listen to an electronic voice reading an article: if the content providers have added alt-text tags for their images (as per WCAG guidelines), they will hear a description of the images that are used. This goes a long way toward creating accessible media, but as Footnote will show, creative use of technologies can improve the user experience for those with vision impairments.
Immersion is the subjective impression that one is participating in a comprehensive, realistic experience. Interactive media now enable various degrees of digital immersion. The more a virtual immersive experience is based on design strategies that combine actional, symbolic, and sensory factors, the greater the participant's suspension of disbelief that she or he is “inside” a digitally enhanced setting.
(Dede, 2009, online)
An immersive environment within media creates a more trustworthy product, allowing the reader or viewer to buy fully into the story they are being told. A traditional print magazine fundamentally creates an immersive environment for sighted people through the use of pictures, illustrations, layouts and typefaces: a magazine experience goes beyond the words on the page. This is replicated in online editions to some extent, yet these are still predominantly limited to visual stimuli.
Augmented reality (AR) technology will allow Footnote to bring together print and online media, allowing for the creation of a more encompassing immersive environment, and making that environment more accessible. Using a mobile application a user can scan each page of the magazine to trigger “micro-podcasts”. These are bespoke audio versions of the published articles which use a human (i.e. not computer-generated) voice narration, recorded audio interviews and sound effects to replicate the immersive visual environment that a magazine offers in an audio format.
Although there is immense potential in the augmented and virtual reality industry, it is important to note that it is still relatively young and undeveloped… Nonetheless, one thing is clear, the future is bright for augmented and virtual reality, and the disabled can benefit immensely from it.
(Gonzalez, 2017, online)
While AR technology is utilised by advertisers (JS/Media Corp, 2018) and game developers (Reality Technologies, 2018) there are few examples of AR technology being used to boost accessibility for those with disabilities (Gonzalez, 2017). Given the emancipatory possibilities of this technology, this represents a deficiency of society to create an integrated and egalitarian world.
Footnote is, as far as the author is aware after an extensive industry review, the first ever magazine producing non-disability specific content to use AR applications to embed supplementary digital content within a printed magazine. This has the potential to go far beyond simply making the content accessible to those with vision impairments. AR applications could be used to provide British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted content and to provide a truly multi-sensory environment which is of benefit to all readers, offering a new experience in media consumption. Footnote hopes to prove that “when we design for disability first, you [sic] often stumble upon solutions that are better than those when we design for the norm" (Roy, 2015, online).
If society is to enable true integration of people with vision impairments (and, indeed, disabled people more generally), then projects such as Footnote are not only beneficial, they are necessary. Footnote removes the social barriers that many vision impaired people experience in accessing media. And it is the removal of these social barriers which can allow for a truly inclusive and integrated media landscape.
Although the medical model, which is so closely associated with rehabilitation engineering for people with physical and cognitive impairments, is still more commonly used, it is the social model with a focus on removing social barriers and discrimination rather than rehabilitation that is preferred by organisations representing disabled people. Disabled people and their organisations have had a significant role in achieving the social and attitudinal changes which have led to recognition of the necessity, as well as the social benefits of full social inclusion of disabled people and accessibility of social infrastructure.
(Hersh and Johnson, 2010, p.1)
Footnote prefigures the paradigmatic shift that is required in truly accessible and inclusive media, and can prefigure the transformation that is required in society. It allows for the move beyond the tolerance of people who have been ‘othered’ for centuries, to an integrated society that enables those who challenge present structures and systems of ‘normal’. Footnote is revolutionary. To paraphrase Fidel Castro, it is a weapon with which the future can defeat the past.
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Footnote will be launched and administered by SCOVI - The Umbrella Body for Vision Impairment in Scotland, and SCOVI is currently seeking funding to develop the magazine and fully realise the aims and objectives of the Footnote project.
Footnote will also work in partnership with Edinburgh Napier University, primarily their Journalism and Music departments. This will allow for the provision of training to be delivered across Scotland aimed at introducing people with sensory impairments to magazine writing and podcast production.
Footnote will seek to ensure that people with disabilities are given the encouragement and support they require to contribute to the magazine.
Building the online environment
Websites are complicated pieces of technology, and something funny happens when people have trouble using complicated pieces of technology: they blame themselves. They feel like they must have done something wrong … they feel stupid.
(Garrett, 2002, p.17)
All good websites should be developed to create a positive user experience. We have adopted Garrett’s Five Planes of User Experience, a widely accepted user-centred design methodology as the conceptual basis of our methodology. This has provided the basis for this current prototype website.
However, the current website is a prototype site and does not display many elements we would hope to include in the full site. For example, once the website is launched there will be a registration feature enabling users to create their own accounts, download media content and select their preferred method of interacting with Footnote. This feature does not exist within the prototype due to cost constraints: creating a bespoke members’ section requires investment in software which will be purchased when the project secures funding. Nonetheless, the prototype does fulfil the online platform’s requirements to achieve the overall aim of the Footnote project: the creation of a fully accessible and inclusive multi-sensory magazine.
Further, by complying with all of WCAG’s requirements, Footnote will also be fully accessible to those with other disabilities or complex needs. In creating an accessible magazine which does not other any group, we believe Footnote will play a vital role in enabling the formation of communities of people, tackling social isolation and encouraging engagement and social connections - themes discussed in detail in the theoretical framework. We believe the prototype we have produced sets a standard in inclusive design and accessible media.
Article selection and consideration of target audience
What any good magazine writer will learn, and any good features editor will explain, is that the writer must always have a clear idea of the market for which he is writing. Viewed positively this merely reflects what all competent writers (and speakers) do: they adjust the style of the language they use according to who they are writing for or talking to.
(McKay, 2013, p.77)
While this magazine will not be marketed as a ‘magazine for blind people’, the target audience and market for this magazine is people with vision impairments. This has a direct impact on the style of language and the nature of the content.
Sight loss affects around 188,000 people in Scotland (RNIB, 2018). As age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of sight loss in the UK, sight loss disproportionately affects older people (ibid). However, it is also clear the many young people with sight loss would benefit from, and more readily engage with, the technological elements of Footnote. This diverse demographic poses a quandary in devising the editorial outlook for the magazine. So, rather than develop content aimed at specific group within the vision impaired demographic, the editorial outlook seeks to not alienate any part of this demographic.
Hence, we have adopted a thematic editorial based on supporting progress, championing inclusion and celebrating diversity. Applying this to content selection, there will be a focus on personal experiences, many interview based articles, and articles that cover a broad range of topics, all delivering a positive message.
Multimedia production and application development
The creation of micro-podcasts to accompany each written article is fundamental to the Footnote project. These micro-podcasts will include a narration of the article but with added sound effects and audio from live interviews. This aims to provide a fully immersive soundscape.
This audio content will be triggered by the printed magazine using augmented reality technology. The creation of a bespoke app is not possible without funding. For the purposes of this prototype I have used the app HP Reveal to demonstrate how this technology will work. This is limiting: it does not demonstrate the full scope of how transformative this technology can be, but the above video details how this app could work in future.
Promotion and distribution of the magazine
Footnote will be a free magazine distributed across Scotland. Footnote will be delivered to local sight loss charities and service providers. However, we hope also to distribute Footnote to social spaces not specifically used by those with vision impairments. As the Footnote brand develops and its audience grows, the more effective it will be at succeeding in setting a standard in inclusive media.
Footnote aims to become self-sustaining within 24 months of launching generating income through advertising.
This Footnote prototype provides an example of how media content can be delivered in an accessible manner without othering any community. However, its true impact will not be seen until the magazine is fully funded and launched.
If and when Footnote does secure funding, we are confident that the production of a quarterly magazine with regular digital updates is entirely feasible within the proposed budget and can be done to a high standard with a small dedicated team. The relationships and partnerships already developed will allow for Footnote to gain traction immediately and begin to carve out its own space within the Scottish media landscape.
Footnote’s entry to the wider media landscape will stand to prove that accessible media does not require a compromise on journalistic quality: creating inclusive media is not difficult, it just requires some creative thinking. Footnote has the ability to play a transformative role in pushing the wider media landscape toward more inclusive practices. But, Footnote goes beyond that, by allowing all those who interact with it to develop their own relationship with the content, to gain autonomy in how they consume media.
We are hopeful that many of the practices that have been adopted by Footnote for the purpose of increasing accessibility may also shape the future of digital media: when we design for inclusion, everyone benefits.
Beyond the Magazine
Breaking societal barriers
The bespoke smartphone application that will be developed to make the printed magazine accessible will have a purpose far beyond allowing a user to access magazine content.
This app can be used to trigger an audio version of any printed document. This could revolutionise the delivery of materials from public bodies, the Government, the NHS, and any private company.