How to make smart energy technology more inclusive

Smart energy technology can help households save money and reduce their carbon footprint by shifting their electricity usage to times when there is more renewable energy on the grid. But not everyone can access or benefit from these products and services, especially those who face barriers such as disability, low income, digital exclusion, or language difficulties.Hands holding and touching a smart meter

In August 2023, UK consumer support charity Citizens Advice published a guide; 'Powering up participation: A guide to making smart energy technology more inclusive' to assist the energy industry in ensuring that everyone - including those groups mentioned above - can take advantage of cleaner, more affordable energy.

In their guide, they share their insights after testing a smart thermostat with people who face such barriers, as well as introducing a new interactive tool that will help the smart energy sector consider the different challenges that consumers may encounter along their journey of using smart energy technology.

Why inclusivity matters

Smart energy technology has the potential to transform how we use and manage energy at home. It can help us to save money, reduce our carbon footprint, and support the transition to a low-carbon energy future.

However, not everyone can access or benefit from these products and services. Some people may face barriers such as:

  • Disability: physical, sensory, cognitive, or mental health impairments that may affect how they interact with technology or understand information
  • Low income: financial constraints that may limit their ability to afford or invest in technology or tariffs
  • Digital exclusion: lack of access, skills, or confidence to use digital devices or platforms
  • Language difficulties: limited proficiency in English or preference for other languages that may affect how they communicate or access information

Robert (58, London) is neurodivergent and not confident using technology; “I feel excluded, kind of alone and isolated when it comes to new technology, so I feel like I’m missing the boat”

As well as the very real issue of technologies - such as smart thermostats - not always being accessible or easy to use by these groups, Citizens Advice highlights some of the other barriers that can compound and create further challenges for consumers, such as the lack of:

  • Awareness: not knowing about the existence, benefits, or suitability of smart energy technology
  • Trust: not feeling confident or comfortable with using technology or sharing data
  • Control: not having enough choice, flexibility, or autonomy over how they use energy or technology
  • Support: not receiving adequate or appropriate guidance, assistance, or feedback from providers or intermediaries

These challenges can prevent consumers from participating in energy flexibility, which means they miss out on the opportunities to save money and reduce their carbon footprint. They also mean that the smart energy sector misses out on a large and diverse market of potential customers.

How to design for inclusivity

Citizens Advice conducted usability testing of a smart thermostat with a group of users who faced many of these barriers, in order to understand how they interact with the product, what they liked and disliked, and what difficulties they encountered.

They found that, whilst the product design was generally intuitive and easy to use:

  • Some features were confusing or inaccessible for some users
  • Some users were unsure or sceptical about how it works or how much they could save
  • Some users needed more or different types of guidance, assistance or feedback

As a result, they identified some best practices and recommendations for designing more inclusive and user-friendly products, such as:

  • Using clear and simple language, icons and colours
  • Providing multiple ways of inputting and receiving information
  • Offering flexible and personalised settings and options
  • Clearly explaining how the product works and what it does
  • Giving feedback on performance and savings
  • Providing accessible and tailored support channels

At AbilityNet, we are experts in assisting organisations to create accessible and inclusive digital products that are easy to use by all. We applaud Citizens Advice for their approach to the testing of this product, its documentation and support, and for the clarity of their findings and recommendations. Brilliant work - and we hope that they’ll help the energy industry make more inclusive products.

But Citizens Advice didn’t stop there. They also produced a really useful interactive guide to assist the industry in accessing their recommendations.

An interactive tool to aid inclusive smart energy technology

To help the sector consider the different challenges that consumers may face along their journey of using smart energy technology, Citizens Advice created a new interactive tool for inclusive design. Based on their research findings and existing frameworks of consumer vulnerability and digital inclusion, the tool allows users to:

  • Select one or more barriers that consumers may face
  • See how these barriers can affect different stages of the consumer journey, from awareness to support
  • Explore possible solutions or actions to address these challenges

The tool is intended to be a starting point for discussion and reflection, not a definitive or comprehensive guide. Echoing a key message we also always stress, that they encourage manufacturers and designers to test their assumptions and solutions with actual consumers who face barriers. Testing your products with users with more extreme needs makes for products that are extremely usable for all.

A screenshot of Citizen's Advice Interactive Tool showing a wheel of human silhouettes separated into four sections "Build and understanding, trust and confidence", "Facilitate, informed decisions", "Enable use of smart technology" and "ensure appropriate set up" with a centre mentioning, 3 categories "motivation", "opportunity" and "support".

Here’s to a more inclusive and more affordable future for our energy needs

Whilst smart energy technology may seem like a minor player in the larger picture of digital technology, being able to effectively access affordable energy can literally save lives. So bravo Citizens Advice. We trust that this tool will help the sector to put inclusivity at the heart of designing technology and the consumer journey as a whole.

Let’s hope this is a lightbulb moment for the sector and that ‘Powering up participation’ helps forge a future where no consumer will be left out in the cold.

Further resources

How Apple's watchOS 9 can help you with tech

Watch sitting on edge of laptop, with futuristic red hue in backgroundDid you know you can control your Apple Watch using hand gestures and wrist movements? Apple's watchOS 9 release has unveiled even more sophisticated accessibility options, and here we provide tips about how to access them.

Benefit from a new set of guidance which outlines simple step-by-step instructions for how Apple's watchOS 9 release will transform how you interact with some of your tech.

AbilityNet's My Computer My Way resource contains 31 separate guidance articles about how to boost your Apple Watch functionality with watchOS 9, including:

  • How to change the VoiceOver settings in watchOS 9 on your Apple Watch
  • How to control your iPhone or iPad with your Apple Watch in watchOS 9
  • How to control your Apple Watch with your iPhone in iOS 16
  • How to control your Apple Watch with wrist movements in watchOS 9
  • How to change the settings for AssistiveTouch in watchOS 9 on your Apple Watch
  • How to control you Apple Watch using hand gestures in watchOS 9
  • How to make Siri easier to use in watchOS 9 on your Apple Watch
  • How to use Siri in watchOS 9 on your Apple Watch
  • How to make the touchscreen easier to use on your Apple Watch in watchOS 9

Simply head over to My Computer My Way and search for 'watchOS 9' in the 'Operating system' menu for all the guidance articles to appear:

Screenshot of the My Computer My Way homepage with 'watchOS 9' showing in 'Operating system' field, alongside other categories: Symptom, Condition, Adjustment'.

How My Computer My Way helps disabled people

Visit My Computer My Way to find more information about how to make your device easier to use, and work harder for you.

Learn how to adapt your phone, computer or tablet to meet your needs. You can search on the site for a specific need (e.g. making text larger) or filter the guides based on your symptoms (e.g. hand tremor) or condition (e.g. dyslexia).

Visit My Computer My Way

Further resources

Tech4Good Winners using AI to make the world a better place

The 2023 Tech4Good Awards have cast a spotlight on remarkable companies and individuals at the forefront of harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) for good. 

Free Webinar: How will Artificial Intelligence change accessibility testing? 

Guests from AbilityNet and Deque discussed how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help improve accessibility testing, and much more!

Catch up on the recording 

Two people stand holding prototypes of SmartSocks in front of a Milbotix bannerMilbotix 

Milbotix, an initiative backed by the Alzheimer's Society and the UK Dementia Research Institute, has created a product aimed to intertwine technology with human care. It's creation, SmartSocks, are tailored for those with dementia and communication-related conditions who may not be able to fully express when something is wrong, or may have sensory sensitivities. SmartSocks are worn as normal socks, but they are cleverly fitted out with sensors, tracking early signs of distress and alerting carers when there is increased risk of agitation. Socks are less likely to be removed by patients than current wrist or ankle worn trackers, as they are familiar, which can mean more accurate tracking and monitoring. 

How can Smart Socks transform dementia care? 

Zeke Steer, CEO of Milbotix, shares the story behind Smart Socks, their unique technology, and how they are currently being trialled.

Access the full episode 

C2-Ai LogoC2-Ai 

Winner of the AI For Good Category 2023, C2-Ai utilises Artificial Intelligence to assess the clinical urgency of patients on waiting lists. Using 3,300 metrics across the whole of acute health care, C2-Ai cans for system-wide patterns and trends in avoidable harm. Already at use within multiple NHS trusts, early results are impressive; emergency admissions reduced by 8%, 6,000 hours of surgeon time freed, and bed capacity expanded to 15%. Professor Rowan Pritchard-Jones says C2-Ai’s AI-backed waiting list prioritisation system "helps put the right patient, in the right environment, with the right team, at the right time".


According to Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction 2019, buildings are responsible for around 40% of global carbon emissions. In buildings ranging from data centres to bustling office towers, Vigilent’s innovation is to use AI to dynamically optimise heating, cooling, and ventilation. It's system ensures not only a harmonious indoor environment but also minimizes energy usage and carbon emissions – a twenty-four-hour commitment to a greener future.

How can AI help make the world greener?

Cliff Federspiel, President and CTO at Vigilent discusses how Vigilent uses AI and machine learning to optimise industrial systems while reducing carbon emissions.

Access the full episode 


Gary Moore and Mark Walker from AbilityNet presenting the Award to Bob Thompson from Vigilent who is on screen

Further resources

AbilityNet Factsheet - August 2023

Voice Recognition - An Overview

This factsheet provides an overview of how you can use voice recognition. You can use voice recognition to control a smart home, instruct a smart speaker, and command phones and tablets. In addition, you can set reminders and interact hands-free with personal technologies. The most significant use is for the entry of text without using an on-screen or physical keyboard.

Communication technology continues to evolve rapidly. Using voice recognition to input text, check how words are spelt and dictate messages has become very easy. Most on-screen keyboards have a microphone icon that allows users to switch from typing to voice recognition easily.

For some disabled people who might struggle or find it impossible to work with a mouse or keyboard, speech recognition enables a world of productive possibilities. It can free people from typing and keyboard use, helping those with physical impairments and reducing the risk of repetitive strain injury from excessive typing or mouse use. For example, people with dyslexia can write more fluently, accurately and quickly using voice recognition and may find it less stressful than conventional handwriting or typing.

For employers, enabling voice recognition in systems and encouraging its use in the workplace can be a ‘reasonable adjustment’: preventing discrimination against and maximising the productivity of disabled staff.

Last updated: August 2023

This factsheet provides an overview of how you can use voice recognition. You can use voice recognition to control a smart home, instruct a smart speaker, and command phones and tablets. In addition, you can set reminders and interact hands-free with personal technologies. The most significant use is for the entry of text without using an on-screen or physical keyboard. Communication technology continues to evolve rapidly. Using voice recognition to input text, check how words are spelt and dictate messages has become very easy. Most on-screen keyboards have a microphone icon that allows users to switch from typing to voice recognition easily. For some disabled people who might struggle or find it impossible to work with a mouse or keyboard, speech recognition enables a world of productive possibilities. It can free people from typing and keyboard use, helping those with physical impairments and reducing the risk of repetitive strain injury from excessive typing or mouse use. For example, people with dyslexia can write more fluently, accurately and quickly using voice recognition and may find it less stressful than conventional handwriting or typing. For employers, enabling voice recognition in systems and encouraging its use in the workplace can be a ‘reasonable adjustment’: preventing discrimination against and maximising the productivity of disabled staff.
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AirPods can now authenticate Siri requests on iPhone in iOS 17

Guest blogger Colin Hughes is a former BBC producer who campaigns for greater access and affordability of technology for disabled people. Colin is a regular contributor to Aestumanda.

In this article, Colin shares how iOS 17, currently undergoing beta testing, has solved one of the biggest accessibility hurdles for iPhone users with upper limb mobility impairments: the dreaded Siri ‘You need to unlock your iPhone first’ message. 

What is the new Siri authentication system for AirPods?

Siri is, of course, a massive accessibility win for many disabled people who use an iPhone, allowing voice control of a wide range of tasks on Apple devices like the iPhone.

However, one frustrating user experience that I’ve often highlighted is the "You need to unlock your iPhone first" roadblock that is common for a few crucial requests that Siri can carry out, such as "read my messages", "what’s next on my calendar", etc.

Until now, if my iPhone is locked and stored in my wheelchair side pocket, I can't take it out and unlock it to access messages that come in. If I ask Siri to read my messages to me, the assistant unhelpfully always says "You need to unlock your iPhone first".

Now in iOS 17, there is a new Siri authentication system for AirPods where, if your iPhone is unlocked while wearing your AirPods, that wearing session will be considered authenticated even when your device locks and until an AirPod goes out of your ear or you change the output audio device on your iPhone.

In day-to-day use, what this change means is that when my carer puts my AirPods in my ears, if my iPhone is unlocked, even if it locks afterward, I can still access my messages, calendar events, and more via a Siri request.

This improvement is something I’ve long campaigned for, and I’m delighted that Apple has listened and addressed it, overcoming concerns around privacy and security.

There are a few high security cases kept behind a PIN code lock still, such as unlocking your front door, opening apps, etc.

Find out more about Voice Recognition in our useful factsheet.

What are the other improvements to Siri in iOS 17?

A phone showing 'Hey Siri' on the screen.Elsewhere on the iPhone, the Siri on AirPods experience has also been improved with back-to-back requests, which allow you to chain requests without Siri activation each time. Siri knows when you are speaking to it and when you might be talking to someone else.

This makes life easier with less energy and breath needed for Hey Siri requests. This is a more significant benefit for disabled people who may have compromised breathing or whose speech is weakened because of their impairment.

This improvement in Siri functionality allows you to do some more advanced things, like being able to speak over the assistant at any time to issue a new request.

This benefit comes over to the Announce Notifications feature too, which I rely on a lot. Now you can chain requests like "repeat" and then "reply", or simply speak over Siri at any point. With Siri’s understanding of when you’re talking to Siri vs. someone else, you can now issue any request that Siri understands in Announce Notifications in iOS 17, not just the limited set of functionalities there were before. I find this really useful in day-to-day use.

Another useful aspect of these improvements to the way you interact with Siri is that when you reply to an announce message and Siri says "sending <your reply>," you can just say "stop, don’t send that" or other variants, or "change it to <your revised message>," etc.

In iOS 17, you can also ask Siri to read your Safari pages that support reader mode by saying "read this" when in the Safari app. This allows you to keep Siri reading even when you lock your phone and continue about your day.

When will the new iOS 17 updates be available?

While these Siri improvements may look quite small, they are massive for people like me. They are also very inclusive, and I think in that regard they will be a hit with all iPhone users.

After several years of campaigning, it is great to see Apple taking note and filling these accessibility gaps!

iOS 17 will not be released until September, but you do not have to wait that long to try out the new Siri features. You can try them out now for free by registering for the Apple Beta Software Programme.


Further resources on Apple and accessibility:

How Artificial Intelligence can revolutionise the world of accessibility

Artificial Intelligent (AI) tools, such as Chat GPT and Bard, can think and act in ways that previously only humans could. AI can analyse the world around them, absorb and learn from information, make decisions based on what they’ve learned, and then take appropriate action—often without the need for human intervention. This is why it's being referred to as the "Artificial Intelligence Revolution".  

In this blog article, we reflect on conversations from The AbilityNet Podcast with Joe Devon, Co-founder of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), and Mike Buckley, CEO of Be My Eyes, who both discuss how AI could and will make the world more accessible. 

Free Webinar: How will Artificial Intelligence change accessibility testing? 

Guests from AbilityNet and Deque discussed how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help improve accessibility testing, and much more!

Catch up on the recording 

How AI could improve the accessibility of TV and film 

A group of 4 people sat on a sofa watching TV together.Most individuals enjoy watching television because it allows them to relax and unwind after a long day at work. However, not everyone can enjoy their favourite TV series and films because not all of them have audio descriptions or are sign-interpreted. 

However, AI can break down these barriers. 

Joe Devon suggests that AI might be able to transform content and reality into audio for blind people and visuals for deaf people. 

Joe also mentions that by using AI, it may be possible to pause a TV show or a film and ask, "Who are you?", "What episode were you in?" or "Replay me the last scene you featured in?". Questions that would benefit people with cognitive disabilities as well as those with poor recall. 

“It's revolutionary...AI and accessibility are hand in hand. AI is accessibility. And what I mean by that is when you think about disability or impairments, and you think about what artificial intelligence is trying to do, is you've got sensory input and AI is trying to understand the sensory input.” - Joe Devon


Catch up on the full podcast episode featuring Joe Devon

Can AI help make code more accessible? 

AI tools may be able to assist developers in creating quality code that is accessible and compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). 

According to Joe's experience, if you specifically query and ask tools such as Chat GPT to generate accessible code, it will be more accurate than simply asking it to generate code. 

Joe also mentions GitHub Copilot, an AI-powered code completion and suggestion tool and commented when “the day that that spits out code that's accessible by default, that [will be] a huge game changer”. 

How will AI benefit visually impaired or blind people? 

AI holds the promise of transforming the lives of visually impaired or blind individuals by offering innovative solutions that enhance accessibility.  

A close up of a flight departure board in an airport.Mike Buckley, CEO of Be My Eyes, is working with Open AI to develop the Be My Eyes Virtual Volunteer Tool, which includes a dynamic new image-to-text generator. 

The new tool, which is currently under beta testing, will allow users to take a picture and, within a matter of seconds, get a full description of the image. Users may, for example, take a photo of a departures board at an airport and receive the latest update or gate number for their flight in real time. 

"When you talk to the beta testers, they use phrases like life changing. One beta tester said, "Wow, I have a chance to get my independence back." Another beta tester got emotional, incredibly emotional when he said, "This is the first time in four years I can go on my Instagram feed and enjoy it with my family and friends, because I'm getting descriptions of these images." - Mike Buckley


Catch up on the full podcast episode featuring Mike Buckley


Not only does the Virtual Volunteer Tool's visual recognition provide depth, granularity, and accuracy, but you can also converse with it. After you take your first picture, you can use voiceover to ask it a question: "Tell me more about this." "Where can I buy this?", "How much is it?" and so on. Giving you the option to go back and forth within the image and discover additional information. 

If the Virtual Volunteer Tool fails and the AI is unable to obtain an accurate answer or satisfactory answer, it will call one of the Be My Eyes volunteers. Offering a seamless rollover mechanism for when it’s not performing well. 

Further resources

5 ways AI can help disabled people in the workplace

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionising various aspects of our lives, and accessibility in the workplace is no exception. This blog explores the impact of AI on improving inclusivity in work settings through its applications in captions and transcriptions, voice assistance, readability, text alternatives, and understanding tone.

Free Webinar: How will Artificial Intelligence change accessibility testing? 

Guests from AbilityNet and Deque discussed how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help improve accessibility testing, and much more!

Catch up on the recording 

Graphic of a television screen with 'CC' on the screen, which is shorthand for 'closed captions' 1. Captions and Transcriptions

AI generated captions and transcripts are already widely used in many settings. In the workplace, they can provide on-demand access to meetings for employees who are d/Deaf, hard-of-hearing or have a hearing impairment (including temporary or situational). Captions are not just useful for colleagues who are d/Deaf, hard-of-hearing or have a hearing impairment, but could also be useful for people with auditory processing delays which can be linked to neurodivergence, they can also be useful for colleagues that may be joining calls from a busy and noisy environment. 

Using AI generated captions provides the choice for employees to access captions as and when needed. However, captions are not always perfect, and transcripts will need to be reviewed before they are shared to ensure the information is correct.

As AI develops, captions should become more accurate and easier to follow, increasing access for those that rely on them. 

The AbilityNet Podcast: Disability Inclusion Insights with High Speed Two (HS2)

Maria Grazia Zedda, Senior Equality Diversity Inclusion Manager at High Speed Two (HS2), joins AbilityNet's Lizi Green and Adam Tweed to share her lived experience on how auto-captioning enchances workplace inclusivity.

Listen to the episode now 

2. Voice Assistance

Tools like Siri, are not only convenient for setting reminders and checking the weather; they can be vital for people with physical or motor disabilities and blind or visually impaired people. Voice assistance for device control allows people to access the internet, email, documents, and other work related activities, without touch or body movement. 

Developments in AI mean that voice assistance tools are becoming more intelligent, so users will not have to give step-by-step instructions. Rather they will be able to just describe a task, and the voice assistance tool will then figure out the necessary steps. Conversational language model tools like ChatGPT are already beginning to do this, for example. 

Dragon, Cortana, and Alexa can also provide increased autonomy in the workplace for employees with physical or motor disabilities and blind or visually impaired employees. 

graphic of someone reading a book3. Readability 

Readability refers to ensuring that your writing is clear, concise and easily understandable for your readers. In internal work comms, writing in plain language has many benefits. It can help to reduce email fatigue: getting to your point quickly allows the reader to process and respond to your email in a shorter time frame. Improving the readability of your content is also beneficial to individuals who have a learning difference such as dyslexia, or are neurodivergent. Making readability a part of your practice makes life at work easier for everyone, and can help to alleviate barriers for disabled employees. 

AI tools such as the in-built Microsoft editor, Grammarly and the Hemmingway app can assist in ensuring the readability of your work. They take some of the guess work out and make sure all colleagues can easily access your writing. 

4. Text Alternatives

Adding alt text to images enables visually impaired users to access your content. In the workplace, you may be using images in presentations to show data, or show photos from a company event. AI can automatically generate alt text for your images to get you started, which you can then edit to improve.

Screenshot of Microsoft word page with an image of a dog running on a beach with a ball in it's mouth. The Alt text editor is to the right of this, with the text reading 'A dog running on a beach with a ball in it's mouth'

For more complex images, alt text will often need amending to include more detail to give a richer experience to those accessing the alt text. For example, in the image below, the autogenerated alt text of 'Two people sitting on a couch and looking at each other' is not incorrect, but it does not provide all the information and so the meaning of the image is lost. A more appropriate alt text may be something like 'A younger woman is helping an older woman navigate an iPad. They are sitting on a sofa and smiling at each other'. This way, the meaning of the image is displayed in the alt text.

Screenshot of Microsoft word page with an image of a younger woman is helping an older woman navigate an iPad. They are sitting on a sofa and smiling at each other. The alt text editor is to the right, with the auto generated alt text reading 'Two people sitting on a couch and looking at each other'

Accessible content with Office 365 eLearning module

Tailored specifically for content authors using Office 365, on this course you and your team will learn the practical steps to create accessible documents

Find out more and book your place

5. Understanding tone 

For neurodiverse individuals or people with mental health conditions like anxiety, reading the tone of an email or a message can be challenging. This can add additional cognitive load to a person's work day. 

AI powered tools such as can help alleviate any uncertainty around the meaning behind a message. They allow the user to copy the message or email into the tool, and using AI, the tool gives an overview of how the message reads. 

Screenshot of 'the judge' service.

In this example, the email being judged reads: Morning! Are you able to send the report we discussed by the end of today please? Any issues let me know.' Judge has then given the following analysis: Based on the given text, it seems to come across as polite and professional. The use of the word “Morning!” suggests a friendly tone and establishes a positive atmosphere. The request to send the report by the end of the day is straightforward and direct, but the inclusion of “please” indicates a polite approach. The phrase “Any issues, let me know” shows openness to addressing any concerns or roadblocks that might arise, suggesting a collaborative and accommodating attitude. Overall the text appears to be written in a courteous and helpful manner, without any negative or emotionally charged undertones.

Further resources

AbilityNet has Disability Confident Leader status

This page has been updated! Originally published in June 2020, the Voluntary Reporting Framework was updated January 2024, and our Disability Confident Leader Certificate was updated August 2023.

We are pleased to announce AbilityNet has achieved Disability Confident Leader status as of 16 June 2020. Our status was last renewed on 2 August 2023 with the period of award lasting through to 29 July 2026. Prior to 16 June 2020 we were a Disability Confident Employer, but this new status puts us in the top tier of the Disability Confident government lead scheme, amongst organisations such as Barclays, BT, the Cabinet Office, Fujitsu, Heathrow, John Lewis Partnership, Lloyds Banking Group and many other household names.

Disability Confident Leader logo

The Disability Confident scheme aims to help employers make the most of the opportunities provided by employing disabled people. It is voluntary and has been developed by employers and disabled people's representatives. As experts in disability and technology we are ecstatic to have achieved the accolade of a Disability Confident Leader.

Profile photo of Gary Moore, AbilityNet's CEO, smiling facing the camera

Speaking about the importance of this achievement, Gary Moore, AbilityNet's CEO, said "I'm delighted that we have secured Disability Confident Leader status. AbilityNet has always sought to draw from the widest possible pool of talent and to ensure that we have a working environment which promotes success for all employees. AbilityNet's vision is a digital world accessible to all: being 'Disability Confident' is critical to what we do."

We are always keen to hear from people that share our vision of a digital world accessible to all. You can view our current opportunities on our website and to be kept up-to-date with the latest news from AbilityNet join our mailing list.

Further reading

Download AbilityNet's Disability Confident Voluntary Reporting Framework - issued 2024

Download AbilityNet's Disability Confident Leader Certificate - issued 2023

View AbilityNet's Impact Report from 2022

Read about our values of integrity, inclusion, innovation and collaboration

Watch our interview with Adi Latif - a consultant in our Digital Accessibility Services Team

Find our more about AbilityNet events - including our free webinars, accessibility training, our annual IT Volunteers Conference, TechShare Pro and the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards

How do I encourage my organisation to create accessible content?

Your organisation's accessibility skills will always benefit from a boost, and ensuring your content is accessible will generate major business benefits for you too. Check out eight resources to help you create accessible content.

What do we mean by 'content'?

Woman sitting outside with laptop holding hands out smiling enthusiasticallyIt's everything from the words on your website, your internal comms, videos and podcasts you produce, posts you share on social media, presentations to your team and downloadable PDFs. 

So, are you and your organisation creating and sharing content accessible to all?

If the answer is "I'm not sure" instead of a resounding "Yes!", then our free resources and low-cost training services will help you to improve how you generate content to ensure it's accessible.

What are the benefits of accessible content?

Not only does providing content in multiple formats help disabled people access different options to consume information in the way they need it, accessible content is also one of the key metrics measured by Google, so by following best practices for providing accessible content, you boost your search engine optimisation and thus your brand awareness and reputation.

So, this summer, take some time to learn where you can make small steps or big strides in building your accessible content expertise.

8 resources to help you create accessible content

Access our Accessible Content Resources Hub for more information and check out the 8 highlighted resources below.

1. Download our free factsheets, including Easy Read versions

To be truly accessible, to be read and understood by as wide an audience as possible – including, for example, people with visual impairments, dyslexia or learning difficulties – your document also has to work well with screen reading software. Read our factsheet Creating Accessible Documents to learn about the basics to remember for creating and editing documents.

You can also download Easy Read versions of many of our most popular factsheets, too.

2. Watch our webinar playback: How to do accessible social media

You may spend ages crafting perfect social media messages, but are your posts accessible to all? Learn how to make your social media channels work harder and meet the needs of all users.

Watch this webinar recording to learn some simple things to remember when using social channels including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more, so you can share information accessible to all.

Download the webinar transcript.

3. Attend our Creating Accessible Documents training course

In this online course you will learn about styles and templates, and how to fix common issues to create accessible documents. It's perfect for designers, editorial staff and content creators, trainers and academics.

The next live course is coming up in October, or access a recording of the session on demand.

4. Highlight the need for content training to your managers 

You may already be aware of the numerous benefits of ensuring accessible content, but are your managers listening? If you need buy-in for rolling out training for staff across your organisation, then the highlighted results from our Attitudes to Digital Accessibility report will help you emphasise to your senior managers the need for developing accessibility skills. 

The results show significant differences in how well individuals feel supported by their organisations in developing their digital accessibility skills. Download the Attitudes to Digital Accessibility 2022 survey report to share in your organisation.

Group of office workers sitting at one big long desk in large meeting room, each with laptops and city building in the background5. Offer eLearning about accessibility for all your staff

Get value for money by offering all staff access to our cost-effective flexible online modules to help your teams create accessible content including videos, PDFs, images, Word documents, PowerPoint, emails, spreadsheets and more. Courses are available online, anytime.

6. Use guidelines documents

Written by our expert consultants, these guidelines are perfect for anyone who creates content for your website or digital platforms. Get access to the guidelines on topics including Accessible Social Media, Content Creation, Documents, and PDFs.

7. Watch our free accessible content playlist

Access our free archive of useful webinar recordings and content training sessions to view at your leisure and pick up valuable accessibility knowledge.

8. Improve your content by using personas

Use personas when creating content to give you an insight into how people with a range of access needs use products and services, and shape your content accordingly. Check out our broad range of personas.

Looking for help? Speak to our experts


Group of people in meeting room in formal training sceneGreat value: get 10 courses for the price of 8

Save on the year ahead by purchasing 10 accessibility and inclusion training courses for the price of 8, with our bundle deal. 

You don’t have to book them all right now – you have until the end of 2023 to book all 10. You can also download a training brochure to browse what’s available and share with your team. 

Book your training bundle

Further resources

New Threads app fails accessibility test

With over 100 million users signed up in its first five days, Threads is the fastest-growing social network ever launched – but is why is Meta excluding millions of possible users by repeating the accessibility mistakes of the past?

WSmart phone on laptop displaying the Threads apphen Meta’s Instagram team launched Threads this month, millions of users flocked to the new Twitter competitor, to see if it lived up to founder Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that they would be “focusing on kindness and making this a friendly place”.

But, however friendly the tone of the content shared on the site may be, Threads is excluding disabled users as the new mobile-only app has launched with many accessibility issues.

Meta’s Threads launch announcement, claimed that “The core accessibility features available on Instagram today, such as screen reader support and AI-generated image descriptions, are also enabled on Threads” – but our testing suggests otherwise.

AbilityNet’s expert accessibility and usability consultant, Paul Speller carried out a brief accessibility audit of just one page – the main Threads home timeline – on an Android device, against WCAG 2.1 Level AA. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) define a set of standards for how websites and apps can be built more inclusively, breaking down barriers for all disabled users.

The results are not very kind or friendly.

Of around 30 relevant WCAG Success Criteria he tested, he found multiple failures on around half the criteria, creating access barriers for millions of potential Threads users.

These are the key usability features tested:

  • Images
  • Headings
  • Navigation
  • Buttons
  • Reloading the timeline
  • Colour contrast
  • Media
  • Orientation

Threads presents issues for screen reader users

A screen reader allows people who are blind or visually impaired to use their computer and mobile phones and the Threads app presents many issues for these users.

Inaccessible images

Most obviously, there is no way for users to provide alternative text descriptions (alt text) for their images when creating a post or reply.

This is a basic battle that users have had with all the older social networks and eventually had this feature added to most of them.

Meta claims their artificial intelligence (AI) engine can describe images automatically, but in our testing, the results were generally poor: it’s difficult or impossible for an AI engine to understand the intention an author has when they include an image.

Screenshot from Threads homepage with a post from Scottygb showing a photo of framed certificate with unhelpful AI-generated alt text "May be an image of text".

Figure 1: Photo of framed certificate has unhelpful AI-generated alt text

The worst AI-generated description we encountered simply said “May be an image of text”. Even if the photo hadn’t shown a framed certificate with text on it, the text within the image would have been needed to understand it, not just the fact it was some text.

It’s not just the images users provide that need alt text.

Meta provides a ‘verified’ blue tick badge next to some users’ names, for sighted users to be assured they are who they say they are. These badges have no text alternative provided and are not announced by a screen reader at all, so visually impaired users will not get that same reassurance.

Other problems our screen reader testing encountered included:

No headings

No text anywhere in Threads that we’ve seen is marked up as a heading.

This removes one of the key ways assistive technology users can navigate within the pages of an app (failing the Info And Relationships WCAG Success Criterion).

Navigation issues

When the user opens and then closes a pop-up menu, they are thrown onto an irrelevant element somewhere else on the page.

This is likely to cause confusion and difficulty navigating the app (failing the Meaningful Sequence Success Criterion).

Illogical post order

In certain scenarios, the order in which the parts of a post on the home timeline could be accessed was very chaotic, jumping around various elements of the post’s information and content. It even jumped backward into information about the previous post while navigating through the current post (see numbered order in the image below).

It’s important that assistive technology users can tell which post each piece of information relates to, and this illogical order makes this near-impossible. (This also fails the Meaningful Sequence Success Criterion.)

Screenshot of the Threads homepage and the order in which each element received the screen reader cursor when navigating through a post in the Threads home timeline. The sequence is not meaningful, and at one point the order jumps back to the ‘Likes’ information from the previous post.

Figure 2: The order in which each element received the screen reader cursor when navigating through a post in the Threads home timeline.

The sequence is not meaningful, and at one point the order jumps back to the ‘Likes’ information from the previous post.

Button trouble in Threads

There were also numerous failures with the way Threads page elements were announced, for instance with lots of buttons not having a “button” role to ensure users could understand their purpose.

For sighted users, it may be obvious which things on screen look like you could tap them to load new pages or perform actions, but this must be communicated to assistive technology users, for example by giving them a button role. Every time this has been omitted, it’s a failure of the Name, Role, Value Success Criterion.

The addition of a “+” button to the icons for users who appear in your home timeline, but you don’t yet follow has been praised by sighted users for its simplicity and ease of use. But sadly this has not translated into good code for accessibility.

The icon button’s name is the same as the user’s name, which is already next to it, creating repetition; but also the word “Follow” only appears at the end of what sounds like it will just be a standard Android screen reader “Double-tap to activate” announcement, after a delay: “Username… Double-tap to follow”.

Users may choose to move on before hearing this crucial word, so it has the potential to confuse them by not making the purpose of the button clear up front, as a good accessible name should. This could also cause issues for speech recognition users, who may try to activate what appears from the “+” to be a button called “Add” or “Follow” but whose name does not contain this – a possible failure of the Label In Name Success Criterion.

A better approach here would be to ensure the on-screen username text is read first, then the icon is either hidden if it does not have a ‘+’ on it, or is read as “Follow [username], button” if it does have a ‘+’ on it. This would reduce duplication while ensuring the following functionality is clear to all users.

Reloading difficulties in Threads

Perhaps most strangely, the Threads icon at the top of the page is exposed to assistive technology as “Progress bar, in progress”.

The icon does indeed animate when the page is reloading, but it never shows how close it is to finishing loading so it’s not a progress bar and the “in progress” state is there at all times, including when the page is not currently reloading. Users of assistive technology will be told this is a progress bar and that it is in progress when in reality it is neither.

The logo also cannot be activated to reload the page when using a screen reader: the only way to reload is to go to the “Home” icon and activate this, but there is no information to tell users this. Without the “Home” icon, this would be a failure of the Pointer Gestures Success Criterion; as it is, it could be a lot clearer for users.

Meanwhile, when the page was reloading, the app failed another Success Criterion (Status Messages) by not declaring this fact to assistive technology. Users have no way of knowing the page is reloading, and no way to know when it had finished doing so either.

Threads colour contrast problems

It’s not just screen reader users who will have issues using Threads. Other accessibility failures will affect other users too.

Users with low vision will struggle with elements of the app because it fails both the WCAG Success Criteria relating to colour contrast (Contrast (Minimum) and Non-Text Contrast). These require that regular-sized text must have a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 with its background, and non-text elements a ratio of 3:1. For example:

  • The numbers of Replies and Likes are in grey text on a white background, with a contrast ratio of 2.8:1.
  • Links in posts are light blue on a white background, with a contrast ratio of 3.2:1.
  • The non-current icons on the navigation bar at the bottom of the app are grey on a white background, with a contrast ratio of 2.1:1.

Screenshot of Threads homepage with several elements of the timeline page having insufficient colour contrast against the white page background

Figure 3: Several elements of the timeline page have insufficient contrast against the white page background

Media issues

Despite the work Instagram have done to help users generate captions automatically for their Stories and Reels, Meta has not yet provided any captioning functionality at all for videos within Threads.

To comply with WCAG requirements around captioning (Captions (Prerecorded)), users will need to generate their captions elsewhere and burn them into their video before importing them into Threads. This manual process is likely to be a barrier to the provision of captions on many videos, excluding d/Deaf users and disadvantaging the many other users who may be using the app with their phone sound off and also relying on captions.

Ironically this must have been the process the Head of Instagram went through to create his video with captions listing all the top new features they’re working on adding to Threads – none of which was captioning!

Threads also doesn’t provide any features for audio descriptions and transcripts (required by Success Criteria such as Audio Description or Media Alternative), but sadly it is still common for these to be missing from even the most developed social networks.

Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be nice to see a new service launching to meet all of WCAG, instead of joining the others who overlook these parts?

There is also no way to pause a video without losing access to the rest of the app: you have to open the video, then put it on full screen, then tap it, to be able to pause it, and as soon as you back out of that situation it resumes playing. This means the app also fails the Stop, Pause, Hide Success Criterion, disadvantaging users for whom unstoppable motion can trigger a reaction.

Portrait-only orientation 

There’s also one straightforward failure not yet mentioned: the app fails the Orientation Success Criterion because it only works in portrait orientation. This automatically excludes users who want to access Threads through a landscape-oriented mounted touchscreen device that cannot be rotated, for example.

Learn more about the requirements of web orientation for accessibility in the below video:

Threads launch fails to prioritise accessibility

All of the above adds up to a very disappointing start for Threads on the accessibility front – and that’s just from a quick one-page audit.

After fixing the issues identified here, the next step should be for Meta to work with real users of the app with diverse needs and get their feedback on how well it works for them.

It’s always easier to build accessibility into apps, websites, and other digital content from the start, rather than trying to retrofit it later. It shouldn’t be incumbent on disabled users to have to speak up to get these problems fixed, but it frequently has been and seems like it may be again here.

For now, there’s a long way to go before all users can feel welcomed into Meta’s supposedly “friendly and kind new social network”.

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