I’m finding it difficult, as a person with a visual disability (legally blind) to get access to information about COVID-19 that is accessible.

For example, I look to twitter for up to date information from various news sources. Ontario Health (@ONThealth) posted information that Ontarians should have about the virus, but it was a sort of text slide show with no video description. It also went quickly so anyone with a visual disability using screen magnification or someone with a learning, cognitive or print disability would not be able to read it. For those of us with learning, cognitive or other print disabilities or those of us using screen readers, the “text” was not accessible and there wasn’t a link to an accessible web page.

The CVC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), the same day, posted a really good video by a surgeon on how to wash your hands. It was detailed, in plain language and she described every action taken…but it was not captioned.

I piece together information from twitter feeds and news apps from around the world to get an overview of what I need to do to protect myself, but this means having to store pieces of information in my head and then make sense of them. For those of us with learning, cognitive or other print disabilities, this may not be possible.

As someone who uses a screen reader as my primary adaptive technology because it is faster to go through content, it is frustrating to come across web sites with documents suggesting they have important information only to find my ability to navigate them and get to specific content is impossible due to the inaccessibility of the document itself. 

With COVID-19 we seem to be moving into a new phase that will require forms to be filled out for unemployment benefits, income supplements and other documents that need to be made accessible before they are distributed. Many people whose work is to provide remediation of an organization’s documents are now working from home, many without the tools they would have at their workstation in an office.

As national and global communities , we must find ways to ensure that basic information about COVID-19, any forms or any information distributed in Word, PowerPoint, PDF or EPUB is fully accessible to those of us with disabilities. We can’t abandon legislative mandates that will affect over 1 billion people globally.

I am fortunate in that although my primary tool for accessing information is a screen reader, I can use screen magnification although it slows me down quite a bit.

For people who can’t switch adaptive technologies, access to information during this pandemic is sporadic, inconsistent and mostly inaccessible.

It was only about 3-4 days ago that I finally got reliable information on what the symptoms are for COVID-19 which was lucky as I may have been exposed to the virus and am now self quarantined (I have let our local public health unit know).

Information in this time of pandemic should be available to everyone and those of us with disabilities shouldn’t have to try to piece information together from a variety of sources. We shouldn’t be asking for accessible content when resources could be spent elsewhere. Documents at this critical time should be accessible…period!

By: Karen McCall, M.Ed.
Senior Advisor, Accessible Document Design
Open Access Technologies, Inc.


Karen McCall, M.Ed. Senior Advisor, has been working in the field of accessible document design for over 18 years. Although her focus is on accessible Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents, she is a strong advocate for the accessibility of all file formats.