How to Make your “At-Home” and Online Presence Accessible for Adaptive Athletes

March 20, 2020 by
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We are living through an extraordinary moment and gyms and fitness brands are offering all sorts of online and app-based services for those stuck at home in lockdown, under quarantine or social distancing. It’s vitally important to understand how those products will be received by all users — including those with disabilities. This article explores the concept of “Universal Design” with three-time CrossFit Games team athlete and special education expert Kristen Arnold to give you actionable tips to be able to reach more potential clients, more effectively.

What is Universal Design

Universal Design (UD) is the configuration and composition of an “environment” so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, ability, or other characteristics. An “environment” for the digital fitness community could be downloadable booklets, online programming, or live video-conference workouts using a service like Zoom.

  • Arnold: “The principles of Universal Design apply to building structures (including gyms), as well as physical and digital learning environments. When a gym owner or trainer applies principles of Universal Design in both physical and digital environments, structural and social barriers are removed so that anyone, regardless of ability, can participate. “

Inclusion is at the heart of Universal Design. For gyms, trainers, and online programming providers, this means making your service or product available to more people.  This in turn means more potential clients (i.e. increased revenue) but it also means providing an essential health service to those who need it most in times of isolation — people with disabilities.

When thinking about how to make your services or products more accessible, it can be easy to plan for physical aspects like ramps or accessible doorways, but digital products can be less straightforward.

Ways to Make Your Online Presence More Accessible

With the most popular digital mediums in mind, here are some tips you can use to quickly and easily make your digital presence and products more in-line with Universal Design principles:

EBooks, Websites, and Apps: Use high contrast colors and shapes for visual information.

Use a white or light background with dark font to make the text or information easier to comprehend. This is particularly important for individuals with visual impairments like colorblindness.  Try to avoid unnecessary or “busy” design elements and when possible, avoid colors of similar shading for the text and background.

Example: Look at the composition of the Morning Chalk Up newsletter as a great example of what to do. The background is white with high contrast black text. MCU uses their primary brand blue color as an accent for header or important text.  That’s it! Simple, effective, and very readable.

Videos and Videoconferencing: Include subtitles or transcriptions. 

When possible, add subtitles to your videos so that people who are deaf or hard of hearing can receive your spoken information.

  • Videoconferencing: Services like Zoom will allow the host, or a designated participant to add closed captions directly onto the video. To find out how your program can add captions, search “accessibility features.” Most programs also allow you to download a written transcript of the session.
Photo credit: Zoom
  • Live Feeds: If you’re using a live feed service like IGTV that doesn’t have a native subtitle function, add host comments throughout the video or display main points on a whiteboard or something similar. If possible, consider having a second person add text in the comments sections throughout the video to help non-auditory learners understand the visuals.
  • Produced Videos: For videos that are edited prior to uploading, take the extra time to add subtitles. There are numerous mobile apps that can do this on your phone. To find one, search in your app store for “closed captions” or “subtitles.” All more professional editing software like Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro have built-in captioning functions…use them! Even standard software like iMovie has a closed captioning feature.

Photos: Create alternative texts. 

Create “alt text” for pictures, charts, and graphs so people who use non-visual browsers have access to your content. This information is stored in the photo’s data and then displayed on a browser or phone. You should also add alt text on social media platforms like Instagram by clicking on edit and selecting “alt text.”

Photo credit: Adaptive Training Academy

Most Important Universal Design Tip!

  • Arnold says: “Rather than wait until someone with a disability wants to gain access to your content, include those individuals in the creative process of designing your virtual spaces. Everyone benefits from a more user-friendly platform as a result.”

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