Talks, workshops, shows, … all of these formats had to find their way to the internet due to the pandemic. Taken those aside who do not or cannot use the internet, still about 90% of households in the EU had access to the internet in 2020 and could potentially be reached using online formats. Having outreach events and information online especially increases the accessibility for those living in less-dense populated areas in which in-person science communication (scicomm) events seldom take place. However, there are more advantages to digital scicomm, making it possible to not only bring science to people’s living rooms, but also holding the potential to increase inclusivity by using easy-access tools, thereby truly increasing overall accessibility.
An advantage of digital formats including social media platforms and blogs is that conclusive image descriptions can easily be added using ‘alt text’. These descriptions should be detailed enough to understand the concept and purpose of the image/video/gif used. Alt texts or transcripts are especially important when using infographics on social media. Since they are graphics, they cannot be accessed by screen readers which are often utilized by the visually-impaired. A further consideration when choosing or designing images and graphics should be a strong colour contrast suitable for colour-blind people. This can easily be tested by converting the image into black and white or colour-blind simulator websites.
Any scicomm formats that include texts should be made more accessible by considering people with dyslexia or vision impairment/loss. Starting by choosing a font and font size that is easily readable (e.g. Calibri, Century gothic, Comic sans, Open dyslexic), extending to only using single-column-texts and formatting headings into a “heading” style for screen-readers to better grasp what’s written. It might be tempting to use so-called ‘fancy-fonts’ to visually structure social media captions, however, these cannot be read by screen-readers most of the time. Furthermore, hashtags can be made more accessible by capitalizing the first letter of every word (e.g. #ScienceIsForEveryone).
Videos, talks, live-streams, audio-formats (e.g. Podcast)
The spoken word is not easy to follow for everyone. Adding captions to any formats including audio or video can increase accessibility for hearing-impaired and neurodivergent persons immensely. Many platforms and programs (e.g. youtube, facebook, zoom, powerpoint) facilitate adding automated or closed captions directly or through third-party programs. These are surely not extremely accurate yet and often need to be edited, however, with more people using these options they will most probably improve rapidly. In case videos include important visuals, descriptions of these should be included in the closed captions or described verbally.
After the pandemic
With the pandemic hopefully ending sooner than later, a lot of formats can and should happen in person again. Nonetheless, we should try not to lose the accessibility we have gained using digital formats. Hybrid concepts (e.g. livestreaming talks/shows or recording and uploading them later) could provide the basis for a future of accessible scicomm.
Some final words
As digitalization is happening rapidly and the possibilities (but also drawbacks) are changing constantly, we cannot expect everyone to provide the maximum accessibility from the beginning. We are still learning to deal with new opportunities we have. However, it should be the goal to implement inclusivity in scicomm from the beginning and not as an extra workload. We already have a lot of tools at hand and with time, technology will make it even easier.