COVID-19 Highlights the Issues Facing Blind and Visually Impaired People in Accessing Data on the Web

Alexa F Siu*, Danyang Fan*, Gene S-H Kim, Hrishikesh V Rao, Xavier Vazquez, Sile O’Modhrain, and Sean Follmer
W4A: Web for All Conference, 2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, dissemination of data on the web has been vital in shaping the public’s response. We postulated the increased prominence of data might have exacerbated the accessi- bility gap for the Blind and Visually Impaired (BVI) community and exposed new inequities. We discuss fndings from a survey (n=127) on data accessibility followed by a contextual inquiry (n=12) of BVI people conducted between June and September 2020. 94% of survey respondents had concerns about accessing accurate COVID-19 data in a timely manner. Participants described how they encountered broad inaccessibility at early onset of the pandemic, and how ad- vocacy eforts and complimenting their access with a wide range of sources helped fulfll their needs. By examining how BVI users interact with accessible COVID-19 data dashboards, we observed the efect of data literacy, confdence, and modality preferences on user strategies and takeaways. Our observations during this critical period provide an understanding of the impact access or inaccess has on the BVI community in a time of crisis and important impli- cations for improving the technologies and modalities available to disseminate data-driven information accessibly on the web.