Can We Discuss… Accessibility?



  1. easy to approach, reach, enter, speak with, or use.
  2. able to be used, entered, reached, etc.: an accessible road; accessible Mayan ruins.
  3. suitable for disabled people to reach, enter, or use, as a result of design modifications: wheelchair-accessible vans; modified controllers to make video games accessible.
  4. readily understandable: Students may believe that poetry is not accessible because of its metaphorical language.
  5. obtainable; attainable: accessible evidence.
  6. open to the influence of (usually followed by to):accessible to bribery. –

Family history and genealogy research is something that is accessible to everyone, right?

Or is it…

Can we open the floor to those of us with disabilities to discuss further whether it’s accessibility for people with physical disabilities or for people who are neurodivergent.

I should say here, I fall into both of those categories which is why I wanted to wave the flag here and engage people in what can be done to change things for the better, because it just takes one voice to get the ball rolling, right?



relating to or showing atypical neurological behavior and development, as in autism spectrum disorder or dyslexia. Abbreviation: ND” –

“The neurodiversity paradigm was developed and embraced first by autistic people. Subsequently, it was applied to other neurodevelopmental and/or neuropsychiatric conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental speech disorders, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysnomia, intellectual disability and Tourette syndrome.”

Wikipedia –

I am going to start with neurodivergence from my own perspective as every neurodivergent person is different because there is a real mixture of different areas we do well in and areas we need a little help with. For me, reading and writing are areas I struggle with but I have an undergraduate degree with honours in two arts subjects. Yay me! But in seriousness, I wouldn’t have graduated without the support of assistive technology, support from the universities and of course my family and friends. My courses required me to read a lot and or course to write a lot for essays and my dissertation. With some of the papers or books we were required to read, I could find a PDF version that my assistive technology would read to me, especially when certain fonts made it more difficult for me than others.

I now have ways of making my browser more accessible, so all my fonts are set to Verdana because fonts sans serif fonts are far easier for me to read than serif fonts. I use Google Chrome and if you head into your settings, you can change the fonts to the one you find the easier to read (and I’m sure that’s an option on all internet browsers you use).

What’s the difference between “serif” and “san serif” because they sound like jargon terms? Well, serif fonts are like Times New Roman where the letters have what looks like tails on them, whereas sans serif fonts are like Arial or Comic Sans where the letters are more compact and modern in their look. There is a Wikipedia page about Serif fonts and another on San Serif fonts if you would like to see the difference. There are fonts that are said to be “dyslexia friendly” which I have found as difficult to read as serif fonts. What I find really difficult are when I see a mixture of serif fonts AND san serif fonts on the SAME PAGE! It makes it really difficult for me and I end up with headaches far more often than pages who stick to the one style of font.

Social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Discord etc have the option of a dark or light option where I always opt for the dark option on my computer and on my phone. It makes it far more easy for me to read. This is more difficult when it comes to reading original documents, but on many of the genealogy websites you can change the contrast or invert the screen from a white page with black writing to a black page with white writing. A lot of people find that very useful for trying to work out handwriting that’s a little more tricky to decipher. A wonderful option for everyone to play about with.

This sounds good so far. I can get my computer to read some documents to me, I can change the font on my browser, I can change the contrast or invert the colours on documents… But wait! Not ALL genealogy websites allow you to use the font your browser is set to so you end up with serif AND san serif on the SAME PAGE! On top of that, you cannot change the background colours of the pages to make the easier to read, only the contrast or inversion on the documents themselves. And while I have technology that was paid for where I can actually change the colour of my screen if I want to, the inability to change the font is a huge disadvantage to users who have difficulties reading specific fonts. A lot of mainstream websites, like WordPress, automatically change when you update your settings in your browser. That surely must be something that designers of genealogy websites, large and small, should consider to make their page accessible to the widest market possible rather than throwing up barriers to those of us with diagnosed processing differences.

That doesn’t even take in to consideration those who have other types of visual difficulties or disabilities who may want to magnify a website or have the computer read text to them. It has an impact on those who have both visual differences and processing differences.

Physical Accessibility

Physical accessibility is definitely a trickier topic which is very new to me. I have chronic pain in my back and legs which impact my ability to walk or to sit/stand for too long. I walk with a stick very slowly and take high pain medications. Having worked in the culture and heritage sector, I know very well that there are buildings that are fully accessible, partly accessible or completely inaccessible for me. Many of these buildings were there long before any of us (yes, I’m including all of you reading this right now) were even thought about. Long before our parents even or grandparents, great-grandparents etc. Some will have ramps, some will have lifts, some will have accessible toilets but there are others that don’t. Some of these buildings really should be left as they are, in my personal opinion, but the contents that we might want to access. Long term solutions might mean moving the entire collection or archive to a modern building with accessibility in mind. For the time being, digitising collections either photographs of items or scans of records would really help those of us who can’t be there in person. This shouldn’t just be the thought of archives but also museums. We don’t just want the dusty books off the shelf or the old scrolls of paper, we would like to be able to see old clothing, jewellery, coins, posters, light fixtures, toys etc.

It’s not just the archives or museums. Online conferences during lockdowns have not only helped me to understand record sets or DNA researching, but they have helped me to connect with other people who share my hobby and passion. They’ve helped my mental health in a huge way because I neither have the ability physically to get from A to B, but I wouldn’t have the money to either as I am physically unable to work. In a Zoom conference, I will find that my pain levels increase, but having 30 days to work through a conference like The Genealogy Show offer means that I can sit for half an hour or pause when I need to. The amount of time with RootsTech the last couple of years or the social media pages for different companies, societies, groups with videos where there is either an unlimited amount of time or a weekend to catch up, are so valuable to those of us who cannot physically be there. If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that people can engage with these conferences wherever they are in the world. I am happy to spend £20 to have that ability to watch pre-recorded videos by professionals and enthusiasts.

And this shouldn’t be limited to just the big companies. Family history societies could gain so much from looking at something similar. So you are in the USA but you know one branch of your family came from a specific area of Scotland, wouldn’t it be great if you could pay a small fee to watch a meeting of a family history society with a guest speaker talking about that industry your family worked in? The benefits of exploring online conferences, quarterly newsletters in PDF format that can be emailed to members etc… it isn’t just going to help those who can’t physically make it because of a disability but also those who are in another part of the world, a student who is researching a topic but studying at university or college in another city/region/country etc.

To Conclude

Finding ways to make things more accessible for those of us with disabilities benefits far more people than you would think. It means that a mother who knows she can get her kids to bed by a certain time can watch that night time meeting on a computer from home rather than missing out. It means that someone in Australia/Canada/New Zealand/South Africa/USA etc can connect with meetings in the UK or vice versa or of course in other parts of the world, let’s not limit knowledge of ancestors to just certain parts of the world, that’s a whole separate discussion!

It means those who prefer reading with a certain font type for aesthetic reasons or those who want to listen to their computer reading back something have that ability. Sore eyes from bright white screens can be turned down or changed to black/blue/pink/green or just lowering the brightness. There are so many reasons why these “supportive aids” benefit more than just those of us with disabilities or differences. It’s time to make genealogy more accessible because we should all be able to find out more about our roots!

I would LOVE to know your thoughts or what you would like to see changed to make things more accessible to your needs. I don’t mean the cost, that’s a different discussion/debate to this one. What would you like to see your local family history society do to make it easier for your to engage? What would you like to see the big companies do to make it easier for you to build your tree or access their records? You can leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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