We’ve heard the stats over the years fluctuate as to how accessible websites are for us who are blind or visually impaired. While users at various levels may agree based on their experience or opinions, some points of methodology will help us grasp a site’s usability regardless where we fall on the basic to advanced curb. Note that I discuss three basic questions here and you may already ask yourself more.
Before diving into the questions we will ask with a few examples, we do well to consider a couple factors. The first of these is what screen reading software we are using when we view a website. Someone who operates JAWS (that is, Job Access With Speech) will not always make the same assessments as someone using Zoom Text to enlarge or pan the screen’s visual components. Someone viewing a site with their cellphone using Voice Over will use different criteria than will someone reading with a refreshable braille display. In other words, these questions you can ask determine how a given website impacts yourself.
First and I dare say most important is whether I can get around the screen itself. Can I hit h (JAWS) repeatedly and catch the headings? Can I enter on links for more information or to go to another screen if necessary? Do the edit fields let me enter my name, address, payment information, or so forth on a site’s registration form? If not, why not? And for that matter, when I hit that submit button, do I get taken to the next screen?
If you’re using screen enlargement software, does your cursor go where your panning controls say it will go or is the website not jiving with how you’ve had to magnify text in order to read it?
Also, if you are using screen enlargement software or other adaptations to help you read as a partially sighted user, how do the colors contrast and do those contrasts help if I adjust the background to make the text and links stand out?
Secondly and closely related: Is the site’s information easy for me to follow or do I have to wander through extraneous ads and promotions that interrupt my reading an article? Don’t worry. Those ads and promotional hoopla drive any of us crazy whether we’re blind or sighted. I don’t need, for example, to know about the latest promo about the Chevy Equinox while I’m reading about last night’s baseball highlights.
If you’re panning a screen in Zoom Text are you able to read an article straight through or do the ads and other glossy images get in the way of your navigating experience?
Thirdly, does the screen refresh without warning or stay static? Sometimes, a website will update visually and, at the same time, kick your invisible JAWS cursor away from a line of text just as your getting the information you need. This is particularly annoying when it comes to following minute-by-minute sports coverage on ESPN or election coverage where the stats change without warning. Of course, we can press the F5 key to refresh anything such as when the Facebook screen freezes instead of taking us to the notifications link. Sometimes, Facebook jumps you out of a particular conversation and you have to key in control-alt-f and type in the string of text to find your place again.
You may have some other questions you’ve developed as well and I’d like to hear from you on those. The more we can engage web designers with making their sites and apps more accessible, the narrower the usability gap will be for us and our sighted friends.