screenreader archives

case study

JavaScript and screen readers

In recent months, many web designers have been asking the question, “How can I make my dynamic site accessible?” Unfortunately, good answers have been slow in coming from the accessibility community. While some articles have touched on the problem, not many have gone into details. Here is our first attempt at rectifying this situation.

posted by cannona on Tuesday, Oct 07, 2008

I recently created a couple videos on accessibility. One on specifying the human language of an HTML document, and another on the importance of headings. Please excuse the lack of real video. My purpose was simply to create something that would get the message across.

posted by cannona on Monday, Aug 11, 2008

Alt Attributes: Image Description or Idea Description?

It is common knowledge that alt attributes should contain image descriptions. Unfortunately this is somewhat of an over simplification when it comes to icons or other images used as pictograms, especially when the icon is only loosely related to the action being represented. This problem can more easily be illustrated by an example:

If your web site contains a delete button represented by a trash can, you might write your alt attribute as alt=”trash can”, and under the simplified “alt = description of image” doctrine, you would be entirely justified. However, I encourage you to give this some careful thought. What is more important, that a visitor know what icon you chose to represent the delete action, or that they know what button to press to delete something? Unless you’re in the business of offering icons, I would assume the latter, and encourage you to use something like alt=”delete” instead.

What’s worse, someone who has been blind for a substantial portion of their life may not have sufficient experience with pictograms to understand what they mean based on their description. For instance, many blind users may have no idea what to make of alt=”a red circle with a line through it”. The user could guess, but do you really want to make the user guess about your interface?

I recently came upon a table which was used to show the status of various tasks. The column titles were something like “pending”, “completed” and “failed”, and the rows had labels like “registered in database”, “confirmed”, “synchronized”, ETC. To determine the status of a particular task, you would find the row for the task you were interested in and then look across the table to see which column had the dot. If The dot was in the “pending” column, it was a blue dot, green for the “completed” column, and red for the “failed” column. The alt attributes were alt=”blue-light”, alt=”green-light”, and alt=”red-light” respectively.

This is of course probably quite simple for most screen reader users to figure out, but it would be simpler still if alt=”pending”, alt=”completed” and alt=”failed” were used instead. Simpler because “looking” at a table is a little more work for a screenreader user. But more importantly, it gets back to the question, what’s more important, the icon or what it represents?

So in short, just remember that alt attributes are primarily not intended for helping the user to “see” the image, but rather for helping them get the information the image conveys.

posted by cannona on Monday, Jul 07, 2008

A study on captchas is being conducted. It only takes a few minutes, and they are looking for anyone to take it (sighted or not). I recognize the styles of many of the audio captchas from various sites including Google, Yahoo and Craigslist.

The results of this study should be quite interesting.

(Update: the link now works. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

posted by cannona on Thursday, Jun 19, 2008

Adobe Flex is Accessible? Show me.

My recent post on the accessibility of Adobe Flex prompted a response from Adam Lehman, an employee of Adobe. His blog post humorously titled “Is Adobe Flex Really Accessible? You bet your robot voice it is!” talks about a few aspects of Adobe Flex which he claims makes it more accessible than the alternatives. Unfortunately, the issues raised in my original post remain, for the most part, unaddressed.

Adam says on his blog:

I think where Aaron had a rough time is that most of the accessibility information on for Flex needs to be updated. It looks like all of the information is based off of Flex 1.5. It’s definitely something that needs to be addressed and our accessibility team is working on it. I’m also willing to bet that all the applications Aaron tested weren’t the best examples of applications designed to be accessible.

I would point out that the applications I tested were those on the above mentioned site that were specifically recommended by Adobe as examples of accessible apps. It is not clear from Adam’s post whether or not those applications are also in need of being updated. It is also not clear if the Jaws scripts (which, as you will recall, I could not get to install on either of two machines) are also slated for update, as they were not mentioned at all.

It is great that Adobe seems to be actively working towards making Adobe Flex accessible. However, “working on it”, and actually being accessible are two very different things.

Again, if I am wrong, I would love to know about it, and I will of course update this blog with any new information. However, at this point, without having actually experienced an accessible Adobe Flex application, I can not recommend it as an accessible solution, though I do hope that that will change.

Sorry for the lack of comments. I’ll keep bugging the admins and hopefully we’ll have them soon. In the meantime, please feel free to email me at [email protected] (removing all of the hopefully spam-bot foiling q’s.)

posted by cannona on Friday, Feb 08, 2008

Is Adobe Flex Really Accessible?

Short answer: no, at least not as far as I can tell.

When I first heard that Adobe Flex was accessible, I was naturally quite excited. I had heard about how powerful the technology was for building rich web apps, and I couldn’t wait to try it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to taking a closer look until recently, when I was asked to conduct an evaluation by some folks at work.

Adobe has some sample Flex applications available which supposedly show off there accessibility. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to work that well for me with Jaws 9.0. Almost none of the controls were readable.

Digging around a little more on the adobe site brought me to their page on using Adobe Flex with Jaws where I read:

In order to most effectively use the JAWS screen reader with an Adobe Flex application, users must download and install scripts. These scripts enable some of the accessibility features of Flex and allow users to utilize the standard JAWS keyboard shortcut to enter Forms mode on a larger set of user interface controls than would otherwise be possible. It is important to direct users with visual impairments to this page so that they will have the necessary scripts to use JAWS effectively.

A little background may be in order at this point for those who are less familiar with Jaws for Windows. Jaws is a very powerful screen reading program, and part of its power comes from the ability to use custom scripts. Unfortunately, many users have never installed Jaws scripts, and may not even realize that it is an option.

So, undaunted, I downloaded the Jaws script files to try the demo again. Just one problem. The scripts would not install. I tried on two different computers with a few different versions of Jaws with no luck, and it appears I am not the only one to encounter this problem.

I find this situation to be quite disappointing, as Adobe has done a lot for accessibility in the past. However, as it stands now, the claim that Adobe Flex is accessible seems to be nothing more than marketing hype.

Hopefully, Adobe will put some more time into making Flex truly accessible. It would also be nice if they could get Freedom Scientific (the company which owns and maintains Jaws for Windows) to bundle the scripts with the program as has been done for many other applications. However, until that happens, I can not recommend Adobe Flex.

I would love to be proven wrong, so if you know of a way I can get this to work, please email me at [email protected] (removing all of the hopefully spam-bot foiling q’s.)

Update: This post sparked a response from an employee of Adobe. See this post for further details.

posted by cannona on Wednesday, Feb 06, 2008