Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Access Ability: ComputerWorld article examines issues that are 'maddening' for blind users

Access Ability: ComputerWorld article examines issues that are 'maddening' for blind users

A very interesting article on issues still facing many blind computer users - mentions the much hated CAPTCHA image and the lack of alt text for images often about.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

LibraryThing and JAWS

I like I think it's actually a very useful social cataloguing tool. I wish all cataloguing were quite so simple (remember I'm a librarian in disguise) and easy to follow. I've even got an account and started to catalogue my own collection - that way I may have a chance of finally remembering which Ellis Peters I have when I'm not in the house to check on the shelf.

So as a last test, I'm trying this out with JAWS. On the plus side when I went to the webpage, it instantly took me to the login so I could log in.

Some things about

  1. Columns: Sometimes JAWS doesn't work with columns very well. It often reads from left to right ignoring that the left hand column is a list of navigation links and that the right hand column is filled with information. You can get some interesting sentences that way! Although most of the columns seem to be tables, which makes navgating easier - T in the JAWS Quick Navigation will take you to the next table and tabbing will allow you to move through the lists. Ctrl+Inst+T will give a list of all the tables.

  2. Tables: I mentioned Tables a bit above. I think I actually might be getting better at navigating through tables! Hurrah! I find it easier to listen to and navigate through it. There are not as many tables in as there are in Facebook which is a definite bonus. It also seems much cleaner and easier to navigate around.

  3. Alt text: Again there's no alt text for the book covers so you get a large string of numbers which makes you kind of wonder what on earth you're listening to. Still it reads out the columns well and the stars for reviews come out as "graphic star" which is a bonus.

All in all, perhaps it's a combination of my increasing navigation skills with JAWS, but I didn't find too bad with JAWS, which proves that something simple can be beneficial to librarianship.

I've done what I said I would do earlier on in this blog and I'm going to take some time to mull over my experiences and blog some more about my general thoughts later on.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008 and JAWS

Today I thought I'd try out that nifty little social bookmarking site known as with JAWS. I was more pleasantly surprised than irked for a change! I have to say I'm learning a lot about navigating the web without sight and it's helping my JAWS knowledge as well. Whoever would have thought I'd be able to spend so much time using Web 2.0 at work and it be relevant!

OK, some things about

  1. Navigation - not bad! Not heavy on graphics and quite linear so JAWS read through lists quite happily. I managed to get to the login page and login and read my pathetic three links. Only niggle is the vertical bar which separates the navigation links at the top and occassionally elsewhere on the page- aggggghhhhhh!!!! It reads out as "vertical bar" and is quite annoying!

  2. Missing heading number 2 - when I went through the headings list, there seems to be no mention of heading level 2. Heading level 1 and heading level 3 and 4 are all present and correct, but not heading level 2. Seems that they have not considered that they could change the size of the headings so that they could use the heading levels correctly.
  3. They do have alt text for the images, but this then unfortunately means that there are a lot of repeated links when JAWS is just running through the page for the first time.

In general I thought it worked OK with JAWS. Nothing is ever going to be perfect and it's certainly easier to navigate around than Facebook and there is not the heavy reliance on tables as others. The real niggle is that vertical bar - is it really necessary? Would anyone notice if it went missing?

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Facebook and JAWS

Facebook is one of the giants of social networking. I spent a happy half hour or so attempting not to look at my computer screen and instead listen to the delightful sounds of "Daniel" (he's my favourite voice, not unlike Cary Grant, if he'd been a computer) telling me what I was navigating through. It's interesting not being able to see it and have to rely on other senses instead and it threw up some interesting points:

  1. There's an awful lot of tables in Facebook. All those different boxes on the page with friend information, the Wall, the feed list, they're all tables. I'm not terribly au fait with accessing tables with JAWS, but it got quite annoying (I have my verbosity settings high) after a while.

  2. I am not a number!! There is, as some of you may be aware, nothing in the way of alt text for the pictures, instead it reads as a very long number. In effect you get a link to a person's profile through the picture, but you don't know who the person is because it's just a number....

  3. There's lots in the way of duplicate links on the page, because of the links on the feed, the Wall and Friends list. Hitting Ins+F7 gives a very very very long list indeed (often with many many numbers!)!

  4. When I put JAWS in "Say All" mode, it read from left to right across the page from the applications links, skipping out the picture in the middle to read the personal information. On a friend's page this made for very strange reading - going from "Events" to hearing what their religious convictions were!

I'm a novice JAWS user and maybe regular users would navigate round it quicker. On the other hand, not all assistive technology users are expert (think about how many people don't know how to use Word correctly but use it every day!) but most websites are easier to navigate because they are less dynamic and tend to have a more linear structure (if they're written correctly!). It wasn't impossible to navigate around the page, but it was quirky.

There's a lot to be said for social networking. I make use of it and I certainly do not wish to halt its progress, but I would like to see it easier to use for those who rely on assistive technology.

There are a some accessibility groups on F'book who are trying to improve the situation:

There are various other reports:

The BBC's accessibility blog had an interesting point to make "we all need to consider ourselves as TAB (Temporarily Able Bodied) and then design accordingly. " It's good practice and I'd highly recommend any web developers to have some basic knowledge of screenreaders and take the time to hear how a website or application "sounds".

Monday, 7 April 2008

User friendliness and screenreaders

Anyone creating online information in the form of a web page will run it through an HTML/XHTML/XML/CSS validator, the most ubiquitous being the W3C Validator (I've used it too!) or Bobby (which seems to have been taken over by IBM and is no longer publicly available).

It's a great idea to make sure that the information can be read by those who use assistive technology (although I worry that those XHTML Valid buttons seem to have taken over as a way of saying "Look at me, I'm accessible", when the website looks as if it's been written by Jackson Pollock and anything but "accessible" ... I'll rant about "accessibility" another time).

Can the same be said for Web 2.0 applications? How well do they work with screenreaders? I thought I'd take my knowledge of using JAWS and put it to the test. I'm not visually impaired, but I have had conversations with a JAWS user who spends a lot of time online. She also assured me that she'd never had any trouble using (or buying from!) - I'd heard it was something of an accessibility nightmare.

So, where to start. I thought I'd take some Web 2.0 applications and see what I can come up with using JAWS (I'll also trawl around the web to see if anyone else has some info on these). Here's my basic list to start with:

1. Facebook (it'll give me an excuse to play with it at work!)
2. - see above for excuse!
3. - not too enamoured of this, but it could be useful

So I'll let you know how I get on.