With the unaided eye (WTANZ05)

To a lot of folks, drafting a blog post with the unaided eye might seem like a very mundane task — no biggie, easy as pie! As for me, as I type these words, I cannot read what’s being displayed on screen thanks to my less than perfect vision. I usually wear contact lenses with PWR -4.00 and so without them my face would have to be around a hand span away from the monitor for the text to be readable. Using my browser’s zoom function isn’t really of much help. Even at maximum zoom, at my usual resolution and with the monitor at arms’ length, the text still looks blurred and the site’s layout gets badly compromised.

For some, I guess an option is to use screen readers. And last Sunday, that (and accessibility) was actually the focus of the WTANZ session. For the session, I used a Firefox add-on called Firevox and one of the built-in apps in Windows called Narrator. Our mission was to go to the weekend testing website and log in, with posting a comment reply as a bonus — without looking for most parts.

One downside of Firevox is that its keyboard shortcuts seemed to have been in conflict with my other add-ons. So to enable it, I had to look on screen to find and click the corresponding icon. Once enabled it went on to read text from the website including some stuff which sounded like css properties. It also gets triggered by mouse actions so whenever I move my mouse around, it starts reading the section where the pointer is at. I suppose it does this by design but it was awfully distracting whenever I moved the mouse pointer by accident.

As for Narrator, I wasn’t really able to use it as a screen reader although I think it could function as one. It’s use for me during the exercise was for telling me where the focus was as I shifted between windows or between fields using the keyboard. Sometimes it gets annoying though since it seems to repeat some stuff over and over again.

Some other things:

  • I found myself inclined to use the keyboard instead of the mouse. This means shortcut keys and correct tab ordering come in very handy.
  • It’s also helpful to have a default focus on first field to be most likely used — e.g., Search text box in Google, Username text box in wordpress.
  • The field descriptions proved to be quite useful. — For Narrator, it reads out these descriptions when the focus is on the field. Without these descriptions (as in the case of the post reply form), I couldn’t easily tell when I could actually start entering inputs. Downside though is the Narrator took around 2-3 seconds before it read it out loud.
  • Breadcrumbs are not screen reader friendly. Sometimes I just wanted to know which page I was at but the reader would go on to read the entire trail.
  • Same thing with some of unnecessary links on top of the page (as pointed out by Oliver). These aren’t screen reader friendly as well.
  • An interesting point raised during the discussion was that it would be helpful if there was a b.<whatever.com> version similar to the m.<whatever.com> for mobile sites OR some way to tone down the site content to be more apt for screen readers.
  • We thought ALT text would be read by the screen reader. I tried Firevox on xkcd but the ALT text wasn’t read.

I guess what Marlena said during the discussion sums it up best:  “This was, ironically, eye-opening.”

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