Posts Tagged VoiceOver

building accessible websites

Gabe Vega of The Blindtechs Network gave a presentation on accessibility and usability at Refresh Phoenix last night (download PDF version here). The age-old wisdom is that you don’t know what you don’t know, and many of us sighted folk have probably never given a second thought as to how accessible our sites are to individuals who need screen readers and other assistive technologies to use our sites. We evaluate sites based on visual, functional and user experience aesthetics. Gabe is blind, which mean he evaluates sites based on accessibility aesthetics.

Gabe’s presentation walked through a handful of sites with various accessibility and usability issues. One example was the site of a local businessperson built using WordPress. The primary critique of the site was that blog post titles were not tagged as headers in the source code, meaning that a screen reader has no way of discerning its importance. All users skim headings to find the content we are most interested in. Sighted users look for changes in text size, font, and color. Blind users, via screen readers, look for demarcating tags. Thus, a screen reader ‘skimming’ the site completely skips over the post title to the comments section. And what good are comments if you don’t know what people are commenting on.

I mention the WordPress site because it is most relevant to my own sites, namely the one you’re reading right now. Ms. Herr when online is a hosted site using one of their standard theme templates. Curious if the title-not-tagged-as-header problem varied by theme, I turned on VoiceOver (fn+command+F5) and tried to navigate this site. The result: TOTAL FAIL. Katy, my reader, spoke the name of my blog, but nothing else. I’m guessing it’s one (or two) of two things:

  1. The theme I’ve selected doesn’t not include the proper tags for accessibility.
  2. I suck at using VoiceOver.

I have plans to redesign Ms. Herr when online in the near future. Even though I’m not a developer, I’m going to attempt to do it myself (wish me luck). After Gabe’s presentation, you can bet I’ll be testing the design for accessibility (assuming I can figure out how to not suck at using VoiceOver).

Bottom line, a basic understanding of accessibility and usability is important to anyone involved in the creation of websites. As a client, you need to know to ask your web designed and development provider to integrate usability into your site’s design. As a provider, you need to know how to design for accessibility.

And if you haven’t done it already, I’d encourage you to look at your own sites for accessibility. Check out W3C Web Markup Validation for one great tool (thanks @scottyj). If you don’t have the time or the know-how to make the fixes, or the time to self-teach, hire someone who does.

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