Friday, March 6, 2009

FOWA Dublin Notes: Apps for All in a Web 2.0 World - by Robin Christopherson (AbilityNet)

Robin Christopherson from AbilityNet, a UK based charity helping disabled people to use computers and the internet, opened our eyes for seeing (or rather hearing) how a visually impared person is using the Web and what obstacles they face.

CAPTCHAs are telling disabled and non-disabled persons apart, not only humans and computers

CAPTCHAs are most often implemented using images. A screen reader is obviously not able to read the letters in the image (that's the purpose of a CAPTCHA...) so people using screen readers are locked out.

Fortunately, a few sites offer audio CAPTCHAs. Unfortunately these are so heavily distorted so that not only computers fail at understanding them, but humans fail, too. An entertaining example is the Google account sign-up page.

Text-only versions help

There is a non-advertised HTML version of Google Maps which provides usable text-only directions. Often, less can be more.

Automatically starting video/audio sequences are annoying

If an audio sequence (which can be part of a video) starts automatically it overlays the screen reader's voice making it very hard to navigate the page. One of the most popular examples might be YouTube.

I find this very annoying myself even without having to use a screen reader. I use Flash Block to prevent this.

So it's much better to have a user-driven start of animations. Also, it really helps to have audio descriptions for videos that explain the scenes.

Websites are getting unusable when changing the font size

Many websites use fixed sizes for their layout. When you resize the text it can largely overlap as the layout doesn't adapt to the new font sizes -- making the content unreadable.

A more accessible alternative are Liquid Layouts where the layout adapts to the font size.

Flash is next to unusable...

...unless you use the Flash Accessibility Layer and make sure a keyboard navigation is possible.

Overall, this was a very interesting presentation and the first time I've actually seen somebody using a screen reader to browse the Web.

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