The Web Design Accessibility Conference held recently in Toronto provided a number of insights and best practices for achieving web accessibility and usability for users with disabilities.
One of the most enlightening group discussions was Understanding Accessibility, where a panel of users with disabilities discussed their online experiences and provided a glimpse of the challenges they face in the digital world. Here are six of the many things they taught us.
If it’s important, why isn’t it up top?
Even with the assistance of screen reader software, users with low vision or blindness like Maria Cruz of CyberWave Web Design find it difficult when searching for important information on a web page.
Often even key fields, such as a user logins, are located near the bottom of pages, meaning a screen reader must run through a lot of preamble before getting to the point. This is hard even for users with low vision, as the extra time and effort it takes to find what they are looking for can cause eye strain.
For easier navigation, tags are it
As well as placing key information nearer the top of page, Cruz recommended tagging all headers with the proper HTML H-tags so that screen readers can more easily jump from section to section. “It helps us navigate much more quickly,” said Cruz.
Don’t forget about images, too
The internet is full of un-labelled pictures and graphics, said Mala D. Naraine, a low vision woman who recently completed a postdoctoral research fellowship at Ryerson University on accessible media and audio description.
When asked about simple things that designers need to think about, she said to not only label images but also use descriptive, alternative text options.
She also recommended using tables as little as possible–while they may make sense visually, screen readers have difficulty communicating their contents properly.
PDFs can be painful
When it comes to PDFS, Naraine said to use text PDFs instead of image PDFs. All agreed that PDFs are a mixed-bag when it comes to accessibility.
Marisol Pestana Canivet, a visually-impaired member of the Accessibility Advisory Committee for Richmond Hill and a CNIN Ambassador, said using her keyboard to navigate a document’s fillable fields often doesn’t work; especially for Y/N questions where markers can jump unpredictably. Canivet uses a large mouse pointer to compensate, but this results in less accurate clicking.
Flash equals crash
“Accessible” doesn’t equal usable
Merely checking off your boxes and adhering to the usual list of best-practices doesn’t necessarily mean your final project will be easy to navigate. “Maybe blind people should be paid to participate in the testing phase,” offered Naraine. She acknowledged the additional cost, but added that it “might be worth your while.”
The Understanding Accessibility panel was held September 8, 2014 at the Web Design Accessibility Conference in Toronto, presented by RGD. The discussion was moderated by designer Michelle Hopgood. Designedge Canada was a media partner for the event.