The Challenges of Blind Internet Users
This is the first post in a series focusing on the challenges of persons with disabilities in using the Internet.
If you have read several of my posts, you’d know by now that blind people can indeed browse the Internet. If this is your first time here in Even Grounds, you can check out our post about how blind people use the computer. Remember to return to this post after reading that article.
Below we will talk about some of the issues faced by blind people as they browse specific websites. I’ve also included possible solutions you can take to make sure your site wouldn’t have these accessibility-related problems.
Joining us in this discussion is Lisa, the lady we met in the post entitled A Day Through the Eyes of a Blind Woman.
Creating an Account Online
While surfing the Net, Lisa finds a site that provides information that is very interesting to her. The site also lets members interact with other people who share the same interests. Lisa finds out that she needs to register first in order to be a member.
She goes to the registration page, enters a few personal information about herself. Before she can find the Submit button, she finds a message telling her to enter the code shown above. She tries to go to the code but since it is an image, her screen reader can’t read it for her.
A possible solution for Lisa is to find someone to read the code for her. But since she lives alone, this isn’t really an easy option. So Lisa is left with no choice but to find another similar site.
Web sites use this online test to ensure that only humans could register on their system. This is called Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, or CAPTCHA. Blind persons, unfortunately, find it hard to pass this online test.
Web developers have created alternatives to CAPTCHA such as audio codes and math questions. Each one has its own advantages and drawbacks. In addition, Solona has started to provide a human aided accessible CAPTCHA. The main concern of certain people with this service is that they have to send a screenshot of their screen. This, according to them, violates their privacy, and it is also impossible for secured or government locations.
As of now, the best CAPTCHA solution is still being debated upon by web experts.
Ordering Food From a Restaurant’s Site
Most restaurants now offer the option of ordering food through their web site. Lisa finds this very convenient, so she visits the site of the restaurant she wants to order from and looks for the menu.
She manages to download the PDF file containing the menu. But once she opened it, her screen reader couldn’t properly read the text. All it says is “blank” and a series of characters which she can’t understand.
Lisa’s other option is to just call up the restaurant and order food. But since this restaurant is new to her, she may need to ask the staff about the list of available dishes. This would obviously take much of her time.
But it would’ve been much better if the PDF file were accessible to people like Lisa who use assistive technology. Another possible solution would be to place the menu in an HTML file. This enables the screen reader to properly speak the names of the meals.
Reading Online Maps
Lisa heard from her friends that there is a newly opened fashion store in her city. She wants to visit that store, so she looks for directions using the Internet. Lisa finds a map that leads to the store.
The only available map she found has been placed in an image file. This makes it impossible for Lisa to know the directions she needs to take, because her screen reader can’t read image files.
One solution that can help Lisa is a textual description of the directions she needs to take. Using this textual version of the map, she would be able to know which streets to pass by, when to turn left or right, and the distance between each turning point.
Visiting Sites with Audio and Video
During the weekend, Lisa searches for her favorite singer’s web site. She finds it and enters the home page. Suddenly, a video of the artist’s latest single plays in the page.
Lisa tries to hear her screen reader but the sound of the video makes it difficult to do so. Managing to hear a little bit of what the screen reader is saying, she tries to look for the option to stop the video, but it is displayed in a graphical format.
If you own a web site that has audio or video which automatically plays once its page is loaded, you may want to consider letting your visitors have the option to play the content by themselves. Or, if you really want to have multimedia files that automatically play in your site, you should provide an accessible way to stop them. You should also try to set the volume at an average level. This lets screen reader users hear their software while the video or audio is playing. You can refer to my post about sounds in web sites for more detailed information.
Browsing Mouse-Oriented Sites
It’s a Saturday night and Lisa wants to know the movies her favorite TV channel would air. She goes to the TV channel’s website and finds the program schedule. Lisa finds the link for the specific date, and enters on it.
But nothing happens. She tries again a few times but the page doesn’t seem to change. She calls up her friend and asks about the site. They find out that the link has to be clicked by a mouse in order for it to be activated. Lisa can’t use the mouse, so naturally she can’t activate the link.
The solution to this is very simple. Web sites such as the one mentioned above should respond to the keyboard. This ensures that persons who prefer using the keyboard and those who prefer the mouse can all access the site.
Dealing with Too Much Information
As part of her job, Lisa has to research on various financial reports. She finds a site that contains financial reports by different experts.
She tries to move down to where the actual content is, but there is just too many links and related information in the page. And once she finds the main content, she still has to go to another page to view the rest of the report. Lisa has no choice but to bear with this site as this is the only one that has the information she needs.
This issue can be solved through a number of ways. A link that lets Lisa skip to the main content can help her spend less time in searching for it. Also, a more organized structure and design would help her navigate through the page more quickly.
The above situations are just examples of issues faced by blind Internet users. There are many other problems encountered by this group. However, if you have a site or if you know somebody who has one, you can help a lot in checking these issues and fixing them.