Building websites for the blind

Post by Mike C Picture of Mike C
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This months Northwest Drupal User Group (NWDUG) in Manchester had a lovely visit from a non developer to talk about how the Internet has changed his life and the challenges of using the Internet as a blind person.

Being blind since he was a child has meant that some activities weren't possible before the Internet became accessible to everyday people - such as reading the news or magazine articles. Now Sunil works with the Internet everyday at his job in the British Red Cross.

Many years ago JAWS was the defacto screen reader that accessible sites were tested against and made the Windows operating system more popular amongst the blind community. Since Apples VoiceOver capabilities have been baked in to their OS X software its opened up better applications to navigate the web. It was also noted that nearly all blind people tend to prefer iPads and iPhones because of their mature and built in accessibility features - and the interface controlled with flicks and swipes to the touch screen.

The group were given a demo of navigating the Guardian news website being navigated in the Safari web browser. The VoiceOver facility describing all the elements on the page read out the descriptions at a high speed to transmit the vast amount of information needed.

Sunil said he used headings to jump to content he's looking for - H1 etc. HTML tags.  Interestingly the "skip to main content" link right at the top of the page (and often found in Drupal base themes) wasn't used! A comment from the audience did suggest that those links are great for sighted users navigating sites with the keyboard.

He found the ALT attribute on images useful, if present, although TITLE attributes should contain the descriptions of what is in the image.

Forms with clearly labeled fields help associate form validation error messages with the bad input. 

The CAPTCHA anti spam systems still create a mixed problem - implementations that offer disability support are hard to hear and so difficult to solve. Sunil's favorite are the logic questions such as maths or odd word in a list. Google's more recent ReCAPTCHA now removes all these problems and replaces it with a simple tick box. A Drupal module is also available to support this service on forms.

In recent years the European cookie compliance policy pop ups have invaded many of our websites -- ones which appear at the top of the page tend to be a mild irritant but once accepted they don't re-appear - so just as relevant to all of us. Prehaps putting the cookie warning at the bottom of the site is a better solution?

In a similar vein the topic of pop-up banner advertising was asked by the group -- is it a problem or inconvenience when browsing a site? Sunil mentioned he had previously used Ad blocking software years ago but these days banners don't get in the way of his reading -- although he doesn't know what the advertising is due to it usually being image based (advertising networks take note!).

One gripe that still exists even in modern website builds is the use of PDF files for text information such as restaurant menus. if that information could be duplicated as HTML page content it would make consumption of the information possible for all.

It seemed that there's not much else that can stop Sunil from navigating the web in 2015 - which is great news as Drupal site builders!

We've had general web accessibility guidelines (WCAG) for many years but it's refreshing to see how that translates in to the real world, and a great thanks to @SunilPeck for giving up his evening to visit the Drupal usergroup.

The full evenings talks are available every month on YouTube on the NWDUG channel. You can watch Sunil in the February 2016 session.

Photo at NWDUG thanks to @ChandeepKhosa.


Mike C

Managing Director

17 years of Drupal development wrangling and a background in digital project architecture.

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