The adventof the screen reader and its ability to navigate the World Wide Web has helpedtransform the lives of persons who are visually impaired or blind and giventhem a fighting chance at accessing all of the content sighted Internet userstake for granted. However, the challenges for the screen reader user ofbrowsing the Internet in as seamless a manner as a sighted person are numerous.While there is some predictability in webpage layout and locating generalinformation, this is not always the case. According to the WebAIM Million Report, 98.1% ofweb home pages contained at least one Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG)2.0 failure with an average of 60.9 errors per home page.

Giveneveryone from large corporations to individuals can post their web sites to theInternet (over 1.74 billion web sites in 2020 Internet Statistics 2020) it’s hard to enforceconsistency in design and adherence to established standards.  Design is much more than the visualappearance of a website, design in this context refers to the underlyingstructure and code of a website. In order for a screen reader to relay speechoutput to the Assistive Technology user, screen readers detect the underlyingstructure of the web page and pass this information to the user in the form ofspeech output. Therefore, if a web page has not been coded to standards keyinformation may not be passed to the screen reader.  In addition, the screen reader user may not beable to navigate the page as efficiently.  Our testers often see web pages with multiplesections and no headings on them.  When headingssuch as those one might find on a newspaper web site are programmed into thesite’s code and passed to the screen reader, the blind user can take advantageof those using a feature of their screen reader that permits them to jump byheading.  If no headings are coded thenthe screen reader user is left to manually navigate through the site line byline which is tedious and inefficient.  Asimilar problem occurred when building the TCSAccess website. Our social media linkswould take the user to our social media accounts when clicked on with a mouse. However,when tested with a screen reader the links were not reading the specific namesof the social media accounts, but long, cryptic link names which were confusingto the screen reader user. 

Fortunately, therehave been huge strides in accessible web design and in legislation aroundaccessibility.  Legislation such as theAmericans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III and Section 508 of theRehabilitation Act (508) and WCAG developed by the World Wide Web Consortium(W3C) all provide the legal foundation and many detailed guidelines forensuring persons with disabilities have equal access to web content in browsersand smart devices. 

Google, Appleand Mozilla are now collaborating on a set of standards called theAccessibility Object Model (AOM) project (AccessibilityObject Model Purpose ) which “…aims to improve certain aspects ofthe user and developer experiences concerning the interaction between web pagesand assistive technology.”  AOM’s aim isto help all web developers ensure the content they create is maximallyaccessible to a screen reader.  In otherwords, when you are using your screen reader cursor to navigate a web site, theweb site can directly relay all information about all objects on the site to thescreen reader, in real time. 

Despite aplethora of guidelines on designing accessible web sites, web developerscontinue to employ customized objects and content on their sites which are notaccessible.  Similar to our experiencewith our social media links, a web developer of a popular video conferencingsoftware designed a custom button on a web conferencing site with a label“Enter Meeting” meant to allow a participant to enter an ongoing meeting.  However, the developer bypassed accessibilityguidelines and the button is invisible to a screen reader. When a screen readeruser presses the down arrow and expects to hear the Enter Meeting button,information about the button is not passed to JAWS and instead they hearnothing and cannot enter the meeting without sighted assistance.  This is an example of unequal access which iswhat the authors of the AOM are attempting to improve.

In a worldin which almost all work is now done either directly on or connected to theInternet it is imperative websites are designed through a lens ofaccessibility; especially as website content is becoming more dynamic; havingthe ability change and shift without user engagement (e.g. carousels of picturesthat move from picture to picture after a set time, embedded videos or sound,etc.) Rest assured; we are with you - in it together. We have first-handexperience working with developers on best practices for developing accessiblewebsites for the Desktop and mobile platforms. We have in depth, hands-onworkshops we can teach in person or remotely. Let us know how we can support you.