Tag Archives: jaws

Is your blog accessible to blind computer users?

My thanks to Chris Graham (AKA The Story Reading Ape) https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com, for drawing this article on why much of the internet is inaccessible to blind people to my attention, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-49694453.

As many of you who follow my blog will know, I lost the majority of my eyesight at 18-months-old. I am unable to read print and use software called Job Access with Speech (JAWS), which converts text into speech and braille enabling me to use a Windows computer or laptop. For anyone interested in finding out about JAWS, please follow this link, https://www.freedomscientific.com/products/software/jaws/.

The article linked to above, details a number of problems faced by blind users of the internet, many of which I have experienced whilst navigating the World Wide Web. For example, the piece explains how blind computer users can be faced with unlabelled links on a webpage meaning that what is heard is next to useless. I have myself been faced with a page where JAWS reads “link, link, link”, meaning that the only way in which I can ascertain what the content of a particular link may be is by clicking on said link. This is, obviously a very tedious undertaking and, in many instances I have given up on the site in question and visited a more accessible alternative.

Turning specifically to sites hosted directly on WordPress (such as my own blog), these are, on the whole accessible. For example all the social media sharing buttons on kmorrispoet.com are labelled so anyone using a screen reader such as JAWS will hear “Twitter, Facebook” etc voiced by JAWS. Likewise the comments form is clearly labelled as such meaning that anyone logged into a WordPress account can easily post a comment.

In contrast I have found that many of the self-hosted WordPress sites are not as accessible as those hosted directly on WordPress. For example I often come across unlabelled sharing buttons on self-hosted sites so the only way in which I can determine what the button in question may be, is by actually clicking on it.

Whilst some comments forms on self-hosted sites are labelled with fields such as “comment”, “your name”, “email address”, others are not. In the latter instance the JAWS (or other screen reader user) is forced to guess what each field is or, more often simply to give up on their intention of posting a comment and navigate away from the site/blog in question.

In my experience the vast majority of bloggers care about their readers and wish to ensure that everyone is able to access their sites equally and enjoy the same ability to participate in discussions. However, unless a blogger is themselves blind (or knows a blind screen reader user), its perfectly possible that they have little (if any idea) as to how blind web users access their site/blog.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has links to useful guidance explaining how webmasters can ensure that their sites are accessible to those with site loss. For anyone who is unsure whether their blog and/or website is accessible, you may find it helpful to visit here, https://www.sightadvicefaq.org.uk/independent-living/accessible-website.

Kevin

Link, link, link – Is your site accessible?

I am blind, and use Job Access with Speech (JAWS) software which converts text into speech and braille enabling me to use a Windows computer or laptop, (http://www.freedomscientific.com/products/software/jaws/). One of the problems I face when navigating the web is the lack (on some sites) of clearly labelled sharing buttons. For example I have lost count of the number of occasions on which I have come across something along the following lines:
Link
Link
Link
Link
(with none of the links being labelled). In such a situation (assuming that I wish to share the content in question), I have no option other than to click on each (unlabelled) link/button until I locate Twitter, Facebook or whatever sharing option I wish to utilise.

When faced with the above situation, I sometimes give up and click away from the post (or other content) without sharing.

The vast majority of site owners (where unlabelled buttons exist) would, I am sure not wish to disadvantage people with visual impairments and are (in most cases) unaware that their site is not fully accessible.

With this post can I please request my fellow internet users/readers to check that the sharing buttons are labelled correctly so that a user of screen reading software such as myself can easily use Twitter, Facebook and other sharing facilities. There is much good will out there and (as previously stated) I know that the vast majority of site owners wish to make their site accessible to all users. So, if you could please take some time to check the accessibility of your site that would be greatly appreciated.

Kevin

Caught out by Captcha

I am a blind computer user who is not able to read print. As a result I use Jaws (Job Access with Speech) which converts text into print and braille enabling me to have the content of the screen relaid to me. One of the major difficulties which I encounter as a user of access software is the need to solve Captchas prior to being able to post comments on websites or perform other functions such as contacting the webmaster. Captchas are visual puzzles which are rendered as images. Jaws and other screenreading software is not able to interpret images (the software sees a blank page), consequently many visually impaired people such as myself find it extremely difficult (sometimes impossible) to post on sites which utilise Captcha.

Some sites including blogger.com do have audio alternatives to visual Captchas which should, in theory allow access technology users to post in the same manner as non visually impaired people. However I know from bitter experience that many audible alternatives to visual Captchas are virtually unintelligible and that significant numbers of vision impaired people can not post independently as a consequence of the presence of Captcha.

In adition to this site (newauthoronline.com which is hosted at wordpress.com) I have, in the past few days started a blog at blogger.com (http://newauthoronline.blogspot.co.uk/). This presents me with a moral dilemma as Blogger does, as mentioned above employ Captcha, (I face no such ethical issues with wordpress.com as it does not use Captcha. WordPress utilises Akismet software which automatically detects spam without utilising Captcha and places suspected junk comments/messages in a spam folder for the webmaster to review. Akismet is in my experience at least 97 per cent accurate and it is only on rare occasions that I find a genuine comment consigned to my spam folder). I wish that Blogger used Akismet or similar software rather than the cumbersome Captcha which the user is faced with. However given that Blogger does not avail itself of alternatives to Captcha what is the visually impaired user of my Blogger site to do? One solution is for users of Firefox to download an extension called Webvisum. Among other functions Webvisum enables the blind access technology user to solve Captcha by pressing alt, control 6 which sends the Captcha to be resolved. I haven’t a clue how Webvisum performs it’s magic, however it does work in the majority of cases and I’ve successfully solved many Captchas through using Webvisum.

While many tech savvy blind people will be aware of Webvisum other visually impaired people will not. Again some people do not like Firefox and prefer to use Internet Explorer or other browsers. For such people Webvisum is not an option as it only works with Firefox. This being the case what is the solution to my dilemma? The short term solution is to place an email address on http://newauthoronline.blogspot.co.uk/ so that those unable to solve the Captcha have an alternative means of contacting me, however this may have the effect of attracting spam so I will break up the address to reduce the potential for junk mail (For example john smith at mydomain.com). In the longer term sites such as Blogger need to explore alternatives to Captcha. Akismet is not the only option. One can, for instance ask the person wishing to post a comment to solve a simple question such as “what is four plus 2”. I really can’t imagine why Blogger and other sites choose to stick to inaccessible Captcha when there exist much better means of detecting spam while permitting visually impaired people the same access as sighted individuals.

 

(Kevin Morris is the author of The First Time which is available in the Kindle Store).

 

Postscript. Since composing this post earlier today I have come across a number of posts which explain how to turn off Captcha (word verification) in Blogger. For example please see http://britpins.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/tutorial-how-to-turn-off-word.html. A number of these postings argue that turning off Captcha does not significantly increase the amount of spam received while several comments in response to the posts state that turning off Captcha has increased the amount of spam received significantly. For the reasons set out above I wish to make commenting on my Blogger site as easy as possible while avoiding so far as is possible the menace of spam. I will (assuming that I can find the relevant settings on my Blogger Dashboard) turn off word verification and monitor the effects over the coming weeks. If spam is not a major problem then all well and good, however if turning off Captcha results in a large number of spam comments I may have to reniable word verification while including a contact me link on my blog so that those who experience difficulty with Captcha can get in touch.

Jaws (but not the shark)!

I am registered blind which in my case means that I’m not able to read print. I can, however see outlines of objects and I turn the lights on when it is dark otherwise I tend to bang into things! I’m often asked by people who are unfamiliar with visual impairment how I access technology, consequently I thought that the below post might be of interest to people who have had no (or very limited contact) with blind and partially sighted people.

My Sony Vio laptop is equipped with software called Jaws which interprets what is on my PC’s screen and reads it back to me in speech and braille. I don’t use a mouse but rely on keyboard shortcuts some of which are unique to users of the Jaws software. For example in order to bring up a list of links on a webpage I press insert f7. This key combination produces a list of links which I can cursor through. When Jaws reads a link which I wish to activate I press the return/enter key to select it and Jaws reads the webpage. Again in order to bring up a list of headings the Jaws user activates insert F7. He/she is then able to cursor through the list of headings displayed on the webpage. As a child I was taught to touch type using a quirty keyboard which has stood me in good stead when using computers.

The world of technology can be a frustrating one for users of screenreading software such as Jaws. For instance many captchas (the visual puzzles which the PC user must solve in order to send contact forms etc) are inaccessible to Jaws and similar software. Jaws sees an image which it is unable to interpret. Ah there are audible captchas I hear you say. Indeed there are, however many of these are virtually impossible to solve due to the background noise which distorts the words being read. Again some sites do not even employ audio alternatives to visual captchas meaning that visually impaired computer users either give up in frustration or are forced to rely on the assistance of family and friends.

There is a very useful Firefox plug-in known as Webvisum which is designed to make the lives of visually impaired Firefox users much easier. One particularly useful feature of Webvisum is the ability to send a captcha electronically and have it solved. This isn’t 100 percent effective, however it does, in my experience work in the majority of instances. I’ve no idea how the Webvisum plug-in performs this magic trick but it is certainly a godsend for me and other visually impaired people.

One of my passions in life is reading. As a child I devoured braille books and spent hours listening to talking books provided by the RNIB’s Talking Book Library. The problem with braille books is that they are very bulky (The New Oxford Book of English Verse is comprised of 10 braille volumes and takes up quite a bit of space on my bookshelves). In addition only a tiny percentage of books produced in print are available to readers of braille. Talking Books are wonderful but, again only a comparatively small amount of the books available to readers of print make it onto this format.

The introduction of Amazon’s keyboard Kindle has greatly enhanced the ability of the visually impaired to access the same books as their non visually impaired family and friends. By activating the Kindle’s text to speech facility it is possible to have the latest crime thriller read aloud to you.

While things are by no means perfect from the point of view of blind technology users the advent of access software and it’s incorporation into mainstream products such as Apple’s I-Pad (Voiceover) continues to enhance the lives of the visually impaired.

 

(For my online novel, Samantha please visit https://newauthoronline.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/samantha-part-1/. For my book, The Girl At The Bus Stop And Other Erotic Short Stories, available on Amazon in the Kindle Store please see https://newauthoronline.wordpress.com/my-books/.