Tag Archives: web accessibility

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

Is Your Site Accessible?

As a blind computer user the issue of web accessibility is close to my heart. Prior to addressing the matter in hand it may be helpful if I sketch out how people who are unable to read print access the web.

I lost the majority of my vision at about 18-months-old. I can see outlines of objects but lack sufficient vision to read my computer’s screen. How then do I navigate the internet?

Blind computer users utilise screen reading software which converts the text on screen into speech and/or Braille allowing the visually impaired person to navigate the web. In my case I use Jaws (http://www.freedomscientific.com/Products/Blindness/JAWS) on both my work and home computers.

So, if you use Jaws and it allows you to access the internet what is the problem? Surely everything in the garden is rosey?

No, unfortunately not.

So what problems do you encounter?

  1. Links rendered as photographs or other images with no text to identify them. Jaws and other screen reading software can only interpret text. On encountering an image it sees only a blank page or, on occasions will announce “image” without stating the nature of the photograph. When encountering a series of links, rendered as images the only way in which a screen user can ascertain their meaning is by clicking on each one. Imagine a webpage consisting of several hundred links rendered as images. In most cases the blind computer user will give up in frustration and move on to a more accessible site meaning that the web site owner has lost a potential reader and (if the site sells products) possibly a sale also.

So should I not put photographs on my site?

We live in a predominantly sighted world and it would be wholly unreasonable for anyone to expect web site owners not to use photographs and/or other images. They can make a sight more interesting and encourage visitors to participate by, for example leaving comments. Labelling an image with text can aid the screen reader user. For example a link to an article on dogs, rendered as a photograph of our four legged friend can be labelled as “dog” with the text stating that an image of a dog is included.

  1. CAPTCHA. CAPTCHA are those squiggly images, sometimes containing text which a computer user must interpret prior to being able to perform certain functions, for example submiting a contact form. They have the laudable objective of preventing spam however, in practice most CAPTCHA make it difficult (sometimes impossible) for blind computer users to contact the web master or comment on posts. This is because, as mentioned above, screen reading software like Jaws can not interpret images thereby rendering many CAPTCHA inaccessible. Some sites, for example Blogger do have an audio version of the CAPTCHA on which blind people can click. However this is, in my experience usually unintelligible, meaning that the visually impaired person gives up in frustration and fails to comment (I know I have been in that position many times)!

One of the reasons I like WordPress is due to it’s lack of CAPTCHA. WordPress uses Akismet (http://akismet.com/) which, in my experience captures well over 90 percent of spam without utilising CAPTCHA. As a blogger I do recognise the menace of spam. Spammers should be boiled in oil while hosts of bloggers dance around the flames. (that is, incidentally a joke before anyone takes me seriously)! However spam can be prevented very effectively without resorting to CAPTCHA and (accidentally) stopping blind people from participating on your site.

Many site owners take accessibility seriously and in the overwhelming majority of cases where accessibility issues exist this is due to a lack of knowledge (not out of lack of consideration for the needs of blind computer users).

Finally I would like to thank the many bloggers and others out there who take accessibility on board.

The Captcha Monster

I like to follow other people’s blogs. Interacting with others is, after all part of the fun of blogging as sooner or later you get bored talking to yourself! Likewise I love receiving comments and commenting on other people’s blogs. To me a blog which does not accept comments is a dead entity. It may well contain interesting content but without the ability to interact with the blogger his/her site does, in my view lack a certain vibrancy.

One of the difficulties with allowing comments is separating the wheat from the chaff. My site receives a fair number of wheaty (have I just invented that word)?! Comments, however the blog also gets bombarded by chaff (spam)! Akismet (the spam filter used by WordPress) captures the overwhelming majority of junk mail consigning it to a dedicated folder where it can be reviewed by the blog owner. The beauty of Akismet is that it does not entail the person commenting attempting (often unsuccessfully) to solve a visual Captcha. Captchas are visual puzzles which must be solved prior to those wishing to comment or contact the site owner being able to do so. For a brief period I maintained a site on Blogger. Blogger employs Captcha and low and behold not a single comment did I receive on my site hosted there. Given that I receive a fair number of comments on my WordPress hosted site (which does not utilise Captcha) and I had none while using Blogger, I attribute my success in attracting comments (on WordPress) to the lack of Captcha. Unless a person feels extremely strongly on a given issue they are, when faced by a tricky Captcha likely to give up and move onto a blog where the Captcha monster is not lurking ready to pounce on the unlucky would be commenter!

As a blind computer user I have a particular detestation of Captcha. Screen reading software such as Jaws (the package I use to convert text into speech and Braille enabling me to use a standard Windows computer) only recognises text (it is not able to recognise images). Many sites have no alternative to a visual Captcha. Others do have audio alternatives, however most of these are, in my experience more or less unintelligible so, if you employ Captcha on your site you are, albeit unintentionally locking out many visually impaired people from the possibility of participating fully on your site.

As a blogger I do understand the problem posed by spam. Spammers are selfish individuals who ought to earn an honest living rather than spending their time bombarding site owners and e-mail users with solicitations for fake products. However spam is not going to disappear any time soon and we will continue to be faced with the issue of how best to minimise it’s pernicious effects. Given the existence of Akismet I can not see a valid reason for anyone relying on clunky old Captcha. If you must use Captcha then please choose a non-visual version. For example “prior to posting please add four and 3 and type your answer”. Such a Captcha can be read by screen reading software and is intelligible to the overwhelming majority of the human population. It also has the benefit of preventing automated spam bots from wreaking havoc by spraying your site with spam. Better still use a programme like Akismet which dispenses with the need for Captcha altogether!

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.