From my point of view: A blind person's perspective.

16/06/2016 Written by Mike Taylor (Senior Accessibility Analyst DAC.)

Introduction

Over the next few weeks we will be publishing the thoughts of our team of analysts, which include people who are blind, people who have dyslexia, colour blindness, limited mobility and other disabilities. The point of this series of posts is to give a true indication of how we believe society and the technological advances have improved our lives. Starting our series are some comments from my colleagues and I from a blind persons point of view.

For my part I believe that mobile technology has exceeded what I imagined it could do when I got my first mobile phone 18 years ago. I remember thinking that it is great I can call, and be contacted where ever I am, but wouldn’t it be good if this thing could announce button functions, announce menu items, read contact info and text messages. Fast forward to now and not only can I do all that, I can do much more including controlling my sky box, to remotely accessing my PC, and producing documents. Oh yes and it’s a touch screen device so I am able to get more access to information and communicate even more independently than I could all those years ago. People in general seem to be less worried about asking me questions relating to blindness or how I do things, although there is still an element of a lack of awareness among some people. Some still assume what I can or cannot do, which I admit is frustrating. If I could ask one thing it would be to please ask questions if needed, I would rather respond to a question and confirm if I can or cannot do something rather than a person take a guess and get it wrong.

Getting started with accessible content: some quick tips

07/07/2016

Introduction

Designing for accessibility is something which should be included in the design and development stage as soon as possible, it’s also something which can be confusing and stressful in some cases, if designers and developers are not familiar with accessibility. The plus side is that it makes your content accessible to as many people as possible, improves search engine optimisation (SEO), which as a result brings more people to your app or website AND ensures they have the best possible experience, resulting in increased customer satisfaction.

Getting started with accessibility

What follows is some tips on getting started with accessible content design from our team, and of course feel free to get in touch to find out how we can help you achieve your end result; our details are at the end of this post.

Screen reader accessibility

Include a clear and logical headings structure, with only 1 instance of a heading at level 1. A clear headings structure will enable users to easily navigate a page and move to a specific section if required, a headings structure should also be used instead of bold or other font changes which are used to create a similar method of getting the reader’s attention. The reason for this is because screen reading software will not announce bold or italicised text by default, and users are required to navigate to a block of text and use another keyboard short cut to identify such items.

Include clear link labelling to inform users what will happen when selecting the link, this will give a clear indication to the function or destination page when the link receives focus.

Include clear form labelling with a clear indication of compulsory items by including an asterisk (*) before the required item.

Colour contrast and support for persons who have dyslexia

Information conveyed by colour alone (usually graphs or charts) should be accompanied by a text alternative to support it.

Text should have a high colour contrast against its background so it can be easily read.

Acronyms and abbreviations should be expanded or explained in their first instance. This will help to ensure users who may not be familiar with their meaning otherwise will understand them.

Italic text and elaborate font styles should be avoided.

The Flesch-Kincaid grade level of an article of text should be up to 12 or below to be easily read by most users, this can be found by opening word and going to file > options and proofing.

Voice activation accessibility

Try to keep the number of links per page below 50 as Dragon voice activation software tags 50 by default.

If / where a Z-index is used, ensure it is set at less than 100 (tags displayed by Dragon Version 12.0 and below won’t be seen if it is set at 100 or more).

Do not use scripting that relies on mouse input alone.

Low Vision accessibility

A good contrast between text and background will help users who have low vision.

When the user hovers over a link, a visual cue should be given such as an underlining or background highlighting to inform users that the link has focus.

How can I find out more?

Find out more accessibility tips on our Youtube channel (external link.)

We are always on hand to support our clients at any part of the design stage, so please feel free to use any of the following methods to contact us.

Office Telephone: +44 (0)1792 815267

Address: Llan Coed House, Llandarcy, Neath, SA10 6FG, United Kingdom

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Making images accessible on social media

06/04/2016 Written by Mike Taylor Senior Accessibility Analyst (DAC)

I am a totally blind person and I use social media both personally and professionally almost every day. Often I encounter a picture will be posted without anyway for myself to identify what it is.
This didn’t really bother me at first, but as time goes on and more accounts are created, the more images are posted and my time-line becomes cluttered with posts which contain fewer words and more images. The result of this is that social media is becoming not so social from my perspective.

Thanks to some fantastic work from Twitter and Facebook this just might be a thing of the past. Over recent months both Twitter and Facebook have taken significant steps to provide ways of making images accessible for blind or low-vision users, by an automatic identification of images when using Facebook, or manually creating an alternative text description (otherwise known as 'alt text') for images on Twitter. Here’s to a more accessible future.

For more information and articles on the steps taken by Twitter and Facebook, check out:
Under the hood: Building accessibility tools for the visually impaired on Facebook (external link).

Internet Security and Screen Reading Software: will they ever be friends?

22/12/2016 Written by Mike Taylor (Senior Accessibility Analyst) DAC

Introduction

I start this article by asking 3 questions: 1 Is your device updated with the latest security releases from the manufacturer? 2 Do you regularly check that your internet security software is running and up-to-date? And: 3 Do you use assistive technology and if so, can you access and use your security software you purchased or downloaded from a third-party company?

As a screen reader user for over 20 years, I can honestly say that the first part of those 20 years were spent not really knowing, or fully understanding the importance of internet security. During my time in higher education though, I lost some work due to a virus; thankfully I got my work back and completed on time but lesson learned. Internet security is now part of my automatic pilot as far as technology goes, maybe even more so now that I am a Dad.

How easy is it to stay safe online?

The short answer is to install internet security software on your device, install software updates released by the manufacturer of your device; or software developer such as windows updates, OSX and iOS updates for example, and be careful about what you post online. The second and third points are easy to do with careful consideration, but what about internet security software? Another thing if you use assistive technology is also to identify if a product is accessible and usable?

My internet security software was up for renewal 2 months ago, and my computer was slowing down and crashing several times a week. Having paid for this software I decided to go elsewhere, but where to start?

After reading reviews and going for what I believe is best for my family and I, I installed a trial of another package, but to my disappointment I found that the graphical user interface was not accessible, so I was unable to interact with the software using my screen reader. Although I raised this with the company concerned I knew that a fix would not be implemented in time to stop any potential malware installing to my PC, so on to my second choice.

I was again left frustrated to repeat this scenario but the problems were exactly the same, so another email and another apology received thanking me for my query, still no security though.

My third choice was thankfully 80 percent accessible, with some buttons having unclear or no title to indicate their intended function, and viewing scan results is not easy; but is possible using advanced functions of my screen reading software as well as some patients on my part. I raised the problems with the company and although the response was the same, I am confident that I can use this package and get it to do exactly what I need (it should have been my first choice.) I paid for this software safe in the knowledge that some of my hard-earned money, and hours of research was worth it.

Conclusion

There is indeed software that can be used with my screen reader of choice, although I hope no major user interface update is made soon because it just might make it completely inaccessible. In order to stay truly safe and in control of my security, I have had to seriously invest time to try and find something which although not fully accessible, is usable for what I need. I should point out that there are packages which are fully accessible but this is down to preference on my part, and I wanted something with ‘bells and whistles’, but I had to make a trade-off to a degree.

To find out more about staying safe online, visit the Get Safe Online Website (external link)

Getting the best out of digital: moving towards a future for all

09/11/2016

Written by Mike Taylor (Senior Accessibility Analyst) DAC

Introduction

Our lives revolve around a numerous amount of technology, we are more connected and mobile than ever before; and it’s set to continue with wearable technology such as the various watches which are now available on various platforms. Certain movies which once contained touch-screen technology now give way to smart phones, tablets, house-hold appliances and more. This we already know, but what is not so obvious is how such devices can be used by persons who have a disability?

I write this as a totally blind person who is very technology focused, and use my iPhone for many things including making a simple phone call, and having used a touch-screen phone for 3 years I can honestly write that I wouldn’t go back to my nice tactile phone with an alpha-numeric keyboard, having been exposed to a world of possibilities that I could only have previously dreamed of. What is it that makes such devices so popular though, and what can be done to make things even better; and more usable and accessible in the future?

Many computers and mobile devices now have built-in software and settings, which can enable users who have a disability use and customise their device out-of-the-box. When I upgraded my iPhone a month before writing this article, the only help I needed was to insert the sim in to my new device, and once I am confident enough to do it myself next time (if sim cards are indeed still in use) I won’t need any support at all. Chances are that the very device you are accessing this article from will have a set of software packages installed to help not just blind users, but persons with limited mobility, users who are deaf, or users who have a learning disability for example access their device. I only ask 2 things after you have viewed this article, if you have never done so before, take a look at the accessibility settings for your device and I will give information on how to do this at the end. The second is if you do try any of the accessibility features listed and need some help, feel free to get in touch with our team and we are more than happy to advise.

Your digital life on tap

Many accessibility functions can be performed by using different commands or (touch gestures) to interact with a device. A blind person navigates an android and iPhone by using various touch commands, one involving placing a finger on the screen and flicking left or right to hear the next or previous item, and performing a single finger double-tap to activate it (rather than just tapping the icon like a sighted person would. The same idea by employing short cut key commands has been used on keyboard-oriented machines for many years now, so the concept to a degree was adapted for touch screen access. The result of this meaning that I and many colleagues, friends and relatives can independently use a touch-screen device. This need not only be attached to Android and iPhone though, as the world of possibilities now mean that if the same concept is taken to other devices, the increase of digital inclusion will be a sure thing.

Many buildings and homes in the future will have wifi connected technology other than the computer, tablet, TV and phone. Smart metres are already in use which at the time of writing are not accessible or usable to users who have limited or no vision. If more homes are to be suitable for our connected society, it’s my personal opinion that a similar approach (if touch screen is used) be adopted to that of iOS or android. Touch screen does not work for all though, and a keyboard alternative or maybe a mix of both could be made possible to include users who cannot; or prefer not to use a touch screen device.

Designing for usability and accessibility

Making devices which are suitable for all user groups is one thing, designing accessible user interfaces are another. A user interface which is purely graphical will not be accessible for users of some assistive technology such as screen readers. Ensuring that all controls respond to voice, switch access, keyboard only and touch commands also mean that as many users as possible can access whatever is displayed. Making sure that a sufficient colour contrast is used, and allowing for user customisation will give more options to end-users. A lot of work, will it pay off, and is it necessary? Absolutely. Why? End users will be fully independent and able to take advantage of such technology, and have a greater involvement and get as good an experience as possible. If the technology is accessible and usable, the take-up will quickly increase and through word-of-mouth and other means such as social media and forums, more users will adopt and become part of what is now known as the internet of things. It’s necessary as many people are still left with technology developing at a high speed, and who are left behind due to inaccessible content. The only true way to open up the technology to as many users as possible is to adopt an approach which actively includes functionality for users of assistive technology. We can identify already it’s benefits on laptops, desktops, mobile and tablet devices, it isn’t about re-inventing the wheel as much as adding additional features.

How to view and search for accessibility features

On iOS go to: Settings>General>Accessibility.

Android: Settings>Accessibility.

Windows phone 8: Settings>Ease of access.

Blackbery 10: Settings>Accessibility.

Windows desktop/laptop: Short cut command windows+U

Mac: Short cut command Function (FN key) +Option+Command+F5