Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Making the Web Accessible For The Visually Impaired

Description of how a screen reader works with webpages.
Courtesy of the National Federation of the Blind, the Amer-
ican Foundation of the Blind, and the Associated Press.
Children's author and key "We Need Diverse Books" boosted a recent discussion between a web developer and a blind web user: what are the main challenges for people with visual impairments when trying to navigate a website that hasn't been optimized for accessibility? user answers:

[A]ttempting to navigate the site will be really obnoxious. There are shortcuts to help navigate screens with the screen reader, and these are used pretty frequently. JAWS, for example, will use H to move from header to header, T from table to table, and so on. If that order isn’t intuitive, an end user can get in an unexpected place - and since there’s no visual context, it can be hard to get back on track. 
Mostly, it’s about being aware that the structure of your code has further reaching impact than just the visual aspects of the screen.

If you're a business, it also ends up costing you sales and loyal customers. By coding a website that is screen-reader accessible with features like properly marked-up semantic structure and labeled links and images, your website will be more easier to be indexed search engines. Web crawlers (also called "web spiders") such as the one Google uses get their information from websites the same way a user employing assistive technology would. By having an accessible site Google can more easily index your site and make it easier to find in search results. And according to WebAim, if a visually impaired customer finds a commercial website is easy to use with assistive technology, they are twice as likely to be a repeat customer.

A site's marketing copy is tailored to bring customers to your website, so it's just good business sense to make sure it’s accessible once they arrive. The American Foundation for the Blind and WebAIM have several tip sheets and tutorials that help make your website welcoming for people with low or no vision.

Ultimately, while making the web more accessible for the blind does immediately benefit visually impaired users right now, it also helps your bottom line AND your future use of the web. As I wrote last year:
"But Shawn, I don't have a disability, why should I care?" some might ask. Well, if empathy won't convince you, how about self interest? In the disability activism community some people use the term "temporarily able-bodied" (TAB for short) to refer to people that don't have a disability. Why? Well, odds are that as you age, you will experience declines in vision, movement, motor function or cognitive functions. You may be able-bodies NOW, but you won't always be.

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