How to Understand Screen Readers and Accessibility Tools
Understanding screen readers and accessibility tools
>> In this chapter we are going to set up a number of tools that you can use to test the degree of accessibility of your pages. Some of these tools are actual software that people with disabilities use. Other tools aren't used by people with disabilities, but they attempt to emulate how a web page would look or work for certain disabilities. Finally, some are web pages or browser extensions that attempt to evaluate certain characteristics of your site or their compliance with official web accessibility guidelines. But with all of these remember that they are just tools. Nothing is going to replace testing with real people, because that's what web accessibility is about.
It's about making web pages that are understandable to people. This is especially important to remember when you're using a screen reader as a testing tool. Using a screen reader to its full extent means browsing the web without a monitor or a mouse. So it's a very different experience from what most people are used to, even other assistive technology users. You don't use a screen reader every day as your only way of accessing the web, So even if you take the time to learn how to use it extensively, you're not going use it like someone who has to use it, or has been using it for years.
Because you're inevitably going to use a screen reader very differently from its real intended users, you can't rely on your own experience alone. It can be pretty overwhelming to listen to all of the information that a screen reader throws at you, so if you find your web page terribly confusing, don't assume you need to change it completely to make it accessible. It might be perfectly understandable to people who are used to hearing web pages read to them. So do continue to test with screen readers and other tools, but don't make big changes without first consulting people with disabilities. There are a number of places that you can look for people to test your pages.
You can look for organizations for specific disabilities or across disabilities. Even national organizations may have regional contacts who could put you in touch with people in your area who have disabilities. Also, most colleges and universities have programs for students with disabilities. So if you have a college or a university in your area you could consider contacting them to get in touch with students who that might be able to help you. You may also have local disability-related support groups in your area, or local government rehabilitation or disability services departments that you could contact.
You may also want to contact senior organizations and local senior centers as well as independent living organizations to talk to older users. You can also look on line for help. There are a number of web sites where you can get accessibility reviews from both experts in the field as well as people with disabilities. Three of these web sites are listed on the screen. You may want to pause the movie at this time to write down the URLs. Let's look at these sites. The first site that we are at is accessabilityforum.com. This site contains a number of forums that you can subscribe to or read without subscribing to find out information about web accessibility.
Most of the users on this forum are not people are disabilities, but there are some here that can help you, as well as many experts in the field. The first form listed on the page is called Site Building and Testing. This is where the majority of the questions to this forum are posted. Let's click on that link. And you can see a listing of topics that have been posted recently. Many of them are technical in nature, so it's a good place to ask questions about specific web development techniques and post your URL for people to evaluate. Let's go to the next site now.
We are now at Web Aim, the URL is www.webaim.org/community. Web Aim is a non-profit organization within Utah State University that provides training and consulting, as well as other web accessibility services. Their web site has many resources for web developers posted that can help you with technical issues surrounding web accessibility. On the community page that we are on, they have links to a form as well as a mailing list. If we scroll down the page you can see under the heading Web Accessibility Forums, there's a link that says View or Join the web accessibility forums.
We click there. Again, you can see a number of forums where you can post technical issues and ask for site reviews. Click Back now. And scroll further down the page to where it says E-mail Discussion List. This provides the same sort of help as a forum, but in a different format. So if you prefer getting messages by e-mail you may want to subscribe to this list instead of a forum. As with the Accessify forum, most of the users of this list are not people with disabilities, but there are some there that can help you.
And it may also be a source for you to talk to other web developers and see if they can put you in touch with their own testing contacts. Now let's go to the third web site. We are at lists.w3.org/archives/public/w3c-wai-ig. This is a mailing list for the Web Accessibility Initiative interest group. At the top of the page are some informational links about the list. This green link that says Subscribe to This List is where you would click if you wanted to subscribe.
You can also view messages without subscribing by using the search box or by choosing a period that the messages appeared in. You can choose to view the messages by thread, by author, or by subject. Let's click on by thread in the July to September 2007 period. You'll see the names of the e-mail messages, who posted them, and when. And they will be organized in a thread view so you can start at the top of the thread and read all of the successive messages. The content in this mailing list is geared towards people who are very involved with the web accessibility initiative in terms of developing new standards and evaluating those that exist.
So it's a bit more technical or theoretical than the other two sites that we looked at. But if you really get involved in web accessibility, it's a great way to keep up with what is currently going on in the field. So we've learned that accessibility testing is most valuable when it's performed by people with disabilities, and we've talked about some of the ways that you can get help from real people. Now let's look at tools that you can download or bookmark to setup your computer for when you want to test pages quickly by yourself. Next we'll look at free browsers you can download to help in your testing.
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