This term, I have been learning the principles of inclusive design and using accessibility tools to evaluate a few projects the Digital Scholarship program is managing. In this post, I want to talk about the knowledge I’ve gained through analyzing Religious Diversity in Minnesota.
Most of the accessibility-related assessments are generated after running WAVE, one of the most popular and comprehensive web accessibility evaluation tools in the market (you can install it as a browser extension too!). A seemingly perfect website for users who do not require accessibility features, this site actually contains many areas of improvement!
Don’t be intimidated by the huge numbers though! Some errors/areas calling for attention occur throughout the site and are counted repeatedly. This should serve as a reminder for web content creators and designers to be extra careful while writing the code, especially when we have multiple recurring elements – messing up one could mean messing up 50/60!
On a more serious note, out of the 6 fatal errors found, 5 are related to missing form labels/empty buttons. Although the missing labels/descriptive texts in buttons would not affect the functionality at all, it makes it impossible for screen reader users to navigate to the corresponding elements, therefore creating a huge inconvenience and even injustice for them.
WAVE also has a section dedicated to color contrasts. On Religious Diversity in Minnesota, there are 33(!) very low contrasts, all of which will contribute to an increased difficulty in understanding the contents for our color-blinded users.
Another great tool to for checking color contrast is the Colorblind Web Page Filter. Unlike the contrast tool in WAVE that’s used more while developing the site, Colorblind Web Page Filter enables the owners to take a look at how the site performs overall, after having all the elements settled. It can apply four different kinds of filters for distinct types of color-blindedness.
Whereas WAVE and Colorblind Web Page Filter are fairly easy to work with for me, someone who had no experience with accessibility issues before this internship, ChromeVox – a screen reader that brings speed, simplicity and security to visually impaired users – requires a longer adjustment period. It takes some time to understand how to navigate the websites with only keys and remember the keyboard shortcuts. Besides, to have a more authentic experience of using ChromeVox, it is essential to pretend that I was a user with visual impairment myself, an unintuitive and frankly frustrating process. Out of everything, the ChromeVox testing and development stage made me genuinely appreciate being a user with a myriad of abilities.
Speaking of abilities, I want to share something I’ve learnt from Microsoft’s Inclusive Design earlier this term. It completely changed my perspective on accessibility! Here you go – we often consider disability as a personal attribute or a personal health condition; the term disability only applies to people who are blind, in a wheelchair, or with other visible form of permanent disability. However, the need for additional assistance is really more context dependent and reflects mismatched human conditions. The same abled people can move through different environments and have their abilities change drastically. For example, we can’t hear well in the dining halls at 6pm, we have to hit the “open door” button when we are carrying too much stuff, we can’t really see the path when there’s a snowstorm… To give a better illustration of the impact – in the United States, 26,000 people a year experience loss of upper extremities. But when we include people with temporary and situational impairments, the number grows exponentially to greater than 20M! This shows how important all this accessibility work is!