Chris Ashton

fortnight11y issue 63

Your fortnightly frequent11y newsletter, brought to you by @ChrisBAshton:

My War On Animation

Article on The Verge, as part of July’s Accessibility Week.

The author writes about their experiences navigating the web as someone who finds any animation a stimulatory overload. They acknowledge that there are documented standards for the ‘limits’ of animation on the web, such as keeping gifs to five seconds maximum. However, the documented standards don’t go far enough for the author, who finds it difficult to deal with any animations.

There’s a really succinct paragraph describing the workarounds that people resort to, and the negative knock-on effects that can have:

I can block anything ending in .gif, but it usually renders buttons nonoperative. I can load a site without styles, but usually, the result is not very enjoyable to use. I can block ads, but then it deprives the nice websites I like to read (and write for) of revenue.

They point out some technological implementations that work for all users:

There is, of course, a way to bridge this divide, and bizarrely, one of my allies is Twitter, which struck a decisive blow when it allowed users to freeze autoplay on all moving content, including GIFs. Users who love them can post them; users who don’t simply see a still frame. What’s good for reducing server load is also good for the case exceptions such as mine.

The article ends with a call to action for developers, to give users control to shape their own experience. Give people toggles to opt in and out of animations and other potential accessibility barriers.


It’s Mid-2022 and Browsers (Mostly Safari) Still Break Accessibility via Display Properties

Adrian Roselli does some manual testing of the display CSS property – with a particular focus on display: contents – across different browsers, meticulously recording the results here.

For the uninitiated, there’s a CSS Tricks article about display: contents. You can apply this to ‘wrappers’ around content, and it makes the container ‘disappear’, making the child elements appear as siblings. This allows for such elements to appear in the same CSS grid or flexbox together, and prevents the need to forego HTML semantics for the benefit of layout.

However, as the CSS Display draft points out, “this is not implemented correctly in major browsers, so using this feature on the Web must be done with care as it can prevent accessibility tools from accessing the element’s semantics”. Adrian substantiates this, confirming that, for VoiceOver, Safari in particular will fail to correctly parse tables, announce lists or make buttons easily actionable when display: contents is applied.

It’s no wonder developers are calling Safari “the new Internet Explorer”.


How to write user stories for accessibility

Not a particularly long article, but I may as well cut straight to the chase with some examples:

As a keyboard-only user, I want to know where I am on the screen so that I can perform an action or navigate to other areas of the site.

Or

As a screen reader user, I want to hear the text equivalent for each image button so that I will know what function it performs.

Accessibility user stories are just like any other user story: they start with a persona, identify the desired goal, and define the benefit to the user.

The article links to some further reading, including this GOV.UK blog post from 2018.


Am I disabled?

“With my pen hovering over a form, there is no easy answer: better to provoke stigma with support, or resist classification?”

Joanne Limburg writes about the dilemma she faces when filling in forms that ask “Do you consider yourself to be a disabled person?”

Joanne was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) around the age of 42. Until then, she’d considered herself non-disabled. Even now, when she pictures disability, she pictures stock images of wheelchair icons, guide dogs, other more visible disabilities.

“Inside every Yes box is a flat, painted wheelchair stick-figure, asking me what I’m doing in their parking space”. Joanne considers ticking the No box, as her disability is invisible, and she can “sneak out in an able-bodied disguise”. Then there’s Prefer not to say – when that’s an option on the form.

Joanna says she tries to pick the option based on her best guess about what the asker thinks disability is. Does the asker think in terms of the social model of disability, for example?

“I’ve come to understand that when I pass as non-disabled, when I say No, the best that I can hope to be is an inferior version of an ideal of normality that allows only for the narrowest range of body types, cognitive styles and life trajectories, that equates the worth of a person with her economic productivity, that fetishes independence and disavows our connections to each other, and that seeks to discriminate arbitrarily between those who are allowed their full humanity and those who are denied it.”

Joanna shares her default answer to the question at the end of the essay. I won’t spoil it here!


We end on a bit of a “VR special”!

Resident Evil 4 VR update adds accessibility options for comfort

Resident Evil 4 on the Oculus Quest 2 – which I own, and think is brilliant! – has just had an update, concentrating primarily on accessibility options.

Your waist and chest height parameters are now configurable, making it easier to grab your weapon etc. Someone in the comments said they used to have to duck to walk through doors, despite not being particularly tall!

The colour of the laser sight can now be adjusted according to your preferences.

Finally, the protagonist can now be “steered using hand movements, which can be assigned to either the left or right controller”.


Accessibility Virtual Reality Meetup: What Is It Like in Spatial?

Meryl Evans documents her experience of using Spatial, a virtual reality environments for events, to host the Accessibility Virtual Reality (A11yVR) Meetup.

Spatial offers multiple ways to participate, including using a VR headset, a mobile app, or joining via the browser. Joining from the latter, you can navigate the environment using WASD keys.

Spatial supports automatic captions, but it is a ‘pro’ feature and costs extra to enable. The company are apparently passing on costs from Microsoft, who charge for Azure captioning technology. Meryl hopes that the two companies can reach an agreement without burdening users with extra costs, as accessibility should be built in, not a paid extra.

The captions themselves have quirks: when Meryl enabled them, they were captioning what she was saying, not just what other people are saying. The captions can also be hard to see, with sometimes poor contrast and no way of customising them. And one of the speakers could not get their captions to work, at all – down to some unspecified macOS issue.

Some things worked quite well. For users who found movement from other peoples’ avatars distracting from the main presentation, they were able to switch to ‘object view’ to see only the presentation and nothing else.

Auto avatar creation, from a user’s photo, worked well, and avatars were recognisable representations of their real world counterparts. Users could also stream their webcams above their avatars’ heads, which helped show they were paying attention.

Meryl felt the lack of chat box functionality was a real barrier for people, who had to resort to posting virtual ‘sticky notes’ to communicate. These were buggy and hard to read.


How Virtual Reality Makes It Possible to Experience Different Vision Conditions

VoxelKei, a Japanese “VR world developer”, has created NearSighted Classroom (VRChat) to allow other people to see what it’s like to have short-sightedness.

After sharing the world on Twitter (where you can see a video of the world in action), the developer received positive feedback and requests from many people to have him simulate other eye conditions such as astigmatism, presbyopia and colour blindness. He added those features within a month of the first release.

You can tune the settings to match your own vision, and any friends who have joined the world with you will be able to see how you see the world!


How Can a Blind Person Use Virtual Reality?

Jesse Anderson, who runs IllegallySighted on YouTube, shares advice for creating accessible virtual reality experiences. He reviews games from his perspective as a blind person. There are games designed specifically for screen reader users, but these tend to be more simplistic and don’t hold his attention for long. Jesse mainly reviews mainstream games, which are becoming increasingly accessible. Third-party mods make other games accessible, such as Stardew Access for Stardew Valley.

One title Jesse is particularly impressed with is The Last of Us Part II, for its 60+ accessibility options, making it fully playable end to end by a blind person, even on higher difficulty settings. Highlights include menu narration, high contrast mode toggle, a built-in magnifier, and the navigation system.

Jesse spends most of this interview talking about challenges in VR. There are currently no commercially available accessibility tools for adding things like screen magnifier, screen reader, or high contrast to a VR dashboard or game interface. Jesse notes that “there was an amazing accessibility suite called SeeingVR, developed as a research project by Microsoft, but it never left the research stage”.

It’s these text and user interfaces that present the biggest trouble for Jesse, more so than the ‘game’ elements such as aiming and shooting a weapon. Even accessing the accessibility settings to make games more playable can be an impossible task because the menus themselves are inaccessible.

Jesse joined XR Access in 2020. It is an organisation “devoted to improving the accessibility of both virtual and augmented reality”, with several working groups dedicated to different accessibility requirements. One group focusses on the business case for XR, while another concentrates on development standards. It is in the process of developing resources and prototypes that developers can use when they are trying to figure out how to make their apps more accessible.

The top things Jesse recommends developers include in their VR experiences are: different text size options, magnification and menu narration features, and most importantly, offering all 6 degrees of tracking, so that if a user needs to get closer to something in the environment to see it properly, they can simply lean in or move closer to it.

Like the web, Jesse suggests that the platform itself needs to provide a standard base level of accessibility, such as a system wide screen reader. Unfortunately, existing screen readers aren’t compatible with the games themselves, which are powered by Unreal and Unity.

Further reading/watching: Virtual Reality in the Dark: VR Development for People Who Are Blind.


Virtual Reality Accessibility: The Importance of Comfort Ratings and Reducing Motion

Meryl Evans talks about ‘comfort ratings’ for VR experiences. These are like content ratings for films and games, e.g. “PG” for “Parental Guidance”.

Meta’s comfort ratings (for headsets such as Oculus) are as follows:

  • Comfortable – appropriate for most people. Generally no camera movement or player motion.
  • Moderate – appropriate for many. Might incorporate some camera movement or player motion.
  • Intense – not appropriate for many. Incorporates significant camera movement, player motion or disorientating content and effects.
  • Unrated – the developer hasn’t set a rating.

The Oculus app store lacks a filter facility, so you can’t search by comfort rating. Worse, Steam’s VR app store does not yet have a concept of comfort ratings.

Meryl calls for a standardised system across all VR platforms, moderated by a neutral third party such as Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). It should not be left to developers to decide; their motivation to broaden the potential audience and sales by falsely marketing their experience as ‘Comfortable’ is a conflict of interest.

Meryl finishes with a call to action for several organisations, including a request for headset platforms to build in a “reduced motion” mode.


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