fortnight11y issue 76

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

Flexbox and the Screen Reader Experience

A Webaim article that reminds us that whilst CSS flexbox can be used to change the visual order of content, it often has no bearing on how the content is consumed by a screen reader. This can lead to major accessibility issues if the intended reading order differs from the order in which it appears in the DOM.

The takeaway is to always structure information in the correct order in the DOM, then ensure that visual presentations (at all widths) convey that order. The author doesn’t want us to leave with the feeling that flexbox is “dangerous”, but that it is powerful and that screen reader testing is essential.

The Monarch could be the next big thing in Braille

A collaboration project between HumanWare and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has resulted in the Monarch: a “multipurpose” Braille device.

Refreshable Braille displays have existed for years, but have been expensive, slow to refresh, and fragile. A new “braille pin mechanism” created by startup Dot has been incorporated into the design: these pins are individually replaceable and are much faster to raise.

APH partnered with over 30 international organisations to create a new electronic braille standard, called eBRF. “This will provide additional functionality to Monarch users including the ability to jump page to page (with page numbers matching the print book pages numbers), and the ability for tactile graphics directly into the book file, allowing the text and graphics to display seamlessly on the page.”

The author notes that the graphical capability is “a serious leap forward”. It will now be possible for braille readers to pull up a visual of a graph, animal, letter or number shape, allowing the consumption of simple graphics. From

The Monarch is approximately 4.5 pounds and the size of a 15-inch gaming laptop. The device features an 8-dot braille keyboard, zoom in/out buttons, direction pads, up/down arrow buttons, and a 10 line by 32 cell refreshable braille display, which is capable of rendering multiple lines of braille and tactile graphics with equidistant pins. This technology will bridge the educational gap for students along with the development of a new dynamic file type that will bring braille and graphics together in a navigable file.

The Monarch is not currently available to purchase. You can sign up to product updates on the website above.

What it’s really like to be openly disabled in an interview process:

This Medium article is written by Mal: a “multi-disciplinary designer + artist, storyteller, neurodivergent (autist + adhd); she/they”. She shares three interview experiences, two positive and one negative.

The first was for an interview last September, in which Mal received the interview questions in advance. Though she didn’t get the job, “the interview went well, I said exactly the stories I wanted to say to each question, and was only a normal level of anxious the whole time”.

The second was the interview for her current job, where she didn’t ask for the questions in advance. She realised halfway through the Zoom call that she was unable to process anything, and told the interviewers what was happening. She asked to follow up and answer the rest of the questions in an email that day. She got the job offer, and given the interview proces was so inclusive, she felt that working there would be a similar experience, so accepted.

The negative experience Mal had concerns an interview somewhere else, where Mal asked for either the questions a day or two in advance, or the opportunity to submit written responses (with a virtual follow-up meeting to meet face to face). The HR person phoned Mal out of the blue and asked her if she had anything official to send that could ‘prove’ her autism.

Mal offered to send a diagnosis assessment from her psychologist, but that it would not explain how she is at work or why she needs these specific accommodations. The HR person followed up and asked Mal to get her doctor to fill out an accommodation form.

Mal ultimately didn’t go through with it. Where Mal lives, doctors would charge around $100 for such a request. Mal would have to find a way to print the form without owning a printer, and would have to spend half an hour on hold to make an appointment, and would have to schedule an appointment that fits within her existing work schedule, and would have to explain to the GP what is needed and hope the GP fills in the form correctly. All for a form she would only use once, given its specific nature tied just to this job application. And all just to participate in the interview process.

Don’t be like this HR person.

My Thoughts on Accessibility of NFTs and Web3

Apologies if this is so last year (this post has been in my bookmarks since February 2022, and admittedly we haven’t heard much about Web3 since the rise of ChatGPT). But this article by Crystal Preston-Watson evaluates an emerging and hyped technology for its accessibility, so there’s certainly a crossover.

Crystal explains that a non-fungible token (NFT) is a unique digital asset that can be bought using blockchain technology. Crystal has a visual impairment, but is not a screen reader poweruser. So, she attempted to go through the process of creating a Coinbase wallet, buying Ethereum (ETH) and then purchasing an NFT on OpenSea, testing the end-to-end transaction from an accessibility perspective.

The first takeaway is perhaps surprising: whilst there were significant accessibility issues, Crystal didn’t encounter anything more or less accessible than the process of buying items on many other eCommerce sites right now.

There were some unique challenges, such as having to verify their identity for the Coinbase account, which requires the app taking pictures of the front and back of one’s driving license, and also taking a selfie. Crystal notes that some users would require in-person assistance, opening them up to security vulnerabilities of sensitive information.

Before using OpenSea, Crystal has to transfer ETH to a wallet. Coinbase directed them to set up a passcode/biometrics, then generated a recovery phrase (for backup wallet recovery). Coinbase prompted Crystal to either back up the phrase in the cloud, or write it down, or copy the words to the phone’s clipboard (for then storing somewhere locally). Crystal elected for the latter, but was then told the phrase would only be copied to the clipboard for one minute. This time limit was insufficient given Crystal was using a screen reader, so they were forced to use cloud storage instead.

The biggest blocker to the transaction turned out to be the utter lack of alt text on OpenSea, and then the financial burden of the ‘gas fees’. Crystal ended up not buying an NFT.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of a new technology – but we should do all we can to ensure disabled users aren’t left behind.

Continuing the look at new technologies…


Steve Faulkner gives a frank accessibility review of the ChatGPT UI:

  1. The chat history is not navigable using the keyboard, as the links are not focusable. It makes use of <a> markup without a href or tabindex, so is not keyboard-accessible.
  2. The UI contains lots of unlabelled buttons, relying on icons alone to convey intent. JAWS announces them as “unlabelled button 1, unlabelled button 2, unlabelled button 3” – good luck using the interface!
  3. Similarly, the buttons fail WCAG 1.4.11 Non-text contrast, as their contrast ratio is just 2.1:1.
  4. The information panel describing “Reasoning/Speed” and “Conciseness” is largely hidden from screen reader users.

Steve goes on to try to ask ChatGPT how it should make the markup more accessible, and is not impressed with the result.

But I think the bigger takeaway is that this multi-billion dollar company clearly has little regard for the accessibility of its product, which seems to be a trend with hyped and emerging technologies. So frustrating.

W3C Design System

A redesigned W3C website has launched with a Design System. The design system draws inspiration from the GOV.UK design system and uses some GOV.UK-owned components such as accessible autocomplete.

DAC performed accessibility audits of the new W3C website, and their reports can be downloaded from the redesign project website.

Thanks to Derren at GDS for sharing this with me!

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