Chris Ashton

month11y issue 21

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

What Happens When a Blind Person Test Drives VoiceOver Recognition?

  • An article by Rhea Althea Guntalilib, describing her experience of using the new “VoiceOver Recognition” features of iOS 14. It is a collection of tools including “Screen Recognition” (which I’ll talk about below), “Text Recognition” (which detects text found in images) and “Image Descriptions” (which describes image contents). These features are accessible via Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver and can then be quick-selected via the VoiceOver rotor.
  • I covered Screen Recognition in dai11y 22/12/2020: “It uses AI to detect interactable elements on the screen, even when such elements aren’t properly labelled / exposed to assistive technology. It has the potential to allow blind users to use apps that are otherwise inaccessible.”
  • Rhea found the Image Descriptions improved her experience of the Facebook and Instagram apps, and also Text Recognition was great at describing her screenshots of captured text messages. Screen Recognition came in handy for her banking apps, which otherwise have no accessible way of transferring funds or paying bills. But she did find she had to turn off Screen Recognition in places, e.g. to properly access the list of available banks, as it would interfere with how VoiceOver worked. Other apps, such as email, had attachments that could not be processed by VoiceOver Recognition.
  • In summary, whilst it has some glitches and limitations, it has “delivered many improvements in the user experience of a blind iOS customer”.

Accessible SVGs

  • Think you know SVGs? This article is worth a read – you just might learn something.
  • SVGs have an implicit WAI-ARIA role of “graphics-document“. You should only change this if the SVG only contains an image; an attribute of role="img" or role="graphics-symbol" would be appropriate.
  • Hide decorative SVGs from screen readers using aria-hidden="true" – not role="presentation", as this doesn’t hide the contents of the SVG from screen readers.
  • SVGs can have a <title> attribute which acts like an alt attribute on a normal image. It has to be the first child element within the <svg>. There is also an optional <desc> element which can follow this, and should be used to present more detailed textual information. Browser support for both of these is good but not 100%; aria-label can be added for wider support.

Practical accessibility, part 2: Name (almost) everything

  • It’s not enough to just use semantic markup to, say, create a list in HTML (the “what”), and mark it up with a role="menu" (the “how it’s supposed to work”). We also often need to label the list, to explain “why” it’s there. For example, an aria-label="Main menu" to give some extra context to screen reader users.
  • This article describes how and when you should name things in HTML. It covers the basics, such as associating a label with an input, which effectively gives the input a name, but it also covers the stuff that is more easily omitted, such as applying a label to your ARIA regions.
  • Not every landmark needs a name, but any navigation, form and region should, as well as main (it’s good practice to associate the H1 element with the main content in your page via aria-labelledby). Landmarks that appear once per page, such as banner, should not have a name.

Online Instruction Did Not Make Things Easier for Disabled Students

  • An interesting article, worth reading as it goes against the current narrative that the disabled community have benefited from the move to online tuition. It covers university undergraduates and graduates in America.
  • “Only 20% of [American] undergraduate students with disabilities reported enjoying online learning, and over one third of students with disabilities reported no increased satisfaction with online learning in general”.
  • The story changes slightly for graduate students with disabilities, who liked online learning more than those without disabilities, but also felt less productive and more disconnected from professors.
  • That said, there were some areas where “disabled students did describe a greater satisfaction than non-disabled students”, such as “comfort levels in speaking up in class” and “connection with other students”.
  • Learning from home rather than university “meant being removed from the protective factor of the university”. Shockingly, only 40% of undergraduate students with multiple disabilities have a “place to live that is free from physical or emotional violence or abuse”.

Kellogg’s: a game changer in accessible packaging

  • In partnership with RNIB, Kellogg’s has trialled including NaviLens codes on its packaging, giving visually impaired customers a way of scanning products to find out their ingredients, allergen and recycling information.
  • NaviLens codes work in a similar way to QR codes, but can be detected “in a fraction of the time, from up to three metres away”. RNIB and Kellogg’s deduced that NaviLens catered to more people with sight loss, rather than those with specific requirements (such as braille users).
  • 97% of the trial’s participants agreed they’d like to see more of these accessibility features available on grocery packaging.
  • There’s a 5 minute video explaining more about the project.

Screen Reader User Survey #9 Results

  • The famous WebAIM survey this year had 1568 responses, mostly from North America and Europe, with a pretty even age split. 92.3% of respondents said they have a disability, almost 80% of which was blindness.
  • 57.5% of respondents class themselves as “advanced” screen reader users, versus 37.4% “intermediate” and 5.1% “beginner”. This roughly correlates with their self-assessed levels of “Internet Proficiency”.
  • JAWS is the primary screen reader for over half of respondents, followed by NVDA on around 30%. VoiceOver counts for just 6.5%. This is a decline for NVDA and VoiceOver compared to previous years. Windows Narrator is the primary reader of less than 1% of respondents, but is “commonly used” by 41% of them, compared to 30% in 2019.
  • Chrome is the browser of choice for 53.6% of respondents, followed by Edge at 18.4% and Firefox at 16.5%. Chrome and Edge usage has increased notably. JAWS with Chrome is by far the most common screen reader & browser combination, at 32.5%. 91.1% of respondents use Windows, vs 6.5% on Mac.
  • 72% use iOS mobile devices, vs 25.8% on Android. This corresponds roughly with mobile screen reader usage of 71.5% on VoiceOver and 29.1% on TalkBack, and with choice of browser (Safari: 61.6%, Chrome: 24.2%).
  • 99.4% of respondents have JavaScript enabled.
  • Almost two thirds of screen readers report that they are “very satisfied” with their primary screen reader, and almost a third “somewhat satisfied”.
  • When asked how often they use “skip links” when available, 17.5% said “Always”, 15% said “Often”, 29.7% said “Sometimes”, 22.7% said “Seldom” and 15% said “Never”. Whilst very mixed results, these are largely unchanged from the 2017 survey.
  • Around 39% say web content has become more accessible this year, but around 42% say there has been no change, and 18.5% say content has become less accessible.
  • The majority of screen reader users navigate pages by working through the headings first. About 85% of users find the use of heading levels either very useful or somewhat useful.

Accessible design: How much motion is too much motion?

  • Heather Waroff, Senior Designer at Microsoft, writes about interaction design. The most useful part of the article for me was the list below, developed “in conjunction with Accessibility specialists”. It describes the types of motion that are considered safe (good), risky (‘it depends’), and non-compliant (bad).
  • Safe Motion:
    • Motion under 5 seconds, of the following types:
      • Show/Hide
      • Glowing
      • Color Transitions
      • Slides
      • Scaling
      • Fading
      • Glyph Transformations
  • Risky motion
    • Any motion longer than 5 seconds
    • Background Parallax
    • Object Parallax
    • Bouncing Effects
    • Fast Effects
    • Image Masking on Scroll
    • Full Width Mask on Scroll
    • Zoom on Scroll
    • Scale on Scroll
  • Non-compliant motion
    • Any motion longer than 5 seconds without a pause button
    • Strobe Effects
    • Rotate on Scroll
    • Fast exit on Scroll
    • Horizontal Directional Scrolling

Coursera accessibility courses

Managing focus in the shadow DOM

  • Web developer Nolan Lawson writes about the difficulties of managing focus on a web page which makes use of the shadow DOM; parts of the page that are encapsulated and unable to be interacted with programmatically in the same way as regular DOM elements.
  • If you’re implementing a modal dialog, you need to manage focus and prevent the user from tabbing outside of the modal window whilst it’s active. This is easier said than done; a common implementation is to use querySelectorAll to find all interactive elements in the page, finding the first and last focusable elements within the modal, and then using a listener to hook into the tab key and overriding where it triggers the focus. But document.querySelectorAll won’t return any shadow DOM elements, so the browser could still allow you to tab into a shadow DOM area outside of the modal.
  • Nolan proposes a new API; element.getNextTabbableElement() and element.getPreviousTabbableElement(), delegating this heavy lifting to the browser. For now, we’re left manually traversing through the DOM and inspecting each element recursively to see if it has a shadow DOM child, to create our list of all interactive elements in the page.
  • My old team at the BBC also wrote about how they migrated away from iframes to the shadow DOM.

Coronation Street highlights the challenges faced by disabled people working from home during the pandemic

  • This story focuses on Izzy Armstrong, played by Cherylee Houston. The storyline goes that Izzy is clinically vulnerable and has been shielding and working from home throughout the pandemic. Her job is now at risk as her boss insists she returns to the office.
  • The actor Cherylee has in real life been shielding since March 2020, as when she was 23 she was diagnosed with a rare condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
  • This will be the first time viewers will see Izzy in her real-life home environment. The scenes were filmed by Cherylee and her partner at their Manchester home.
  • “Izzy Armstrong’s upcoming storyline on Coronation Street highlights the reality of many disabled people’s struggles across the UK.”

Why debate non-text contrast of UI elements?

  • An article by Dave House, describing how WCAG 2.1 Non-text contrast has enough wiggle-room in it that designers often dismiss it, saying “UI elements don’t need to meet this requirement”. He explains: the success criterion states “if the visual indicator of the control is the only way to identify the control, then that indicator must have sufficient contrast”. Therefore, for example, a “Submit” button whose background colour has low contrast is still recognisable with the background colour removed, provided it is in the context of a form, and thus doesn’t fail the criterion.
  • Dave suggests a simple test: for every interactive UI element with a contrast of less than 3:1, remove the thing that is low contrast (be it the text, the background colour, the border, etc). Then review the page and see if it still makes sense. The argument is hard to swallow when Dave uses the Facebook and Google landing pages as examples – if they can’t get it right, what chance do the rest of us have? – but it’s a good rule of thumb nonetheless, and a useful design tip to keep in your arsenal.

Blind York student wins £5k claim over ‘inaccessible’ loan form

  • Disability rights activist Holly Scott-Gardner, has won a settlement after being unable to fill in a student loan disabled students application form, because it was inaccessible to her (as someone who is blind). Holly had to fill in the form over the phone, after several failed attempts online, and successfully sued the company for a breach of the Equality Act 2010.
  • Holly wrote a long Twitter thread about her interaction with the company, pointing out that they offered to “work with” her on making their services accessible, but this a) isn’t her area of expertise to be a consultant on, and b) they weren’t offering to pay her for her time. The thread is full of great quotes:
    • “In what world is it acceptable to expect the person who has had their rights violated to come and educate you out of the goodness of their heart?”
    • “I am not a token minority. I do not exist as an educational tool for non-disabled people.”
    • “It’s frustrating that everyone seems to view disabled people as experts on every aspect of being disabled. I know I can’t access something, that doesn’t automatically mean I can fix it.”

Experimental Brain Implant Lets Man With Paralysis Turn His Thoughts Into Words

  • A fascinating article describing how a paralysed man has had a device implanted into his brain, which decodes signals in the brain that once controlled his vocal tract. After several months of training, the system has a vocabulary of 50 words and the man can communicate at a rate of 15 words per minute. Normal speech is in the region of 120-150 words per minute. A professor at Stanford University acknowledges the 50-word vocabulary as a “huge achievement”, but also feels the vocabulary “could easily become 500 or 5,000 words.”
  • The anonymous patient in question is in his 30s, and has been unable to speak since a stroke 15 years ago. His arms, legs and vocal tract are paralysed, but the areas of the brain that once issued speech commands are intact. There was initially some doubt that the speech commands in the brain would still work after 15 years without use.
  • An ethical dilemma raised in the article is that it will be possible to “eavesdrop” on the brain. We need to ensure that such devices “allow people to be able to think their private thoughts without anything just being broadcast to the world”. This “may be easier with devices that rely on brain signals that control muscles, because these signals generally aren’t sent unless a person makes a conscious attempt at movement”.

Microsoft: Accessibility is a focus in Windows 11

  • Windows 11, announced at the end of June, is being designed “with accessibility in mind”.
  • The OS will include dark, light and customisable themes, and the improved Closed Captions will be more customisable too.
  • Microsoft have rebranded the old “Ease of Access” setting to the more idiomatic “Accessibility”, to make it easier to find your settings.
  • Like Windows 10, the new OS will include assistive tech including Narrator, Magnifier, Closed Captions, Windows Speech Recognition and Windows Voice Typing.
  • Finally, Windows 11 will support Linux applications via something called WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux), which is being carefully developed to integrate with assistive technologies.

Will Accessibility Become Increasingly Important for SEO?

  • A deque blog post, with no clear answer – but an interesting topic nonetheless.
  • Google has for years made mobile usability and speed a factor in SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – meaning that they favour websites which work well on mobile and load fast, and in turn, rank the website more highly in search results.
  • Google states that “everyone should be able to access and enjoy the web. We’re committed to making that a reality”. Google’s Lighthouse tool, which measures website performance and accessibility, provides accessibility scores which could very well lend themselves to an SEO ranking algorithm in the foreseeable future.
  • The article acknowledges that there is already a coincidental link between accessibility and SEO. Accessible pages tend to be well marked up pages, containing metadata, descriptive link text and headings, and alt text.

Accessible Overflow

  • A fascinating insight into browser behaviour by Marcus Herrmann. When navigating ‘overflow’ content, i.e. text that doesn’t fit inside its container, this requires us to scroll through the content. Many of us would simply use the mouse wheel to scroll within those containers, but how about users who navigate by keyboard? Keyboard users use the up and down arrows to move up and down the page, but what about the overflow content within the page?
  • Firefox automatically puts such content in the tab order, making it reachable and its contents scrollable. In Chrome, Edge and Safari, however, overflow content is not scrollable with a keyboard by default. There is a Webkit issue and a Chrome intent to ship, but otherwise developers are stuck using the following workaround:
    1. Add tabindex="0" to the container
    2. Apply focus styles to the container, e.g. .my-owerflowing-div:focus { outline: 2px solid; }
    3. Add role="region" and supply an accessible name using, for example, an aria-label.
  • Adrian Roselli wrote about this in more detail in Keyboard and Overflow.

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