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Friday, January 27, 2006

Screen Reader Weirdness...

This morning a friend of mine who uses JAWS called me over Skype. She told me that yesterday's post on the failure of capitalism and competition in assistive technologies for people with vision impairments appeard twice. So, I went into the BlogSpot edit facility and tried to correct the problem.

Using JAWS, this proved to be impossible so I called my sighted wife into the room to help. When we thought we had the body of the post on the sight only once, I double checked it with JAWS. There, in the BlogSpot Preview screen, it appeared twice. So, my wife took another look and could only see the article once. This is weird.

People using JAWS can read yesterday's post and assume it was only supposed to be there once. Sighted people needn't worry. I'd like to hear from people using Window-Eyes, HAL, Freedom Box System Access and MSP if they could read it.

I didn't have a specific topic for today so I'll just rant about inconsistencies between screen readers and web sites. I believe quite strongly that all screen reader developers do their very best to make the Internet as usable as possible. Freedom Scientific hits the W3C/WAI guidelines more closely than anyone else (see the article on their web site authored by an independent web accessibility expert and presented at CSUN for details) but Window-Eyes, FB and MSP do a great job as well. I cannot comment on HAL or its pocket sibling as I haven't tried either. I am most familiar with JAWS so it's the one I use the most. The Freedom Box implementation does have some very nice aspects to it as it seems to be the most intelligent in choosing where on the page the user wants to begin reading.

Web developers, though, seem increasing less interested in accessibility. I find many sites that were once very accessible deteriorating to somewhat accessible as additions and modifications often ignore the guidelines. I feel like I've been fighting the web accessibility battle for so long and watching the overall accessibility decrease lately makes me both sad and angry.

The various methods used to fill out forms on the web vary from one screen reader to another and often behave strangely. JAWS, for one, always seems to get very slow when in its forms mode. I can't speak to the other products as I haven't tested them enough.

I will post more about screen readers and web accessibility in the future.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Jake said...

Hopefully by now your laptop has been resurrected. I'd like to say a few things on website accessibility and screen readers. I will try to be as unbiased as possible. Although my screen reader of choice happens to be JAWS, I have used Window-Eyes for a few things and I think it is a really good screen reader too. I've never used FBSA or Hal. I have, however, noticed a slight quirk in the latest version of JAWS, the beta of 7.1. When in forms mode on a website, I always end up having to manually turn forms mode off as opposed to having it automatically turned off when I tab to the Submit button, or whatever website creators choose to call that button. I don't consider this to be something which must be fixed, however, in order to allow for maximum usability. This beta version of JAWS 7.1 seems to be extremely stable though, even with that minor quirk. I have been asked to assist in the redesigning process for the website of a nonprofit independent-living organization here in Illinois. The website is being made more accessible to users of assistive technology such as myself. I am very happy to report that other than a problem with some .pdf files, the new website is reading very well with JAWS. I haven't yet tested it with Window-Eyes but I plan to do that in the very near future. Also, I have recently downloaded Firefox and am learning it, so I might test the website with that browser as I have Internet Explorer as my default browser. If I can find out where to get an online manual for Hal, I might try and download a demo and see how it performs on the website. BC readers might at this point be thinking to themselves, "This guy's got a little too much time on his hands." This is in part very true unfortunately, but I also want the website in question to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. We hope to get the .pdf issue figured out very soon though. One thing I like about Freedom Scientific is their HTML Challenge. I think this gives new users of JAWS, as well as those visitors to FS's site who don't use JAWS, a fun and interactive way to learn about all the features of this very powerful screen reader.

5:59 PM  

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