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Why web accessibility is so much more than coding for screen reader compatibility

April 24, 2015

People like me who listen to web content instead of looking at a mass of stuff on the visual screen, know that instead of the web looking packed with info and images, it is in fact, a very very quiet place, or, a very very noisy and disorganised place, rarely if ever the sweet spot in the middle.

And before any sighted person shouts it’s just like this for us –staring at this text within a lovely backdrop of a gently glowing screen with architectural frames and designs and obvious toolbars of controls to help them on their way to understanding what they are looking at– no it’s completely different.

I mean noisy because unlike your eye, which you can instantly glance around the page, take in shapes and regions, read and re-read words or lines of text as you wish and as your brain needs in order to digest it, a screen reader is just plain old noisy and messy.

In fact, relying on a screen reader is like being read to by a jerky and loud voiced neighbour who doesn’t understand anything about layout or what you want to focus on, and just splurges out what they are seeing at you, and the only options to direct and control them are a few arrow keys which instantly cause them to jump onto something else and read that at you, until you press another key to stop them or jump somewhere else. They seem to totally ignore images or symbols, or layout, as if it means nothing.

So where exactly they are gazing on the screen and reading out from, or how it relates to anything else on the page, is mostly inside their head, never to reach yours. I’m always glad to walk away from this neighbour in my life, but sadly I don’t have any other real choice on my work computer or home desktop.

Thankfully this annoying auto-person is less uncontrollable on my Android phone, which is a touch screen, I can actually touch each sentence, moving my finger down and feeling the phone’s tactile feedback tell me each time I “bump” onto a new sentence. It’s so much closer to what I remember feeling the process of reading with my eye was. I still have no real left and right tactile feel for the words across the page, but it is almost there when I use Google Docs ap, quite glitchy, but hey, it’s quite close now to my fingertip being able to touch and feel words, and hear it read to me by the TalkBack at the same time.

Roll on getting rid of that annoying screen-reader neighbour.

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