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Nelson, Cyndy Otty, GrahamArmfield, and 2 others are discussing. Toggle Comments
I would encourage any developer who is interested in building and/or testing for accessibility to download a copy of the NVDA screen reader. It’s a fully functional screen reader, almost as good as JAWS, and is now the screen reader of choice for many blind and dyslexic users. What’s more, it’s free.
It works best on Firefox and IE – Chrome doesn’t support all the necessary accessibility API stuff (thanks Google). It’s possible to download a version that you can place onto a memory stick so that it’s portable – something I don’t think you can do with JAWS.
Not surprisingly there are lots of keyboard shortcuts to learn, but there are some tutorial videos available I believe, and lists of the most useful keystrokes on the web.
It’s available at: http://www.nvda-project.org/
I’ve just (literally) finished writing a piece for book on web accessibility and I’ve actually said the complete reverse. For what it’s worth, here are my views on this subject:
Don’t try using assistive technology yourself. Using a demo screen reader for a few hours will NOT give you a good overview of how visually impaired users navigate sites. Many of these users will have been using their particular software daily for years. Implementing changes based on your few hours of experience is likely to do more damage than good. Instead, make the best of the many accessiblity resources that are available on the Web.
I’m going to side with esmi on this one. At the end of the day, you’re always going to have the ability to actually see what’s on the screen. Also, as I said in a comment below, testing one piece of software is not indicative of all adaptive set ups. Screen readers are often used in conjunction with other equipment, too, like Braille displays.
Certainly I don’t hold a monopoly on the screen reader using population, but NVDA being a popular choice is news to me. VoiceOver is probably the second most used that I’m aware of and I’d venture to say that it’s mostly because it’s much easier and cost effective to buy a system that has accessibility options built in over spending thousands of dollars to accomplish the same thing.
esmi, Cyndy, your reactions are so surprising to me. These insights are pure gold. Like Graham, I had viewed the use of technology such as NVDA invaluable; I would have never in a million years predicted such a response as “Dont try using assistive technology yourself”. (Although after further reading I think I see what you are getting at).
I honestly do not know how else to become familiar with a technology except to use it myself. I guess I’m a little intimidated, no, intimidated a LOT by the fact I simply don’t know how to incorporate changes to address assistive technology without being familiar with the technology first hand.
These conversations are giving me a LOT to chew on, and cause me to very seriously reconsider our current approach to learn and adapt accessible technologies. Graham, esmi, and Cyndy, thank you.
My opinions on this come out of discussions with Jim Thatcher – a guru in the field of web accessibility who also built some of the very first screen readers. He reckoned it would take a solid couple of hours every day for at least a month before a web developer was close to using JAWS in the same way as the average non-sighted user would. Anything less than that and any assumptions made could be seriously invalid. There’s a lot of info out there on how assistive technology is used by real people every day. You might find that a lot more useful than trying to use the technology yourself.
Esmi, I can see where your opinions are coming from, and yes there is a danger that a short use of a screen reader (say) will not give you an accurate view of the way that expert users use that particular tool. Surely there are as many different approaches to using screen readers as there are screen reader users – isn’t there a parallel with an operating system here?
Yes there are many resources on the web – including videos of visually impaired people using screen readers etc, and I do encourage people I talk to about accessibility to use those too. But when I present on web accessibility to developers and others the bits where I demo screen readers and speech recognition stimulate a lot of interest. To be able to show people the direct affect of adding appropriate alt attributes to images, and properly marked up labels to input fields is gold.
My comments on the rising popularity of NVDA come from views gleaned from various blogs and from the WebAim Screen Reader survey – http://webaim.org/projects/screenreadersurvey4
I’m just starting to learn VoiceOver myself now – having just got my first iOS device.
Much to digest here. What limited experience I’ve had supports esmi and Cyndy’s claim about the use of an assistive technology by a user who actually doesn’t NEED the technology. I had built up a website, adjusting all HTML and CSS based on what I found on the web so that screen readers could use it–and when I found out the blind user did not use ANY of the special features I had built into the website (e.g., skip-to-navigation links), but instead used standard HTML markup, I was stunned. He pulled out his laptop, and a Windows-based technology ran through the page so quickly my head spun. I literally could not keep up with him.
BUT I find personally that the biggest problem in supporting accessibility iniitiatives is–getting support! There is no substitute, none, for bringing the point home to sighted, able-bodied administrators and staff what it is like to be blind, immobile, or whatever, and still be asked to function. To date, the only way to bring this home is to give demonstrations of what it’s like to try and function with a disability. Only then does the grumbling stop about adding “alt tags” and such.
And what I said earlier still holds true, at least for me personally–in order to write a website in an accessible manner, I can’t just “read” about it on the web–I personally have to go through some sort of experience to make me understand, in my guts, what’s happening when a blind person approaches a web page, or a person with a mobility issue tries to access a drop-down menu, etc.
The crux of the matter is, how a sighted person like me realisticly gains insights into working a web page without being blind. Again, incredibly valuable insights provided here, and I thank you all.
Sorry if I came across contrary about the NVDA popularity. I don’t dispute your point, though, I’ve never actually heard of that survey and I am kind of curious how accurate a sampling that it has. I mean in context, the US alone there are an estimated 21.5 million persons with vision loss.
Cyndy, I personally didn’t feel that the comment was contrary at all. And, the implied point about sample size is a valid concern. Almost by default, sample sizes for any accessibility testing are going to be small, because of the difficulty of rounding up enough participants for a study. That very fact alone, that accessibility testing is based upon studies with small sample sizes, mandates a critical eye towards the studies, and their implications of applying the results to our applications. I didn’t feel your words were contrary. I felt they were wise. And invaluable to people like me who only know how to approach accessibility initiatives through the mechanical lens of technology. Thanks again!
Thanks, Nelson. 🙂
My own personal experience and having worked in the rehab field, I do know there tends to be a large difference in what equipment and software is used based on age (e.g., college student vs. professional) and each state (and even each district within a state) has their own specific standards.as to what they will or won’t provide. Which is to say, what is a preferred set up is not necessarily what is most often being used.
Hi Cyndy, in light of the above conversation, I tried to do some more reading/research. I came across an article that may be of interest; did you happen to see this survey? If I may ask, what are your (what I know will be awesome) thoughts on it?
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