Close Your Eyes, Use Your Site

No really.

Close your eyes. Now browse to your favorite website. If you’re brave, one you’ve built!

Did you cheat a little? OK, you may have held fast and followed my little fiat, using a key command to open a new tab, remembering where your cursor took focus, then typing in the URL. Then what? You peeked a bit and remembered that you could use the Tab key!

I don’t need no dang screen reader, you might have concluded. But now you’re thinking more like a person who must browse this way. You’re getting an understanding of the flow of your content and biting your knuckle at some of the order of the elements each Tab keypress takes you. Things are starting to make very little sense when you put them all together. You try to suppress the memories of all the sites you may have plagued up to this moment. Oh the Duh-Rama! 

Now take a deep breath and get over it. Quickly. It’s not your fault. You can’t know what you didn’t know before, right? There is so much you can do, and all it takes is thoughtfulness.

Order in the code! Order in the code! Simply writing your code while thinking about how you can best receive the available content makes all the difference. To put it plainly: makes order difference the all. It’s simple, but it’s the most important thing. I repeat! Order in the code!

Get in touch with the accessibility features on the devices you use every day. You may be surprised by the features available to help you. I use the VoiceOver feature in iOS, for instance, as well as the speech capabilities in OS X.

I’ve taken advantage of text-to-speech since I discovered it in the ’90s. I’m grateful for the transformation I’ve experienced. I took advantage of it before I got married to test for my driver’s license—for the first time since 1995. I downloaded the latest driver’s manual and read through it. I fell asleep a couple times, but eventually made it to the end. The day before the test, I committed four hours to VoiceOver, reading the full—from end-to-end—driver’s manual. Did using assistive technology slow me down? Hell mutha-effin no. I passed my written test with a 100% and my driver’s with a 96%. I ended up driving a Mustang GT on my honeymoon.

Get familiar with WAI-ARIA. If you’re using a browser that has implemented screen reading or text-to-speech technology according to these standards, ARIA roles can make your content sing by announcing changes that can only be seen.

During an interview with a wonderful couple, I had the opportunity to experience how the wife used assistive technology. I got advice straight from the source, and it set my mind aflame. The most significant tidbit they shared with me was the impact changes to content had on how they took in information. In most cases, they explained, AJAX implementations were the issue. Navigation menus were a whole other thing, because everyone solves them a different way.

The experience of not properly handling changing content for assistive technology can mean that you start from the top of the page and Tab back to where you were, or the technology simply focuses on the next thing on the page. But it’s the previous container that has the important information, like an order confirmation.

The list goes on. It’s rough. But a gentle use of ARIA can make a big difference. Just don’t flip out and think that this is going to answer everything. Reserve ARIA to resolve the issues you can’t solve by well-formed, semantic markup.

Finally, test and pay attention to what people share with you! If you give a crap about how people experience life in general, and not just how they experience your content, make that change.

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 30, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I love it. Hearing you talk about accessibility is awesome…in your voice, I think “of course, Jayson would care. Because he’s a rad dude.” I think when someone gives a shit about accessibility, they are demonstrating care for people. Because our “users” are people, and if we don’t care about them, then why the hell are we bothering to build anything?

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