• How the W3C Text Alternative Computation Works - SSB BART Group

    This is a rather technical article, but if you’ve ever wondered why screen readers sometimes read one type of information, such as a label on a form field and sometimes another, such as a description, this may help explain.

    The Text Alternative Computation Over the years, there has been a lot of confusion about the W3C Text Alternative Computation and how this works, especially when influenced by the addition of CSS and ARIA attributes. As a bit of forewarning, this article is not primarily meant for general web developers, though having an understanding of ...Read more

    Source: How the W3C Text Alternative Computation Works - SSB BART Group

  • Thank you, MNsure, for giving me one more reason to hate ARIA

    As a member of the accessibility community, I have the pleasure of getting to work with a wide variety of folks, all of whom approach accessibility with a somewhat different mindset. There are those, for example, who feel that accessibility is more of a technical challenge, an exercise in ensuring mechanisms exist for technologies like screen readers to understand what’s happening on any given web page. Others approach accessibility from a more user-centric standpoint, can users of all abilities understand and control the page? Most though, including myself, fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. As I write this today, however, I’m approaching accessibility from the perspective of an extremely frustrated blind guy who just wants to get something done and can’t.

    The problem

    Like many Americans, I’m opting to change my health insurance coverage due to rate increases with my current plan. My state, Minnesota, has a resource, a marketplace, called MNsure which allows people in my situation to search for and compare plans. Health insurance is pretty overwhelming, what with the myriad of options out there, and so I was excited to give this resource a try. Unfortunately, the more important aspects of the site are virtually unusable by screen reader users, a situation ironically caused by poor implementation of standards that were designed to help sites like this be more accessible in the first place.

    A super non-techie explanation of ARIA and why it matters here

    According to the W3C, the folks that make the standards that enable us to have a World Wide Web, ARIA is:

    WAI-ARIA, the Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite, defines a way to make Web content and Web applications more accessible to people with disabilities. It especially helps with dynamic content and advanced user interface controls developed with Ajax, HTML, JavaScript, and related technologies. Currently certain functionality used in Web sites is not available to some users with disabilities, especially people who rely on screen readers and people who cannot use a mouse. WAI-ARIA addresses these accessibility challenges, for example, by defining new ways for functionality to be provided to assistive technology. With WAI-ARIA, developers can make advanced Web applications accessible and usable to people with disabilities.

    To put this in plainer language, this means that ARIA provides a way for developers to take really complex webpages, such as those with constantly updating information, and make them more understandable to screen reader users without sacrificing visual design or functionality. Pretty cool right? One of the more powerful aspects of ARIA gives developers the ability to force a screen reader to output specific information immediately, even if the screen reader is currently in the process of reading something else on the page. While this might come in handy in certain cases, such as a chat or messaging application, it can have a serious impact on a user’s ability to read page content since the screen reader will interrupt whatever it’s doing in order to read whatever information the developer wants to force through. Getting back to MNsure (remember MNsure?), they are using an ARIA technique to provide extra information about links and form fields throughout the site. Examples include

    • "enter date in mm/dd/yyyy format"
    • "you can limit the number of plan listings"
    • "You can view more features about this plan",
    • "clicking this link will take you to the provider's web site where you can search for a provider".

    While all of these messages provide additional information and context, MNsure has implemented this in such a way that this additional text immediately interrupts the screen reader when encountered. This means that when reading through a page, I hear things like “You can view more features and details about this plan” but I have no idea what plan it’s actually talking about. The reason for this is that while the screen reader would normally read the link correctly, ARIA is being used to interrupt the screen reader from reading the link, so that it can read the descriptive messaging in its place. “Enter date in mm/dd/yyyy format” is helpful to know, but not when it’s done in such a way that prevents the screen reader from telling me what kind of date it wants in the first place – does it want my birth date? Coverage date? Today’s date?

    What we have here is a situation where something that was developed to enhance accessibility, was used inappropriately and has wound up totally degrading it. Unfortunately, as the end-user, I don’t have a way to prevent this from happening. Put another way, even though it’s my screen reader, the developer has more control over it than I do .

    Where to go from here

    When things like this happen, and they sadly happen more often than one might think, it’s hard to figure out where to go, or what to do. When I mentioned this particular situation to a friend, their response was, “why don’t you submit feedback, so that the issue can be fixed?” That’s a great idea and normally I love submitting feedback and doing what I can to help make the web a more accessible destination, however right now, I’m needing to shop for insurance and I really don’t want to get side tracked by trying to figure out how to submit feedback. Put another way, yes I can do this but right now, this isn’t going to help me complete the task that brought me to the site in the first place. So I call, and I wait on hold because as much as my call might be important to them, I can’t help but feel that my experience as a blind user of their site is certainly not.

    I mention in the title of this post that this gives me one more reason to hate ARIA. As I write this, I realize that it’s not ARIA that I truly hate, but the hap-hazard way it’s often implemented. When I think of ARIA, I think of an extremely sharp knife. When used properly, it can be a fantastic aid, but when used incorrectly, it can cause incredible harm. ARIA has the potential to give screen reader users access to all kinds of dynamic information. If used incorrectly though, it can cause incredible harm as evidenced by my particular experience. If you’re a screen reader user, I would encourage you to learn more about ARIA and the kind of control it allows developers to wield over your interaction with web applications. Maybe not an in-depth technical understanding, but enough to possibly know what’s going on when things aren’t behaving the way you might expect – maybe I should do a blog series on this? If you’re a developer, please please please be careful with ARIA. Yes it can provide fantastic solutions to complex accessibility problems, but it can also create complex accessibility problems where simple solutions would suffice. Understand the impact of what you’re doing, there’s plenty of resources out there to help with this including many kind folks who use the technology every day and can sey “hey, this isn’t working the way I expect it to.” So please ask, learn, grow and help make whatever experiences you’re creating on the web usable and enjoyable by all.

  • The web accessibility basics – Marco's Accessibility Blog

    If you’re not familiar with Marco Zehe, you definitely should be. Marco, @MarcoInEnglish on Twitter, has done an incredible amount to ensure that Mozilla products and services are accessible. In whatever free time he has left over from that, he writes an informative blog often discussing the challenges faced in accessibility. In his most recent post, he discusses the basic things that all web developers should know when it comes to accessibility. Even if you’re not a developer, this is worth a read as it may provide you with terminology and a resource should you ever be in contact with one.

    I’ve been asked again and again over the years what the absolute basics of web accessibility are. And while I always thought that it is not so difficult to find resources about these basics, …

    Source: The web accessibility basics – Marco’s Accessibility Blog

  • Testing the Mobile Podcaster app

    In this brief recording, I test an app, Mobile Podcaster which allows one to record a podcast episode directly on an iOS device, specify a description and publish. Since the app hasn't been updated since 2013, I'm not sure if it'll even work. With fingers crossed, I shall hit the botton to bublish and see what happens.


  • Review: One for the Money

    One for the Money One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Light-hearted and extremely humorous, this book about a female bounty hunter who is successful more by luck than skill had me chuckling right from page one. I’m now on the 16TH book in the series and am loving it just as much as I did the first. If you want light-hearted and humorous suspense, this series is for you.

    View all my reviews

  • The amazing kitchen gadget that is the OptiGrill

    The OptiGrill is an amazing kitchen gadget that, with its audible alerts, is very accessible. This demo is repodcasted courtesy of Accessible Devices.

  • Looking for accessibility resources on the Apple Watch? David Woodbridge has you covered

    Like many, I had so many questions about the Apple Watch: what would its accessibility be like? Could we actually use all the watch’s features? And most important to me anyway, what’d it sound like? David Woodbridge has been tirelessly blogging about his experience with the Apple Watch in addition to having created a fantastic series of podcasts detailing just about every watch feature using VoiceOver. In addition, David has done a fantastic job showcasing various applications that he has found accessible, or problematic. Fortunately for the world, David has consolidated all of this into a blog making it easy to find these invaluable resources in one place. If you’re thinking of purchasing the Apple Watch, or if you’re just curious about it, David’s blog is a must-read.


  • Audio posts now fixed

    if you have recently tried to listen to any of my audio posts, you may have had trouble finding the links to play or download the audio. Apparently I broke something when implementing a new theme, however, I was able to fix it earlier this evening. Anyway, I’m sorry for any trouble anyone might have encountered. Hopefully, everything is working out as it should.

  • Wow, can I really post via MS Word?

    As I gear up to begin writing new content on my blog, I've been looking at accessible tools that I might use to make the entire writing/editing/publishing process just a bit easier. Back when I was primarily a Mac user, I fell in love with MarsEdit, an absolutely fantastic application that made writing and publishing an absolute joy. Alas, I have yet to find an even remotely comparable solution on Windows.


    For years, I've heard that it's possible to publish blog posts directly from Microsoft Word. Try though I might, however, I've never been able to get the Word solution working. I'm not sure if tonight's attempt will be any different, but at least fields are showing up where they should be and wonder of wonders, nothing's crashed yet. Still, as excited as I am about the possibility of being able to blog directly from Word, I'm curious what other solutions people out there might be using? Hopefully, fingers crossed, more content will be coming soon.

  • Review: Flashback

    Flashback Flashback by Dan Simmons
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    An absolutely incredible, yet sobering book, I could not put this down. Describing a futuristic world after the collapse of the United States and many other world powers, this book almost seems prophetic in its predictions. If you enjoy thrillers, sci-fi, political thrillers, action or books with insight, this is definitely a recommend.

    View all my reviews

  • Let's have a bit of weather

    We’re getting freezing rain outside and as it sounded kind of neat to me, I thought I’d share it with you.

  • Review: The Martian

    The Martian The Martian by Andy Weir
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    I don’t think anyone really knows what life on Mars might be like, but this book gives us a glimpse into what seems like a very real possibility. Following the plite of an astronaut stranded on Mars during a mission, this book shows many of the challenges that must be overcome before missions to Mars could become a reality.

    View all my reviews

  • Demo of Direct Touch Typing on iOS8

    In this audio demo, I discuss the new Direct Touch Typing input method introduced in iOS8 and show how it works with VoiceOver.

  • Audio Demo of adding a card to Apple Pay using the iPhone camera

    Apple’s new Apple Pay feature allows the iPhone camera to be used to add a new credit card. In this brief audio demo, I walk through this surprisingly accessible process using VoiceOver.

  • Review: A Quiver Full of Arrows

    A Quiver Full of Arrows A Quiver Full of Arrows by Jeffrey Archer
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    I can’t say enough positive about Jeffrey Archer’s writing, it’s fantastic, it’s captivating, it’s, well, awesome. This book is a collection of short stories on a variety of topics, many of which made me chuckle, some of which were sad, but all of which were cleverly written.

    View all my reviews

  • Review: The Great Santini

    The Great Santini The Great Santini by Pat Conroy
    My rating: 0 of 5 stars

    A fantastic, yet sad book about a young man growing up in a military family with a very strict Marine father. Plot focuses on the young man’s coming of age, his struggle to come out of his father’s shadow and become his own person. I definitely enjoyed the author’s writing style, it’s very descriptive and very real. After reading this book, I learned that the author draws on his own experiences in this book. I’m definitely planning to read more of this author’s works.

    View all my reviews

  • Review: As the Crow Flies

    As the Crow Flies As the Crow Flies by Jeffrey Archer
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Archer is definitely one of my favorite authors and this book definitely did not disappoint. Loved everything about it, highly recommend.

    View all my reviews

  • Some rain, thunder and a little wind as recorded with the Zoom IQ5 iPhone mic

    We just had a brief thunder storm pass through, so I thought it’d be a great opportunity to again play with the Zoom IQ5 iPhone mic.

  • Brief demo of the Yo app

    In this brief episode, I demonstrate the Yo app, an ultra simple, somewhat ridiculous app that has gone viral in recent months.

  • My demo of the Zoom IQ5 stereo mic for Lightning devices

    In this episode, I demonstrate the Zoom IQ5 stereo mic for Lightning devices. WARNING, as this is a live demo, there are severe fluctuations in audio volume.

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