Tag: a11y

It may be just an app, but sometimes, it’s why my life sucks.

***Update***

On July 26, I received yet another support Email saying in part,

Dear Steve,
Thank you for contacting Weight Watchers.  My name is [Name redacted] and I will be more than happy to assist you with troubleshooting your application.
I do apologize for this inconvenience.  Your email has been escalated to me.
In order for us to be sure we offer you the best support for Weight Watchers Mobile, please answer the following questions for us:
* Are you using a mobile device or a computer?
* What is your device model and Operating System?
* If you are using an iPhone, iPad or iPod, please confirm whether you are using the Weight Watchers Mobile app for iPhone App or accessing our mobile site http://a.weightwatchers.com/ ?
* If you are using a computer, what internet browser are you using.
* If you have not already done so in your initial Email to us, please let us know what error you are receiving.
* If your issue is technical in nature and you have not already done so in your initial Email to us, please describe as best you can what is occurring and what steps you took prior to running into the problem.  Also please provide any error messages you may have received.
As soon as we receive your response we will investigate on your behalf.

OK, clearly, they’re still confused.  That said, this issue is obviously on someone’s radar as there most recent app update has fixed the SmartPoint values reading on foods.  The daily and weekly totals still don’t read correctly, but at least now I am no longer disillusioned by chocolate cake having a 0 point value. 🙂

***

 

While the title of this post may seem a bit dramatic, I assure you it isn’t, at least not to me.  In a nut shell, the situation is this:  I pay for an app or service, use the app or service and then, with one update, it suddenly becomes impossible to use the app or service any longer.  This may not seem like that big a deal to those who are able to see, but for those of us who depend on VoiceOver or other assistive technologies, it’s a situation that is very real.

 

As many of my social media followers know, I’ve been a member of Weight Watchers for quite a few months.  After all, I can definitely stand to lose a few pounds and I’ve seen the program be successful with many who have benefited greatly from it.  I was also very encouraged to learn that Weight Watchers has a page dedicated to accessibility which says in part::

In our ongoing commitment to help as many people as possible to lose weight, including those with disabilities, Weight Watchers is dedicated to improving accessibility for people with visual impairments in the following ways.

The page then goes on to describe how to use the Weight Watchers online service with the JAWS screen reader, with VoiceOver and Safari, how to request information in alternative formats, how to optimize the Tracker for accessibility and much more.  I felt their commitment to accessibility to be genuine and in all fairness, their web site and iOS app worked extremely well, that is until the latest version.

 

For those unfamiliar with Weight Watchers, the program is essentially a points-based system where by individuals are allocated a number of points to be used throughout the day and foods are also given a point value, healthier foods receiving lower values than non-healthy foods.  A person can eat whatever they wish, the goal being to stay within their allocated number of points.  In short, it’s totally fine to have a big slab of chocolate cake, but because that slab of cake has a high point value, a smarter decision might be to opt for different, more healthier foods.  Using their iOS app, it’s possible to look up a food’s point value and to track it against the daily total.  Not only is this an efficient system, but the app can be instrumental in making healthy food choices by allowing the user to look up point values before deciding what to eat.

 

Like many of their customers, I update the Weight Watcher’s app regularly.  I certainly didn’t anticipate any problems when installing the latest version described as:

What’s New in Version 4.9.1
Fixed an issue with the barcode scanner.

We’re always working to improve the app and maximize your experience — thanks for sharing your thoughts so we can make it even better. More exciting improvements to come!

Imagine my surprise when, after installing this harmless-looking update, all the point values suddenly started reading as ‘0’?

 

After getting over my initial euphoria over chocolate cake suddenly having a ‘0’ point value, I realized that the problem was in fact an accessibility one.  For whatever reason, VoiceOver is no longer able to read point values accurately.  What this means is that in search results, when adding foods, when reviewing meals and anywhere else a point value might present itself, it is simply read as ‘0’.  Given the critical part the point values play in the program, this is a real problem.  How can I utilize a system based on points when I can’t read the actual points?

 

So, what to do?  My first step was to utilize live chat functionality which is built directly into the Weight Watchers app.  This chat system is pleasantly accessible and since it’s available around the clock, I thought it would be a quick way to describe the issue and see if it had already been reported.  After explaining the situation to the chat representative, my chat was “transferred”; I never knew a chat could be transferred.  Anyway, I get a new representative to whom I again explain the situation only to have my chat disconnected.  By this point my hands hurt from all the typing in addition to my already-mounting frustration, so I figure the next best thing to do is to contact them via the web site.  I do this, being sure to mention that I’m blind, this is an accessibility issue followed by a descriptive explanation of the problem.  Over a day later, I receive this response:

Dear Steve,
Thank you for contacting Weight Watchers. My name is [name redacted] and I’m sorry about the challenges that you have encountered in accessing your account through the WW Mobile App. Rest assured, that I will help you with your concern.
I appreciate your subscription with our Online Plus  plan.

We want to take this opportunity to thank you for trying our site and for making us a part of your weight loss journey.
Please try the following troubleshooting steps:
1. Please log out from the App and log back in.
2. If that does not work, force close the App if you have an Android device. Then relaunch the App. For iOS, close the App by double-clicking on the home button, swipe up on app snapshot, and click home button. Then relaunch the App.
3. If steps 1 and 2 do not work, delete the App and reinstall. Please note that recently scanned items are stored locally on the device and will be lost when you uninstall. If you would like to keep a recently scanned item, please save it as a favorite.
The Mobile App requires iOS 8.0 or later. It is compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. For Android users, it requires Android 4.0.3 and up. While it might also work on an Android tablet, it is not yet fully supported and may not be compatible.
Let us know how things go! If the troubleshooting steps do not help, please reply here with details about what you are experiencing. We’ll investigate further and reach out should we need to gather additional details.

Clearly the rep misunderstands what’s meant here by “accessibility” despite my having mentioned blind, VoiceOver, and referencing their own accessibility page in my request.  No matter, I decide to be a trooper and try all the steps which, as expected, don’t accomplish anything at all.  I’ve sent an even more descriptive reply and as of this writing, have heard absolutely nothing.

 

So why the dramatic post title?  It’d be one thing if this were a situation pertaining to one specific company or app, but this is a situation that occurs again and again.  Right now on my phone, I have an entire folder of apps that fall into this category, apps that I either want to use or that I’ve come to depend on which have become partially or completely useless to me.  Some of these apps are health-related, some are social and more disturbingly, some are productivity apps that help me maintain employment.  The company may change, the app or web site may change, but what it all amounts to is that I spend a lot of time feeling frustrated and navigating the realm of tech support when, like everyone else, I just want to live my life.  It’s especially sad in this case though, given Weight Watcher’s

“ongoing commitment to help as many people as possible to lose weight, including those with disabilities,”.

 

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.

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.

http://davidwoodbridge.blogspot.com.au/2015/05/my-time-with-apple-watch.html

Accepting physical credit card payments, the accessible PayPal solution

For many small businesses, the inaccessibility of payment solutions have often posed barriers to accepting physical credit card payments. More recently, services such as Squared and PayPal have entered the arena with solutions that provide small businesses and individuals the ability to accept physical credit cards using a small device connected to an OS or Android device. Although ultra portable and ultra convenient, these solutions traditionally pose accessibility challenges as well, because the card reader devices connect via the headphone jack and this disables speech output which may be needed for accessibility.

Although I wasn’t able to make a great deal of headway with the Squared solution, I did have success with PayPal’s. In the following audio demonstration, I’ll show how PayPal’s solution works with VoiceOver and will describe how to overcome it’s accessibility challenges.

Please help improve Tumblr accessibility

I sent the following Email to Tumblr’s support address, and would appreciate if others would do something similar. Although not unique, Tumblr uses a flash-based player when playing uploaded audio and video content, a player which for many is completely inaccessible. Currently, Tumblr does not provide any download, or play links in standard HTML format. If you agree with my below Email, please retweet, reblog, repost — whatever it takes to focus attention on this issue. On behalf of me, myself and I, not to mention many other blind folks, I thank you. 🙂 Steve ***original Email*** After constantly seeing Tumbr blogs popping up everywhere, I decided to jump on the band wagon and get one of my own. I’m a blind Mac user and was initially very impressed with the accessibility of the Tumblr site. Obviously accessibility will vary depending on which theme is used, but content seems accessible regardless of theme — that is, *most* content. One huge problematic area I’ve found for blind users is the embedded audio/video player which, due to its being Flash based, often is completely inaccessible. Depending on how Flash is coded, screen readers often can’t identify various controls and in many instances, can’t recognize the Flash object at all. I realize Flash is here to stay and although accessibility improvements might be possible for the existing player implementation, would like to suggest other alternatives. Ideally, in addition to the Flash player, links could be added either to play, or download content. If these links were standard HTML, all screen readers would have access. Going beyond accessibility, these links would provide access to those using mobile platforms, iPhone comes to mind. Anotheralternative would be to have the post autoplay. Youtube and twaud.io both function this way and although their controls are technically not accessible, at least their content can be heard. I sincerely hope implementing an alternative to the flash-based player can happen, Tumblr is otherwise an absolutely fantastic service. Thanks, Steve