Real World Accessibility For The Blind

Awesome keynote this past weekend at New England Drupal Camp. Brian Charlson from the Carroll Center for the Blind “showed” us what the web was like for him. Amazing demo, with great context and the obligatory technical failure… which actually turned into one of the most compelling parts of the presentation.

If you’re sighted and ever complained about how frustrating it is to debug networking, just be aware that challenge is 100-times worse for the blind! So eye-opening.

My key takeaways are:

  • Alt tags are important (duh, also good for search engines).
  • Skip to main content links (which jump screen readers past the navigation) are one of the single most important parts of any site for accessibility. It takes 5 minutes per site if you start from scratch every time and no time at all if you have a clean process where you are able to check it into your starter theme.
  • Headings are critical for pages with multiple “types” of information.
  • The blind prefer a single H1 per page. I’ve been in rooms where code geeks and content geeks argue about this, and it comes down to preference… BUT there is an audience which matters for, so can we PLEASE as an industry standardize on this? Just remove the H1 option from you WYSIWYG editors and call it a day!
  • Good coding practices are important (duh). In one example that was shown the spans weren’t in <p> tags, so the screen reader couldn’t find them. Again probably helps search engines too.
  • The main screen reader on the PC is JAWS and costs an insane amount of information BUT built-in screen-reading is coming to Windows (it’s already on OS X) soon. If you’re building a high-traffic site you should set aside and afternoon and try to navigate your site without looking at the screen and the iOS screen reader. iOS isn’t the “standard” for the blind (that would be Windows and JAWS) but it’s a good enough proxy for you to feel the pain.
  • I’m writing this in WordPress and Yoast’s “Readability” gave me a failure (red dot) because I didn’t have any subheadings! I fixed it but they’re still dinging me for using 20% passive voice. I gotta pay attention to those recommendations more often!
  • If you ever get a chance to see Bryan present, you should!
accessability