If only eyeglasses frames have the ability to make blind people “see” the Internet, they can have access to the wealth of information it can offer. However, this concept could only be ripped out from a sci-fi novel. In reality, the Internet is not that user-friendly for the visually impaired. Dan Burke, the head of Academic and Youth Services for CCB says on VICE that “blind folks are always behind on computer technology… The internet is set up for the click of a mouse.”
Yes, the mouse and the mouse pad are essential tools to navigate windows and webpages – for sighted people, that is. We can scroll pages from top to bottom and vice versa. Navigation from one page to another is easier. We can play puppy (or cat) videos as much as we want. We can skip annoying advertisements. But to a blind person, it is like holding a cane and using it to navigate a maze, or words, a dessert.
Fortunately, this harsh reality is starting to change and now, we’re slowly acquainting ourselves to the word “accessibility.” The word “accessibility” is a foreign word to sighted internet users because they have the freedom to browse a website any way they want. But for a blind person, it is the key to make the Internet accessible for them.
Accessibility doesn’t generally mean the page loads in a millisecond. Or the content (images, text, video, etc.) of the page displays right away after you click a link. An accessible website is, by all possible means, “readable” to a blind person.
What are the factors to consider? According to Gizmodo, a user-friendly Internet for the blind has “properly coded website, intelligent software, and handy shortcuts and tricks mesh[ed] together to make browsing the web tolerable for the vision impaired.”
A properly coded website adheres to the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” (WCAG) by W3C, as stated in Huffington Post. The website is designed with the blind users in mind. It includes tweaking webpage elements such as page structure, menus, images, tables, forms and carousels. The simplest trick is supplying alternative text or alt text of an image. Use it sparingly, though. David Ball in Speckboy says don’t bother with the alt text if the image is used for decorative purpose only. Doing so may only confuse the user.
As for intelligent software, vision impaired users can now “read” web content via screen readers. Examples of this are VoiceOver of Apple, JAWS of Windows and TalkBack of Android. This is a “software program that convert text into synthesized speech and blind people are able to listen to web content,” explained by WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind). In other words, it is a text-to-speech software but it has limitations.
Screen readers cannot describe the layout of a webpage or how it is organized. It cannot read link title attributes, according to Search Engine Journal. Screen readers don’t have an ability to describe an image, unless a description is provided in the alternative text attribute. Other meaningless webpage elements for screen readers are avatars; profile pictures; memes; and of course, colors.
In writing, it is the other way around. They rely on speech-to-text software called a “digital assistant” to be able to search the Internet. The popular selections for this are Siri of Apple, Google Now of Google, and Cortana of Windows Phone 8.1. These are for searching but how about writing texts? Dictate it via Nuance for Windows and Mac, and Gnome Voice Control for Linux.
How many keyboard shortcuts do you know? Visually impaired web users or computer users are the masters of keyboard shortcuts. Since, a mouse is useless to them; they rely on shortcuts to navigate through a webpage or window.
Any tricks up technology’s sleeve? Facebook has one. We have to admit that we’re sometimes a tad lazy supplying alt text for images. Fortunately, the social media giant is aware of this and invented “automatic alt text.” According to them, it “generates a description of a photo using advancements in object recognition technology.” As explained by Popular Science, “if someone posts a picture of a pizza, the algorithm will be able to automatically put the word “pizza” into the alt text of the image, so the screen reader can tell it to the user.” This was made possible because of artificial intelligence.
These innovations might be fun and interesting to use when you’re a sighted user but it is difficult and complicated to learn for those who live in the dark all throughout their life. So, if you sense you’re suffering from eye problems, better schedule an appointment with your eye doctor immediately. You may visit the nearest Executive Optical branch for a free eye checkup.
The bottom line is it is the responsibility of the web developers, web designers, software/app programmers and the sighted web users to make the internet a better place for the visually impaired population.