The theme for today’s episode is really important because you may have a fast website with the best content, but it’s all for nothing if people can’t actually use it. My guest is nektarios paisios, he’s a software engineer on the chrome, accessibility team and we’re talking about the state of accessibility. Let’s get started, how would you describe your role on the chrome accessibility team? I’m a software engineer.
This means that I’m a programmer. I write code. All day, which is something I enjoy a lot, I implement accessibility, features in chrome and I also fix accessibility bugs. I mostly work on Windows and Mac accessibility, but my team has lots of other people who work on many different platforms and for lots of features that we release as part of Chrome OS. So how would you explain, accessibility to someone who may be new to web development? Well, accessibility is a very important feature.
We should see it as a feature of our website and it’s part of usability the more accessible your website is the more usable it would be to everyone, so it doesn’t only affect people with disabilities. If we want to talk about the people with disabilities, they are according to the World Health Organization, 15 % of the population. So even for business reason you could say that you’re getting more customers if your website is more accessible.
But, aside from that, your website will be more usable if you abide by all the accessibility standards. If you follow all the best practices, your website will be both accessible. I provide better experience for the rest of your customers, so it’s a good business practice. It’s the right thing to do, but also it creates the best experience for everybody and what are the various ways that people with disabilities interact with the web depending on the disability that somebody has.
They used different sorts of assistive software. One of this piece of software is called screen reader, so if you’re blind, for example, you might be using the web through a piece of software that reads to you using synthetic speech, it reads to you the contents of the screen: that’s why it’s called a screen. Reader, if you’re partially sighted, you might be using a magnifier, so you might be enlarging the size of the font, the size of the text, the size of the whole page, the size of the images, even the size of article, so there’s different software that helps depending On the disability that you have, if you’re hearing-impaired, you might be using some captions or some software that can listen to what has been said and transcribe that into text.
If you have another disability like a motor disability, you could use a switch access, which is a device that allows you to move through the interface by flipping a switch or you could use eye tracking devices that track the movement of your eyes. If you cannot move your hands, you might be able to move your eyes. So by moving your eyes, you can move a cursor around the screen, so there are lots of different accommodations depending on the particular need.
So what are some things that you wish? Even the more experienced web developers would know about accessibility. Clearly, the web has offered a big opportunity for companies and organizations to showoff their branding. Different websites have different layouts. They use different font sizes, they use different colors. They have different ways of interacting with them different menu systems, different ways of navigating through them different workflows as a whole.
This is very good for branding every organization wants their website or their web app to differ from other organizations. We don’t want to have a monoculture. We want to have a platform that is full of life and diverse as possible. However, if you’re a person with some accessibility challenges, it takes much longer for you to get accustomed to the different workflows that are presented by different websites.
Let me give you an example: let’s say: you’re blind and you’re using a screen reader. What you have to do most likely is: you need to read the web page that you’re interacting with serially from top to bottom and if to get familiar with it, to familiarize yourself with it. So it takes you time to if the conventions are different from side to side. It takes you time to go through all the content. Just to be able to do.
Let’s say you might want to sign up for a newsletter or you might want to order or buy something from that particular company’s website. If the workflow for purchasing an item is different for each website, which for each website which most likely it is, then it was going to take you much longer to learn that workflow, because you don’t have the visual cues that the sighted person might have the placement Of icons, the placement of the different elements of the different buttons, you don’t have a clue, you know you don’t get those and clues.
You have to go and discover them by reading the contents of them of most of the website. The same goes: if you have a model disability, for example, you might need to use hardware device like switch access to go through the contents of the side and if you’d have muscle, you have developed a muscle memory that you know, for example, that if you press Your street chip specific number of times you get to a particular feature on most websites that say the top navigation menu.
But now you discover that for each website the navigation menu on the top is not the same location. So you cannot really develop muscle memory with your assistive device and you can imagine the similar issues with other groups of disabilities, so what I would suggest is try to follow existing conventions, and this brings me up to my second point. Not everybody uses the computer using a mouse or a phone using touch, they might be using some commands that come with your assistive software or hardware, and those commands require that your site is accessible using the keyboard and if your site is not accessible using the keyboard.
It’s a pointing device, then it might be hard for this assistive software or hardware to work with your website. Another point is: there are lots of accessibility standards and the web content. Accessibility guidelines is one of the most prominent standards and it’s better. If you go through those standards and try to follow as much as possible the guidelines that are out there, so that’s one of the ways your website will be consistent with established patterns.
The same goes for the keyboard navigation. I described before another thing that you should bear in mind is: if you don’t actually test with assistive software, you are not going to know the bottlenecks you’re not going to know what the issues your users are running into. So you could try some of the assistive software very easily. For example, if you have a Chromebook, you could easily turn on a screen reader that comes built-in to every colon book.
You could turn that on and every command, but the screen reader exposes is in a menu, so you can easily get to all the commands it. Doesn’t it’s not a very steep learning curve. The same goes for every other assistive feature. On that platform. You can turn on magnification color filtering on Android. You can turn on a feature whereby you could use the volume buttons of your phone to simulate a switch access device.
So somebody with a motor impairment that uses a hardware switch device. You could simulate that using the volume buttons of of your phone, so these are some of the tips that you could rely on when developing. What would you say that developers who may be well intentioned and try to be overly descriptive with, for example, their aria labels on elements, and they might just say too much about an element, it’s a bit of funny? But there is this notion that you know: if you have a disability, it means that you’re, you know, you don’t have the intellectual ability to understand what everybody else can understand and that’s actually not true.
We don’t need to go over the top when describing a UI element. For example, we don’t need if there is a button that lets say minimizes a article player, we don’t need to say things like collapses and reduces to a small size, the article player and places it at the bottom left side of the screen. You don’t need to say that just say minimize and people would understand from the context that it minimizes a article player.
Of course, we have to bear in mind that we have a group of disability users that are with intellectual disabilities or developmental disabilities, so we have to make cater to those users by using language that could be understood by a 9th grade level. We shouldn’t use complex and not very well known words, but other than that. We don’t need to go over and above and try to overcompensate. The other thing, though, that you should bear in mind, is what I was saying before with the keyboard.
If you wan na test your keyboard navigation, you should not only use the tab key, because tab is not the only key on the keyboard. So, coming back to your previous question, what I wished with developers knew is tap is not the only key on the keyboard and, if you look through, for example, the area, the rich internet applications practices for keyboard users, there are lots of shortcut keys that are listed In those practices in those authoring practices and tab is just one of them and I’ve cost you the importance of using semantic elements on the web so that the screen reader can understand what type of content is on the page instead of using a div or a Span element that doesn’t convey any semantic information, it’s better to rely on the existing html5 rich controls, if possible.
So let’s say you want the user to enter an email field, use the email input box. There is such a text field because an assistive software might provide autocomplete suggestions to a user, for example, if they detect that they’re trying to enter an email. But if you don’t use the correct control, the assistive software might not know that and offer no suggestions. The other problem is, let’s say you wan na enter a date.
There is a date control you when I use at least the original list box control in HTML try and use those controls. Unless you really have specific reasons, why not most people have issues with the styling? I do understand that, but if you are comfortable using the built-in controls, use them and take your time to read through the new controls that came out in the last few years, there. Instead, an array of rich form controls the number control.
There’s a telephone input do not ignore those controls, they might look the same as a text field, but under the hood they are very useful to somebody who is using an assistive software right. So, as the web capabilities have evolved over the years, people have started using the web in different ways. So what effects have translate these had on the ways that users actually use the web? The development of the web has given people with disabilities a workaround for many of us, including myself, I’m blind myself, including myself.
We have been liberated anyway by the proliferation of web applications, because if let’s say you want to go and visit a bank and make some transaction, you usually go to a bank and you have to complete some paperwork and that paperwork. If you’re blind, for example, you will need some assistance to help you do that if you’re deaf you the person who is at the bank most like it, doesn’t know any sign language, you might have difficulty explaining to them.
What needs to be done? If you have a model disability, it might be, there might be, no ramp is hard to get into the bank, and then you can go in there. So there are sort all sorts of issues when it comes to physical world that they completely disappear. When you use a website a website, also – and that’s also ever that’s another great point to remember – doesn’t have a bias. If you visit a place and you have a disability and people there, they don’t want accommodate you.
You might have a hard time convincing them that you have the right to be offered services, but a website doesn’t know that you have a disability, and this has also opened up the employment market to people with disabilities who can, through their computers they could perform the Tasks that before they needed, for example, a secretary or an assistant to help them perform their work duties. Another thing is reading books.
Let’s say you have learning disability, for example, or blindness. It would have been hard for you to read a book now with their software. That can read the book to you over the web and also for people with dyslexia. For example, there are tools that break up syllables or read the book using text-to-speech or have a dictionary that is on demand and easy, easily accessible on the computer or on your phone.
So it’s really easy to to get accommodated through the web and you can also feel very independent in that way because you’re using the same websites and the same web apps as everybody else. So this is a very nice feeling. You feel that you’re treated the same as every other customer of that particular business. However, on the negative side, the more complicated the web has become. The more important is for web developers to take care of accessibility challenges because on the flip side, if you do visit, let’s say a supermarket and you’re in a wheelchair, and you have trouble going through the aisle or the supermarket.
Unemploy might help you by fetching an item from the shop. However, if the website is inaccessible and you’re, a person with modern disability that is relying on eye tracking device to use the website and the website doesn’t have very good – let’s say, keyboard navigation or some kind of navigation that the functionality that would allow that assistive software To interact with it, then this person is stuck.
They can’t really negotiate with the machine because the machine is inflexible. So, yes, the web has removed a lot of the accessibility challenges. However, if we don’t pay attention to the accessibility of our websites, we’re going to erect much higher barriers that are inflexible and cannot removed by talking to a human being right and one of the solutions to that is standardization and the w3c web accessibility initiative is to Define strategies, standards and resources to make the web accessible to people with disabilities.
So what kinds of things have been done from the standardization side of things to make the web more accessible to people? There have been a lot of efforts, and actually I have been involved in the chrome accessibility team for a few years now, and we have a steamed colleague on the team that is part of has been a part of the standards for many years now and what They have been telling me is that at the beginning there was nothing and then they worked really hard for a few important standards to be put in place.
The accessible rich Internet application standard area for short, it’s very extensive and it defines specific attributes that you can add to your HTML that enable HTML elements that do not have any semantic information attached to them. It’s what I was describing before the use of divs and spans with visually, with visual information that conveys to the user what they do, for example, it might be a deed that represents a button check bar or a check box, but it doesn’t convey that to the Assistive software, it’s only conveyed visually.
However, if you use the Aria standard, there are some attributes. For example, rule you can say: role equals checkbox and suddenly all the assistive software knows that this is a checkbox. And then there is another attribute called aria checked and you can say: ok, that’s true, and that means that the checkbox is now checked. So what it is visually represented with a check mark is now also conveyed in the HTM and the assistive software can get to that information.
Another standard that has been evolving is the HTML standard itself. So, as I said before, in html5, there are new form controls, rich form, controls that you can use and those controls are accessible by default because they are implemented by the browser, their slider. There is a time range. There is email input, telephone input, etcetera. There are lots of controls, another standard is the web component standard and that’s an evolving standard, and that one enables you to create components and widgets that could be packaged as a unit and used in other web apps.
But this web component standard enables those widgets to isolate themselves from the rest of your web app. So I think that would help accessibility by enabling people to create accessible components once and distribute them to be used everywhere. And what is the accessibility object model? It is a standard that would enable web applications to expose some of the accessibility information and perform some day of the accessibility actions that were only available to desktop applications in the past, not only desktop, but also, I should say that we’re only available to native applications In the past, I’m talking about things like if a user performs a gesture, a specific gesture or uses a specific command with their assistive software, this command could be communicated to the web app itself and the web app could take action based on that command.
That came from the assistive software native apps could do that before web apps. Couldn’t we’re trying to create a standard to solve that? Another thing that this standard is trying to solve is the ability for the web app itself to create accessibility, information. That would only be visible to users of assistive software in the past. You couldn’t easily do that now. You can, if you have a complicated up that presents things using, let’s say converse or some other kind of graphical technology, but you want to create some equivalent semantically rich representation of what is visually conveyed to users of assistive software.
With this new standard, the accessibility object model standard. You can create your own accessibility objects, food, the information you want in them and expose them directly to assistive software. So, in effect, you can tell the assistive software what exactly exactly what you want did to see. So what types of tools are available for developers to understand how accessible their website is? Chrome actually has a lot of built-in tools.
We have the chrome, developer tools and inside the chrome, developer tools. If you go to the main panel, the panel where you can see the Dom tree, there is also a tab in there that allows you to see the accessibility tree. The accessibility is not the same as the Dom tree. The accessibility tree is the tree that is presented to assistive software and it is created based on the Dom tree and the layout tree.
That’s where those attributes would appear. So, as you can see, the history is created from many different sources, but ultimately that is the information that assistive software sees and you can see it as well. If you go to the developer tools, there is a tab there. That shows the accessibility tree and you can use that to see. Let’s say if you have a screen door user. What are they going to experience if you visit your website, how are they going? What information are they going to see when they try to read the site using the screen reader? There is also another panel in the chrome developer tools.
It’s the audits panel and as part of the audience we have lighthouse lighthouse, can perform audits on your website and give you a list of errors or recommendations for to improve. So it’s very easy. You could go and click and run an audit accessibility audit on your website. I have to point out that it doesn’t catch all the errors. You ultimately do need to test with some assistive software or rely on user feedback, but it does help write a score of 100 percent doesn’t mean your website is fully accessible yep.
So the HTTP archive tracks, lighthouse accessibility, scores on over a million websites. The median lighthouse accessibility score is 62 % and another interesting stat, 42 % of pages correctly use alt attributes on images and only 12 % of pages correctly label form elements. So the state of accessibility right now shows a lot of room for improvement. Unfortunately, we do need to redouble our efforts and perhaps we need to provide more automated solutions for making web apps accessible.
We do need to pay attention to the web content, accessibility guidelines and there are three axes in those guidelines that I think everybody can understand. The apps in the app should be the website should be perceivable, so you should be able, as a person with disability, you should be able to perceive content that your disability prevents you from receiving low. So let’s say you have an image, it doesn’t have a description or we have a article that has only audio.
It doesn’t have captions for people who are deaf if you’re a person with some developmental disability, and there is language there that is not as to advanced and too complicated, or you have very long and long winded text and you’re unable to you know, read long pieces Of text and you’re going to have difficulties there, so there or you’re a person who doesn’t tolerate rabid animations. So it’s not hard for somebody who is developing a website to understand if they try and put their themselves in the shoes of a person with disabilities.
For a few minutes, it’s not hard of them to understand what it means when we say that your website needs to be perceivable. It just takes some time to put yourself in the shoes of this other person and then realize oh wait a moment. This might be. Might create some trouble for for people another thing in the web content. Accessibility guidelines is your app needs to be. Your website needs to be robust, so the HTML needs to validate.
You need to be using the correct attributes and form labels is actually part of that. You need your your forms to have labels your your form fields, to have labels to indicate errors in a clear manner and to suggest corrections if possible. So I I don’t think it’s hard for somebody to follow those standards if they try and get in the shoes of the user that is trying to use the website. I do realize that some of the standards are vague and too technical.
They use complicated language, but I think, if you’re a developer, that wants to learn how different people with accessibility needs use your website, you could try and find articles on how different people use assistive software and then try and imagine yourself being in the shoes of those Users, so, as web capabilities continue to evolve, we have technologies like AR and VR around the corner. How do we make sure that we’re not leaving people with disabilities behind a lot of the changes happen organically? They grow from past experience and slowly-slowly solutions get developed.
For example, assistive software has been developing for 25 or 30 years, and it has been a gradual process. However, if there is a technology shift like the move to a touchscreen mobile phone, for example, or the use of VR AR virtual reality, it would be very difficult for somebody to wait for this progress that happened gradually, because then you would expect a big gap in The number of the amount of time that you have to wait, if you’re a person with disabilities to get your hands on this new technology, so here is where we need a new research.
The innovation! That’s why I to encourage people who are interested in the field of accessibility, to pursue a career in this field and also get a degree on accessibility. There is a notion that accessibility is easy, that you just add some labels and some alt text some keyboard navigation. However, your question about virtual reality: they points the finger to the big changes that could happen in the lives of people with disabilities.
If an innovation takes place and we’re not going to get an innovation, if people are not going to work hard and try to be creative, with the accessibility with providing solutions to those accessibility challenges. Finally, what resources would you recommend for web developers who want to make the web more accessible? My program manager, Laura, has produced a few articles that you can read. We have a Udacity course that some of my co-workers have created that you can read on.
It explains to you how you could add accessibility to your website, also, the web content, accessibility, guidelines from the w3c and the Aria standard, accessible, rich Internet application, standard, the authoring guide for the area standard and the examples and are provided so nektarios. Thank you again for being here my pleasure. You can find links to everything we talked about in the description and also share your perspective on the state of accessibility.
In the comments below thanks for reading and we’ll see you next time.