Touchscreens and Blind Users

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Today we have a great little article for you;
Touchscreens and Blind Users

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A Dan Thompson contribution

Touchscreens and Blind Users

By Web Standards Sherpa

Question About Touchscreens and Blind Users

* 22 July 2014


* Accessibility

I just heard that touchscreen devices like the iPhone are really useful for
blind users. What do I need to know?

Derek Featherstone answers:

This really is an exciting time for people with disabilities. Touchscreen
interfaces on both iOS and Android, and even Windows Phone, continue to get
better in terms of accessibility. And it isn’t just blind people who benefit
from those interfaces. For example, the touchscreen doesn’t take a lot of
strength to operate, so people with low hand or arm strength do well with
such interfaces. (Of course, there’s a lot more to these mobile operating
systems than just the touchscreen and just blind users, but that was your
question, so I’ll limit it to that for now.)

Here’s how I’d love for you to think of it: a person that is blind is just
trying to accomplish something using that touchscreen. They have a goal.
They want to buy a movie or a sweater, or they want to read an article about
their favourite video game. The touchscreen with VoiceOver on their iPhone
is really just a tool to achieve that goal.

With user goals in mind, here are a few key things to know and understand:

The iPhone and other touchscreens use gestures instead of traditional

On a desktop computer with keyboard and screen reader, we might press the H
key to move from one heading to the next on a page. Or we might pull up a
list of all the headings that exist in a page.

By comparison, on touchscreens we use gestures instead of a traditional
keyboard. We might use the rotor in iOS to switch to headings mode and then
flick down to move to the next heading, or flick up to move to the previous

(Incidentally, an iPhone user could connect an external keyboard via
Bluetooth, and they could use more traditional keystrokes, but for
simplicity, think of it more like the above.)

The iPhone’s VoiceOver screenreader is highly configurable.

There’s a decent amount of personalization and customization within
VoiceOver. Options
allow you to select how verbose the screenreader should be, whether or not
you want it to speak tooltips or other help text hidden in the page, and
which items on the page you want VoiceOver to use when you’re navigating
through the page.

You can even set up VoiceOver’s rotor to include
ARIA Landmarks as one
of the items that you can use for navigation.

But keep in mind that people “out there in the real world” may not have clue
what landmarks are.

As developers, it’s important to remember that the experience you get when
testing is different than what you’d get working with real people. Always
remember that their settings may be different than your testing setup.
What’s the best way to learn about the impact of those settings? Test with
real people.

And, speaking of ARIA .

ARIA support continues to evolve and improve.

This isn’t specific to the iPhone, but it’s an important aspect of today’s
technology: ARIA (Accessible Rich
Internet Applications) support in mobile browsers and screen readers is
becoming more robust and something that can be relied upon when being used
by a VoiceOver user.

That doesn’t mean ARIA is without its shortcomings. For example, it is still
not supported by desktop voice recognition software. So yes, go ahead and
use ARIA, but be aware of where it works well, where it doesn’t, and what
the impact of your choices is on the person who is trying to buy that
sweater or read that article.

Where iPhone has VoiceOver, Android has TalkBack, and Windows Phone 8 has
Narrator and/or Mobile Accessibility.

I know you only mentioned the iPhone in your question, but it’s actually a
good thing that users have many options. All platforms continue to improve
their accessibility offerings. This competition is good, as it generally
means that features implemented on one platform that prove useful may end up
making their way onto other platforms. Which means more options for people
who actually need the software. That iOS, Android and Windows Phone all
include these tools at no additional cost makes it even better.

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