Tag Archives: Stephen Dunn

Reflections on the accessibility of news websites

From the outset of last week’s series on how accessible the UK’s major newspaper websites are to blind and visually impaired users, we tried to emphasize that this was a subjective study based on the findings of a group of individuals with differing accessibility needs and internet skills.

Some responses to our findings, including that from Guardian Unlimited’s Stephen Dunn, raised the issue that no website should be designed to accommodate just one type of user with one type of accessibility needs – as Alastair C’s aptly summarises in his blog post on our accessibility articles:

In many cases people (site owners) jump to fix those issues one person brought up, not realising they may be hampering others using different technologies.

Pages should be designed to be as universally accessible as possible, not targeted at the moving target of different technologies.

As Alastair points out, accessibility testing for news sites needs to be more than a case study approach to widen the appeal of the site’s accessibility.

In an emailed response to the series, blind internet user Gene Asner, said that our findings were less to do with the inaccessibility of news websites and more a result of blind users lacking internet skills.

…work against unlabelled links and work toward better placement of headings and other ways to make movement faster and easier. But for most sites, the real problem is that blind people simply are not skilled internet users…

The only way blind people will move out of the ghetto of a small number of sites that have been especially designed to be accessible is to learn how to function in the real internet world…

While I agree with Gene that some of the problems we encountered were down to technical problems with our software or user (and we’ve tried to point this out in the accompanying blog posts), users should improve their internet skills because they want to and not as an antedote to the complacency of certain sites in dealing with accessibility issues.

Change among sites may be slow, but studies such as this help to highlight that there are issues with accessibility on news sites, whether or not these issues are shared by all.

Indeed, many of the findings of our series were very close to home, given Journalism.co.uk’s own format as an online news service.

We asked Richard Warren from Userite to briefly assess our own site in a similar manner to the newspaper sites featured. Richard made the following observations:

  1. Our pull down menus only pull down when a mouse is used, which is inaccessible to disabled people who cannot use a mouse, and which create a large number of navigational links for a screen reader user to trawl through.
  2. We need to implement some skip navigation/content links to speed up access.
  3. Our ‘Editor’s pick’ tab takes the user to other websites by opening new windows without warning, which is disorientating for the blind user.

Working on this series elements of the way I write and publish will also see change, for example, linking to words or phrases such as ‘click here’ demonstrates poor accessibility. A sitemap has also been added to our blogging section to aid navigation and we are improving the efficiency of the site’s search.

Standardising the layout of a news site’s pages was mentioned repeatedly by our volunteers as a means of improving accessibility for them. But news sites, by their very nature, change lots of their content daily, hourly and even more rapidly.

Similarly, text-only sites might offer a solution to some problems with accessibility – but is it possible to combine the benefits of a text-only site with an appealing and impressive design?

So over to designers, accessibility experts and our users – what could a news site, specifically our news site, do to make itself more universally accessible?

Accessibility 2.0: The Guardian and The Daily Express

We knew from the start of this project that there would be some anomalies in our results given the subjective nature of our testing (individuals using different types of assistive equipment with differing degrees of success).

As such, Stephen Dunn, chief technical strategist from Guardian Unlimited, was right to point out that our volunteers had missed the invisible links on Guardian.co.uk, which allow screen reader users to skip lengthy navigation bars. This was likely the fault of our equipment and cannot be attributed to the Guardian site.

Similarly the failure of Express.co.uk‘s Have Your Say area with our user may have been heightened by our users’ unfamiliarity with using such comment areas.

Yet this reiterates the issue touched on in yesterday’s blog post about Independent.co.uk: our blind and visually impaired testers struggled with this section of the site because it was unclear what they were supposed to do from the outset.

This was not an accessibility problem caused by bad links or poorly written code that disadvantages screen reader users, but rather an issue that could affect all visitors to the site. To get the necessary instructions on how to Have Your Say users have to drill into the site before being directed to a registration page.

Combining a quick registration process with a comment form would be a welcome move towards accessibility for all – and would easily boost MyExpress’ subscription numbers.