Barry Hill talks about screen readers and lack of semantic meaning on the web

Barry says he has to guess a lot about what elements do what on a site, because semantically meaningful markup isn’t being used.



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Transcript

Nic
Hi, I’m Nic Steenhout. And you’re listening to the accessibility rules soundbite, a series of short podcasts where disabled people explain their impairments, and what barriers they encounter on the web. A reminder that there are transcripts for this, and all other episodes on the podcast’s website a11yrules.com/

Thanks to Fable for sponsoring this episode. Fable is a leading accessibility platform powered by disabled people. Fable moves organizations from worrying about compliance to building incredible and accessible user experiences, through product testing and custom courses. Learn more about how Fable can work for your team at:¬†makeitfable.com/nic. Today I’m talking with Barry Hill. Hey, Barry, how are you?

Barry
I’m good. Thank you very much happy, I’m healthy,

Nic
Happy and healthy is good, is good. You come to us from the UK. So we… We had a little bit of fun and games scheduling these things. You’re You’re in my future right now.

Barry
Yes, yes. It’s nearly time for me to make dinner over here. And I think you’ve just about finished breakfast.

Nic
That’s right. That’s right. Breakfast and dinner. Nothing wrong with having breakfast for dinner. Anyway, Barry What’s your disability or your impairment?

Barry
I’ve been blind for 28 years now. I went blind, suddenly, through a car crash. Many hours, a sales rep driving for a living. And then I had a horrific car crash and woke up in hospital with no sight. You never know what’s going to happen to you the day after?

Nic
Yeah, that would be quite a quite a shock and a complete change of lifestyle, wouldn’t it?

Barry
Oh, yes. Yes, it was.

Nic
So 28 years blind, you’ve probably come to develop a lot of coping mechanisms and techniques to function on the web. But I’m still quite certain you encounter barriers, what would you say is your biggest barrier or your biggest pet peeve on the web?

Barry
My biggest pet peeve is the way that developers program writers have gone from writing basic code to using WYSIWYG and drag and drop programs. So you’re not writing code anymore. And it seems like everything, either is a hacked or needs to be hacked. And that makes it difficult for me to use my screen reader online as I would to interpret websites. It’s not as straightforward. So I have to guess a lot of things or work around them, I have to figure out workarounds, or go by experience of when I’ve come across this hash up before and just don’t like it when there’s an easy alternative. It really does irritate me that it’s there. People just don’t understand that we have tools there that can make things so much simpler.

Nic
So if I understand correctly, what you’re saying is that the reliance on JavaScript frameworks is making everything worse for you as a screen reader user.

Barry
Yeah, yeah. I don’t know the language. But JavaScript do sound very much like what’s happening. But yes, without a doubt, people are just and it’s not just that as well. People are using links for buttons and buttons for links, they are coding divs as buttons, and I just don’t understand why they need to do that sort of thing. Why not just use the proper elements?

Nic
Yeah, well, that’s certainly a rant I’ve been on about for for a little while, you know, HTML matters. Yeah. Yeah. Barry, my message to designers and developers, it’s HTML matters. But what would be your one message to designers and developers as regards to web accessibility?

Barry
It’s that very thing. I just wish that coders would learn HTML, it’s not difficult. I learned HTML, took me two months to learn that 100 different pieces of code for it. And I wrote a website and that was about 10 or 12 years ago. Did that. I can still remember a lot of it. So it’s really not difficult to do and some of the things that are really useful for me the structural HTML, you only need maybe 12 or 15 of them to know how to go to a website to make it so that I can navigate a website with ease, using things like headers, footers, main skip links. It just makes it so much easier. If I can open a webpage, and my screen reader will just tell me the whole layout of that page through this semantic markup, and I know what to expect then before I even started looking at. So I can almost get a feel for the page at the same speed as a sighted person when they glance at our page, if it’s got proper semantic markup.

Nic
Thank you, Barry. I love to hear this message coming from a screen reader user. Because, you know, a lot of people in the accessibility community are saying the very same thing. So we’re not just inventing things it’s the lived experience of a blind screen reader users. Use semantic HTML user outlines. This is fantastic. Thank you.

Barry
You’re welcome.

Nic
Barry, thanks for being a good guest and your candid answers, really appreciate it. And we’ll see you around on the web.

Barry
Definitely. And probably on Twitter as well. I’ve been following you on Twitter for a while as well, Nic.

Nic
Probably on Twitter. I spent a lot of time there. Barry, thank you.