Kirsty Major talks about using a screen reader to navigate the web

Talking with Kirsty Major, who is an online English teacher who specializes in business English for adults. In her spare time, whatever she has of it, she runs Unseen Beauty, a beauty and lifestyle blog from the perspective of someone who’s blind. Kirsty has two blogs, two podcasts, and she’s working on her second book.


Nic: Hi. I’m Nic Steenhout. You’re listening to the Accessibility Rules Soundbite, a series of short podcasts where people with disabilities explain their impairments and what barriers they encounter on the web. Today I’m talking to Kirsty Major. She’s an online English teacher who specializes in business English for adults. In her spare time, whatever she has of it, she runs Unseen Beauty, a beauty and lifestyle blog from the perspective of someone who’s blind. Kirsty has two blogs, two podcasts, and she’s working on her second book. Hi, Kirsty. Thanks for being on the show.

Kirsty: Hi. Thanks for inviting me.

Nic: Let’s get straight to it. Can you tell me what’s your disability? What’s your impairment?

Kirsty: I’m blind. The proper name for it is leber congenital amaurosis but it basically means that I don’t have any useful vision. I can just see light and dark. In terms of colors, shapes, medium, anything like that, I rely on my screen reading software which is on my laptop and my phone.

Nic: Thank you. Out of curiosity, what screen reader do you prefer?

Kirsty: JAWS is the only one that I’ve ever used really. I used it when I was in employment, and then when I set up my own business, I continued to use it. I know there are others available, but I just found that it does what I need it to do so I stuck with it.

Nic: That’s fair enough. If it’s not broken, why change, right?

Kirsty: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nic: Can you tell me a little bit about the biggest barriers you encounter when you’re going on the web using your screen reader?

Kirsty: Okay. I was thinking about this and I thought of three so I’ll go through them quickly.

Nic: Excellent.

Kirsty: The first one is things that can only be activated by a mouse. I don’t use a mouse at all. If you’ve got something on your website that you can only click on it, whether it’s a link, whether it’s the control, sometimes it’s even the pay now button. You can get all the way through using a website, putting things in your shopping basket and then you can’t pay for it because the pay now button is something you can only click with a mouse. These things are really annoying because they mean that I can either not use that website or I have to get help with them. It may not always be convenient. I maybe on my own, so it’s a problem. Sometimes these can be things like date pickers.

They often don’t work because you can’t write in a text box. You have to click on the date that you want. If I can’t do that, then I can’t move on to the next step of the form that I’m filling in. Then I have to again either abandon it or ask for help with it. If you’re designing something, then make sure that all of the page controls, all of the things that you interact with on the page can be activated by using the keyboard and not just the mouse. That’s thing number one. Thing number two is something that’s really basic and you don’t even need any technical knowledge to do it, but it’s about product descriptions.

For example, I was buying some make up the other day, and I could read all the products. I could buy them. There was nothing wrong with the way that the page was set up, but the names of things had nothing to do with what color they were, so I had no idea what I was actually buying. Something like a really simple couple of line description for each one would have made it so much easier. Not just for me, but quite a few people, color blind as well. It would help people who have that issue to do with as well. I just think sometimes people think that you don’t need a text description if you’re selling something because people can see the picture, but some people can’t. Just a couple of lines of extra text would make that a much better experience.

The third thing is people don’t do it so much, but I’ve come across it a couple of times in the last couple of weeks so I thought I’d mention it, people deciding that it would be really nice to play something as soon as people click their webpage to run some kind of whether it’s information, whether it’s a video or even just music. For somebody who’s using a screen reader, that’s really difficult because then I can’t read anything else on your page because all I can hear is your sound file. Whilst I know that you can turn that off in your browser. You can prevent that from happening.

It’s really unhelpful when people do that because not everybody’s going to know where to go to turn that off. For somebody’s that’s relying on what they can hear, we don’t really want to be hearing what you want us to hear if we want to read what’s on the page, also to navigate the page. Have an embedded player. Have something that people can interact it on their terms. Don’t just blast them with the sound files that you want them to hear.

Nic: Fantastic. I think those three are really good. I dare say the second point about the describing the colors of products is one that we don’t hear about very often because it’s not at the forefront of people’s consciousness really, but you’re right. When I’m looking in my mind’s eye at the different offerings of colors and make ups or sometimes paint, they have really fancy names that don’t reflect at all what the color actually is. That’s brilliant. Thank you.

Kirsty: Well, it’s okay. Because if you don’t do that, you either have to … I’ve got my boyfriend into describing make up and things like that. I don’t think he ever thought he’d be doing that or you can look online and see if people have written product reviews of the product. Sometimes you can find out what color they are that way, but again that’s really time consuming. If the person who’s website it was just put a bit of extra information on there, it would save a lot of time.

Nic: To finish, if there was one thing you’d like web designers and web developers to remember, what would it be?

Kirsty: I think the one thing is that this stuff actually matters. It’s not just a box to tick. It’s real people having real problems with your website. It’s not just a case of it being more easy to use. Sometimes it’s a complete deal breaker. If I can’t pay for something, then I’m not going to buy from you. If I can’t get to the next page, if I can’t expand your text box, then I’m not going to want to interact with your website. People do share information. For example, I’ve got my blog and I do web reviews on there sometimes. I’m not looking to name same people necessarily, but if I’ve had a really good or really bad experience, I will tell people about that.

If you’re doing it right, then people will speak well of you because not everybody does. It’s the way that you can really exceed people’s expectations because it’s not a given that everybody does this right. If you do, then people would tell their friends, “Go to this site because they care about this. They do it properly.” It does have a benefit for you. It isn’t just something, “Oh, you should do it,” because I’ve seen things like newsletters. All the way down it says, “Your all text goes here. Your all text goes here.”

They obviously thought that somebody wasn’t going to be reading that or they may have deleted it or actually put more text in there, but people do take notice of this kind of stuff. Web accessibility isn’t just a thing that you should do. It’s actually really vital for some people that will want to use your site.

Nic: Thank you. That’s wonderful. Thanks for being on the show, Kirsty. We’ll talk soon I’m sure.

Kirsty: Okay. Thank you.

Nic: That’s it for now. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this Accessibility Soundbite, please support the show at