Tori points out that using speech input like Dragon Naturally Speaking is hard when there’s no visual label, or the visual label doesn’t match the programmatic label.
She also says that developers need to understand that assistive technology users is a category of users that encompass more than just screen reader users.
Thanks to Tenon for sponsoring the transcript for this episode.
Hi, I’m Nic Steenhout. And you’re listening to the accessibility rule soundbite, a series of short podcasts where disabled people explain their impairment, and what barriers they encounter on the web.
First, I need to thank Tenon for sponsoring the transcript for this episode. Tenon provides accessibility as a service. They offer testing, training and tooling to help fix accessibility fast.
Today, I’m talking with Tori Clark. Hi, Tori. How are you?
I’m good. super happy to connect with you here. It’s been a while that we spoke about it.
Yeah. Let me ask you this. What is your disability or your impairment?
So I actually call myself multiply disabled. For me, it means I both have multiple medical conditions and multiple limitations attached to them. And I can’t really separate them out. Generally speaking, for me, it’s definitely all one picture. But today I’m really here to talk about my primary disability, which is Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. And it’s a connective tissue disorder that causes frequent and mostly painful subluxations and dislocations of all of my joints. In my entire body, there are no exclusions. In particular, my left shoulder is so bad that my left arm goes numb, or gets shooting pains whenever I try to use it for any repetitive task. And naturally, I’m sure most people can guess that would make it really hard to use a keyboard
Yet, luckily, I do have use of my right hand mostly it does get tired after a while. But I am fortunate enough to use a mouse when I am facing blockers on the web. And not everyone has that as an option.
What’s your solution? If you can’t use a keyboard or no, not readily a mouse all the time? What kind of assistive technology do you use?
Yeah, so it took a while to find the right fit for me. And there aren’t a lot of perfect technologies out there. But for me speech recognition, and specifically Dragon Naturally Speaking was the best fit for me because Dragon has macros and I can set it up to really work with me, rather than against me, and not all other speech recognition. Has that versatility.
Hmm. Yeah. So you spoke about blockers, what would be your greatest barrier on the web?
I have many, but if I had to pick one, I would say it’s a lack of visual labels or mismatch between the visual label and the accessible name of the label. In particular, old versions of Dragon also require that the first word of the actual accessible label be the visual label otherwise, I have no idea how to interact with or click buttons or form fields, or even certain types of links.
How does that work with links or buttons that are image only like a magnifying glass for search form? Or I guess social media images like Facebook or Twitter are fairly straightforward, but we’ve find a lot of images as the only content of an actionable item how how do you end up interacting with that if you have to guess at what the label is?
Honestly not very well. Fortunately, there does seem to be some common language and some common icon so for me if I see a house icon that’s meant to be for the homepage, I can pretty reliably say home and click on that link because did link text that’s not visible is home. I do the same thing for mobile menus. I can say menu or main menu or mobile menu and it works. But occasionally some people try to get fancy and they have an accessible name of toggle navigation. And there’s no way I could guess that. I think my favorite example though is the trash can for a remove or delete icon. I have had to guess so many different accessible names from remove to cancel to delete to trash. So I I often jokingly say what I’m trying to tell people how to do better. icon only buttons are trash. And then I use the trash icon as an example.
So you would recommend that in every instances we have both an icon and text, visible text for for actionable elements?
Absolutely. Unless it is something that is so common, and the only way to really verify that is user testing.
Hmm. How do we convince designers that are so in love with their icons only designs to implement that kind of stuff? Because I can, I can hear screams from the designer community from here that’s like, Oh, it’s gonna polute our design?
I absolutely. And I’ve heard, I’ve heard those complaints. I’ve heard those screams, those shouting into the void. And really, I just I challeng designers to try for better. And there are ways to both have aesthetics and to still provide a visual label. In fact, one thing that I’m finding very interesting is there’s a new trend in website designs, including it’s on the White House website, the new one that was launched in the US. And it actually has a couple of lines. And then underneath the mobile menu, it actually says menu. And that was really powerful to me, because clearly, people are starting to look at solutions to still provide the content so that people can more easily use the web, because visual labels are helpful for a lot more than just speech recognition users.
Yeah, absolutely. I can think of people with cognitive issues, memory issues, a whole lot of things. I mean, even if we go beyond accessibility, there’s cultural issues, you know, if you’re looking at, oh, I’m going into colors here rather than than iconography, but red and green is not having the same meaning in the east as it is in the West. So we have absolutely careful with that. Hey, that’s amazing. Um, so let me ask you this last question for you. If you had one message for designers or developers, what would you like to tell them and remember about accessibility?
Yeah, I feel like I already addressed the designers pretty well. So I’m going to talk about developers a little bit here. And I think the biggest thing is to remember that assistive technology user is not synonymous with screen reader user. And this is a mistake I see everywhere. And it’s something that I advocate for so heartily, um, and I just, I do it wherever I go. And it’s not just something that affects me personally, it’s something that affects so many other assistive technology users. Um, and there are actually some cases where, in trying to provide extra context for screen reader users, it’s actually removing access for other people. So developers should be very careful and really start thinking of the full meaning of the word assistive technology user, because ARIA and other techniques aren’t just for screen readers. They’re for any technology that interacts with it. And that includes speech recognition.
So there’s a conflict between different assistive technologies, which is a little bit tricky to to get around. I guess it’s a little bit like no, as a wheelchair user, I really love polished concrete surfaces. But a friend of mine who uses a cane says he hates polished concrete surfaces, especially when they’re wet. So you know, what’s, what’s the the middle ground carpet, but lush carpet is hard on wheels. So yeah, we have to balance these things in there are solutions. We just need to make sure that we think about them a little bit of absolutely thinking about what we’re doing rather than implementing things because we’ve always done it this way. Tori Clark, thank you so much for sharing your experiences on the show, and we’ll see you around on the web.
Awesome. Thank you so much, Nic.