WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

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Re: Screen Reader Survey Results


From: Tim Harshbarger
Date: Jun 6, 2012 12:49PM

I am trying to be careful how I state this because I don't want anyone to think that the WebAIM survey isn't a valuable tool, because it is. However, I tend to think of it as more advisory than conclusive.

User surveys like this measure what people believe their behavior is and not actually what their behavior is. With human beings, there can be a disconnect between what people think is valuable and what they actually value in reality.

From the survey, I get that the respondents definitely felt heading levels were useful. I'm not sure that tells me how they find it useful. Does it have to be h1, h2, h3? Can it be h1, h3, h5? Can it be h2 for a navigational area on the side and h1 for the main content? Does it actually matter? Is the real value consistency across a site or document?
I also find myself wondering how users of screen readers progress in their approaches to using a web page. What about those people who are not tech savvy, never want to be tech savvy, and for whom a computer is just some equipment to get a task done? That may be another value of the WebAIM survey--to get us wondering about the details and then going out and figuring out how to find that information out.

The demographic information is useful, but I'm never sure how reflective it is of the general population. It might be super accurate. It might not be. In accessibility, there is a heck of a lot of basic data we just lack. The WebAIm survey is definitely one way we can try to address it.

Honestly, I saw some groups pushing a lot harder to get their members to take the survey this year. It was great to see that. It should lead to us getting better data. I'm just uncertain it really tells us whether or not more people (in the general population) are using NVDA or other screen reader alternatives. Of course, WebAIM's results will still figure into my plans for determining what all needs to be part of our test environment and strategy.

When it comes to navigation and links, I suspect the problem is a difference in what we think navigation is and what others think it is.

Links are navigation. I suspect most people think of navigation as that feature of an app or site that allows you to get to different pages or functions. I think we all consider that navigation--but we also think about navigation within a page or a screen too.

Most of the people we talk with are navigating that page with their eyes and their scrollwheel. It's so integral to what they do that they don't even really pay much attention to it. They'll talk about changing things to draw the attention of users or ensuring that users are aware of an error or some element on the page. But that's not navigation to them.

Their version of pressing the "h" key to navigate to the next heading is just shifting their gaze to the next thing on the page. I don't ever think I have heard someone talk about "navigating" their gaze to headings or pieces of a page. But from our perspective, that is what they are doing. It's just not how they think of it.

It is definitely one of those things that makes meetings with designers interesting. They'll bring their wire diagrams. I can't read their diagrams. So we start talking about the page. As they describe the page using their "designer" language, I start describing it the way I see it and organize it. I usually pick up a few new terms from them and (if I am doing my job right) they hopefully start looking at their visual designs differently.

In fact, my personal opinion is that one of the many enjoyable things about working on accessibility is that we get to learn to speak the languages of so many different types of people from project managers, designers, developers, testers, security analysts, etc. Not only do I need to understand what people with disabilities want and need, but I get to learn what people in various project roles want and need.

And that is my dime's worth. In fact, I believe it is time for me to figure out some plans for testing. That should keep me out of trouble.