From my point of view: Enabling independence for a better life.

05/08/2016 Written by Mike Taylor Senior Accessibility Analyst (DAC.)

In this final post for 'my point of view' series, I have put together my personal views on how accessible online banking is for me at the moment, and given information on how things can change to be more accessible and usable in the future. The following post gives information which will make apps and websites more accessible to all user groups, which gives greater independence to the end user as a result.


I am a tech-savvy person, and use technology almost every minute of every day and thanks to the developments in technology I enjoy much more participation in the digital world than I could have ever hoped for. I am totally blind and rely on my assistive technology to enable me to manage my finances securely and independently, which gives me the confidence to play an equal part in society and not be limited by my lack of vision.


Knowledge is the key to empowerment

I learned how to use the assistive technology by some basic training many years ago, and then trained myself on the rest. Like many people it’s word of mouth and just getting my hands on the software, which provides the best lessons, but of course this is not the best for all users. My ability to use a touch screen phone for example was learned by reading the software manual, listening to podcasts and speaking to friends; as well as making mistakes. Many devices now include built in software with a quick tutorial to help people get going.


If I can manage my money easily and be as independent as possible when carrying out my various banking requirements, I can make informed decisions about my finances, get in to the savings habit as we are all being urged to do, and access important information and statements about my accounts. Like many people I got my first account when I was 16, but only had braille statements to make the account truly accessible to me. Moving forward 20 years and I no longer have braille statements, it’s just my preference though as I now prefer electronic information through various sources such as the bank website or via the mobile app. Most of us have a credit file but we don’t always view it, some people may never view their file at all. I consider myself to be lucky though, as I can use my assistive technology to view my credit file and keep track of my credit score, and resolve any errors if they arise. I am able to view my latest statement from my pension provider, and hopefully make the correct decisions about my future. I am able to put some money away for my daughter for when she gets older, so as we can identify, the possibilities are endless with regards to what can be done using the technology which is now available to us.


What about cash machines?

Cash machines for me personally can be confusing, while some provide a tactile keypad in the form of braille or embossed print letters such as an ‘x’ on the ‘cancel’ button, I need to remember which buttons to press once I have entered my personal identification number (pin.) I also need to remember where the ‘cancel’ button is if I make a mistake, and of course where the cash dispenser and card slots are. My memory gets a work out every day, and yes there have been times when I have become confused, and need to rely on a hopefully trust worthy member of the public to tell me what is on the screen; or just hit that ‘cancel’ button and start again. Does this stop me from getting my money? No but each time I go to the cash point I am extremely cautious, and I need to be fully alert with my memory muscle working.


The current landscape of apps, websites and assistive technology

The assistive technology I use is called a screen reader, there are many different screen readers on the market today; some cost from £550 for a standard licence, while others are free, or pre-installed on to a user’s computer or mobile device. Screen reading software will announce through synthetic voice what is on the screen, and depending on the device being used; a user can interact with their device using keyboard commands or touch gestures if using a touch screen. Screen reading software will work as long as the information it is announcing is clearly structured, and where websites, apps and programme user interfaces are concerned, the information needs to be clearly coded with regards to what button performs what action and so on, as well as responsive to keyboard or touch gestures when they are used.


When using my bank’s website I find that many things work as expected for a blind user, although when I log in and view my statement for example, the table which contains the relevant information is not clearly structured; making it difficult for me to navigate. In this instance clear column and row information to tell me what part of the table I am viewing will improve this experience. Enter the mobile app. While using the app I generally find that while it is significantly easier, some items don’t always indicate if they are a button which can be selected such as different accounts for example. Thankfully though my bank has improved their button labelling a lot so this problem is now significantly diminished.


Inaccessible verses accessible

My job gives me a unique advantage where I am able to check websites and apps to ensure they work with the assistive technology that blind people use, as well as providing training and helping the web and app developers to identify problems so a fix can be implemented. I walk 2 paths, that of the end user, and that of the analyst and developer. Many aspects of an app or website can either improve, or inadvertently create barriers to accessing the content with screen reading software. The big areas of confusion are typically forms which do not clearly convey what data should be entered, error messages which do not clearly indicate what information should be corrected after a form has been submitted with errors, or links which don’t contain clear information relating to what action will be performed when the link is selected. It is difficult to list every problem in this article, although I personally and professionally encounter the issues above at least once a week.


A lack of a headings structure causes navigation problems, as users will not be able to move through a page section-by-section easily and it will take longer to complete a task when looking for information. Although they are implemented to reduce security risks, CAPTCHAs can cause a significant problem for blind people online. The prompt to enter the letters from an image, or to hear an audio challenge both have their limitations. An image-based CAPTCHA is inaccessible by default, as blind people will not be able to identify the letters in the image; while some audio-based CAPTCHAs are difficult to hear due to the heavy processing applied to the audio. Content which automatically updates without the user being made aware of it can confuse users, and reduce their confidence as well as their independence when attempting to carry out a task. An app or website which has unclear button and tab labelling, or contains items which do not respond to keyboard command or touch gesture can make the difference between someone using it, and not using it at all.


An accessible offering is to have all items respond as expected when a user implements the use of a keyboard on a desktop computer, or equally responding to a touch command from a tablet or mobile device. Including consistent labelling for all items, which can be selected such as links, buttons, drop-down boxes and form fields will make all the difference. Including an alternative method of verification such as SMS or email in place of a CAPTCHA, would be another option. Another alternative such as the ‘honey pot’ option, where a hidden field if completed will not allow the form to submit, while other options include the ability to stop a form submition if it was completed too quickly. The ‘honey pot’ option is particularly indicated here as blind users (like all other users of online forms) will typically take longer than a few seconds to view, understand and submit the form. A clear and logical headings structure makes the difference between difficult and easy navigation, which is a win-win on any page. Implementing such fixes as indicated above improves the lives of not just blind people, but all users, giving the ultimate freedom of choice and independence to all.

From my point of view: a low vision user perspective.

02/08/2016 Edited by Mike Taylor Senior Accessibility Analyst (DAC.)

Introduction

Welcome to the next post in our series of ‘my point of view’. The point of this series is to give a true indication of how we believe society and the technological advances have improved our lives. Our post this week has some comments from one of our low vision analysts, as he gives us his own experiences of his use of assistive technology.

Assisted Technology, Does It Work… Yes but with a little trial and error thrown in. It’s not always the case that a user finds the assisted technology that suits their requirements and needs first time round. With the best of intentions a potential user is left up to the ability of an assessor to understand what a user needs but most importantly, how they cope with the varying nuances of different technical platforms and assisted technology.

My personal experiences were that I tried JAWS and Supernova with little success, however, when trying out ZoomText I found an instant connect with the software and was able to understand quickly how to best maximise the available options of the software. How has assisted technology helped me? By allowing me to access the outside world via my laptop. For example, being able to access local news, local council services, also having the independence to search and order a take-away. Simple tasks that for many can be taken for granted, but for those facing a sensory or physical impairment challenge on a daily basis nothing can ever be taken for granted.

From my point of view: Views from our voice activation analyst.

13/07/2016 Edited by Mike Taylor Senior Accessibility Analyst (DAC.)

Introduction

Welcome to the third post in our series of ‘my point of view’. The point of this series is to give a true indication of how we believe society and the technological advances have improved our lives. Our post this week has some comments from our voice activation analyst.

During my lifetime I have seen technology move on in leaps and bounds. Without these developments I would not have been able to achieve what I have in my life so far. Technology meaning computers, has allowed me to do my GCSE’s, A-levels and do my degree. Without computers I would not have been able to do these due to the amount of writing that would be required, as I have difficulty writing because of my disability.

Unfortunately voice activation software was not up to the standard that it is today, meaning that I was not able to use it at a time when it would have been the most useful. As a result I had to build up my skills using a computer without assistive technology doing such things as learning to touch type, and learning to use an ergonomic mouse. Even if voice activation software was up to the standard that it is now, I would not have been able to use it for the majority of my education. This is because my primary and secondary schools were both welsh medium, meaning that most of my education was in welsh, and As things stand currently there is very little welsh language support in the assistive technology world.

Increasingly we are living in a digital era, where more and more of our lives involve the internet and technology. This has allowed me greater freedom and control, as it allows me to do things such as shopping and banking from the comfort of my own home, instead of braving it in all weathers to do so. Also this means that planning a day out becomes less daunting as less phone calls are required to find out about the facilities for people with disabilities, (so long as the information is accurate and the facilities are usable.)

We are living in the 21st century, where things keep changing and progressing more and more each day. Yet still the progress of how disability is viewed is going slow. Things such as the Paralympics have brought disability to the forefront with increased awareness of it, but from my experience people’s views still have not changed. I go through town and still get stared at for being in a wheelchair, and on occasion I still get people talking loudly and slowly to me. Things have come so far, but from what I can see they have a long way to go.

From my point of view: A colour contrast analyst's perspective.

24/06/2016 Written by Mike Taylor (Senior Accessibility Analyst DAC.)

Introduction

Welcome to the second post in our series of ‘my point of view’. The point of this series of posts is to give a true indication of how we believe society and the technological advances have improved our lives. Our post this week has some comments from our colour contrast and dyslexia analysts.

Growing up I found reading (especially reading aloud) and writing difficult, more so than my peers which lead to extra classes specifically for reading and writing. I was eventually screened as Dyslexic three years into secondary school and from then on allowed extra time in exams but I wasn’t aware of any software or equipment that could support me. Over the years of education and employment I’ve found a number of programmes and assistive technologies that support me in learning and performing my duties at work.

My dyslexia means I frequently make spelling and grammar mistakes and sometimes I think further ahead than I write which means I miss out letters, words and sometimes sentences. Word processing software such as Microsoft Word and Voice activation software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking helps a great deal when writing at length. Dictating with Dragon in a Word document eliminates that margin for error and allows me to organise my thoughts much faster and more accurately.

I’ve found Browse Aloud to be a great help when reading a webpage as I can often find it very difficult to concentrate. Browse Aloud will highlight the text and read it aloud to the user which makes processing the information much easier. Sadly this is only available on select websites but I believe every one could benefit from Browse Aloud especially those who experience a learning difficulty or for whom English is not their first language.

Read & Write Gold is software that features a number of useful tools that aid me in reading and report writing. For example Screen Masking which allows the user to view the screen through coloured overlays that can help with reading and Fact Mapper that helps me structure thoughts and ideas.

High Contrast Alternative Style Sheets can be very helpful if I encounter something of low colour contrast when visiting a website. They will often display the page as a yellow or white text on a black background which should make the text easier to read. This can mean however that the user doesn’t share the same user experience as others which is why I encourage maintaining a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1 on the default pages. High Contrast Alternative Style Sheet icons or links are often presented as icons or links near the top of the page where they can be found and recognised easily.

Assistive technology has impacted the way I work and learn significantly and for the better. I believe however that more should be done to raise awareness so those who could benefit from it don’t struggle needlessly.

From my point of view: A blind person's perspective.

16/06/2016 Written by Mike Taylor (Senior Accessibility Analyst DAC.)

Introduction

Over the next few weeks we will be publishing the thoughts of our team of analysts, which include people who are blind, people who have dyslexia, colour blindness, limited mobility and other disabilities. The point of this series of posts is to give a true indication of how we believe society and the technological advances have improved our lives. Starting our series are some comments from my colleagues and I from a blind persons point of view.

For my part I believe that mobile technology has exceeded what I imagined it could do when I got my first mobile phone 18 years ago. I remember thinking that it is great I can call, and be contacted where ever I am, but wouldn’t it be good if this thing could announce button functions, announce menu items, read contact info and text messages. Fast forward to now and not only can I do all that, I can do much more including controlling my sky box, to remotely accessing my PC, and producing documents. Oh yes and it’s a touch screen device so I am able to get more access to information and communicate even more independently than I could all those years ago. People in general seem to be less worried about asking me questions relating to blindness or how I do things, although there is still an element of a lack of awareness among some people. Some still assume what I can or cannot do, which I admit is frustrating. If I could ask one thing it would be to please ask questions if needed, I would rather respond to a question and confirm if I can or cannot do something rather than a person take a guess and get it wrong.