Halloween is today, so it is the perfect time to talk about the top three accessibility horrors I regularly encounter when using the internet. These frightfully bad flaws often haunt my experience and spook me into abandoning my browsing session. In other words, the three issues I will discuss serve as significant blockers to the effective use of a digital product by an assistive technology dependent. As always, I will exclusively be covering screen reader accessibility in this post.
Images Used To Digitalize Print Materials Are Terrifying
One of the most frustrating and unfortunately prevalent accessibility issues that I encounter is the use of images to hold and display text-based material. This occurs in so many areas of the digital world, everywhere from restaurant menus to instruction manuals for products to calendars and schedules for sporting events and musical performances. The root cause of this problem is the practice of digitalizing print materials by taking pictures or inaccessible scans of paper documents and uploading the raw files to the site. Screen readers are unable to consistently and effectively process this sort of data.
When I come across one of these inaccessible images, I am essentially blocked from utilizing the main functionality of that particular digital experience. For example, lets say I am in a restaurant with my friends or family and want to brows the menu on my phone. If that particular restaurant decided to snap photos of the same paper and plastic menu that the print readers in the restaurant are using, I am virtually blocked from enjoying that digital feature. This issue is scary in its prevalence and a genuine and solid barrier to accessibility and usability. The best way to avoid this shortcoming is to add word-based data to the site as plain text.
On-screen Pop-Ups With A Ghostly Secret
Everyone knows those annoying pop-ups that appear on page launches and must be dismissed to continue using the site. They are used for everything from email list sign-ups to web cookie permission prompts and dialogues. While I am sure these often uninvited bothers may be frustrating for all users, sighted individuals can simply close the window using a tiny “X” or “Dismiss” button and move on with their browsing session. Unfortunately, it is not that simple for screen reader users like myself. The main issue is that we often cannot close or dismiss the window easily and efficiently. The small “Dismiss” or “X” button may not even be recognized by the screen reader at all. Even if it is, labeling defects often make the button unreadable.
The best option is to try refreshing the page in the hope that the window will disappear on its own accord. However, this only works a fraction of the time. In most other cases, I am simply forced to abandon my use of the site altogether because I cannot close the pop-up window covering the rest of the page. This problem haunts so many internet use sessions and is a significant accessibility blocker.
The Horror Of Unlabeled Buttons
Try to picture a product listing page on an e-commerce site. Those colored boxes usually contain words like “Add To Cart” or “Proceed To Checkout” that appear completely blank. It suddenly becomes virtually impossible to use the site because it is thoroughly unclear what colored box performs what action. This is how I feel when I encounter a website with unlabeled buttons. Any button or action icon must have corresponding text labels in the code to be detected and announced by a screen reader. Unfortunately, many site designers neglect to include these labels, drastically reducing the site's usability. Sites with poorly labeled or completely unlabeled buttons are unnavigable because I can't know which elements on the screen will activate my desired functionality. At this point, I am usually spooked off of the site.
Final Thoughts on our 3 Monsters and the importance of Accessibility
These are by far the most terrifying accessibility issues that I run across regularly. While all of the problems I discuss in my blogs are important, these three could stop me in my tracks and compel me to abandon my use of a particular digital experience. If any of these three flaws are present on a site, that site is haunted by the ghosts and ghouls of bad accessibility and will most definitely bring creepy crawlies that will spook screen reader users into running for the safety of the pumpkin patch.
Editor's Note: Special thanks to our Guest Contributor, Michael Taylor, for having a little Halloween fun with us in his latest post! Read more blogs about Michael's experience as a screen reader user here.
If you are interested in making sure your website design brings treats with no tricks this year, check out our new webinar on November 8th at noon - Demystifying Accessible Design: How to Apply WCAG 2.2- Save your seat now!