We have created 6 computer science student personas who need to use different ways of accessing online materials and elearning systems to highlight some of the issues encountered. In some ways these personas aim to fit into the NNgroup definition in their article on Personas vs. Jobs-to-Be-Done. Page Laubheimer in 2017 said “Jobs-to-be-done focus on user problems and needs, while well-executed personas include the same information and also add behavioral and attitudinal details.”
We hope our personas are ‘well executed’ and the features mentioned relating to accessibility and usability will help support individual preferences when using the web. However, there may be overlaps and there will be techniques and criteria that you may feel are missing. So it is important to think ofthe content as just being a flavour of what can be offered when creating inclusive content, design and development. Follow the links for more information about individual criteria. Content will also go out of date and need checking, so do contact us if you spot any issues.
This strategy is not new but may be useful if you are using a screen reader as there are tricks that may be missed if you are not aware of the changes needed when using Google docs or sheets because it is working in a browser such as Chrome, Edge or Firefox.
The blog about ‘Google Docs and Sheets with a Screen Reader’ comes from The Perkins School for the Blind in USA and Mark Babaita added an easy tip that might also help those testing the accessibility of the content withiin a doc or sheet:
If you hear JAWS move to a heading on the page and read that heading, you know that the virtual cursor is still active. Use Insert + Z to toggle the virtual cursor on and off.
Time to move into images as part of the accessible package we can offer students when working online! If you are a Graphic Designer or Photographer using tools to embed accessibility tags please check what I am saying makes sense!
Many in the world of digital accessibility know the work of W3C WCAG and image accessibility, and are used to adding alternative text and long descriptions for informing users about the contents of an image, diagram, photograph etc, in particular for screen reader users. These tags are added by those who upload the image to a web page, document and other publications. Matt Deeprose (University of Southampton) recently posted some videos on the subject “What is alternative text? How do I write it for images, charts, and graphs?” These videos are really helpful if you are a content provider.
But what about enabling the designer or photographer to add the ‘alt text’ and ‘long desc’ to their image as they save it? This may not suit all situations, but it has the potential to ensure accessibiity ‘metadata’ (data about the image in this case) is always in place when sharing takes place. The data can be adapted later if necessary and those uploading images can still add tags, if the original metadata cannot be read by certain screen readers or applications.
“IPTC’s new accessibility properties will make it easier for platforms and software to comply with WCAG requirements and deliver images that are inclusive for everyone. Embedding accessible image descriptions into the photo metadata will make it possible for alt text and extended descriptions to travel wherever the image goes on the web or in books or other documents provided as EPUBs.”
IPTC October 27th 2021
However this is not going to happen overnight because Chris and I discovered when testing the procedures, that not all software companies allow the accessibility metadata to be added to their graphics packages in a way that can be read by a screen reader. Richard Orme, CEO Daisy Consortium, kindly got in touch about his paper on “Making use of IPTC alt text accessibility metadata” where I learnt that at the moment the use of the ExifTool by Phil Harvey is the stepping stone that we need!
So for those wishing to try Exiftool with a set of command lines, Phil Henry has examples on his Exfitool pages and Richard Orme has offered examples for adding the accessibility metadata
ExifTool command line utility
Rename the executable to exiftool for command line use
To set metadata use:
exiftool filename -AltTextAccessibility=”Your alt text here.”
exiftool filename -extDescrAccessibility=”Your extended description text here.”
To read the metadata use:
exiftool filename -AltTextAccessibility
exiftool filename -extDescrAccessibility
Hopefully, soon all graphic design software packages will include the additional properties for accessibility metadata and digital asset management tools will support the IPTC standard, so that users of assistive technology such as screen readers and text to speech apps will be able to find the accessibility tags when available!
It all seems much more complicated than I first thought whilst Artificial Intelligence and machine learning have moved the goal posts into new realms of digital image recognition. However, just allowing an image to be saved with embedded accessibility information did not seem such a knotty problem when I started on the journey!
When considering the different types of Multifactor Authentication (MFA) it is clear that many could be a challenge for students with a wide range of disabilities. However, when you add the use of assistive technologies and customisation or potential personalisation the barriers begin to come down. That is as long as the actual website or app hosting the required verification of a sign up or log in is accessible.
With these caveats in place it seemed that as long as students were provided with at least three or more choices it would be possible to navigate MFA. That thought led to a mini survey of around a third of the universities in UK to see what was on offer.
Several universities offer a password as their main login method and then additional security for certain more sensitive areas. 42 out of 50 universities offer apps, but only two apppear to provide 2 options for the type of app, such as Microsoft and Authy on a desktop, which can be very helpful for assistive technology users who do not have smart phones or find their desktop AT easier to use. 8 universities offer hardware tokens and 6 offer at least 5 options but 9 had no alternatives that could be easily found and 14 universities made searching for support difficult by not having easy to reach information pages.
Microsoft authentication app, a text message to a mobile phone or a call to either a landline or mobile, were the most common verification methods after a login email and password had been generated.
So in summary…
many students have limited options if they do not want to or could not use the Microsoft Authentication app or do not have a smart phone.
there are rarely more than two options if using an app is not possible and one includes the use of a landline, which may not always be possible in a college or university setting
it often took more than ‘three clicks’ or selection choices to reach any supporting materials and these rarely mentioned the use of assistive technologies. However, there was usually a contact form or email address available.
Umar used to spend all his time on is computer which has been adapted to suit his needs as he really enjoys interacting with friends online playing video games. Now, his family takes up much his time outside university and they often travel between his home country and the UK.
Umar has always worked in universities and was a lecturer before deciding to take up computer science as a second degree. Formally linguistics was his main interest and he taught students English in his home town and often helped out with translations from Arabic. He grew up in a household that encouraged him to compete at school in all activities despite his cerebral palsy that made him appear very uncoordinated, affected his mobility and dexterity.
Umar has always spoken rather hesitantly, but relatively clearly, so lecturing was not a problem, although speech recognition never really worked for him. He also tried eye gaze in order to access his computer, but found it very tiring because keeping his eyes fixed and still on an object was difficult. So Umar largely depends on keyboard short cuts, predictive software, with built in macros using autohotkey, filter keys and a programmable position joystick. Recently he was also able to afford an Xbox Adaptive Controller that made all the difference to the speed at which he could play games once it had been set up to suit his preferences with his mixed access technologies depending on the time of day and feelings of tiredness.
Keyboard access still takes time, but as long as Umar has his specialist expanded keyboard and uses his own computer he can work successfully along with his fellow students. However, where barriers do occur such as being locked out due to timeouts, with for instance online banking or secure applications, his patience can be sorely tested.
Umar needs to take breaks but finds that additional ergonomic aids such as a good chair, two raised monitors linked to his laptop and the spring back keys on his keyboard, help to prevent some of the effects of fatigue. In the past he used his phone with a Bluetooth connection to his keyboard, so that he could type messages, but he has found several companies now offer better links to apps, his joystick and other assistive technology devices such as Tecla. He also finds adapting the phone notifications, so they appear automatically stops him worrying about missing events and larger fonts and app icons have also helped. Bigger buttons mean there is more likelihood the touch screen can be used. Umar has also tried other accessibility options that are available on both the Android and iOS systems.
Keyboard Access is essential for Umar as he really finds using his joystick with the pointer accuracy required for some tasks difficult. Single tabbing and using link lists and headings with macros all help with navigation but depend of the accessibility of the website. He sometimes prefers to use his Xbox adaptive controller when feeling tired, as it offers switch access that can also be mapped to various access actions. Microsoft offer a list of keyboard shortcuts in apps
Keyboard remapping available in any application helps Umar as much as it helped Faith. The WebAim team provide a very useful table that covers the standard keystrokes, but Umar tends to use his autohotkey personalised keyboard mapping
Make dynamic content accessible this applies to everyone, but for Umar it is essential that all types of dynamic content react to keyboard use not just a mouse hovering over an item or a modal window that appears without activation or error messages that prevent an escape route. IBM offer some potential Coding interactions – Dynamic content. “Success Criterion 3.2.1 On Focus (Level A): When any user interface component receives focus, it does not initiate a change of context.”
Headings for easy access. This is not just about using consistent Heading order but being clear about titles and their meaning to help Faith quickly scan down content especially if there are important instructions. This can help her concentration as well as make it easier to navigate.
Media player access. Once again this is about using the keyboard to control:
play and pause buttons
screen size and exiting from full-screen and position
“I find small links, such as individual letters in an alphabet list really annoying when having to access a glossary if a search is not provided – too small to touch accurately or use with my joystick and too long for constant keystrokes. Either add white space around them or offer an alternative!”
Paul really struggled at primary school and never enjoyed writing with endless corrections and not being very dextrous when it came to cursive script. Eventually his difficulties with literacy skills were assessed and he received some extra help, but he never really talked about his dyslexia and was anxious about the mistakes he made, even though he knew his father had had similar difficulties and ran his own very successful IT company. However, Paul soon discovered he was in a very different situation on the sports field and any lack of coordination seemed to disappear with the local youth rugby team giving him a chance to shine. He not only captained the side during his sixth form years, but went on to join the university team in his first year and immediately found friends that allowed him to work around his lack of confidence, when it came to the academic side of things.
Paul not only realised there were others who had similar difficulties with course work and lecture notes. He also requested extra time to complete written tasks and the use of a laptop as neat handwriting and getting ideas down on paper remained a challenge. Choosing a science degree made it easier as it fitted with Paul’s strengths. When it came to problem solving, he found he could visualise the whole thing and often see a solution rather quicker than some other students, who took a linear path. Now Paul openly admits that in his rush to get down his ideas he may make copying and spelling errors and his memory and organisational skills can let him down. However, he has also learnt a range of strategies built up over time, such as downloading reminder, task and password apps onto his mobile phone. He uses computer applications that auto-correct and read text aloud, plus looking out for supportive tools that highlight errors when compiling code and making use of graphical interfaces for system and software design. Paul’s father is an IT systems analyst and computers have always been part of his life.
Once Paul has a concept firmly in his mind, good analytical skills have meant that he can discuss possible algorithms or practical ways to get something to work. He really enjoys projects and working with a group, as this allows him time to bring his abilities to the fore, whilst letting others do the report writing and documentation!
Consistent Navigation (WCAG) and Heading order (Webaim) helps Paul follow the flow of a web site. Clear, well-structured and easy to use menus that are consistent on every page are as much about usability as they are accessibility and the size of the headings with bold text can indicate the importance of content that needs to be read.
Selectable text for speech output – This is not quite the same as screen reading, where navigational elements as well as content are read aloud. Paul likes to choose when he wants to highlight text and have it read out. He can do this easily on his mobile phone with text messages, but finds on some websites and with certain PDFs that text may not be accessible. Google calls this ‘select to speak’. It is important to be wary about making text just available for screen readers. You may present barriers to other users, so make sure visible text can highlighted by keyboard or mouse use when testing for accessibility.
Document accessibility is important for everyone and when Paul uses his text to speech apps he expects to be able to have content read aloud at any speed in an order that makes sense, with a voice of his choice. WebAim have an easy to follow set of instructions for making ‘Accessible Documents: Word, PowerPoint, & Acrobat’.
Key points from Paul
“I like to understand what a web site or service is about immediately! If it is cluttered and I have to navigate through several layers to get to content I give up. Keep it simple is a good motto for me because I am impatient and don’t want to read long introductions. Just give me a one liner and a diagram or picture that says it all!”