Persona – Carlos as a bilingual computer science student


face view of Carlos from Spain with brown hair, light brown skin  and brown eyes

Age: 20 years

Course: Computer Science 2nd Year

Hobbies: Running, coding, socialising with friends and family


Carlos has been blind since birth and does not see light from dark or colour and admits that even when he rubs his eyes, although the feeling may change, there is nothing but an acute sense of things around him.  Navigating with a cane and managing independently on the university campus is nothing new to him, as he has travelled extensively.  Carlos is bilingual and has no problem switching between his native Spanish and the English language.  He is an adept screen reader user and multitasker, picking out voices of those he knows immediately they come within hearing distance, even whilst working on his computer!  A love of technology has always meant that he tries out the latest versions of applications on both desktop and mobile devices, making use of Windows with a JAWS screen reader and the latest iOS phone and Apple watch.   During his computer science course, he has been known to seek out bugs that cause barriers during lab sessions and is keen to see an increase in the understanding of digital accessibility by explaining issues to his fellow students.  He has also helped with several WCAG evaluations of web sites and applications, but often finds the hardest systems to access are those linked to online learning, because they require so many different interactions.  Carlos depends on speech synthesis to read out texts at speeds of around 450-500 words per minute (rather than using Braille), he skips through navigational elements, menus, forms and modal windows to actual articles, in the hope of finding an order that will give him a feel for the way a site or service is being delivered.  The keyboard or gesture input with short cut actions, heading selections and use of context sensitive links, allow him to memorise the layout of a new website alongside search results when looking for content or files.  Carlos often uses his mobile for certain online services, where apps may be less cluttered and easier to navigate.

Main Strategies to overcome Barriers to Access

Controls are labelled
Keyboard Access for navigation
Multifactor authentication
Accessible Error or Status Messages
Image alt text descriptions
Consistent Heading order
Audio Descriptions
Document accessibility

Multifactor authentication on login has become necessary as part the university’s security system and Carlos has to juggle between an initial password, then the use of mobile authenticator apps, SMS or knowledge-based challenge questions and even biometrics depending on the various services.  These are usually accessible to a screen reader, but mistakes when there is lack of helpful feedback, can make the process very frustrating. (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2 Success Criterion 3.3.7 Accessible Authentication)

Keyboard Access for navigation is essential for Carlos as he does not use a mouse.  Hedepends on tab order following the visual flow of a web page when first entering a site.  Interactions may include links, buttons, fields for inputting text with forms and modal windows (ARIA: dialog role accessibility). The WebAim team provide a very useful table that covers the standard keystrokes that Carlos uses for the interactions, with hints that enhance accessibility.  

The way controls are labelled can mean all the difference when using key strokes to play media, filling in forms and downloading content.  Carlos described the need to have easy to reach microphone /audio controls, recording start, pause and stop buttons and to be able to request attention and use of the chat without affecting accessibility of other aspects of a video conference.

Consistent Heading order is also crucial, as Carlos steers his way through headings and subheadings when quickly checking out the content on a page. Short cut keys used by most screen reader apps provide a quick list of the heading, region and list structures e.g. example key strokes for  NVDA or a cheat sheet for iOS with gesture and rotor use for headings

Image alt text descriptions are important when an image complements the meaning of content or the function and needs a few explanatory words.  Carlos finds it very annoying when an image has no alt attribute and is read as a long file name that means nothing.  So it is important to decide whether an image is essential for helping understanding or function or just decorative and can take a null alt (alt=“”) attribute.

Accessible Error or Status Messages are so important to screen reader users, if nothing is heard and only seen visually, it is extremely frustrating and even more so it the pop up prevents further navigation.  Carlos has experienced times when he has had to just back out of the service wondering what had happened. For instance, when he submitted a form and did not realise he had made a mistake.  At all times error messages must be read aloud and be informative.  Mozilla show how an ARIA alert role can be used when a ‘session is due to expire or connection to the server fails’. 

Audio Descriptions are something that Carlos often uses when watching TV, as they explain what is happening on screen.  This may not always be necessary for videos of lectures or face to face discussions.  However, when a caption just reads aloud ‘music’ or ‘silence’ and the video is still running, Carlos described how useful it is to learn about the movements occurring or even the body language and wondered if it would be possible to use YouDescribe with a free account to link to a YouTube video.

Document accessibility remains a challenge for Carlos and becomes exasperated by the number of academic papers that are still hard to access.  He prefers Microsoft Word to PDF as the reading order tends to be better, but once again without correct structure and logical use of Headings it can take longer to navigate long texts.  WebAim have an easy to follow set of instructions for making ‘Accessible Documents: Word, PowerPoint, & Acrobat’.

Key points from Carlos

“Be consistent and offer a logical structure to all navigational elements, throughout the various parts of the interactive online eLearning experience”

As an aside if you are interested in learning how Carlos copes with programming on his Computer Science course here is a YouTube video from Mega T. Garrett, (13.37mins) describing his techniques for working with the JAWS screen reader and Java  “True Blind Q&A* How Does a Blind Person Program (Java: Hello World)”

WebAim Screen Reader User Survey #9 Results “In May – June 2021, WebAIM surveyed preferences of screen reader users. They received 1568 valid responses. This was a follow-up to 8 previous surveys that were conducted between January 2009 and September 2019″. The survey can be used to see which elements of web accessibility are important and how 1568 screen reader users choose to surf the web.

If you are developing using ARIA and have not seen WhatSock’s Apex 4X – there is a download for their template design patterns on Github, distributed under the terms of the Open Source Initiative OSI – MIT License, and may be freely used for any purpose within any web technology.