I talk a lot about accessibility because I think it’s incredibly important and often overlooked, even by technically-savvy web users. Yet to those who are unfamiliar with or just learning about web accessibility, it can be hard to communicate what it really is. I really like the A11y Projects’ definition of “web accessibility”:
Web accessibility is…[the practice of] making your websites usable by the widest range of people possible, including those who have disabilities.
Understanding the real-world purpose of web accessibility is the first step toward appreciating its importance, so seeing accessible technology in use by the people it benefits is the best introduction to the topic.
To that end, I’ve recently assembled a list of short, to-the-point videos of different types of “assistive technology” (AT) people use every day to access computers and, more specifically, websites. The following list covers most of the technologies I know, though I’m sure it’s not comprehensive.
Scan through the videos below and watch a few showing a type of technology you’ve never seen. I guarantee you’ll find it interesting! Once you grasp the myriad ways people use your website, you’re ready to start trying to support all your users!
Here’s how one person uses a “screen reader” (in this case, Apple’s “Voiceover”) to hear his computer:
There are screen readers for his iPhone too!
Refreshable Braille Display
For computer users who prefer braille or don’t want to wear headphones in a noisy place or the library, there are devices that dynamically output braille.
On Screen Keyboard
Many computer users have limited mobility, so typing is a challenge. Here’s a one-button means of typing.
Sip & Puff + Joystick
Besides typing, users need to manipulate the on-screen cursor to navigate around websites and operating systems.
One final option for those with limited mobility is voice control. I knew someone in college with a severe repetitive stress injury (RSI) in his right hand who temporarily used this.
Example Web Accessibility Technique: “Skip to Content Link”
Now that you’ve seen the wonderful array of ways people use your website, here’s a simple technique that can save some assistive technology users dozens of clicks per page. A moderately skilled coder can implement this feature in 5-10 minutes or less.
A Web For All
Many people use these assistive technologies for all sorts of reasons and in various combinations. Just like we build responsive websites to provide a consistent experience to our users regardless of device and screen size, we must also build accessible websites to provide consistent experiences to users no matter how they access and manipulate them.