Is your blog blind reader ready?

Below you find an interesting article about the issues of accessibility and why you should check if your site keeps blind users in mind. I wrote some notes on this article because some of the suggestions there are obsolete. Browsers have evolved a lot, so do come back after you read the article.

Since is about video- and podcasting, I doubt I will have blind visitors but I do accommodate for screen readers up to a point because it is only polite to do so (blind visitors can visit my site by accident, for instance). Apart from that, it enhances your ranking in Google (an ulterior motive, I confess).
Jacob Nielsen, the self-proclaimed usability expert was a big supporter of Google from the start and he advised them to give priority to sites that accommodated for the WAI 505 accessibility rules priority 1, which pretty much covers what you can see in the article above.
Luckily, WordPress makes it easy to accommodate for accessibility, so I don’t have much work to do. The “Read more >>” you see in most blogs is not used very often in WP sites, instead, the title of a post is the link, so that poses no problem as it describes clearly what the link is about.

Some conflicts of interest:

For blind visitors, having the links on the right is more convenient, but putting your most important links on the right is confusing to most regular readers, so I prefer to use the navigational SKIP link (as suggested in the article) and keep links on the left and top.
I use the right hand side of the site for attention grabbers, like special announcements and temporary links and I think most marketing gurus agree with that approach, because readers behave in certain ways and it would be foolish not to keep that in mind. There are many studies on eye tracking movement that confirm this approach.

About new windows:
I agree that it can be confusing to open a new window for an external link, not only for blind visitors. But on the other hand, you do not want visitors to move away from your site, do you?
So, again there is a conflict of interest here. The solution to the problem, is to add a title tag in your link where you say something like: “This opens in a new window”. I use this technique all the time because I find it annoying myself to be confronted by a new window while not knowing about it. The code to use goes like this:
<a href=”http://the-external-link” title=”This opens in a new window”>the external link</a>
Where “the external link” is of course the link to the external site. Move you mouse of this link to see what I mean. You should see a message popup, saying: “This opens in a new window”. Older browsers do not support this feature, but screen readers will find certainly this message, thus the disabled visitor is warned upfront. It is certainly not ideal for them, but from the perspective of the site owner, it is a necessary evil.

Issues with external services:
To name one: is a great service for aggregating subscribers and automated newsletters, but their forms are actually bad for screen readers as they do not provide proper labeling and on top of that, they use table cells. So, if you have blind readers, use the html version of the forms instead of the javascript version, because then the forms can be modified as you like.

Test your site:
See how your site appears on a screen reader. Lynx is a screen reader that you can download to test how your site will work.
It’s bit awkward to work with in the beginning but you get used to it. Click on – the distribution file.

A (probably controversial) observation on the article above:

Saying that your site should be simple and not use any fancy stuff is a ridiculous notion if you think about it. It’s like saying to a painter: “Don’t use blue and green together”. Or actually, what is says is that you should not paint at all.
Technology has a lot to offer and it would be a waste to hold back on that for the sake of some browser vendors who refuse to do some serious effort for the disabled. Site owners should certainly do their bit, but many problems can be avoided if browser vendors would anticipate typical situations. They all should agree on a standard set of shortcut keys for typical functions like text enlargement, for instance. It cannot be that hard to detect when a new window will open and just tell the user when that happens (if they indicate that in the Preferences panel).

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