Designing for blind users

In the comments to my recent post about XHTML Scott Mayo asks an interesting question:

“How many complaints you have had about the usability of your website by blind, site impaired or other-wise impaired users. Surely as NZ’s site with the broadest coverage you would have a lot of exposure to such feedback?”

I have to admit that I haven’t had any direct feedback, or any first-hand experience using Trade Me with a screen reader.

I’d be interested to hear from anybody who does.

At TechEd last year we used Trade Me in a demo of the speech recognition features built into Windows Vista, and it worked great.

Amongst all of the other things to consider when creating a new site or page, it can sometimes be hard to get excited about accessibility.

But don’t forget that the single most important visitor to your site is effectively blind (a.k.a GoogleBot).

Design for accessibility and you’ll often get search engine optimisation for no additional charge!

One thought on “Designing for blind users”

  1. At GOVIS a few years ago the keynote speaker was, I think, a guy from AccEase. He was blind, and he went around Trademe with some difficulty.

    Blind people use the web 20% more (US statistics) than sighted, so be sure to inflate New Zealand’s disability statistics for your big site. Many accessibility problems are easily fixed, like marking areas of the page with genuine headings and having appropriate ALT text.

    So, getting back to Trademe. Right now the homepage logo has ALT text of “kevin” (presumably the name of the kiwi). As screen readers speak the page like a tape deck they’d be read “11:11 am, 30 May Kevin LINK login LINK Register”. Sight-impaired people (Eg elderly with blurred vision) often use screen-readers to help clarify text in images, so they’d be read “kevin” too.

    A few years ago the National Bank had alt text of their logo as “horse”, so although their ALT text was accurate in one sense it also poorly chosen. Good ALT text should ‘replace the function of the image in the page’. A sites logo is a greeting, so perhaps something more like “Trade Me: Where Kiwis Buy and Sell” would suit. If telling people about Kevin the kiwi is important then you might want to link to a company history page.

    Futher on in the page there are side-by-side links to [a href=”/Help/Selling/HowItWorks.aspx”][/a]. The first link has an image with empty alt text. The second link is the descriptive text. These should almost certainly be a single link with the text for those who need it rather than two separate links. The empty alt text means that some disabled people won’t be able to understand where that first link goes.

    Although sight-impaired people skip around links (often advancing from link-to-link out of context) they also use heading tags. These genuine headings can be used to delimit areas of the page: [h1]Login[/h1] … [h1]Search[/h1] [h1]Areas of the community[/h1] [a href=”…”]home[/a] [a href=”…”]sell[/a] [a href=”…”]my Trade Me[/a] and so on.

    On Trademe’s homepage there’s one H1 for “More homepage features…”, no H2s, and some H3s for external sites (thes h3s are well done). Some more page structure as expressed through heading tags would help disabled users.

    Sorry for the huge essay-like post but I hope it was constructive because there’s a lot to write. If you want any more ideas fling me an email.


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