Not everyone uses their eyes to interact with the web. Some people use their ears and some people use only fingertips to read or buy a product online. It is unfair that we, web co-creators, overlook that people with disabilities are often surfing on our websites.
Worldwide there are about 250 million people with visual impairment which means they can detect 10% or less of the visual light.
Out of those, about 40 million people are blind and about 15 million people are deafblind.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outlines a standard for international accessibility to people with disabilities.
Frankly, we initially viewed WCAG compliance as another checkbox. But during our research we learned how vital WCAG is to this underserved disabled community, and we have a platform at Fomo to call attention to this issue.
Bono from U2 sings that we need to “carry each other” and that “we have one life to do what we should”. At Fomo we agree with Bono and we made it a mission to understand how people with disabilities use the web.
We reached out to Timotej Skledar, who became blind due to a brain tumor 4 years ago, when he was only 24 years old. Timotej helped us build an accessible version of Fomo and we learned a lot throughout the process.
Conversation with Timotej
How do you use your computer to surf the web?
Timotej: Most of the magic is achieved with a feature called VoiceOver. VoiceOver is a built-in screen reader that describes aloud what appears on your computer screen. I also use a keyboard with a braille display.
[Note: Braille is a writing and reading system made up of raised dots for people who are visually impaired.]
Your hearing is 100%. Why learn the Braille alphabet?
Timotej: When I realised that it is likely that my vision will be lost I started learning skills which would simplify my life. Braille alphabet lets you use a braille display which simplifies reviewing longer emails or when editing a Google document. It is hard to spot spelling errors via synthesized speech.
Braille display also requires your full attention and therefore is a perfect tool for learning new things faster. It speeds up the learning curve quite a lot!
Impressive! I noticed many types of braille displays online. Can you tell me something about your device?
Timotej: I can send you a picture of it.
How will you take a photo of it if you can not “see” what is in the camera frame in the first place?
Timotej: Hehe. Well, I use my camera very often. I use it to share my life moments with friends who see normally. There are also many “photo to text” apps which can be super handy for reading menus in restaurants or reading a schedule on the train station. That is why I became pretty good at framing the subject in front of the camera. Recent iOS upgrade also has a feature which tells you in real time if a subject is not in the frame completely.
OK. I am getting super curious about everything around this picture. Can you really send it to me?
Timotej: Sure. Here you go.
Wow. This picture has perfect framing & lighting. I would really love to hear more about your daily life however maybe it is better to focus on website accessibility this time. Do you prefer to use your desktop computer for browsing the web?
Timotej: I prefer to use my phone because websites sometimes automatically adapt to the mobile version which is way easier for me to use.
Why is the mobile version of the website easier for you to use?
Timotej: Websites are often more complex than they need to be. Every extra link or content means that I will need more time to reach a specific call to action button.
What do you do when a website doesn’t work in accessibility mode?
Timotej: Sometimes, websites are not accessible on mobile and other times they are not accessible on desktop. Same is true for mobile apps. That is the reason why I own multiple devices. I have Desktop, iPhone, Android and tablet.
Do you often buy things online?
Timotej: Yes. I want to be independent. Buying something is actually pretty easy unless there are some annoying capability issues. Unfortunately, many websites have them even though it is not even hard to fix them.
Can you share an annoying example relevant to shopping online?
Timotej: One of the shops I use frequently has one accessibility problem in the cart process. It was super hard for me to figure out a specific sequence of actions needed to complete the purchase.
Did you sometimes try to contact the store and tell them about your problem?
Timotej: I used to do this quite often. Problem is because store owners and developers often do not know much about how people with disabilities interact with the web. Most of them never turned on VoiceOver or maybe even tried to buy something with their eyes closed. It requires some effort to understand how our experience of the web looks or feels like.
Well. Thank you for your valuable insights Timotej. You definitely helped introduce our entire team to a whole new world.
Here is a short but powerful video which demonstrates how a blind person can buy a guitar online:
This video uses a screen reader so the blind person can press TAB repeatedly to voice over each button, link, or text field sequentially. Notice in this video how the process becomes quite frustrating at certain points, when we try to visit one of the search results within duckduckgo.com.
Want to improve your website?
While improving accessibility of our own product we learned a lot and we wanted to share some tips & tricks in our Accessibility article. We hope that it will help you make your website more accessible for everyone.