Visually Impaired Posts 10/6/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

So tonight, I attended an online meeting focusing on creating online pages.  The host wrote a line something like “join my private page my clicking here”, then highlighting and hyperlinking the one word “here”.  In the comments, I suggested that for the visually impaired using a screen reader, hyperlinking “here” is problematic, and it might be better to hyperlink the phrase “my private page”.  Another attendee asked if I could expand on that, but I didn’t want to do so in the chat where I felt limited as to the amount of explanation I could give and promised to expand on it when there was a good opportunity at the end of the meeting.  Unfortunately, the meeting ran long, and I think the host was trying to wrap things up quickly, so that “does anybody have anything else they would like to share” moment never arrived. 

That left me with the burden of how to expand, as I had promised, on this point.  The meeting was recorded, and the link was just shared, but again, I feel like I can’t really put this all down in just a comment, so what to do?  Oh, wait, I know.  I can post it in BleilBanter.Blog and force ALL of you to read it!

Okay, you don’t HAVE to read this, but I know there will be those who do because I have the most awesome readers, followers and friends in the world.  Before we begin though, I would like to share a bit about how I learned of this, and why it’s important to me. 

See, I have had students, friends and colleagues who were visually or hearing impaired.  It’s actually better to say, “otherwise abled”, but this post specifically addresses those with visual problems, although a good friend of mine has shown me why it’s not truly a handicap.  Blind from birth, he actually drove a semi-truck through the downtown area where we both lived and worked, even though doing so was highly illegal.  After all, he doesn’t even have his driver’s license!

Because of my experience in education and knowing people who had these problems, it’s an important subject to me.  He explained the problem with hyperlinking the word “here”.  See, being visually impaired he uses a “screen reader”.  These basically read every word on the screen, and there are ways to speed it up.  For instance, he had his set (as I recall) to 1.7 times speed.  It was so fast I couldn’t even keep up with it, but it’s what he was used to.  Another feature is just to read hyperlinked text.

This information is a few years old so maybe they’re doing better now, but another trick was to just read hyperlinked text.  For example, if he just finished reading an article and didn’t pay much attention to the hyperlinks but now realizes he’s interested in one of them, this allows the reader to quickly find it.  If, as many people do, the word “here” is all that’s hyperlinked, the reader will simply say “here here here here”.  By hyperlinking things like “the organization of bloated old men like Bleil” (for example) is hyperlinked, then it’ll be easier for my friend to find that link.

For the visually impaired, there are other things that should be done, especially with graphics.  Including a short title with images and graphs don’t do much for screen readers.  A title reading “grade versus attendance” doesn’t really do much for the visually impaired.  Instead, include a line or two on what the reader should pick up from looking at the image or in the “alt text” that can usually be added in the editing software.  The alt text does not show up in the caption but is found by screen readers.  So, if I really want the title “grade versus attendance”, I might add the hidden alt text “Graph showing correlation between grades and student attendance.  The correlation is positive showing higher grades for students with better attendance with a correlation factor of 0.67.” 

A lot of features are getting better at automatically generating these for you, but it’s worth checking them.  To find the term “alt text” I just added a picture of my cat and me (since deleted) and the alt text automatically generated was “a picture of a person laying on a couch with a cat.”  That’s fine, but maybe I want the reader to know that it’s a picture of me with my cat Star.  Videos often have closed captions auto generated using AI with voice recognition that does a good, but not great, job.  It makes life easier to be pro-active for the differently abled, but it’s worth making sure it’s saying what you really want it to say.

Does the individual who asked me to expand on this topic really need to do this right now?  Probably not.  The reality is that it’s a fairly small percentage of the population that is visually (about 0.5% of the population is legally blind) or hearing (about 4%) impaired.  On the other hand, it’s always good to consider the needs of these individuals, and great to practice the habits of accessibility.  Hopefully, now that you’re one of the few who has finished reading this, it’ll put a couple of proverbial bugs in your ear and help this topic to the front of your mind. 

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