The web is a boundless collection of text, images and graphical content that is interacted by the lens, retina and optic nerve and transmitted to the brain that creates visualisation. But, for the millions of blind users around the world, the most common way to access the web is through screen reader software. Screen reader software is capable of interpreting HTML coding and converting the onscreen text into audible output that is read aloud in a sequential manner.
Unfortunately, there are many websites that are inaccessible to blind users and these include online employment Web sites and thus preventing these individuals from even applying for jobs online. Employment is a core ingredient for self-esteem and independence and utilising the value of gained knowledge through education should be harnessed without any boundaries. Journal of usability studies conducted a research on job applications for IT Job Boards and this highlighted the design problems that are associated with layout, navigational issues between the input fields as well as the inability to identify the form they are completing.
There are industry accepted usability and accessibility (WGAC 2.0) standards that practitioners have to follow when creating dual graphical interfaces. An online sector analysis conducted in 2004 reveals that 80% of the websites fail to meet the requirements of accessibility for blind users. A more recent study conducted on Google search engine’s accessibility and usability issues delve deeper in to the form validation issues and screen reader’s lack of functionality with the description of input fields. When a blind user searches for information with regards to IT Jobs or articles on Google’s search engine, there is a roadblock exhibited by the screen reader software. The audio is output in a sequential manner from the webpage, so it enlists the menu navigational links as well as other advertisements that coincide with the search results for similar IT related articles. This creates cognitive overload for the blind users and thus creating confusion when trying to identify the most relevant information.
Form validation is a big issue for blind users when it is not specified through audible feedback and this problem is exhibited by Google’s search engine interface, due to its inability to correct user errors in input fields. This was also unveiled in the job application study such that coincides with the data entry problems when filling in the form for applying for various jobs online. A common misconception is that web usability and accessibility issues arise from the graphical user interface (GUI). The opinion of practitioners is based on the idea of graphical content not being recognisable by screen readers, therefore fails to convey the graphical elements to a blind user. There are improved guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to help the designers to demonstrate better practices in designing accessible and usable Job Boards and search engines for visually impaired users. Furthermore, it would also be of vital importance to involve testing of form based interfaces that determine task adequacy, behaviour equivalence, device independence and semantic loss avoidance for individual webpages.
Author: Pavan Annam