Lessons from an Accessibility Adventurer

by Julius Serrano

Testing websites for accessibility is always an adventure. The moment you load a page, you never know whether it’s going to be an endless maze of elements or an easy cruise through pages that are interesting and easy to access. And sometimes, you’ll be testing web content so inaccessible that it feels like climbing a mountain…with no equipment…in the middle of a rainstorm.

And like any good adventure, accessibility testing – if you look deeply into it – can provide lessons and strategies that can improve your life. In this blog post, we’ll explore the main chapters in an accessibility adventure and discover the key lessons you can apply in your life right now.

Testing Using a Screen Reader

I use a screen reader in all of my accessibility tests and audits. A screen reader is a type of assistive software that speaks the highlighted text on screen. When you use a screen reader, you’ll hear a semi-human voice that speaks the links, buttons, and plain text as you browse the web page. It’s actually one of the highlights of our accessibility courses. I’m always happy to hear how attendees are amazed by my screen reader as it speaks the contents in a web page.

The main skill I’ve developed in using a screen reader to test websites is listening actively. It’s only when I’m listening actively to the screen reader that I am able to identify if an image has a meaningful description (or if it has one at all). It’s only when I’m listening closely to the screen reader that I can spot headings, lists, and data tables that do not use the correct HTML tags. It is through actively listening to the screen reader that I can provide the most detailed and accurate accessibility report for our clients.

Let’s extend this skill to your personal and professional life. You may find that listening actively can improve the quality of your relationships at home or at work. If you listen – and I mean really listen – to what other people are saying, you’ll fully understand them as well as their current needs. You’ll then be able to provide them with the best form of support. Listening mindfully also enables you to perceive the emotion behind people’s words and identify what people are saying and what they’re not saying. All of these things will help you develop empathy as a communicator and will contribute to more fulfilling relationships. Other things to consider when listening actively include letting people finish their sentences, not interrupting or completing their statements for them, not dividing your attention between person and phone, and - sometimes - repeating people’s exact words to ensure you have properly taken their point.

Testing with different browsers

I perform my tests and audits using more than one web browser. This ensures that the accessibility issues I have found are present in most if not all browsers. So for instance, I’ve tested all the pages in Firefox, I would take note of any issue whether it’s a minor one or what we call a “show-stopper”. I would then test the same pages using Chrome and also take note of any issues. After testing with several browsers I would then compare my notes and find out if there are any issues that are browser-specific.

A graphic of the quote, "And sometimes, you’ll be testing web content so inaccessible that it feels like climbing a mountain…with no equipment…in the middle of a rainstorm."

How does this relate to our life? Sometimes it is a good idea to view an issue from more than one perspective. Let’s have an example. Have you ever experienced an event that really bothered or even annoyed you, and you told your friend about it, and they said “I wouldn’t worry about it!” In this case, you and your friend were seeing that one situation from two different perspectives. So what do you do? You may want to get curious and ask your friend why they feel that way. Their insights might surprise you! Perhaps there might be some idea, lesson, or benefit that you currently don’t realise. Perhaps when you see the situation from a different perspective, you would find that there is truly nothing to be bothered about.


Writing an Accessibility Report

The finale of any accessibility adventure is the creation of a report. Here I write down, organise, and edit the issues I have found while testing. I provide a recommendation for each issue so that web developers would know the exact steps to make their content more accessible. Under each issue and recommendation, I indicate the relevant criterion within the international guidelines on web accessibility so readers can learn more about it if they choose to.


Now that you’ve seen how writing can be a powerful tool in one’s work, let’s explore how it can enhance your own life. Facing a particular challenge or obstacle? You may find that writing about it and reading what you have written can eventually help you come up with possible solutions. Feeling overwhelmed by the many things taking place in your life? You may consider writing down all of your tasks and responsibilities in a list at the start of your day. You may then want to rearrange them in order of importance or urgency. This gives you clarity and a list of actions that may guide you as you work on each item. Similarly, you could write down the successes and achievements you’ve had today. This provides a source of motivation when you’re having difficult days in your work or personal life.


Conclusion

In this blog post we learned about the main chapters of an accessibility adventure. We then discovered the adventure’s key lessons which include listening actively, seeing things from more than one perspective, and the importance of writing. I’d like to end by asking you an empowering question: If your work is an adventure, what life lessons can you draw out of it?


Thanks for reading this blog post. I hope this serves you, and please do get in touch with us if you want to know more about our accessibility services or using assistive software.

 


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Catalyst is a New Zealand owned and operated company where openness, long term relationships, community and diversity are essential characteristics of how we do business. Since 1997, Catalyst has been enabling success with expert open source solutions, and clients all over the world trust us with their mission-critical systems.