Understand The Internet from the Perspective of a Blind or Low Vision User

If you are not blind or low vision, it probably requires some work for you to imagine how someone who is blind or low vision navigates the world. You might mostly navigate to work by reading street signs and noticing landmarks such as a large green park or a McDonalds. A blind or low vision person’s map of the world includes sounds, distances, changes in the ground, and smells. The person who is blind or low vision is more likely to compile a collection of information such as turns the bus makes or hills it climbs, the smell of a coffee shop, and the open sound and feeling as they walk past a park versus a crowded row of shops.

Similarly, a sighted person has a very different experience of a web page from a blind or low vision user in many important ways. The goal of a11y.colorado.edu is to catalogue the problems in design that we encounter as we test. Often times the design problems come when a developer is not aware of a webpage from a blind or low vision user’s perspective. In order to get a general overview, you can read about Screen Reader and Magnifier Technology on the Accessible Technology website or watch a video of a screen reader user on the OIT YOUTube page.

Linear Navigation

One way that a fully sighted user’s approach to a website is different from that of a blind or low vision user is the focus on broader picture versus details. Typically, a sighted user looks at the whole site, gathering information about broad themes and organization before focusing in to look at details. A blind or low vision user is much more likely to navigate through the details, building a mental map of the whole page as they go. Someone using a screen magnifier, assuming they need more magnification than is possible with just enlarging the whole page, can only look at a portion of the screen at a time. It is like using a magnification glass and only being able to see what is within its borders. When someone is using a screen reader, they use a variety of keystrokes to jump around the site by elements such as headings, links, and controls, both to find exactly what they are looking for and to get a sense of everything that is present. There are some common issues that appear when a developer designs a page without considering the different ways of coming to understand a page worth of content.

Focus and Predictability

Another difference has to do with how many processes a user can handle at one time and how much the user relies on a process happening in a predictable manner. As much as some people think they are good at multitasking, research continues to show that people do not perform as well when they are trying to do more than one task at a time. That being said, because blind and low vision users have access to less sensory input, too much activity, whether it be from animation or changing content, is likely to be even more difficult to manage. Along the same lines, there are generally accepted norms for what will happen when someone completes certain tasks. For example, if a user submits a search, they expect a list of results or a message that no matches were found. If instead, a list of advertisements comes up and the user has to dismiss them before finding the results, they are likely to be frustrated. While everyone is frustrated, the blind and low vision user has to spend additional time navigating around to figure out how to use this particular website. The amount of activity and predictability are both aspects of a website that affect all users in similar ways, they just tend to impact blind and low vision users to a greater extent.

Conclusion

Conversely, you are entering into a world with vocabulary and experiences that might be foreign to you. We did our best to describe what is happening on a web page, how assistive technology interacts with a component of a web page, and the user’s experience. Hopefully all of that information will make an issue at least imaginable. If you are part of the CU Boulder campus, we in the Accessibility and Usability Lab can schedule time to give you a demonstration of issues on the resources you develop and use.

Structure and changing content are two large ways that a blind or low vision user might have a different experience with a page, but there are many more. The ability to access online content translates into someone’s ability to access information, to express themselves in a variety of forums, and to participate in the community. Blind and low vision users encounter barriers on a regular basis, because most people do not know about how decisions in design will impact the blind and low vision user. Your willingness to better understand the internet from the perspective of a blind or low vision user makes a significant difference. Thank you.