When I present accessibility seminars or workshops, I usually ask those attending to indicate if they have seen a screen reader being used.
Several years ago, it was not uncommon for only about 10 percent of the audience to indicate that they had. Recently, often more than three quarters of the people attending say they have seen a screen reader in use. However, nearly all assume a screen reader is an audio output device and when asked if they have seen a Braille device, the answer is usually no.
In April, I was preparing material for a workshop about complying with version 2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) and thought it would be useful to include a video of someone using a refreshable Braille device. I contacted Bruce Maguire as I know this is his preferred way of accessing the web and asked if I could video him using his device. Bruce, whose contribution to improving the accessibility of the web extends well beyond his famous complaint against the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, willingly agreed to help.
I hoped the refreshable Braille video would provide viewers without any experience of the technology, with both a basic understanding of how the device is operated and a feeling for what it might be like to access the web without relying on the senses of sight and hearing.
Needless to say, Bruce doesn’t use a screen, so a monitor is not normally connected to his computer. Also, he usually turns off the audio output generated by the screen reader. When it came to shooting the video, we could have connected a monitor so that viewers of the video would be able to see the pages as Bruce visited them. However we decided instead, to turn on the audio so that people could hear the screen reader reports of the material as well as Bruce’s description what he was reading with the Braille device.
After we had completed the basic filming, Bruce and I talked about shooting a short segment with the audio turned off. Without any more planning than that, Bruce turned off the audio, I turned on the camera and Bruce announced he would show us how he goes about buying a book from Amazon.
In this segment of the video, everything after Amazon has returned the search results for books by Anita Roddick is in real time.
I feel there is value in giving people involved in developing websites a greater understanding of how the web is accessed by users of different assistive technologies. During the last two weeks, I have shown both the refreshable Braille video and another video, “Wheeling in Second Life”, which features a woman with Cerebral Palsy to over 100 people at workshops.
Many of the people who attend the WCAG 2 workshops told me that they found both these videos very beneficial since they allowed them to see how people use the assistive technologies in an everyday context and highlighted the importance of ensuring sites are accessible to everyone.
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