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Facing up to screen reader realities

Over the past few decades the world in general has become progressively more visual;  inevitably this increased visualisation is strong in the workplace and probably nowhere more so than in IT.   

Add to this the increased workplace trend towards self-service, where everyone is expected to do more and more for themselves and we have an absolute minefield for people who are vision impaired. 

In the office based computer applications of ten or fifteen years ago there were relatively few pieces of software being used, so that it was possible to at least influence the accessibility of many applications.   

Nowadays, with the increased trend towards internet based applications and the cloud, this is all becoming much more difficult to control.  There are probably more than one hundred million web sites out there and so there will be many millions of people designing and developing those sites.   

Even if we ignore those sites which we don't need to access, there are still a huge number that we may need to use.  I believe that it simply is not possible to police accessibility standards for even these sites and their owners. 

I also have some doubts as to whether or not it is worth trying to achieve this sought after accessibility.  If you give a sighted person a page full of print or a screen full of text, they can spot what they are looking for in one to two seconds.   

Give the same information to a screen reader user and it will take them fifteen to thirty seconds to find what they want.  Yes, I know we can use search commands, but these only work when we know exactly what we are looking for and that it is there.   

The fact is that in certain parts of our work we will be maybe fifteen times slower than our fully sighted counterparts.  Only by facing up to this reality can we find ways of working and things to do which will place us in a more equal position with those fully sighted peers. 

I realise I may be saying some contentious things here, but I do think that we need to face up to these realities. 

Brendan Magill

Business, Employment & Disability Consultancy 



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