Going Beyond Compliance: Survey report
Problems by tester impairment type
Low vision testers
One low vision tester reported an experience with a site: “[It] is hard to navigate and find your way around. It is quite cluttered especially on the home page where you have lots of images and links scattered everywhere. I think they need to put a link to the accessibility features from the home page either at the top or bottom. The colour of some of the link panels and in particular the left hand side is not easy to read. Also the open tab showing the page you are on at the top is very difficult to read as well.”
Key accessibility issues impacting on testers with low vision were:
- font sizes
- text in images
- colour contrast.
Fixed font sizes are problematic as they cannot be increased in size using some browsers, such as Internet Explorer. This is becoming less of a problem as sites use stylesheets for formatting and use relative sizes for fonts, which can be enlarged.
However, low vision users typically magnify fonts to a much bigger size then most designers realise. The ability of a page to ‘hold together’ at large text size is a critical capability that sites often fail to do.
One user described their experience with enlarging font size as: “I found that using Internet Explorer - View - Text Size - Largest the text was still not large enough for me to read easily. I was able to increase the font size of the text using Big.com to the size I prefer.” (www.Big.com provides magnification for websites)
Text in images
While some browsers allow users to magnify text to very high levels of magnification, they do not magnify images. This means that any text or information that is embedded into an image will not be magnified, and so may not be accessible to low vision users.
Using images with embedded text for navigation elements is to be discouraged for this reason (however, this practice is decreasing in frequency).
Poor colour contrast can be measured, but is not included in the Web Guidelines. This is a clear example of the value added by user testing. This was a frequent problem for this group of testers, especially where it involves essential navigation elements.
Colour contrast problems show up in two ways: insufficient contrast and background interference.
Insufficient contrast: this creates a problem when the difference between the colour of text and the background brightness are not sufficient to allow the text to be easily read. For example, pale text on a background that is too close in brightness or colour, such a grey text on a white background. A common problem is the use of reverse text (pale/white text on a darker background).
Some low vision tester quotes on experiences with insufficient contrast are:
- “It was difficult to find the contact us menu or button with the menus having black background with white writing.”
- “It is very difficult to see the top menus because it is a yellow font on a dark blue background.”
- “I was disappointed that the print was not black on the home page for the text as I find black much easier to read. Some of the other pages used print, but some of these insisted on using coloured backgrounds. The backgrounds need to be kept pale or it is difficult for me to read.”
- “It is hard to see the blue font on a blue font which the side menus are in. I like the way the links on the main home page turn a darker blue when you point your mouse at them because the light blue is hard to see.”
Background interference: this creates a problem where there is a difference in brightness and colour between text and the background, but the brightness and colour of the background is overpowering and makes the text difficult to read.
Some low vision tester quotes on experiences with background interference are:
- “There was too much orange on the background when you open the site and made it hard to see so I had to use the text version which takes away some of the orange background.”
- “I found it very difficult to find the required answers. It is difficult to see the yellow font on the black background for both the top and side menus. Also when you select one of the options from one of menus, it puts strain on your eyes to read the text because of the yellow background.”
An organisation’s branding guidelines can impact on colour and text contrast. Generally, it is possible to separate out the branding elements and provide the organisation’s visual signature without impinging on the legibility of navigation or informational text.
There has been a small move towards web designers using grey body text instead of black for stylistic reasons. This diminishes the ability of low vision users to read that text.
Poor contrast can also be exacerbated by inefficient monitors and difficult ambient light conditions. Web designers often design, test and review sites on high quality monitors in optimal lighting conditions, which can make it difficult to consider what designs might look like in less ideal conditions.
Key accessibility issues impacting on blind testers were:
- access keys and 'skip links'
- headings missing or used inconsistently.
Access keys and 'skip links'
‘Skip links’ and access keys were often absent, poorly implemented or poorly sited.
‘Skip links’ enable a blind user to skip over the text on a web page that precedes the main content. Without a ‘skip link’ function, a blind user may have to listen to the whole list of navigation options before they get to the main content. This can be very tedious and time wasting if, on every page they visit, blind users have to wait for all the links to be read out before accessing the page’s information.
Blind users use screen reading software (eg JAWS) to say out loud text on a web page. The text is read in a sequential fashion according to the sequence structured in the underlying HTML code. Often, the first part of the page includes the list of navigation items.
The visual appearance of a web page may be quite different to its underlying sequence, as the visual appearance can be controlled by stylesheets. It is possible in some visual browsers to switch off the stylesheets and reveal the underlying structure.
A ‘skip link’ can be introduced near the beginning of the page’s HTML code. It typically consists of a hyperlink to an anchor that is positioned just before the main content. The ‘skip link’ will usually have associated text like ‘Skip to main content’ and have stylesheet settings to be hidden in visual browsers but be read by a screen reader.
By adding an access key to the ‘skip link’, the blind user is then able to press the access key immediately on opening a new page to jump straight to the main content. This function also allows a user to listen to some of the navigation if they wish and at any point skip straight to the main content.
An access key enables users to have a keyboard shortcut that activates a link (on a page or elsewhere in a site), simply by pressing the designated access key (a single key or combination of keys, for example pressing Alt and 9 together takes you to the Contact Us page).
In New Zealand, there is a standard set of access keys that should be enabled on every government website. The prescribed access key for the ‘skip to main content’ link is the left-hand square bracket ‘[’.
Access keys and ‘skip links’ should be part of the ‘basic furniture’ early in the design and build of site templates. Poor implementation seems to be the result of them being added as an afterthought.
Some blind tester quotes on experiences in navigating websites:
- "Access keys and access info should be at top of page, not bottom."
- "The access keys themselves did not work but pressing enter on them did. The only access key which did work was alt 3, the site search one."
- "Access information would be more helpful at top of page, rather than at bottom. Pressing alt 0 did absolutely nothing - I had to go and find the link itself."
- "Access key info listed neatly in a list. Unfortunately, some of the keys don't work at all."
- "Skip navigation link is very useful. Most of the access keys don't work at all."
Headings missing or used inconsistently
Headings refer to the specific HTML mark-up for page headings and sub-headings (<h1>…</h1> through to <h6>…</h6>). Headings seen on a page may not be the same as HTML headings.
Properly structured headings that correctly follow the heading/sub-heading hierarchy are particularly important to users of screen reader software. This software provides a facility for users to navigate the contents of a page using the headings. Navigation by heading is particularly useful on large pages, as a user can skip over text they do not want to read. Absence of HTML headings removes this option for screen reader users.
Cluttered and poorly structured pages, with poorly structured headings, also presented problems and slowed the process of users accessing information.
One blind tester commented on their experience: “Far too many links at the top of all the pages, and no headings. This makes it very difficult to wade through all this unnecessary information to get to the relevant bit of the page. There is no ‘skip to main content’ link either which makes this a very clumsy and cumbersome site to use.”
Mobility impaired testers
Mobility impaired users had difficulty with mouse-driven sites, and often resorted to using the search engine to find information. These users had a high incidence of comments about the quality of search facilities.
Navigating to a new page is a slow task for mobility impaired users. They want to be sure that the page they select will provide the information they are looking for, so they do not waste time and effort going down a wrong path. Mobility impaired users often rely on search to provide a quicker route to the target page than just trying a few pages and seeing how they fare.
Some mobility impaired user quotes on their experiences in navigating sites:
- “This site very hard to navigate and this software could not find or access anything.”
- “Found this information by accident. Impossible to navigate this site with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.”
- “The access section is available on the right-hand side at the bottom of the page I had to scroll down to find it. Shifting it to the top of the page or a sidebar at the top would be more beneficial to the disabled user.”
Reading impaired testers
These testers found understanding of the structure and content of websites difficult, and experienced difficulty with navigation. They found large and complex sites particularly challenging. Reading impaired testers consistently rated all sites lower than other testers.
This is probably an area where accessibility issues are least understood among accessibility experts, website designers, and web content writers.
Some reading impaired testers quotes on their experiences with using sites:
- “The site is nice to look at, but very hard to navigate.”
- “As I said on last test, if I had of noticed the links at the bottom of every page at the start, it would have made the test much easier. ‘Ways to access site’ should be changed to accessibility for easier understanding.”
- “Wasn't sure where to look, again took more than 10 min.”
- “Interesting site, but hard to find things on purpose!!!”
- “The link blue on a grey background was hard to find.”
- “I just don't understand the website.”
- “Hard to find anything on site except contact form, so at least I can write and complain.”
Deaf testers commented frequently on the absence of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) video clips, at the very least on home pages with basic information about the site. Since April 2006, NZSL is the third official language of New Zealand, and has status alongside English and Maori.
Important public information that is made available from other sources, such as radio or print, may be inaccessible to Deaf people because of their generally low literacy. For many Deaf people, NZSL is their first and natural language, and written English is not a good substitute.
Other issues that Deaf testers commented on were language complexity, font size and colour contrast.
A Deaf tester pointed out that having a fax number specifically for Deaf and hearing impaired people is becoming outdated, since there are now media enabling direct communication, such as email, a number to text, or a number for users of the New Zealand Relay service.
Some Deaf tester quotes on their experiences in using sites are:
- “Would be nice to include New Zealand Sign Language clips to cover basic topics.”
- “There is an in-depth explanation which is really good. Deaf people with low literacy levels will still find this section hard to comprehend and NZSL video clips will help.”
- “Took me a while for that one. Didn't know which one on the list. Because the language may be too difficult and the fonts is too small and too dark to read.”
- “This page is quite heavy - need to make it more organised, write in a bit more simple English... it says the fund welcomes applications from individual community groups and community groups, so what I am trying to say, make the page more simple for the community. It is hard to read the Maori words on the logo.”