Accessibility for All???

In a recent email list serve discussion, a conversation discussed accessibility barriers related to the recent iTunes 12.1 update. This greatly hindered the various screen readers used on Windows based computers. Below is my response to the conversation, focusing on how we as a community of screen reader users must band together and advocate for developers to produce universally accessible products, and not just cherry pick.

This conversation is providing a very useful example on how each Screen Reader extracts various elements differently to create accessibility for us. I am stating this since when talking with IT departments that “conduct” accessibility testing, they often just rely on JAWS, and believe that scripting for JAWS means accessibility for all. However, this is extremely dangerous and invalid. JAWS, Window Eyes, NVDA, Guide, System Access, and Voice Over all create accessibility differently.

We in the blindness community need to remember this, and use it whenever we discuss accessibility to those on the outside. In some cases, the inaccessibility stems from our screen readers themselves, other times its the software or web interface, and most of the time its a combination of both. Because of this, I would hold off on blaming one side or the other, until the barriers can be duplicated with another screen reader.

With the case of iTunes 12.1, we have evidence that something within the iTunes 12.1 interface impacted the parts of the screens that allows one to navigate their collections. I noticed that NVDA handled 12.1 slightly better than Window Eyes, while iTunes works perfect on Macs through Voice Over. This indicates, to me that the issues with iTunes is partially Apple’s fault and something related to the core used within the viewer menus. I say this as it has a very similar feel to accessibility barriers imposed by Adobe products within the Mac ecosystem. In this case, Adobe just points the finger at Apple, claiming that their products work perfectly in Windows. To claim this is to ignore why the two OS’ are different.

Another example is located at the top of each VA.Gov webpage, where they have a little text outlining instructions to increase accessibility of their website. However, the instructions, without saying so, actually were designed for JAWS, and not other screen readers.

Regardless, we, as a community, need to promote accessibility not just for our preferred Screen Reader, but equal access to all screen readers across OS. Here in the US many of us have access to the extremely expensive JAWS program through various blindness related services, educational systems, and employers, while many individuals have to rely on low cost to free screen readers like NVDA or even the Free Window Eyes with Office combo. Other people, like me, purchase Apple products since you might pay more upfront, you are at least guaranteed a full feature screen reader with upgrades for several years. None of these should trump another, but it appears that different developers create varying disparities from their lack of knowledge about the bigger picture of screen readers.

Keep in mind that this is just my perspective on the situation based on efforts advocating for universal accessibility within a couple of organizations.