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Screen readers

  • Living without Accessibility

    Most of us here are visually abled, or at least have the accessibility tools to allow us to see (think: contacts or glasses). Most of us also know that tools such as screen readers exist, but we don't really stop to consider what it's like to participate on the internet with visual impairments. The variations on this are also extensive, which makes it harder to understand.

    One thing I do know is that I have too many friends who are left out of participating in online communities because the content is inaccessible. Some examples:
    • People communicating information on images, but not in text, which means blind people can't participate in the content
    • Very dark text on dark backgrounds, or low contrast between the text and the background
    • Using excessive styling, such as tiny fonts or blur effects
    • Developing websites without a basic HTML version, making screen readers unable to access anything
    • Lack of subtitles/captions on media

    It's quite frankly shocking how much of the internet is setup like this. Disabled people are too often an afterthought, so much so that even critically important government websites often don't meet the minimum standard of having their content available in plain text, captioned, or available in alternative writing formats such as braille.

    My personal philosophy is that disability affects us all. Accessibility enables us all. Even if everyone around us fails to make the spaces we inhabit accessible, we can lead by example and make better choices so nobody gets left behind.

    We may not be able to change things overnight, and we may be inhibited by the technical limitations of what we're working with, but I hope that we can encourage positive changes one small example at a time, and include everyone.
  • Using screen readers

    Screen readers are becoming increasingly more common and are now even built into the devices we use. If you're using Windows 10 or later, or using a current Android/iOS phone, you have access to a screen reader this very moment!

    The function of screen readers is to select a chunk of text available on the screen, navigating either by keyboard or finger swipes, and it will read the contents aloud. They are sophisticated enough to identify different website elements such as buttons, links, images, headers, page titles and so forth, provided the basic HTML is setup correctly.

    You can find screen readers at:
  • The internet without images

    If you've made it this far, thank you! It means a LOT to me when people are interested in and educate themselves on these kind of features.

    One last thing I'd like to ask of you is to try the following: give it a shot navigating the internet with images turned off in your browser. Bonus points if you also use a screen reader to help you navigate around!

    To do this, go to your browser settings. Typically under tabs such as 'privacy and security', there's an option to disable images. Pick some variation of "Don't allow sites to show images", save, and refresh. You can still see text, presuming you're visually abled, but now all images will not load.

    If you're lucky, you're visiting sites that offer alternatives such as proper alt text for images. If you're less lucky, you'll find that a significant amount of content is no longer available to you. Those funny social media image posts? Without alt text you don't know why it was posted, or what's so funny about it. That selfie your neighbor shared without alt text or a proper description text? Unless you already knew what they look like, it tells you absolutely nothing about them.

    This is only an approximation of what visually impaired people experience the internet as. Your gut instinct is likely wanting to turn images back on ASAP (and I don't blame you!), but I encourage you to pause and think for a moment that we're very privileged to be able to do this. Many visually impaired people will never be able to see images the way we do. Many visually impaired people will never be able to see the content on our styled profiles with certain design choices we make.

    Most importantly: none of us are exempt from the potential of developing visual impairments in our lives. Having common illnesses, such as diabetes, increases our risks for vision related issues. (Hi, I'm at an increased risk over this!) It's important we care about accessibility because it's not 'just for others', it's for all of us. We don't have to be perfect at it, but I think it's important we try.