Wednesday, February 13, 2013
It was great to meet up with others interested in web development, and I enjoyed meeting people I could possibly be working with in the near future. While the informal get-together in the pub was fun, I am looking forward to the fourth-street cowork space being available for future meetings. I enjoyed the pub food and pint of ale, but found that, as one with a visual impairment, it was difficult to network or demonstrate my project in the loud, crowded environment. While most participants are able to compensate by communicating with eye contact and other body language, I don’t have this luxury. The experience teaches me to temper my expectations a bit [i.e] if the venue is a pub, expect a party; if it is a space like the new cowork space, or a large house, or a coffee shop like MudSharks, expect that more focused discussions are possible.
I have a basic question regarding web accessibility, which I would appreciate any thoughts on. I am job seeking, and it seems apparent that most applications require that you fill out a form online; often the form is automated, without a way to contact a human as part of the process. I tried to complete the account creation portion of such a process on the Staples web site, and spent two hours on it without success, though I had the assistance of one of my housemates. Though she has partial site and can read a screen without speech feedback, she found this page just as confusing as I. There were parts of it which were spoken correctly, parts that required a mouse click in order to be able to type, parts that were misread, and one part, where pasting in a resume is required, which was completely silent and appeared to be in nested frames.
To visit this form, go to:
If you try the site in Safari on a Mac, with VoiceOver enabled, you will get a sense of what I mean. To turn VoiceOver on, press command-F5 on your keyboard. Don’t have a Mac? Go to http://www.nvda-project.org and download NVDA, a very capable Windows screen reader, and try it on the form page: http://www.virtualhrassistant.com/staples/signup.cfm.
This type of fruitless experience is not unique to this particular site, and was especially discouraging at the time, as I have recently heard an earful from my “job coach” about why I wasn’t applying for these jobs every day, several hours a day. It illustrates a point I’d like all job coaches to understand–not sympathize with, but understand, empathize with–that, just telling us to apply for these jobs full-time, because looking for a job is a full-time job–just telling us that isn’t necessarily going to bear the fruits we–or you–wish for.
Coming back to the moment, what I would like to do now is look for an email link that would have a chance of there being a human on the back end to read the mail; then, send them some guidelines, and some sample html source which is proven to be accessible with a screen reader. A short study of the problem site reveals that it is created using Cold Fusion Markup Language, and that cfml can be made accessible. There was discussion at the meetup about “user experience specialists” or UX specialists, who have had extensive education in psychology and other disciplines. I am not, in that formal sense, a UX specialist; however, I consider myself an informal UX specialist, having used web sites with a screen reader for twenty years. Should I go ahead with this project anyway? A successful outcome could mean someone being able to complete an online application and get a job in the future :-). Please feel free to pass this message along to anyone you think might be interested; thank you, and I am looking forward to the user experience workshop in March.
Don C. Urquhart