Can The Web Be More Accessible To The Blind Community?
Most communications today occur online - be it sending emails, processing payments, organising your schedule or contacting people. If you are an entrepreneur or a professional who largely depends on the internet, navigating through new visual features like drop-down menus, log-in and other options is already considered tricky or difficult. But imagine doing all this with your eyes closed. This is exactly what the web experience seems like for visually impaired users. It is important to remember that every day, millions of visually impaired people use the internet everyday and face several problems.
Just like everyone else, the internet is critical to the blind community as it helps them various activities like gathering knowledge, entertainment or running a business. Tasks that cut down the need to physically travel and inconvenience individuals like online shopping, bill payment, etc can be indispensible to the community. But are things that easy?
Navigating online without vision
Gaining access to the internet for the visually impaired is frankly, an expensive, tedious and litigious affair. The internet is primarily a visual mode of communication with few additional options for sound. This makes it very difficult for a blind person to navigate through the web comfortably. Although screen readers do make it easier for the individual to learn what is displayed on the screen, it isn't easy enough. Screen readers essentially do just that, read any content on the screen with an audio or Braille output.
Earlier, screen readers only worked when the web content was copy/pasted into the software but today, things are different. Advanced versions of screen readers today are able to decipher different types of content like texts, links, pages, photos, heading, menu/body text etc. Certain screen readers can also delineate between link menus, body text and headers, allowing better organisation and navigation.
Is that good enough?
The answer is an emphatic no. While the software to convert visual data into something compatible for a blind individual, it isn't sufficient. The tools offered with screen readers are only efficient if the information found on the website is such. Websites without any accessibility features aren't compatible with screen readers or their new features, making it a major challenge for visually impaired users to comprehend the information.
While the technology allows these users to be able to read any content without trouble. most websites today aren't geared towards accessibility for the blind community. Adapting websites to the unique needs of the visually impaired is often considered as an afterthought, which makes it difficult for users to access most sites with ease. The difficulty level of accessing the web also depends on the severity of the visual impairment that can range from colour blindness, night blindness, partial blindness to complete blindness. In most cases, the experience was rated a polar good/bad depending on the website accessibility.
What can be done?
Making websites more accessible and compatible with screen readers can enhance the navigation and overall satisfaction of using the web. A few steps to build a website for accessibility goes a long way.