Richard Warren is technical manager with Userite Website Auditing, here he comments on the results of the Journalism.co.uk Accessibility 2.0 project.
None of the eight newspapers reviewed have grasped the fundamental difference between the internet and the print media. All have tried to replicate the look of their printed version and just added a confusing set of navigation menus.
The result is a collection of cluttered pages that are not very user-friendly and make little, or no, concession to disabled users.
The Guardian and the Daily Mail make statements that they are attempting to meet accessibility guidelines, which at least shows that they have given the issue some thought.
A common problem found by your reviewer was the need to listen to an extensive list of links (navigation menus) and other page furniture before getting to the main content of the page. This is because Jaws (and other assistive software) reads the page in the order in which it is written.
The sighted user has his or her attention drawn to the main story in the middle of the page by the colour and size of the headline font and associated images.
The blind user has to listen whilst Jaws works it way through all the menus, advertisements and other clutter on the page.
To a lesser extent sighted people who cannot use a mouse accurately share this problem. If they want to use a link in the main story they have to use the keyboard tab key to jump through all the preceding navigation links before they get to the main story.
There is an easy solution to the above problem, which is to introduce a new link at the top of the page that takes the user directly to the main page content thus avoiding all the navigation links.
This is called a skip links option and is very easy to implement. The Mirror, Daily Mail and Guardian each provide this option with varying degrees of success.
The Guardian and Daily Mail even try to provide a selection of shortcut keys that, fortunately, your reviewer did not test.
This technology is incorrectly implemented on both newspapers and could cause users to save unwanted files on their computer rather than navigate to the required page.
Given the above it is not surprising that your reviewer frequently selected links that did not do what he expected. On the Independent he assumed that a link to 'Front Pages' would present him with today's headlines.
He had no way of knowing that this particular link was a submenu of another link so unfortunately he got a montage of the printed front pages as displayed on newstands.
As screen readers cannot read images, this was of little use. Your reviewer also missed some content because (sensibly) he did not waste time following links that merely said 'click here'. The sighted reader can guess what a link will do by its context, but a blind user is largely dependent upon the actual text used for the link.
A second, common problem found by your reviewer was the use of pop-up windows. These are annoying for sighted readers, but they can be a disaster for the blind who often have no way of knowing that the focus of Jaws has changed from the main page to a pop-up window.
As a result the reviewer tried to continue navigating as if he was on the original page and got totally lost.
One advantage that your blind reviewer had is that Jaws does read out all the navigation links on a page, including those presented as pull-down menus (for example the Independent).
Sighted people with limited mouse control are unable to select accurately from these pull-down menus as the cursor frequently losses its focus on the menu, which then closes before they have had time to select the desired option.
Videos and blogs are newer technologies so the accessibility functions might not be as well known. However this is still not an excuse for not trying.
Videos should have an alternative transcript of the associated audio available for deaf people to read and an alternative text description of the scene/s to enable blind people to put the audio into context.
A good role model for blogs is the BBC, probably because it is not cluttered up with adverts, but it is still worth using as a benchmark.
Only the Daily Mail provided a text-only version of its website for blind and visually impaired people, but the link to this was so far down the page that blind people may fail to find it (as did your reviewer).
However, the provision of text-only pages is not the only, or indeed the most desirable, solution for accessibility.
The newspapers tested could easily apply the W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WAIG) to their existing content, make better use of their style sheets so that important content is coded near the top of the page and use the HTML codes for headings and lists in a proper manner.
This would avoid a number of the problems your reviewer encountered.