Making the Internet Accessible: Are We There Yet?

Hands typing on laptop keyboard

If ever there was a time to learn about the importance of online accessibility, it was the past year-and-a-half, when so many of us were alone at home protecting ourselves and others from the COVID-19 virus. Those of us with disabilities rely on Assistive technology to perform everyday tasks, and the pandemic put our technology training and skills to the test.

More and more Americans are becoming fully-vaccinated now, things are gradually loosening up, but many of the difficulties people with disabilities experienced with technology in 2020 and 2021 not only persist, but seem to be getting worse.

Take graphics, for example. I am blind and use a speech synthesizer to read email messages, web sites, newsletters, and so on. Many of us who are visually-impaired or blind use screen readers on our computers and smartphones. When we visit a website, as long as you’ve used alt text, our screen readers will read the alt text out loud so we know what images you’ve used. Sites that don’t use alt text correctly (or don’t use it at all) risk leaving us, quite literally, in the dark. During the past couple months I’ve noticed more and more web sites and newsletters foregoing the use of alt text and posting a message like this instead:

“To get missing image description, open the context menu.”

I know how to open the context menu, but then what? What do I search for? I looked it up on Google to learn what to do:

  • Open Google Chrome browser
  • Open the context menu by pressing Shift+F10 in Windows, Ctrl + Alt + Shift + m or VoiceOver+Shift+ m in Mac, Search+m in Chrome OS
  • Use the up or down arrow keys to select “Get Image Descriptions from Google”
  • Use the right or left arrow to open the image description menu.

I’m told this describer can be enabled for a single page or for all pages. But why should I have to leave the web site or newsletter to do this? It’s all more cumbersome for me than good old alt text.

Don’t really care about alt text? Maybe you don’t realize that adding alt text and, when possible, describing images in a way that includes a keyword you’re targeting is a great SEO tactic. In this way, I think of alt text as an example of accessible design. Alt text is beneficial for people with visual impairments, and it also helps everyone trying to increase SEO scores.

And another thing. Here in Chicago, live theater, music venues, movie theaters and other events are opening up now, but just about every time I go to purchase a ticket, some accessibility issue stops me in my tracks. Usually it’s the “spin box.” How do I stop it from spinning so I can choose the number of tickets I need?

A little research on all this led me to the Perkins School for the Blind’s Technology blog. I’ll say goodbye here with a recommendation that you read a post there to learn best practices when writing alt text. Then watch your SEO scores grow!


 

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