Whether on my iPhone or my Mac, I encounter accessibility issues pretty much daily.
Yes, much of it is the usual---mouse-centric controls, unlabeled buttons, and images without ALT text---commonplace issues that have been highlighted for years. I don’t want to minimize these issues, but I view them as minor. They are well-known. They have names. We can talk about them in discussions with developers. Free utilities are readily available to help find them.
It’s the accessibility issues without names that keep me up at night. Problems that we never discuss because the English language has no words for them. They are the Lord Voldemort of accessibility issues. They are Issues That Must Not Be Named.
Naming something is a powerful tool. It shines the light of critical observation on a thing that we knew was there all along but hovered just beyond conscious thought. With Global Accessibility Day (GAAD) coming up in two months, I thought I should describe and name these unmentionable accessibility problems.
Once christened with names, these bugs seem much less intimidating. Fingers crossed, maybe W3C will add them to a future WCAG revision.
Complexifuscation describes websites or applications that would normally be considered accessible if they weren’t so astonishingly complicated and cluttered.
Here’s an example. Suppose I want to read newsfeed posts at the Facebook website. I open the list of headings with VO+U and arrow down to Newsfeed Posts. So far, so good. But my only recourse for reading the post text is to use VO+Right Arrow, and here’s what I encounter.
- BLIND AUDIOBOOK CLUB article
- BLIND AUDIOBOOK CLUB link
- Beth Omansky link (This is actually useful, as it tells me who wrote the post. Hi Beth!)
- 35m link
- Shared with Members of BLIND AUDIOBOOK CLUB group
- end of Shared with Members of BLIND AUDIOBOOK CLUB group
- Actions for this post menu pop up button
- hide post link
Finally, the next VO+Right takes me to the post text. I’d mention all the other controls that seem to be needlessly present, but these blogs do have word count limits.
I’m not trying to pick on Facebook. Many discussion forums suffer from over-complexity and clutter. Anything that uses phpBB is particularly Complexifuscated.
Complexifuscation exhausts vision-impaired users, period. It is the most significant accessibility issue that never gets discussed.
Screen Reader Agnosia
Screen Reader Agnosia is the presence of custom accessibility functionality that replicates features already available in most screen readers. It is strong evidence that the software developer is unaware of how screen reader software works.
As an example, Google Docs provides the keyboard shortcut Control+Command+N, Control+Command+H to jump to the next heading. Screen readers already provide heading navigation shortcuts (VO+Command+H). If Google were more familiar with screen reader technology, they would’ve implemented support for existing screen reader shortcuts. Instead, they created yet another shortcut for us to learn, and one that is unique to their web software.
Screen Reader Agnosia doesn’t make their website accessible. It burdens us with something else to memorize.
I’ve selected the name Table Abuse to describe the use of tables for anything other than the display of tabular information.
I often encounter table abuse while reading email newsletters. As I navigate through the newsletter, VoiceOver will announce something like, “table, 1 column, 2 rows.” But as I continue to navigate, I encounter an image, for example, and maybe a line of text that sounds like a section heading. I’m surprised when VoiceOver announces, “end of table,” because I didn’t hear VoiceOver read any tabular data. I navigate back into the table, hoping to find the information that I somehow missed.
When screen readers announce tables, screen reader users expect to find tabular data. The absence of that data impedes comprehensibility.
Dead Information is any text that directs you to take some action but requires you to leave that text in order to execute the action.
For example, imagine browsing a website and encountering text that says, “Click your account to change settings.” And further imagine that’s exactly what you’d like to do. The only problem is that the word, Account, is not a link. So you can’t click it. Instead, you’re forced to search the website, hoping to find a link or button labeled Account.
I’m certain developers included the text in the mistaken belief that they were being helpful and informative. But if they really wanted to help, they would’ve included the necessary link in the instruction. Instead, they gave us Dead Information.
Palette Glare is the presence of both dark-on-light and light-on-dark color schemes in the same page or window.
Low vision users commonly invert colors to avoid the glare of light backgrounds. If a window uses both dark-on-light and light-on-dark color palettes, there is no invert colors setting that will avoid such glare.
The fact that several applications fail to honor dark mode is yet another example of Palette Glare.
Heading Anemia is the absence of heading elements above relevant content. Finding an example is left as an exercise for the reader . It’s not a hard exercise. Websites commonly fail to use headings.
The only thing worse than Heading Anemia is Heading Cancer, in which the overuse of headings dilutes the ability to use them as navigational aids.
Covert Text Fields
Covert Text Fields accept text like standard text fields, but they aren’t standard text fields.
You’ve most likely encountered a Covert Text Field while attempting to sign in to a website. After selecting the Sign In” button, you open the VoiceOver list of form controls with VO+U, but the text fields for username and password are nowhere to be found.
Sigh. When developers use custom controls, accessibility is often the first casualty.
Ghost Windows pop up like real windows, but VoiceOver focus passes right through their phantasmal forms.
Here’s an example. You click a button or link to take some action, but nothing seems to happen. Your sighted friend looks over your shoulder and tells you that a dialog has popped up. Unfortunately, there’s no way to access the dialog content with VoiceOver. Your sighted friend tells you the VoiceOver highlight rectangle is moving right through the Ghost Window. It’s scary.
Ghost Windows have been infecting modern websites like an unchecked plague. I’ve seen them at CoinBase, NaNoWriMo, and dozens of other websites.
Accessibility Issues That Must Not Be Named. They are the Lord Voldemort of issues. Though they have been nameless until now, they are nonetheless real accessibility issues that impede usability of websites and applications. It’s high time that W3C include these issues in their WCAG guidelines.
I’ve wanted to write this blog for years, but have put it off because it’s so difficult to find the words. I’m sure it’s not a complete list. How about you? Care to describe an accessibility issue that never gets discussed? Please do so in the comments, and extra points if you come up with an appropriate name.