One In Five for 12 May 2013
These days, you name it, the Internet has got it, but some people living with disabilities may only be enjoying a fraction of what's available. Katy Gosset gets on line with the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind and Deaf Aoteoroa to find out what works, what doesn't and what web designers can do to bridge the gap.
Katy Gosset: Good evening. Welcome to One In Five. I'm Katy Gosset.
Tonight, the subtle sound of interaction in the online era.
Katy Gosset: The click of the mouse - a conduit to communication for some, inaccessible or inaudible to others. And the Internet itself, which offers so much possibility, can prove challenging to use for some people with disabilities. Because if you can't use a mouse or see a screen or listen to the audio content of an online video, then you need things to be set up a bit differently.
Woman: So what I'd do is bring up my links list. And I need to log in to the site.
Katy Gosset: And that brings us here, to the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind for a tutorial of sorts with Petronella Spicer, staff member and, like most of us, computer user.
Computer voice: Password, password.
Petronella Spicer: I'll put in my password...
Katy Gosset: For her, the click of the mouse has been replaced by this little voice courtesy of the JAWS speech technology, which tells her verbally what each heading is as she tabs through it.
Petronella Spicer: So that will log me in to the website and I would then go to my links list again. 'Cause I know the website so well this is the quickest way of getting around, but if I didn't do it this way I'd just arrow through until I found what I wanted.
Katy Gosset: For Petronella, the technology is a gateway into the Internet.
Petronella Spicer: I'm totally blind so I rely on my speech technology to get me round websites. I don't use a mouse at all so I have to use key commands. I'm not a huge user of the Internet. I elect to go grocery shopping with my family and go to the store and purchase the goods, so I don't use the online stores to buy groceries. And I also choose not to do Internet banking. I use the telephone service to do all my banking with, and I find, for me, that works. But for lots of members they do use Internet banking and they have issues when they change websites. You have to learn your way around the websites and it gets quite challenging, at times, until you're very, very familiar with a website.
Man: One really interesting one there was a particular bank changed from when you do a cheque, a single payment to someone, they changed the name of that.
Katy Gosset: Jumping in here is Kevin Prince, the digital accessibility manager at the Royal Foundation of the Blind, highlighting one of the pitfalls of computer use for blind users. As he points out, even a simple name change can cause problems.
Kevin Prince: Of course people have been used to going to the place to get the single payment. And they changed the name of it and they couldn't find it. People thought the website had changed completely and it was just a simple fact they've rebranded what they call, effectively, a cheque payment.
Katy Gosset: But back to Petronella, who does use the Internet for some important household transactions.
Petronella Spicer: So one of the websites I use very frequently is a power website where I buy my power online. And that really works for me, I just buy it when we need power at home. So I've gone to the website already.
Kevin Prince: Just to save you a little bit of stress here, you must have touched your password wrong 'cause it's come in 'Log in failed'. And you know how it hasn't actually warned you that it's failed. It's left you hanging in mid-air, but that might save you a bit of time.
Petronella Spicer: So sometimes websites aren't as much as.... Yeah, I wasn't concentrating. They don't always give you a lot of feedback. I would have eventually worked it out because I couldn't have gone any further.
Katy Gosset: Just coming back to where you said that if you didn't know the website well, you would use your arrow keys to scroll through. Does that mean the website will tell you verbally each heading that you come to?
Petronella Spicer: Yeah, sometimes, not all the time. So you can actually go through the headings by patching up...
Screen reader: 'Escape'. Press 'escape'.
Kevin Prince: If Petronella were to arrow through, it would take you through everything on the page. So you'd hear all sorts of stuff that maybe you didn't want to hear. You can cut that down by navigating by the headings, if they're properly marked up. So just because something is in bold and underlined, it doesn't mean it's a heading. It has to be actually noted as a heading in the code, and then Petronella can skip from one to another or skip from link to link.
Katy Gosset: If it's not noted in the code as a heading, what happens? Does it just go through everything?
Kevin Prince: It goes through everything, yeah. Or it misses something that should be brought out as a heading that's really important.
Katy Gosset: In 2008, New Zealand ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention requires that people with disabilities be given equal access to information and communications technologies and that their access to the Internet be promoted. That's backed up by the New Zealand Disability Strategy, which calls for all information and communication methods offered to the general public to be made available in formats appropriate to the needs of disabled people. Kevin Prince's job at the Royal Foundation of the Blind involves doing just that - talking to business to promote digital accessibility.
Kevin Prince: I'm interested in website audits, standards, advocacy, talking to the industry and making sure they've got the tools they need and the knowledge they need so that websites are accessible not only to the blind and low-vision, but also we're very interested in accessibility across the board.
Katy Gosset: What would be your take on numbers? How many people are starting to get their website up to speed with the requirements?
Kevin Prince: It's a hard call. I think when we talked earlier we came to sort of 60%. That's probably not a bad figure worldwide. What that wouldn't say is that 60% are good, but that's a pragmatic figure. You're probably going to get 80% of the information from that site without swearing at it.
Katy Gosset: (Laughs) Always a good thing.
Kevin Prince: The different sectors are different, as well. We're finding local government, for example, I won't say that they're there, but they're really interested in being there and we've had a lot of support from those guys through their industry organisations and they really care. Central government are working quite hard. Currently, there's a review of New Zealand government web standards going on. You went back to the Disability Strategy earlier and that doesn't really talk about web accessibility because of its date. It was something off in the far distant future back then. But it does talk about information being available to anybody. And I think things are going well there and we're certainly seeing with my commercial head office, 'cause we do quite a bit of commercial work, web audits and things, we're seeing people are very interested in knowing about accessibility and practically implementing it from government. I think the health sector is less so. They've got a huge task. They've got vast amounts of information locked up in Adobe PDF documents for every condition under the sun and a huge information architecture problem, let alone making it accessible. I think there's a lot of work to do there. Other areas are doing really well. Social media seems to be kicking off well. We've got a lot of Twitter users, for example, who are blind. So it's a mixed bag.
Katy Gosset: How does New Zealand compare with other countries, in so much as you're aware?
Kevin Prince: As far as I'm aware, we're probably on a par. We don't necessarily have quite such a legislative sledgehammer as perhaps the American system allows, but I think we do it in a very kiwi way, he says, speaking with his not very kiwi accent. But we build consensus and partnership and that can be just as effective in some ways. Obviously if someone just doesn't want to play there isn't the big spike you can hit them with.
Katy Gosset: Do you find as you are using the Internet yourself when you come upon a website that is not up to par, do you feel tempted to approach them and say, 'Now, look. Can I offer my services here?' (Laughs)
Kevin Prince: I'm afraid I have. How boring is that? (Laughs) I have done a few times. And it's all been very well-received if it's done the right way. People don't make inaccessible websites because they want to make inaccessible websites. I think it's done, in the main, because a lot of the tools that are available for making websites are not designed around accessibility first, or the projects are so big that accessibility gets forgotten till the last part. And people just don't know. There's not the awareness. And we're seeing a lot of interest from industry around that.
Katy Gosset: Also in the office today is Lisette Wesseling, the Foundation's Braille awareness consultant. She says that while JAWS technology will help some people, others can still benefit from using Braille.
Lisette Wesseling: I guess my big thing is to say that Braille is very much alive. And Braille actually is completely compatible with the Internet and the web and email and all of that. For some people who are both deaf and blind, Braille is going to be the only way that they can do anything on a computer, because they wouldn't be able to hear JAWS speaking, for example, at all. They would have to use Braille to read their emails and websites and everything. So that structure we were mentioning earlier about websites being well-structured and having text that makes sense is going to be even more important.
This is just a small Braille note-taker. This one happens to be called a Braille Sense OnHand. But, basically, there are your six Braille writing keys on here...
Katy Gosset: As she talks to me, Lisette, who is also blind, shows me her personal Braille note-taker - a type of computer that ensures the original reading and writing system invented in 1824 is still relevant today.
Lisette Wesseling: It's basically been adapted and made able to use on the Internet, via a thing called a refreshable Braille display, which is basically a computer gadget like I've got here, which has little pins in it which basically get pushed up by the signals coming from the computer. Basically, Braille can represent any language at all, so, therefore, it can equally represent things on the Internet. So anything which is written in print can be written in Braille.
Katy Gosset: So, effectively, in order to get the Braille, as you say, on your device there, pushing up its pins, is it picking up the signal from the computer in a wireless fashion?
Lisette Wesseling: Well, at the moment, yes. But, basically, these Braille displays can be attached to a computer via a USB cable, which I haven't done here. They can be attached via Bluetooth. Or some devices can, in themselves, actually go online because they are themselves also computers. So this one is actually a computer as well. So I could go online with this if I had the wireless password for here, which I don't have. (Laughs) But yes.
Katy Gosset: Is Kevin withholding it? (laughs)
Kevin Prince: Not at all.
Lisette Wesseling: Not at all. I just haven't got it.
Kevin Prince: I think what's also great is it's not just computers nowadays. It's great to see with her iPad, for example, just using Bluetooth paired with her iPad. She's moving round the iPad. And what the Braille display is showing is exactly what the voice is saying when you have the screen reader on.
Lisette Wesseling: Yes. But I can hook this Braille computer up to my iPhone via Bluetooth, and then via the iPhone I can go online and do my online banking, for example. Which I do do, actually. And I then could read all the information from the website on Braille display, which would be especially useful if I couldn't hear, either. And that is a real issue for some people.
(Screen reader speaks rapidly)
Petronella Spicer: I arrow down here 'cause I'm not exactly sure how to get down here, but then it's got my shopping cart, where it will have the power into the shopping cart.
Katy Gosset: As for Petronella, she's now completed her power purchases for the week.
Petronella Spicer: It automatically sends me an email to say that I've bought power. So this site is pretty usable for me. It's one of the ones I use literally once a week. Other sites you go to, some of them actually don't have the correct wording on them. So sometimes on the links, you might be looking for a particular thing and it's got nothing like that. So you actually have to arrow through all the links. And there might be 72 different links. It's a lot of arrowing to be done if you're not exactly sure what a particular item is going to be called.
Katy Gosset: So this one, however, has been set up according to the code?
Petronella Spicer: It's pretty user-friendly, yeah. Mm-hm.
Kevin Prince: It would be interesting to know whether it does meet everything. But what, I think, the key point is, everything that Petronella wants to do on it she can do. But she doesn't necessarily know about other things that aren't marked up properly. We've certainly seen that before. People have said, 'I can use that perfectly'. And you say, 'Can you go to X-Y-Z?' 'I didn't even know that was on there'.
Katy Gosset: Right, I see. So it's good, but it could be better? OK.
Kevin Prince: Yeah.
Katy Gosset: OK. And do you find it stressful having to concentrate? To me, that little voice, it's quite hard to follow, isn't it? I feel like I would have to concentrate quite hard to catch everything that voice is saying to me.
Petronella Spicer: You can slow it down. But for me, I like it at that speed and I'm so used to it now that no, I don't mind it at all. Sighted people have more difficulty with my wee friend than I do.
Katy Gosset: And she says her other online transactions tend to involve using Google to find out information.
(Screen reader speaks rapidly)
Petronella Spicer: So I'll go straight to the 'edit' field. It did say 'edit'. And I'll just turn 'forms' mode on. So what do I want to look up?
Kevin Prince: What about One In Five?
Screen reader: One. In. Five.
Katy Gosset: While we're poking about online, Kevin puts One In Five on the spot, recommending a look at our Radio New Zealand website.
Petronella Spicer: So I've put in One In Five radio programme. So now I would hit the 'H' button and that brings me the search results. So once I get to them I usually arrow through just to see what search results it brings me up for 'One In Five' radio programme. And it gives me ten items.
(Screen reader speaks rapidly)
Petronella Spicer: There we are. And it brings me up the Radio New Zealand programme as my first hit. And then I would maybe 'enter' on to that and depending on what I'm looking for on that particular programme, particular website, have a wee look round and sometimes listen to some of the programmes.
Katy Gosset: Could we click on it? I would be interested to see how our website responds?
(Screen reader speaks rapidly)
Petronella Spicer: So today on National Radio at 12:04 in the morning, it gives me what's happening on radio for the night. So it's giving me a list of programmes.
Katy Gosset: So have you been to this website before?
Petronella Spicer: No, I haven't, actually. (Laughs) Not in the National Radio website, no.
Katy Gosset: So how does this compare? Is that useful?
Petronella Spicer: It's not too bad at the moment. I haven't come across any hiccups. What does it look like to you, Kevin?
Kevin Prince: It's pretty good. It looks like the headings are well-labelled and you can use those to chunk up the content the same way you do visually. You sort of scan your eyes across a webpage and you go, 'Actually, I'm interested in our programmes'. And Petronella is getting exactly the same feedback by moving around the headings the way she was.
(Screen reader speaks rapidly)
Petronella Spicer: So I've jumped...
Screen reader: 9:06 am, Nine To Noon with Kathryn Ryan, heading level four.
Katy Gosset: What's this 'heading level four' business?
Kevin Prince: The headings can be in different levels, so if you imagine a page, the 'heading level one' is sort of 'this is what the page is all about'. And then 'heading level two' is, if you think about it in print terms, it'd be the next indent in. Then 'heading level three' is a subheading to a 'heading level two' in principle. And that's how they're supposed to be used.
Katy Gosset: It's giving Petronella the idea that it's a subheading and what sort of importance it has on the page.
And speaking of our website, around this time I asked to take a few photos of my interview subjects for the One In Five page. But it comes with a proviso, as Lisette Wesseling explains.
Lisette Wesseling: As you long as you promise that you'll put a caption on saying what the photo is, so that blind people know what it is.
Kevin Prince: Well said, Lisette. Nice one.
Lisette Wesseling: That's the kind of thing that often doesn't happen.
Kevin Prince: Because images can have what's called 'alt text' attached to them, that says, 'This is a photograph of Lisette sat with a BrailleNote. So what you could say is, as you're moving down the page it could say 'graphic' or 'image'. What you want it to say is 'This is a picture of Lisette using her BrailleNote'.
Katy Gosset: But she says websites are becoming more accessible all the time.
Lisette Wesseling: It's definitely improved. I do have to say that, it's improved. I was able to fill my Census form out online, which was really good. For us in the blind community, things have improved a lot I think, however there is work to do. And I think sometimes, some would say I'm a particularly tenacious web person and I won't give up so easily. But some people aren't as patient or aren't as geeky, maybe, and just wouldn't do it.
Katy Gosset: So, Petronella, have you come across any websites where you have really been truly frustrated, again, I'm not looking for names here, but to get a feel for if they're really lacking why are they lacking? What should they have?
Petronella Spicer: If I come across a website that I'm struggling with, if I'm just doing it for interest's sake, I will give up because I just can't negotiate my way around and I'm not finding the information that I'm looking for. If it's something that I really, really need to do, I will ask for help if somebody is at home or otherwise I will come and here and ask for help at the Foundation. Kevin might be able to respond on what types of things are really, really awkward. A lot of captioning is hard to get round.
Katy Gosset: And Kevin says, quite aside from what a screen reader can pick up, there are other visual factors that can play a major role in how effective a website is.
Kevin Prince: Poor font choices, lack of contrast can be terrible for those with low vision or dyslexia. We've all seen that website that's got pink kittens all over it. We're all out there.
Katy Gosset: I don't know if I have. I'm unfamiliar with the kitten website.
Kevin Prince: That kind of thing. If someone thinks it'll be fun to put loads of busy images in the background and write text over them in pink or comic sans. And it's just unreadable for the rest of us, let alone if you're actually struggling to read and make out the difference between the text and the background in the first place.
Katy Gosset: But he agrees that some agencies like Statistics New Zealand have worked hard to create accessible websites and he says he's noticed other improvements on commercial sites.
Kevin Prince: There was a pizza place. And it was quite interesting. One of our members is quite a big tweeter. So he was moaning away that he couldn't order his pizza. And they actually contacted him via Twitter and said, 'What's going on here? How can we make this work?' And to be fair to them, they've made a huge stride and people can actually get into there and order a pizza now. Blind people eat pizza, too.
Katy Gosset: And while we're on the topic, those in the deaf community have also been known to enjoy a pizza. Kellye Bensley is the community engagement manager with Deaf Aotearoa and speaks to me using a sign language interpreter, Evelyn Pateman. She says one problem deaf users have found on the Internet is being asked to make a phone call with no text option offered.
Kellye Bensley: Most of the time it's an 0800 number that you have to call. And then you have to use the New Zealand Relay service. And most would prefer to use the sign language VRS, which is the video relay service part of the New Zealand Relay. And that has time constraints on it, so you can only use it from nine till five. Therefore if you're ordering a pizza at six o'clock you're tough out of luck.
Katy Gosset: In a broad sense, I guess, how do you find the web, in terms of accessing the kind of information you want?
Kellye Bensley: A lot of information is... Through the Internet, videos don't have captions or they don't have a sign language version, it's always written in text. And sometimes it's a high language standard, which a lot of people don't have the ability to comprehend, just due to their literacy levels.
Katy Gosset: So a high language standard meaning just a very detailed wording?
Kellye Bensley: Sophisticated language or there's a lot of people that learn the new vocab just through hearing it on the bus, passing people. And deaf people don't have that opportunity.
Katy Gosset: So in terms of the kind of use that you have of the Internet, you require it, presumably, for your work, as well, but maybe you could talk about your personal use of it, too, and how accessibility may impinge on that.
Kellye Bensley: A lot of the deaf community members do use it socially, in regard to social media, Facebook. And that's probably an easier way for deaf people to make contact with friends and community members, really. It's international. And the deaf community is very huge, it's very global. And it's really good for people to have that medium. And if videos are used with sign language and captions, it's fantastic.
Katy Gosset: And what is the hit rate of that actually happening? I know this is to a degree anecdotal, but can you give me an indication or even a percentage of the number of websites you look at and the number that have those things alongside them that are more helpful to you?
Kellye Bensley: A lot of media are using video footage to get the information out to the community. And it's just really hard when it's not captioned. Other websites I use are mainly work-related, so government websites, organisation websites. So percentage wise, I'm just trying to think... Ooh, it's hard to say. Under 10 would be accessible to me.
Katy Gosset: Less than 10% of all websites would be accessible?
Kellye Bensley: Yeah, a very minimal amount of websites would have sign language information or videos with sign language or captioning on them. A very small amount.
Katy Gosset: And she believes changes to the national framework are needed.
Kellye Bensley: I think the New Zealand Disability Strategy needs to be updated. It's been a while since it was updated and reviewed. So that's one step - the strategy itself needs to be updated. And I feel that as a deaf community member, our needs are not being met.
Katy Gosset: Kevin says the potential is there for everyone to have better access to online material and it's important that websites move ahead and not backwards.
Kevin Prince: We're kind of entering that world where accessibility should be better for everybody, 'cause it's all online, it's all electronic. And what you're often finding is that's actually now becoming a barrier, as well, which is a shame because people don't know about that whole structure. It's separating the presentation from the content, which is all the things that put it on the web are different to what you're trying to say. So your content can be presented in multiple different ways. And if you can allow that with the tools that these guys have just been showing, you can get around these things very easily. But once you start hiding things inside images, so the old PDF appears online and all it is is a picture, there's no real text there, that kind of thing, it's that potential that we're going to put everything back into the lock box.
Katy Gosset: And with that in mind, Petronella is urging web designers to think outside the box.
Petronella Spicer: I think that it's important that those people that are creating websites not only look at them as having to look pretty with all different colours and everything on them, they need to look at the people that will be using the websites and their accessibility. And I think it's important that they look at organisations like the Royal Foundation of the Blind, like Deaf Aotearoa, and consult with them. And that would make people's lives much, much easier. It's not only foundation members that have issues with websites, it's people that have got low vision and are struggling to read the screen. It's much easier if they're in a plain simply font and just easy to get around.
Katy Gosset: Well, that's One In Five for this evening. You can find this programme and others at www.radionz.co.nz
Now, Radio New Zealand already has a policy of using the 'alt text' system to highlight photos on our website, but I have double-checked to ensure Lisette's photo and all others are noted that way.
If you have any feedback you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be back at the same time next week.
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