Web Accessibility from a Personal Perspective

Since I am a web accessibility analyst, I have the good fortune of being mobility impaired.  Of course, I only can say this regarding my work.  It is like being a veterinarian and not having pets.  Without the personal experience, you couldn’t empathize with the pets’ guardians.  You wouldn’t observe subtle, unique signs that a dog or cat is not feeling well.

Because I have cerebral palsy, my hand motor skills will not allow me to type on the keyboard or maneuver the mouse.  To compensate, I type with a headpointer on a tilted, enclave keyboard.  Since I cannot hold down command keys or a combination of them (e.g. Shift, or Alt + Shift), I use a Windows application called StickyKeys.  To mimic mouse movements, I use another Windows application called MouseKeys.  Both of these programs are described in Windows Accessibility Features for Persons with Dexterity Impairments.

Although navigating the Internet has been fairly easy for me, I have encountered some barriers.  I usually use MouseKeys to reach and activate interfaces, such as buttons and links.  However, holding down a numeric pad key can require some pressure and motor control, regardless if the person uses a finger or headpointer, to move the mouse cursor on the screen. 

When using MouseKeys tires me, I resort to tabbing (i.e. pressing the Tab key) to active elements on webpages and then hitting Enter to activate them.  Yet, some interfaces cannot be reached by tabbing.  For instance, the other day I was completing an online shopping form.  I could tab to each form field. When I hit the Tab key to reach the Submit button, however, I skipped passed to another interface.  If I couldn’t use MouseKeys to reach and activate the Submit button, I wouldn’t have a way to complete my online purchase.

Popup dialogs may present further keyboard issues for me.  For instance, when I hit Enter on a calendar image link to open a popup calendar, sometimes tabbing does not reach any of the date links on the dialog because it never gains keyboard focus.  If the adjacent form field permits users to type in a date, then great!  Otherwise, it is MouseKeys to the rescue once again.

Besides the inability to reach interfaces, I might also be unable to see my tabbing path.  In other words, sometimes I cannot track visible keyboard focus which is usually indicated with a dotted or colored rectangle, when I tab to an interface. Consequently, I may activate a wrong link or button unless I watch the browser’s status bar as I tab for the desired hyperlink or – you guessed it – turn to MouseKeys.

Another obstacle that I stumble across on the Internet is websites that allot you a certain amount of time to complete transactions.  Purchasing concert or theater tickets can prove quite challenging for someone who uses a headpointer since the website gives the user fifteen to twenty minutes to complete a transaction.  My slow typing coupled with inaccessible form fields have caused me to be bumped off the site and to have to re-start the process.  Developers of such websites must have been fans of “Beat the Clock.”   Even for someone without impairments, purchasing tickets within a limited amount of time may be difficult, especially if they do not have their credit card information handy or the phone rings during the online process.

You may think that I view encountering all these barriers on the Internet as negative.  On the contrary, they have made me more aware of these very issues and therefore more comprehensive when I analyze accessibility as part of my main job function.  Because of my personal experience as an Internet user with disabilities, I’ve become more adept at finding issues and offering solutions to make websites more accessible for everyone, including me.

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