Addressing a Web Page

I work in the software industry. I also have a large circle of people who rely on me for computer support. I’m occasionally reminded of the things I take for granted as common knowledge that really do not fit that category.

 

One of these is the method people use to navigate the web. For me, ctrl+o or alt+d and the web address of choice are second nature when web surfing. Yet I encounter numerous people with a different surfing method.

 

Tonight for example during a telephone support call, I learned that one person’s navigation strategy involved closing the browser after reading each web page. When asked why this method was used, the person replied, “I thought that’s how it worked.”

 

I really wonder how many other people think this. We need to do better in software design to help people understand even these basic uses. Here’s hoping the person I spoke with tonight, who now knows how to get to this blog, remembers how the address bar works.

Trying to Connect the Dots at Pandora

Pandora, available at http://www.pandora.com, is one of the more innovative music services I’ve found on the web. The basic premise behind the service is that there’s a genealogy to music. A FAQ for the service says in part:

 

Pandora is a music discovery service designed to help you enjoy music you already know, and to help you discover new music you’ll love.

 

It’s powered by the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken, the Music Genome Project: a crazy project started back in early 2000 to capture the complex musical DNA of songs using a large team of highly-trained musicians.

 

From a musical perspective my experience with Pandora has been nothing less than outstanding. I’ve discovered countless new artists and music since I started using Pandora more than a year ago. It is the first online music service I’ve actually subscribed to as the $36-a-year fee to stream Pandora through my Squeezebox has been well worth the cost.

 

The web version of Pandora uses Adobe’s Flash technology. The Pandora help pages acknowledge that this can cause some problems for screen readers and give some hints about working around many of the issues. Perhaps the biggest hint is to use http://www.pandora.com/backstage to bypass some of the Flash. However, account creation, a one time sign in per computer where you want to use Pandora and things like station deletion are not available from this interface. Pandora support was helpful in the sense that they offered to assist me by phone with account creation and such which was a step in the right direction.

 

Still, I’ve used examples of very accessible Flash and started to engage Pandora support in a discussion around making the Flash interface work with screen readers. This is where the disconnect comes in.

 

Web accessibility frequently requires at least three things to happen to be successful. First off the base technology being used needs to support accessibility. Second, screen readers and other assistive technology must support whatever accessibility solution the given technology is using. Finally, web sites using the technology in question must use whatever accessibility mechanisms the technology requires.

 

Anyone familiar with Flash accessibility likely knows that this pattern is what’s had to happen for Flash to be usable. We started with no accessible Flash, accessibility support in the form of support for Microsoft Active Accessibility was added, screen readers added support for Flash and now at least some web sites are using Flash to support more accessibility. Adobe has a good resource center on Flash accessibility at http://www.adobe.com/resources/accessibility/flash8/.

 

The challenge with Pandora is that they seem unaware of the ability to make Flash accessible. Each time I interact with their support team, I’m told to urge Adobe to enhance Flash to support accessibility. Here’s one example of a reply from their customer service team.

 

You are correct– many features within Pandora such as deleting a station, do indeed require the Flash interface. It’s a tough balance to find a universal platform, like Flash, that will provide the experience many folks have come to expect from a modern website, while maintaining some level of functionality for folks using screen readers. Ultimately, we hope that the developers of Flash (the Adobe corporation) will incorporate more technology in the future to make Flash accessible for screen readers and similar tools. Feel free to write to them encouraging this kind of development work.

 

 

I’ve replied on several occasions alerting the folks at Pandora about Flash accessibility but never hear back from that point. Hopefully one of these times some progress will happen. I’m going to try leaving this same feedback on one of their blog posts. I hope other Pandora listeners will urge the company to embrace accessible Flash as well.