Uber iOS update Makes Service Worth Considering When Using VoiceOver

Uber bills itself as “everyone’s private driver”. I’m sure the marketing folks behind the service can give a full description about what’s supposed to be great about the service. To me, I think of it as a service trying to merge technology with taxis and improve on the situation.

The basic premise behind Uber is that you use your smart phone or a web site to request a driver and get notifications about how far away the driver is, ratings from other users about the driver, automatic credit card billing for the ride and such. As someone who has a need to take a cab from time to time, I was intrigued when I first read about the service and that it was available in the Seattle area. This was met with disappointment when I first tried the Uber app because it failed miserably with VoiceOver.

To Uber’s credit they recently updated the app to improve the VoiceOver experience and I can say that the app now works quite well with VoiceOver.

I’ve had the opportunity to try Uber for rides a few times recently and can say that if the service is available in your city it is worth exploring.

To be clear, Uber is more expensive than a traditional taxi. Rates differ in each city but as an example in King county Washington, where Seattle is located, taxi rates are as far as I know today $2.50 to get in a cab and $2.70 per mile. For comparison, Uber charges $7 to get a car, $3.75 per mile with a $12 minimum charge.

Although my sample size is small, I will say that the Uber estimates about driver arrival times so far have been accurate to within a minute on every ride I’ve scheduled. In the more than 12 years I’ve taken traditional cabs in Seattle, estimates about arrival time, let alone actually getting a cab in the areas where I travel, has always been at best an adventure. I know my last experience involved more than a 60 minute wait and at least three calls to the cab company.

For me Uber won’t replace all my traditional taxi use. As I mentioned, the price is clearly higher. Yes you can make the argument that you get what you pay for but I won’t necessarily always need the level of service Uber offers. Still I’ll give the company credit for addressing the VoiceOver and am fortunate to be in a position to support the accessibility efforts with my business from time to time.

I mention Uber to blog readers who may need another transit option to explore. If Uber is in your city, it is worth exploring.

Paciello Group Conducting Survey on Mobile Accessibility

The Paciello Group, who do a variety of work in the accessibility arena, are conducting a survey on mobile accessibility. Details on the survey page indicate that the results will be publicly available in a tabulated format and are intended to assist people in understanding where to direct focus around mobile accessibility.

The survey asks 15 questions around many of the basics you might expect. Topics covered include, devices used, operating systems used, sources for learning about accessible mobile apps and pages and some high level biographical information. The survey takes just a few minutes to complete so consider filling it out.

Why I Dislike the Term A11y to Represent Accessibility

I am sure that a campaign to eliminate the use of the term “a11y” is a campaign I’d lose, were I even to try and start it, but after reading the term “A11y” so many times in the accessibility world, I just have to say that I still think it is not the best way to represent accessibility to the broader community. I’m someone who’s been in and around the accessibility business for more than 25 years now and when this term first started cropping up a few years ago, I had to ask what it meant. For those who are curious, the 11 in the a11y is meant to signify the 11 letters between the letters a and y in the word accessibility It is my understanding that this shorthand originated in the twitter world, where there is the 140 character limit.

 

I understand the practical desire to save characters and all but for me there is just something off-putting about this shorthand. Unless you are in the accessibility world, I daresay you have no idea what a11y means even today. I also understand each community develops jargon and terminology but part of the accessibility message is about reaching out to those who don’t understand what’s involved in the space. That may be the technical of how to do accessibility. It may be raising awareness that people with disabilities are not defined by our disabilities. I just find the term accessibility more welcoming.

 

I’m also a sports fan and I don’t see the football community adopting the term ff6l or the baseball community using b6l to represent football and baseball respectively as examples.

 

I recognize others may have different opinions and this short commentary likely falls in the category of the proverbial tree falling in the forest and that old question about it making sound if no one hears but at least here accessibility is likely to be the term I continue to use.

 

What’s your opinion? If you use the term a11y to represent accessibility, why do you do so? Do you think people outside the accessibility world understand what the term means?

University of Wisconsin Addresses Accessibility of Gameday iOS App

A few weeks ago I wrote about accessibility issues in an iOSapp from The University of Wisconsin app for following Badger football. This is just a short update to say that the University has been very responsive around these issues and corrected the problems I detailed within a couple weeks. The latest update to the app has improved support for VoiceOver.

University of Wisconsin Gameday Football App another Accessibility Disappointment

As I’ve written here previously, I’m an alum of the University of Wisconsin and take pride in having attended the school and my degree. I’m also a sports fan so enjoy following the Wisconsin Badgers and fall Saturdays still remind me of the many rich traditions in Madison that go along with Badger football.

 

Today I noticed a tweet from @BadgerFootball talking about a new Wisconsin Football Gameday app to stay in touch with, as the name implies, happenings during Badger football games and more.

 

In just a few minutes of trying the app with Apple’s VoiceOver—a built-in screen reader on the iOS platform—it is a disappointment to see that the University of Wisconsin has once again failed to pay attention to accessibility. Blog readers can search the archives for my last adventures with the Wisconsin athletic department over accessibility issues with football broadcasts over the internet. The service used back then has once again been replaced and to the University’s credit they did provide me with work arounds when the accessibility issues with the broadcast streaming technology were identified.

 

One can only wonder what processes are or are not in place though to ensure University offerings are accessible. In the gameday app for example, one need only launch the app and use basic VoiceOver gestures of sweeping right to quickly find the accessibility problems. The first items encountered talk about tickets for a game against Northern Iowa. And as a note to UW staff, Northern has a typo in your app where you have it spelled Nothern.

 

After the first two sweep right gestures, all one finds with subsequent gestures of the same type is a series of seven nameless links. It is this basic problem that leads me to wonder about processes to ensure accessibility. Does the University know about VoiceOver? For apps created for the iOS platform, is VoiceOver compatibility a release requirement?

 

The nameless links on the app home screen are not the only issues encountered. As an example, following the second nameless link leads to an area of the app called Gameday. Within the Gameday area is a link for Rosters/Depth.

 

The team depth chart is exposed as one single object to VoiceOver and even worse, read as first a series of position indications and numbers followed by a list of player names. It is impossible to make sense of and even associate player names with their numbers. Major League Baseball has clearly demonstrated making team rosters readable with VoiceOver can be accomplished in their MLB At Bat iOS app.

 

As just one other example of a basic accessibility issue quickly discovered in the app, there are a series of buttons that appear in many locations. They have names that include “arrow left 72@2x” “arrow right 72@2x” and “but refresh 72@2x”. Obviously one can guess the purposes of these buttons but any reasonable accessibility support of an app would not include such nonsensical names.

 

I’ll start the process of outreach to individuals at Wisconsin. That said, it is a disappointment to see that this level of inaccessibility exists and something released by an institution under multiple legal requirements to support accessibility and an institution that has a publicly stated accessibility policy that would seem to imply that this app fails to comply.

Judge For Yourself, Is Ticketmaster Audio CAPTCHA Usable?

Much has been written about the accessibility challenges posed by CAPTCHA systems on the internet. Today the most common solution to address accessibility for individuals who are blind is to have some sort of audio replacement for the typical visual verification of characters in an image. Shortcomings of this solution aside, this is the system that Ticketmaster uses when you attempt to purchase tickets.

 

Recently I tried to buy tickets to a Seattle Mariners game and was confronted with the latest audio offered by Ticketmaster. The web site allows you to download the audio offered as an MP3 and I challenge anyone to actually decipher any words from this jumble of audio. To my ears this is utterly incomprehensible.

 

I understand the need to mask the audio to some degree but at some point the system still needs to be usable. This simply is not.

 

I hope MLB and Ticketmaster along with those pursuing accessibility improvements from MLB will take note of this problem and push for a change here.

Yahoo’s Tourney iPhone App Worth a Try

Every March I do an annual hunt for an online site to complete an NCAA basketball tournament bracket in an accessible fashion. I’ve yet to see one of the major sports sites figure out how to make this experience accessible. Terrill Thompson’s
accessible bracket work does deserve to be called out though as a positive example of what can be done. And of course if you know of other examples of good web accessibility here please let me know.

This year I opted to give Yahoo’s Tourney Pick’em for the iPhone app a try. Measuring accessibility by the fact that I was able to submit my bracket with relative ease, I have to say this app is worth trying.

The app is relatively straight forward to use. Game selections are made from a multitabbed and multipage interface. Each region (East, South, Midwest and west) as well as the final four are a separate tab when making selections. Rounds within a division are separate pages within that tab. Teams are selected by activating buttons named “pickemcheckmark blank” to the right of the team name.

If you prefer to use VoiceOver’s sweep right and left gestures to explore an app, it takes a couple explorations to figure out the pattern of what button is associated with each team. For example in the East region, once you get to the team area, sweep right gestures read items in this order for the first game with Syracuse selected to win.

Syracuse

Selected, pickemcheckmark blank

(1)

pickemcheckmark blank

(16)

North Carolina Asheville

The app is by no means perfect. Starting with the fact that “pickemcheckmark blank” leaves room for improvement in terms of button naming for accessibility purposes, you can easily find other instances of oddly named or completely missing names on buttons as you use the app. Live game action views for example have numerous nameless buttons.

Still this app is definitely a positive step. I’ve been able to successfully complete more than one bracket and better yet quickly compare my bracket with family and friends as talk of the NCAA tournament and The Wisconsin Badgers in particular has gone on this week. For the record I have Wisconsin losing to Ohio State as part of the Elite Eight and Michigan State tapped to win it all. But then again I can quickly submit another bracket with this app, at least for a few more minutes this morning.

Adobe Updates Digital Editions with Accessibility Support

While it is old news now, about a month ago Adobe updated their accessible version of Digital Editions. You can read full details in a blog post from Adobe. According to Adobe, the main improvement is the ability to read continuously with a screen reader with this update.

 

I have had no success at getting this update to work on multiple computers with JAWS or NVDA. I’ve left comments with Adobe and exchanged email. Because of these problems, I’m not able to update my initial impressions of this application. I had hoped to provide an update as part of mentioning this update, which is why it has taken me a month to share news of the update here.

An Update on Amazon Kindle Accessibility

In my blog post on libraries, OverDrive and Amazon, I mentioned trying the Kindle reading apps on various platforms and not having success. I’ve now learned that Amazon offers a Windows version of the Kindle app that does support some level of accessibility.

Amazon’s main Kindle for PC page makes no reference to this accessible option so I’m not sure how customers are supposed to know about it. I’ll ignore the absolute failure of web accessibility on Amazon’s page listing other free Kindle apps for now except to say if you can solve the puzzle and find “iphone” in the long string of gibberish of “ariel/KCP-NEW-right-nav-iphone-static._V196674716_” you could determine Amazon offers a Kindle app for the iPhone. This is just one example but I find no reference to this accessible Kindle app on the full apps page either.

You can find info on the accessible Kindle for PC at http://www.amazon.com/kindle/accessibility. With this app installed, a screen reader is used to speak application controls, such as buttons, book titles and such. A built-in speech synthesizer is used to read the book text. According to the web page, there are no restrictions on this version of the Kindle app reading books with synthetic speech. I believe other Kindle apps and the physical Kindle have this ability restricted in some cases based on publisher or author selections about who has the rights to audio presentation of a book. According to Amazon’s web pages, this accessible Kindle app is restricted to U.S. customers.

Having tried the accessible Kindle app, I still believe libraries should demand more complete accessibility from Amazon and OverDrive before going forward with any programs around purchasing Kindle books for library use. This app only addresses one platform and fails to meet what I’d consider basic expectations to consider the app offering what’s needed from an accessible reading application, especially one that is going to replace a full screen reader when it comes to the actual book text and take responsibility for content presentation.

First off there appears to be no support for braille. This is common for full screen readers when the user has a braille display connected to the computer. Just as individuals who read the printed word do not necessarily want a book read aloud, people who use screen readers want to have that same choice to read the book text directly. Braille permits this opportunity.

Second, the text reading commands detailed in the application shortcuts list are very limited. The user is given the ability to read only at the sentence level, advance to the next or previous sentence, start reading at the beginning of the page, or stop and start reading at the current location. This is simply not enough detail to read text effectively. Commands for reading in much greater detail, such as character by character, word by word and more are necessary. This level of reading ability is a basic for any full screen reader and again Amazon has opted for an approach where the user’s screen reader is not given direct access to the book text. Imagine wanting to know how to spell a favorite character’s name or other information from a book you are reading. This is why full screen readers have this level of text reading functionality.

While Amazon, at least on the Windows platform, was a bit further along in thinking about accessibility than I was aware of, in my view this app still falls short of the basic bar for what’s needed to be considered accessible. I have not even addressed other features of the main Kindle app on Windows, such as a dictionary, that it seems are not supported in this accessible version.

Libraries, Kindle Book Lending and Accessibility: What a Mystery

Amazon and OverDrive both made announcements today talking about library users being able to borrow Kindle eBooks for reading on the multitude of Kindle platforms Amazon has out in the marketplace. The Amazon press release says in part:

 

Amazon today announced Kindle Library Lending, a new feature launching later this year that will allow Kindle customers to borrow Kindle books from over 11,000 libraries in the United States. Kindle Library Lending will be available for all generations of Kindle devices and free Kindle reading apps.

 

OverDrive’s release goes into a bit more detail with the gist being that things will work like other OverDrive experiences with the Kindle being a new platform for library patrons. There’s not a lot of detail out yet though as you can expect.

 

As an avid book reader, supporter of public libraries and fan of technology, these announcements were met with great interest by me today. I’m left to think accessibility here is a big mystery though that I’m hoping won’t turn into a tearjerker.

 

Supposedly the latest versions of the physical Kindle support enough accessibility that people who are blind can use the devices with complete independence. I’ve not verified this directly. That said, I have tried the free Kindle reading apps on multiple platforms and so far none have worked with the screen reading solutions on those platforms. Blog readers can feel free to correct me on this point. I’d love to be uninformed or wrong in this case. As it stands now, I’m left to wonder what Amazon, OverDrive or the public libraries intending to use this solution are going to do about accessibility.

 

At least one library took a stand saying they’d quit investing in an inaccessible eBook platform when Adobe’s Digital Editions had accessibility issues. Will libraries stand up here and tell Amazon and OverDrive, “Figure out the accessibility and then talk to us about spending public tax dollars?” Or will public money be spent without considering accessibility implications yet again?

 

Some may contend libraries spend millions of dollars already on print books that have the same accessibility challenges. I argue that the situation is different here because it has been shown numerous times that software can be made accessible if the right attention and effort is put forth. As we use more electronic solutions, especially when public money is being spent, I believe we have obligations to maximize accessibility with that spending. So, Amazon, OverDrive and public libraries, it is time now to do the right thing and figure out accessibility. Library patrons, I urge you to make your wishes known and ask your library the accessibility questions now before any contracts are signed. You can bet Amazon and OverDrive will be giving the hard sell for these programs.