The Dutch Prutser's Blog

By: Harald van Breederode

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A new sounding look and feel

Posted by Harald van Breederode on February 25, 2009

As you probably have noticed I switched to a new look and feel for this blog, and I like to take the opportunity to say something about the reasons behind this change. Soon after I posted A misleading ORA-16047 people notified me that the alert.log contents and the code examples were overlapping with the sidebar at the right side of the screen. Because everything felt alright on my Braille display I didn’t noticed this myself at post time. Before this incident I noticed myself though, that the sidebar didn’t show up when entering my blog via the RSS feed.

So it was about time for a new look and feel for my blog, which is called a theme. But how does one judge the layout of a new theme being blind? With the patient assistance of a few friends I selected something that still looks nice, whatever that means, without the same problems of the original theme.

However soon after activating the new theme I discovered that it was much harder for me to find my most recent post. In order to understand this you need to know a little about how a blind person is able to surf over the Internet. Blind computer users are using a piece of Assistive technology called a screen reader. As its name implies, a screen reader reads the information from the computer screen out aloud or place it on a Braille display. In my case I am using the JAWS for Windows screen reader. JAWS has a feature called Quick Navigation Keys which allows me to quickly jump to a specific location on the screen, such as a button, an edit field or a heading. On Surfing the Internet with JAWS you can find more information about how JAWS helps me using the web.

The quick navigation key I use most is the one which moves me from one heading to another, which is a very convenient way of moving around on a well structured web page. On the old theme the most recent posting was three headings down from the top of the page and I could go there by three keystrokes. On the new theme however the most recent posting is twelve headings down and performing twelve keystrokes is no longer convenient. This behavior is caused by the fact that on the old theme the postings are located before the static section of the page, whilst on the new theme the postings are located behind the static section of the page. Immediately after activating this new theme my blind visitors started complaining about this.

This brought me into a moral dilemma: Do I choose for my blind visitors or do I choose for my poor sighted visitors? ;-) I have decided to go for the sighted visitors by offering them a nice look and feel, but I tried to help the blind as well by adding a tip on how to quickly jump to the most recent posting. Hopefully the sighted visitors understand that this has to be a two sided road and I expect that they build accessible web pages for the blind in return!

I like to thank Nienke, Eric, Lyon and Richard for their patience and feedback during my journey in finding an acceptable compromise between something that looks nice and is still accessible. Hopefully you like this new theme, but suggestions for further improvements are always welcome.
-Harald

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3 Responses to “A new sounding look and feel”

  1. Doug Burns said

    Good call, Harald.

    I don’t know why a sentence as serious as this made me chuckle, but it did :-

    “Hopefully the sighted visitors understand that this has to be a two sided road and I expect that they build accessible web pages for the blind in return!”

    I’m sure you will keep me straight on this and, if you don’t, I know a man who will . Maybe the thought of Richard setting me straight on such matters was what made me chuckle.

    (As for the , I don’t think emoticons are very accessible, eh? Disregarding whether you find them irritating, as I’m sure many will, it’s only a slight difference between a smile and a frown)

  2. Doug Burns said

    Ah! Of course, there were two “grin”s in there, in angled brackets, which look like HTML tags, so they were stripped out ….

    “such matters was what made me chuckle “grin”

    (As for the “grin”, I don’t think emoticons are very accessible, eh? Disregarding whether you find them irritating, as I’m sure many will, it’s only a slight difference between a smile and a frown)”

    • Harald van Breederode said

      Hi Doug,

      Emoticons are indeed not very accessible! The problem gets worse by “smart” software which tries to map text smiley’s into graphics and vice-versa. I taught JAWS to say “winky smile” when it encounters a semi-colon,dash and right paren combination. But most other emoticons pass by without notice.

      -Harald

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