The law also requires a section, on each federal-agency Web site, that follows best practices of plain-language writing. If indeed that happens, I anticipate people with cognitive disabilities will find such information much easier to understand. This is particularly good for the people with intellectual disabilities whom I have interviewed. A common thread of our conversations related to their self-advocacy interest in contacting their government representatives, and for determining how their government could help them.
I hope U.S. federal agencies set a standard that others will follow. For people with cognitive disabilities, the accessibility of Web site content is just as important as the accessibility of a site’s design. Text must be written in plain, simple language. There are efforts all over the world to encourage the use of plain language, which helps everyone.
Reader, a new feature of Safari 5, removes visual distractions from Web pages. This is a boon for people with cognitive disabilities, indeed everyone distracted by advertisements, contextually-irrelevant images, etc..
How Reader Works
For any Web page Safari 5 recognizes as an article, a gray button labeled “Reader” appears to the right of the Web address at the top of the screen. (The button is indicated by a red arrow in the image below of a Wikipedia page.)
Clicking the button, which changes its color to purple, activates Reader. The following image shows the result: a view of only the page’s primary text.
Clicking the button again or pressing the “Esc” key deactivates Reader.
A toolbar appears near the bottom of the screen. It presents options to reduce- and enlarge text size, forward the article via e-mail, and print it.
Safari 5 remembers the selected text size the next time the article is viewed.
Every page of the article is displayed within Reader.
Neither the toolbar nor the Reader button are keyboard accessible.
The toolbar appears for just seconds, so using it means acting fast and with accuracy.
Clicking a link to an external page, even if Safari 5 recognizes it as an article, displays it outside of Reader.
This is the first time such a readability tool has been built into a popular Web browser. I hope it is adopted by all the others. For now, equivalent tools can be added to browsers via plug-ins. Three I have reviewed are listed below.
I also hope these readability tools show Web designers how difficult the reading experience can be. Large- or animated advertisements and other distractions can drive people from Web sites. Simple page layouts designed for readability can have the opposite effect. An example of this is Craig’s List.
TidyRead, similar to the other such tools I have described, is a free bookmarklet that strips the clutter from Web pages and otherwise makes them easier to read. Unlike them, it works on the iPhone and the iPod Touch. It also works with Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer.
While TidyRead does not have as many configuration options as those offered by Readability and Readable, it does offer them on demand. With the latter two tools, users configure how they want the main content of Web pages to appear, and then they add the bookmarklet to their Web browsers. TidyRead has no pre-configuration. After its bookmarklet is installed, a click to it presents the toolbar, shown below, at the top of each page it displays. It adjusts the presentation of content as options are selected.
The toolbar has buttons to change background color, font size and margin width. Its “More” menu includes settings to change the font family and the text alignment.
TidyRead does not have the great feature Readable has, which enables users to select the content they want to display. If TidyRead can not determine the main content of a page, it displays the error, “This page doesn’t look like an article, and TidyRead couldn’t extract”.
I am working on a Web site that will incorporate two significant features with which I have experimented: text-to-speech (TTS) and plain language. The site will have other accessibility features for people with cognitive disabilities, text enlargement and text highlighting among them.
Its back-end, content-management interface is itself accessible; and
“… content editors are forced to … produce accessible and well-written page content …”.
I will begin using the WebCredible CMS next week. Future blog posts will describe what I learn about it.
The Shriver project staff and I are considering two other products from The United Kingdom: BrowseAloud and ROKTalk. Each provides TTS and text-accessibility features for Web sites. I have mentioned both products in previous blog posts, and reviewed the one from ROKTalk. A future post will describe which we choose, and why.
The report to be published is long and contains complex information. For the home page of each section, we plan to write a plain-language version of the section’s main points. I am concerned about doing this well because, as I have said before, writing “easy” text is not so easy. Our related efforts will also be the subject of future blog posts.
Note: No endorsement of the above-mentioned products is expressed or implied.
Guideline: Provide summaries, introductions, or a table of contents for complex or lengthy content
This guideline is not applicable.
Guideline: Be succinct
This guideline is met throughout the site.
Guideline: Ensure text readability
These criteria meet this guideline: line height; text spacing and justification; sans-serif fonts; adequate text size; content-appropriate fonts; paragraph length; and adequate color contrast.
These criteria do not meet this guideline: Line length (exceeds 80 characters); and horizontal scrolling (necessary if text size is increased by 200% to 300%).
Two of three possible points are recorded. Combined with the points from Part 1, the subtotal is 4 of 5 points.
A point is recorded only if a site or a significant part of it consistently follows a guideline. The Down’s Syndrome Scotland site did not meet this criterion for any of the Multi-Modality guidelines, so no related point is recorded.
I assessed Web pages only, not the many linked PDFs.
I have created an index of readability resources related to plain language; measurement tools; guidelines, research; content; symbols; and free- and commercial products and services. At the time of this writing, there are over fifty. I will add more as I find them.
Characteristics Of Readability Listings
All have links to the original sources.
All are annotated with related information, primarily edited quotes from source pages.
The majority are free- and commercial products and services. The rest are research articles.
The publication dates of original studies and articles range from 2001 to 2009 / present.
Ray Kurzweil is a giant in the accessibility industry. He has been inventing reading machines and devices used by people with visual- and reading disabilities for 35 years. His newest creation is the Blio eReader, digital-book-reading software.
Note: At the time of this writing, the Blio eReader is not yet available to the public. However, in a CNET interview (video below), Ray Kurzweil says it will be within one month.
Blio eReader Feature Highlights
It combines full-color, digital content with Web content, video, and audio narration.
It runs on Windows computers, tablets and mobile devices such as the iPhone.
It is free, and has access to a million free books. (Presumably, there will be a store of books for sale.)
Its catalog includes “cookbooks, travel guides, how-to books, schoolbooks, art books, children’s stories, and magazines”.
Books can have interactive, multi-media content and quizzes.
Accessibility Features Good for People with Cognitive Disabilities
The Blio eReader:
reads books aloud via either an accompanying, human-read audio track or via a text-to-speech reader;
synchronizes its synthesized voices with “follow-along word highlighting”;
has adjustable reading speed and font size;
has a text-only mode good for minimizing distractions and also for displaying on small screens;
uses a “3D book view which includes realistic page turning”; and
can be connected to a personalized set of reference Web sites for “one-touch look-up of highlighted phrases”.
In the YouTube video below, CNET interviews Ray Kurzweil about the Blio eReader. A demonstration of it begins at about 2 minutes, 23 seconds (point 2:23). This video is not closed captioned.
Readability is a free Web-browser bookmarklet that strips all distractions from Web pages. David Pogue, the personal-technology columnist for The New York Times, called it the “… single best tech idea of 2009 …” and a “… real life-changer …”.
It is indeed a promising tool. Yet, as I pointed out in my review of Readability, it has a significant problem. For many Web pages I tested, it could not determine which was the main text content, or it displayed only a snippet of it.
Readable (created by Gabriel Coarna)
Readable, also a free Web-browser bookmarklet, includes the same configuration features, has more of them, and has a feature that solves Readability’s problem. If Readable can not determine a page’s main text content, it enables users to identify the text they want to read. A user holds down the Control (Ctrl) key, selects the text with the mouse, and clicks it. Readable then shows that text free of extraneous content. (Instructions are on the “Tutorial” page.)
Readable can be used with Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera and Internet Explorer.
The site’s accessibility statement claims compliance with WCAG-AA guidelines. I used a couple automated accessibility-checkers on a few randomly-chosen pages. Compliance was indicated. Much of the site’s design is intended to make it accessible and usable by people with intellectual disabilities.
The site’s template is bright with lots of imagery. Its layout is fairly simple. The top part of the home page is pictured below.
The pages’ primary-content area features a well-spaced choice list. Each is represented by:
a large, contextually-relevant photograph or cartoon, which also serves as a linked button; (Hovering the cursor over a photographic button highlights its border. I’m not sure of the utility of that.)
a link using text typically short and to the point; and
a “listen” button that plays an audio file of a person briefly summarizing the linked content; (I found the quality of the recordings to be mixed. Some had a lot of static or other background noises.)
Note: There is a glaring oversight on the home page. In its primary-content section, neither the photographic buttons nor the link text can be clicked to advance to subsequent pages.
On the left of the site’s pages, there is a column of links to its sections. Links are accompanied by a small, contextually-relevant photograph or cartoon, and by a short statement on the number of links to be found in each section. This is a nice feature that indicates how much content each section contains.
Several links open other Web sites. This is hidden by a Newham Easy Read frame. The frame provides some consistency in the look and feel, but its function is purely cosmetic.
Navigation through the site is accomplished via the column of links and by a breadcrumb menu at the tops of pages. There is a basic site map that can be reached by a link at the bottoms of the pages. There is also a site search feature, but it does not work well. For instance, entering the word “accessibility” does not produce a link to the site’s accessibility statement.
There is no information, at least that I could find, about what makes the site’s text easy to read. Pages generally have a few short sentences matched with large photographs. Oddly, it is the home page that probably has the longest sentences, including one run-on. This does not make for a good first impression on the nature of how easy the site’s text is to read.
Much of the site’s text, particularly for navigation, is tiny. The current accessibility recommendation for people with cognitive disabilities is to use a large font size by default.
The site’s accessibility page refers to a text-enlarging readability menu on the right side of every page. Unfortunately, there is no such menu on the right side of every page. The accessibility page does have instructions on how to use the keyboard to increase font size. However, the instructions themselves use the tiniest font size on the entire site!
In sum, it is obvious the designers incorporated accessibility- and usability features for people with intellectual disabilities. It is equally obvious that much work has to be done to make the site work better for them and for all visitors.