Weblogs: Web Accessibility

Designers petition for preferential JAWS treatment

Sunday, August 31, 2003

A group of freelance web designers feel that they cannot construct accessible websites without having a copy of JAWS, and they feel that a starting price of $845 is far too much for what they require. Thus a petition was started to requested the Freedom Scientific, the makers of the JAWS screen reader, to provide either a free version or a low-cost version of the program for web designers to test on.

Anti-accessibility: requesting preferential treatment

Zeldman pointed out the obvious flaw in these extraordinary demands: surely if the company could afford to give its product away for free, it would give it to blind people before worrying about web designers stuck with shoestring budgets. -- Indeed. This raises the very awkward question of why web designers believe they have more of a right to this product than the actual intended audience - the audience they are claiming to support.

Kynn Bartlett also picked on this particular paradox in his rant, and tackled a number of development related issues in a follow-up. The main point is that web designers will not benefit from using JAWS as a testing tool without spending anywhere from a week to a month using it without the use of a monitor. Without that up-front committment testing in JAWS by web designers will be no more than a series of false positives and negatives.

Speech browser alternatives ignored

It is interesting in a way that other alternatives haven't been examined - or mentioned - by the petitioners. Lynx is an obvious accessibility testing starting point, as well as IBM's Home Page Reader. Why JAWS is the only tool singled out for this sort of treatment is unclear - hopefully it is based on something more than "Its the best. I can't afford it".

Common sense of WaSP

At the moment common sense is starting to prevail. Posts by Mark Pilgrim, Ian Lloyd and an acceptance of the flaws by David Shea should now be sufficient to bury this petition before any harm is done.

Web designer's guide to JAWS

Some good has come of this, thankfully. Kynn has written an article titled "A web designer's guide to JAWS" which is an excellent starting point for web designers wanting to know about JAWS, speech-readers and speech browsers. Well worth a read.

Accessibility mastergrid

My opinion is that a master-grid of what speech browsers support is a better starting point. At least that way we don't get lulled into supporting particular browsers (especially very expensive ones) to the detriment of accessibility as a whole. Phill Jenkins has pointed out the Summary implementation report for UAAG 1.0. Gez Lemon is already doing it: Juicy Studio: Assistive device chart.

Further reading

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