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I heard a piece on NPR this morning featuring an atypical screen reader user: atypical because he is not blind.

His vision-impairment is caused by a lack of muscle control due to cerebral palsy, effectively making him vision-, mobility-, and dexterity-impaired. The mention of the screen reader is a minor note in the story but I note it here because, people (including many professional web designers and developers) too often assume accessibility is only about blindness.

Sumner Spence has cerebral palsy, but this evening he is set to get his degree and will address fellow graduates at the University of Delaware in Rehoboth Beach… (source, including audio archive)

Although the story doesn’t mention which screen reader he uses, it is a testament to the importance of work done by all assistive technology vendors. Thanks guys, you know who you are. Keep up the good work.

Your Replies

#1 On May 26th, 2007 8:57 am Phil Teare replied:

Yep. Always good to stress the diversity of needs out there.

e.g. linguistic based deficits – i.e. not knowing the language the object content is written in, well enough, IS an access issue.

As are many cognitive issues, lack of education, many illnesses, …

No, we can never address all needs ‘perfectly’, but its suprising how many you can cover with a little thought, and empathy. :)

One issues I often raise, is that some users need low contrast to access text. Making everything high contrast to aid those who benefit from high contrast actively hinders those users. Easy intuitive options are usually the way forward, in order to best address the needs of all.

#2 On May 26th, 2007 1:01 pm Dominic Shiells replied:

How many other users experience similar problems to this. With Silver Surfers who use the Internet in a different way than a younger person.
This brings up an interesting question are blind users, the only people who use screen readers, how can this be measured, what effect will this make to the average site?

It is extremly interesting.

#3 On May 28th, 2007 4:56 am Phil Teare replied:

Well, I have 20/20 vision, but I, like many dyslexics, avoid heafty text. Unless, that is, I have my trusty AT at hand. While its not strictly a screenreader (because it doesn’t read the OS) and I don’t use it like a screen reader all the time, I do often use its content navigation keys (read headings, paragraphs etc…).

Numbers? Well ~5-10% of the population (in the UK) are significantly effected by dyslexia. If you don’t want to call it dyslexia, then call it something else, but they have significant barriers to literacy, which are not easily over come by tuition or ‘effort’, but who also have good/adequate sight. When you put all the groups who have significant barriers to literacy together, you’re looking at ~20%+. Just a couple of years ago, this was more than the percentage of Firefox users in the UK. While many web developers bent over backwards to accomodate new the browser on the block, they did nothing to accomodate the users needing a little consideration.

Some would call the user in the post above someone with acquired dyslexia, despite the condition being very different to the genetic developmental dyslexia, the effect could well be very similar. Very poor tracking ability, means: yes I can read a single word, but give me a page and I could be there all day. Literaly.

The DDA covers Dyslexic users. As well as many other user groups. But as you rightly point out, Dominic, a huge percentage of the population are comeig to the web with older, less able eyes. So, those registered blind are actually very much in the minority when it comes to users who need a little consideration when designing websites. Practicaly and legally.

#4 On June 5th, 2007 12:49 pm Keylogger replied:

Goverment should give more many for projects for disabled and blind people. For example there is very good soft which can read all content from the screen – in the sample whatever you write – the woman’s or man’s voice can read.
Best regards.

#5 On June 12th, 2007 1:15 pm Axistive replied:

True. AT vendors are doing a good job. Talking about screen readers I have to plug the latest free one that is doing a good job. is from the UK, give it a try.

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