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The Need for Descriptive Text for Links

From: David MacDonald <befree@magma.ca>
Date: Sun, 8 Jan 2006 18:03:17 -0500
Message-Id: <200601082303.k08N3I9F005403@mail4.magma.ca>
To: <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Cc: "'Gregg Vanderheiden'" <gv@trace.wisc.edu>, "'Ben Caldwell'" <caldwell@trace.wisc.edu>
Hi Gregg 

 

You asked for feedback from blind users regarding the difficulty of
keyboarding through links. The following is from Victor Pereira, a blind
full-time public servant in the Canadian Government, in Winnipeg, who is
submitting this email in response to that request. He would be glad to
respond to any questions regarding this.

 

-------------

 

 

Starting in 1982 I have been using systems with synthesized speech.  Up
until then, I was using typewriters since grade one to submit assignments
throughout elementary, secondary, and post secondary education.  Moving from
typewriters and "dumb terminals" to computers has given me access to
information at a degree I never experienced before.  A few years ago this
has started to have physical affects on me.

 

Now that computers dominate the work place along with their affordability
has allowed me to have greater freedom at work, home, and in classes I
continuously take to further my education.  Using computers for work,
reading, on-line shopping, banking, corresponding with people, and
assignments has started to manifest into me having problems with my wrists,
forearms, and shoulders.  I was diagnosed as having the beginnings of a
repetitive strain injury or carpal tunnel syndrome.

 

Fortunately through our occupational health and safety committee at work, I
was exposed to massage therapy.  Also since my employer has a health
insurance plan I am able to have some costs reimbursed that blind people do
not have covered who are either unemployed or whose employer does not have
similar benefits.  Regular visits to a massage therapist has reduced the
amount of discomfort I was experiencing.

 

When I use a computer to access information on the Web it is important that
I practice using the keyboard economically.  A sighted person can look at a
page visually and once they have made a decision they are able to move the
mouse pointer to the link, click, and continue on looking at the page.  For
me I must use keyboard commands to read the page, make a choice on which
link to activate, that link, hope that it gets me to where I want to go, and
continue the process all over again.  If this is all I used a computer to
do, this might not be a problem.  However, a computer is now necessary for
me to have access to various forms of information that sighted people take
for granted.  If links do not have meaningful descriptions associated with
them, the number of additional key strokes I require to perform tasks will
climb to the thousands over the course of a week.

 

Even if it is a Site with which I am familiar I can use screen reader
features, which rely on using the keyboard, to quickly get to text.  If this
text is part of the description for the link I want, I can then activate it
with confidence using a minimum of key strokes.  If it is some where near
the link, I then need to use additional key strokes to get to the link in
order to activate it.  Now I am back to hoping I made the correct choice.

 

A plethora of information is being made available on line.  Libraries around
the world are digitizing their collections as one example.  So I see blind
people using computers more and more.  Up until recently I never thought
that this increased access to information would have any physical
repercussions.  I am sure that others will either be experiencing similar
physical problems or will be as they use computers over the years to come.
With such a high rate of unemployment in the blind community many of us will
not be able to pay for additional health costs not covered by our publicly
funded health care systems.  Any standard or guideline, such as promoting
meaningful use of textual descriptions, that can be implemented to mitigate
these issues will have long lasting positive affects for us who rely on
computers that play a significant role in improving our quality of life.

 

Respectfully submitted

Victor Pereira
Received on Sunday, 8 January 2006 23:04:01 GMT

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