Accessibility Awareness – My 1 Mouseless Hour on the Web

Today is the very first Global Accessibility Awareness Day. To be a part of this virtual event, I chose to deepen my understanding of accessibility by spending an hour using the web by keyboard alone. You see, for people with visual disabilities (that use screenreaders) they don’t have the opportunity to use a mouse. A mouse is a tool that requires sight. You have to see where the mouse arrow is pointing to know when to click.

In my work, I spend a lot of time focusing on solving accessibility issues for people with visual disabilities. So, today, the real reason why I chose to go mouseless was to get a deeper understanding of what it is like for people with mobility limitations that prevent the use of a mouse. Without the aid of a screenreader, what is it like to use the web by keyboard alone? I know that one hour is a short time, but here are the insights I gained from doing this today.

If you had been in my home office during this hour, you would have heard me exclaim:

  • What Keyboard Shortcuts?– I need to learn a lot of keyboard shortcuts. I never realized how much I rely on my mouse.
  • Get to the Point – Where is the “skip to main content” for me on this site. I have to tab 55+ times to get to the main content…every time I go to a new page in this site. Arrrrrgh!
  • Where am I ???? – Ummmm….as I tab through this page, I have no idea what element I’m on. There is no visual indication to tell me where the keyboard focus is.
  • Missing my Mouse! – 20 minutes into this keyboard only hour and I miss my mouse so much it aches.
  • Fake Skip Links – Oh, cool, there is a “skip to content” link I can get to on this site. But wait…when I click on it, it appears to scroll the page to the main content, but when I tab again, my keyboard focus is really still at the top of the page. Grrrrrrrrrr.
  • My Brain is Full! – Oh my word! The cognitive load…trying to remember all these new keyboard shortcuts is taxing. Okay, so the shortcuts have always been there…but they are new to me.
  • Out of Control – I wonder if I can access a specific video that I’ve been meaning to watch. (Navigate to site) Oh lovely, no visual focus indicators, no skip to main content, guess I’ll begin the tab tab tab dance. After a few unsuccessful guesses at what link I’m on, I finally hit pay dirt and get the page with the video I want to watch open. Lucky for me, the video is set to autoplay (which I usually detest). Why was that lucky? Because the controls for this particular video player are not keyboard accessible. That is right, I can’t stop the video, I can’t pause the video. I can’t adjust volume or turn on captions.
  • Are We There Yet? – Okay, hour is almost up. My manta is…”I will not use my mouse. I will not use my mouse!
  • A Web Site that Works! – I head to a financial site where I am a customer. I wonder what this will be like. I’m not very hopeful. Surprise, this .com web team has obviously done their homework. I login and navigate with relative ease and am able to accomplish everything I set out to do.
  • EasyChirp – One last experience to praise…I had never personally used EasyChirp until tonight. I must say it was a dream to use in my state of mouselessness.

So what did I learn tonight in my hour sans mouse? A gained a greater appreciation for the web accessibility barriers that remain for people with mobility issues. No matter how much I know about how to test for accessibility issues across the different types of official disabilities (sight, hearing, mobility, cognitive, speech)…I can always increase my knowledge and empathy of inaccessible experiences. I can honestly say that this was an hour well spent.

If you are reading this and you didn’t have a chance to participate in the first Global Accessibility Awareness Day, don’t fret, you can make any day your personal Accessibility Awareness Day. I encourage you to take a moment (perhaps 15 – 30 minutes) and try one of these activities:

  • Go Mouseless – As best you can, try to use the web without your keyboard. If you’ve never gone mouseless…don’t feel bad if you need to cheat a little. Just remember, every time you cheat (and use your mouse)…there are people who don’t have that choice.
  • Low Vision – Lower the brightness on your computer and/or decrease your screen resolution to something quite small like 800 x 600. Realize that people with low vision use software that magnifies their screens up to 36 times. Using a screen magnifier reminds me of trying to use a web browser on a small mobile device.
  • Head over to the Global Accessibility Awareness Day Site to see other ideas for how you can experience accessibility first hand.

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