Last Wednesday, May 9, 2012, was Global Accessibility Awareness Day. According to the website it

is a community-driven effort whose goal is to dedicate one day to raising the profile of and introducing the topic of digital (web, software, mobile app/device etc.) accessibility and people with different disabilities to the broadest audience possible.

I took the occasion to make some more inroads into my own awareness of web accessibility. Julius, a new colleague of mine, helped me set up Orca. It is an open source screen reader for Ubuntu.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far because my voice over didn’t want to play nice. So we concentrated on testing a site with the WAVE toolbar. That’s quite a nifty tool for me because I can see where there might be problems on a page and where accessibility could be improved.

I tested the newly created Mahara user manual to check how it fared. It is written in reStructuredText and published through yet another open source tool, Sphinx. WAVE pointed out areas of concern but also things that worked in favor of accessibility. Fortunately, mostly everything was well because I had made sure that figures had an alt text and inline images immediately take on the short name of the substitution as their alt tag.

There were three items that needed improving:

  1. The search field did not have a label and thus a person relying on a screen reader might not know immediately what to do there.
  2. The images of so called admonitions like “note” and “warning” were placed as background images in the stylesheet and thus would not be read aloud. That means that a person listening to a screen reader would not know that a section was coming that was highlighted but would read it as if it were regular text.
  3. One thing I just realized when I looked at the output by Fangs is that my manual arrow ( -> ) comes across as “dash greater than”.

I fixed the first issue, and the search now has a label instead of text below it when it is already too late. For the images in the admonitions, I’ll have to talk to a front end developer to come up with a good solution. The third issue can be fixed by finding a nice looking Unicode symbol of an arrow that I can use in reStructuredText. I don’t know why I hadn’t done that right from the start. 🙁 However, I’ll have to check how to include the Unicode encoding for the LaTeX PDF build. The arrow looks nice in HTML but not yet in LaTeX.

Then the last step will be to propose the changes for the search box and the admonitions to the community for inclusion in a future release of Sphinx.

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