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There are some plans to put more information on askubuntu.com which is a Stack Exchange site. I am concerned it may not be as readable to everyone as it could be on a plain wiki.

Is there any information on how to use Stack Exchange with a screen reader?

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It seems like that it is accessible...but I've no idea how good. –  Time Traveling Bobby Oct 29 '10 at 11:42

4 Answers 4

As a blind user I find the sites usable for the most part. The one glaring exception is accepting an answer - I have found no way to do this. Voting up/down is a bit hit-and-miss depending on which screen reader and browser combination I use.

In general there is a problem of discoverability - screen readers don't announce when a lot of the items on the page are clickable - so you need to be a pretty advanced screen reader to navigate everything - and as mentioned above, voting is cumbersome and accepting is impossible.

Would be great to see this fixed in a future revision. Over the past couple of years I've considered going through and trying to improve the markup/script to be accessible, and submitting a patch - but this turns out to be a pretty time-consuming thing to do for fun.

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Interesting, this is wonderful feedback. Thanks for taking the time to post it. So the answers that you've accepted, I suppose you've asked someone else to do it for you? –  Cody Gray May 13 '11 at 12:04
    
Saqib, can you tell us how your screen reader handles keyboard shortcuts in text? Like: is using full text, such as Control+C, better than using abbreviations such as Ctrl+C? (The latter only being the 4 letters C, T, R, L. Maybe your screen reader actually pronounces that as "Control" as well?) And can it handle Apple symbols, like ⌘+C instead of Command+C? (The first being the cloverleaf symbol, the latter being the full word "Command".) Related question on Meta: In Stack Overflow, which is better: naming keyboard keys or using their symbols? –  Arjan Dec 7 '11 at 0:04
    
And curious, Saqib: is the interface for commenting and comment notifications accessible to you? –  Arjan Dec 7 '11 at 0:05

They're not as accessible as a well done Wikimedia site but they're usable enough. All the text information can be read with Jaws for Windows although voting is still a bit hit-or-miss.

See the following links for more info.

There are still issues like everything not being keyboard accessible and not having an idea of what is and isn't clickable if you don't know what you're doing. It's probably accessible enough for technically-inclined screen reader users but your average screen reader user would probably run into some trouble. If there's interest I'd consider doing a basic 508-type analysis to figure out exactly what the accessibility problems are.

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Hi Jared, that would be great if you could do the 508 type analysis. I know we have people willing to look into issues and see what can get fixed. –  user153140 Nov 4 '10 at 19:42

Accessibility is a huge topic. Consequently there is a huge amount of information about it out there. A great place to start might be: WebAIM: Web Accessibility In Mind.

One thing to remember about screen reader accessibility: Screen readers generally use speech output or to some extent, braille. In both cases, the output is essentially one-dimensional - i.e., there is no width and height, everything is one long ribbon of stuff. Good semantic HTML is thus very important here because the screen reader provides various ways of navigating HTML documents which dramatically speeds things up for their users and increases comprehension and cognitive load. As things stand currently, a screen reader user can easily jump to the "N answers" heading, but then must move through the answers and comments basically one line at a time. Imagine, as a sighted person, if you had to read a Stack Overflow page on a one-line display. How crazy would that make you after about ten minutes?

For a specific suggestion relating directly to Stack Overflow accessibility: Always introduce each answer with a heading.

It is not immediately obvious as to how to do this since answers do not usually begin with some distinct piece of information such as "answer N by " or some such. This might be a starting point. If this information would clutter up the display for sighted users, consider hiding the heading from sighted users with CSS such as this: http://www.mit.edu/~rjc/aria/visually-hidden.css

A related issue is that answers and comments on those answers are intermixed with no real way to quickly browse among them. Again, begin the comments section with a possibly hidden heading.

It is possible to use HTML5 tags as well. or role attributes on vanilla DIVs; these produce "aria landmarks" in the output which screen reader users can jump among. For instance, wrap the entire answer, including comments, in a DIV with role="article", and wrap each comment in nested DIVs with role="complementary".

Headings provide more meaningful information as they can contain information about the actual content being delivered (e.g., answer 1 by UserJim) or some such. Landmarks generally only provide generic information (i.e., "article start / end" announcements or "complementary start / end" announcements), but have the advantage that they never show up on-screen, so can be quickly added to templates without additional CSS or visual design considerations.

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You could try installing screen reader software and giving it a shot yourself.

We do have at least one blind user who participates here, so I venture to guess it's working -- try this search:

http://meta.stackoverflow.com/search?q=blind+accessibility

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Well, it probably also depends on what workarounds, special cases & heuristics particular screenreaders implement... –  JanC Nov 4 '10 at 21:28

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