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Some time ago, I raised a question on Stack Overflow asking for text-based browser support. In the comment section, user Shane triggered a small, nonetheless important discussion, and I quote:

It should also be noted that making a site usable in textmode non-js browsers also tends to improve the usability of the sites for blind users. And trust me, there's a lot of those folks out there, and they all surf the web. [Ref. here]

Paraphrasing Cássio Renan's response: Stack Exchange is trying to welcome minorities and the blind and visually impaired are for sure a minority.

As I am fortunate to be not visually impaired, I cannot judge the accessibility of the Stack Exchange for those who are. However, I do see the fundamental importance of it. Therefore, I would like to use this opportunity to start a discussion on this topic by the following question:

How difficult is it to access the content of the Stack Exchange network for the blind and visually impaired and what can be done to improve it?


Related questions:

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    There are a couple of feature requests that ask for improvements in this area. I bountied one yesterday. Apart from software features there is at least one aspect where we as a community and creators of the content should pay attention to: enter an image description when you use an image. It is not just a matter of prodding SE to do the right thing.
    – rene
    Dec 19 '20 at 19:28
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    @bad_coder feel free to quote me but I don't think my comment fully qualifies as an answer. I can't tell if SE is accessbile, that needs to be judged by someone who has to deal with this daily. That makes even more impact.
    – rene
    Dec 19 '20 at 19:33
  • It's not "calling out", @Ollie; it's attribution, which is required when you quote someone else's contributions to a Stack Exchange site. That includes comments.
    – Cody Gray
    Dec 20 '20 at 12:03
  • Apparently there is the WAVE Web Accessibility evaluation tool which helps authors make their web content more accessible to individuals with disabilities. This might be useful as a start?
    – kvantour
    Dec 20 '20 at 13:00
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@rene contributed an excellent comment regarding copy-editing practices that I think is worth highlighting in the form of an answer:

Apart from software features there is at least one aspect where we as a community and creators of the content should pay attention to: enter an image description when you use an image. It is not just a matter of prodding SE to do the right thing.

I invite someone with specific expertise on this matter to elaborate further.

@AsteroidsWithWings commented the edit instructions contain the following sentence:

Be sure to include meaningful alt text for screen-reading software.

However, this seems like "a needle in a haystack", even if you notice it the importance may not be evident to many readers. Looking at the FAQ, there's one post that added a more elaborate note in 2017.

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    I've worked in an accessibility center in college, about ten or so years ago. Pictures add zero value to a block of text, and if they're not captioned appropriately, screen readers will just say "picture". Imagine then if you could only consume content by listening to it, and being told "picture" for every image that was on a screen. This is why image descriptions are important, and the W3 provides some examples through the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines for non-text content. Rule of thumb: descriptive, not elaborate.
    – Makoto
    Dec 23 '20 at 20:50
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    For bonus points, I work in a university as a software team lead/architect. We are strictly beholden to accessibilty requirements for all software we roll out.
    – Makoto
    Dec 23 '20 at 20:58
  • @Makoto I honestly think your comment is so good it should be converted to an answer. A lot of developers (and SE copy-editors) are completely unaware of the points you shared.
    – bad_coder
    Dec 23 '20 at 21:21
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    It's something that is worthy of more highlight, sure @bad_coder, but it's not an answer to the question. The question being asked is what the company is doing to help with this, not what a copy editor needs to know. Maybe this should be copied over to the FAQ instead and polished up a bit.
    – Makoto
    Dec 23 '20 at 21:25
  • @Makoto yes I think this should be part of the FAQ, but I don't really have the weight in the SE community to raise the issue.
    – bad_coder
    Dec 23 '20 at 21:27
  • Almost everybody ignores this instruction in the SE editor. It's very frustrating. They just don't care. Dec 23 '20 at 22:36
  • @AsteroidsWithWings I just checked the instructions you refer and it reads: "Be sure to include meaningful alt text for screen-reading software". Even if I read it with this phrasing I wouldn't have been reminded of the strong reasons we are discussing.
    – bad_coder
    Dec 23 '20 at 23:11
  • @bad_coder When you insert an image, the source of your question literally says "enter image description here". Next to nobody does. It's a pretty basic instruction. Are you suggesting that most people "forget" to care about the visually impaired and that this is a valid excuse for not following a simple instruction? If so, that's sad :( Dec 23 '20 at 23:32
  • @bad_coder Or people could just follow simple instructions. Dec 24 '20 at 14:13
  • @bad_coder I don't see how. Why's everyone always trying to overcomplicate things? Dec 24 '20 at 17:30
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How difficult is it to access the content of the Stack Exchange network for the visually impaired[?]

I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but... the current situation on SE isn't great. I've made multiple reports here on Meta.SE complaining about the lack of accessibility in certain areas; for instance, in the keyboard accessibility of the site (there were a lot of things that couldn't be accessed without the mouse) and repeatedly including images without alt text.

[W]hat can be done to improve it?

Fortunately, the SE team is often willing to address problems when they're reported (although there are multiple outstanding reports), including trying to make the design system accessible. So if you come across something that can be improved, make a report here on Meta.SE and include the tag. There's a decent chance it'll get fixed for a small issue.

(Larger requests, like the fact that chat is entirely inaccessible, or suggestions to turn on keyboard shortcuts if people are tabbing around, have so far been met with radio silence.)

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