by Amy Mason
From the Editor: It is fitting in this end-of-year issue that we close the first session of our class about using the internet with various screen readers and web browsers. Amy Mason has put a lot of work into this class, and this will wrap things up until next year. Amy now works at San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind, but she promises to keep on writing and teaching in these pages. Here is her summary of what all of us have learned so far:
Hey Class, I should have gotten this message to you before the summer break, but you did it. You have completed the first module of Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway.
Congratulations are in order. You have already learned the fundamentals of web-browsing and gotten your hands on many of the tools you are going to need to explore on your own. So today’s class is a celebration of where we have been, what we have learned, and what we are looking forward to in the coming months.
I want to focus on this first, because I believe firmly in the saying, “practice makes perfect.” I also believe that practice is a lot less painful if we have our resources and tools at our elbow where we can reference them again in case we need a booster in either confidence or command structure. I know I can’t keep all this nonsense in my head. I can’t think of a single day I use a computer that I don’t reference a keyboard help document at least once. Therefore, we’ll use this as a guide to where you can find further information in the rest of the series. Especially relevant links from each piece will also be noted in a resources section at the end of this article so that you can get at them easily.
It’s been a wild ride so far. Our first lesson together “The New and Improved Rules of the Road” in the January 2018 Braille Monitor was our foundational lesson. In it we discussed a brief history of the internet and our access to it. We also looked at common terms we were going to learn about in future articles and the true meaning of accessibility. We also learned that we have the power to help ourselves increase the odds that we will be able to use the web simply by learning to be flexible in the tools we employ and the strategies we use.
In February we began discussing some of those tools, “Browsers—Choosing the Right Vehicle for the Journey.” We compared and contrasted the strengths and weaknesses of different options and discussed which would work best for different users depending on the combination of screen reader and operating system they were using. This article may or may not have included a sing-a-long.
I believe that it is important to note that there is an update that should be made to the information found in the browser article. In the original piece, I mentioned that there had been a change to how Firefox was rendering information it passed to a screen reader, and at the time I recommended that most users should stick with the Extended Release version of the software. As of the time of this writing, many, many months later, that advice has changed. Of course, it couldn’t be a change to make things simpler; it had to get more complicated (sigh). So here’s the story with Firefox: If you are using JAWS 2018 and updated in June or later, you should now use the standard version of Firefox. (Sadly, this is going to require you to uninstall the Extended version.) If you are using NVDA 18.1 or newer, you can also try the new version of Firefox, though it may or may not work quite as well as the most recent versions of JAWS. If you are running an older version of either screen reader, switch to Chrome as your primary browser until further notice. The changes in Firefox are fundamental and require major upgrade work for the screen readers, so older versions will not be supported on the recent release. Unfortunately, the Extended version is also now updating into problematic territory for older screen readers, so we really are stuck in this upgrade or leave scenario. It’s a pity, but there is little we can do about it. Unfortunately, sometimes we get a lemon of a car, and we can only put so much work in before we have to move on. Although Firefox itself isn’t a lemon, it is wholly incompatible with older screen readers, so those combinations become lemon-like very quickly.
Long story short—if Firefox has stopped working for you, switch to Chrome for now. You will be much happier.
Our third article, “Screen Readers: The Interface Between Us and the Road,” published in the April Braille Monitor compares and contrasts the major desktop screen readers and provides a wealth of information on their quirks, foibles, and further learning resources. Nothing new and notable to report here, so we will let the original article speak for itself, and you can peruse the resources below if you want to be reminded of any of the items that were linked in the original.
In May we finally got our motors running and headed on the highway. In “Hitting the Road, and Finding Your Way” we discussed the basics of finding your way around the web by typing the web address of the site you want to visit, using a search engine, or browsing from one link to the next. We also covered the basic reading and navigating of web pages. We discussed the ability to move by element (heading, link, graphic, etc.), the art of skimming, reading it all, and using the Find command. In this article I encouraged you to start exploring sites that are primarily geared toward reading and gathering information as an opportunity to practice these different techniques and to decide which works best for you. It was a lovely day for a drive, and from what I have heard, some of you are still out there exploring. I’m thrilled to hear it and just want to caution you to stop for gas, food, and rest at least once in a while.
The fifth article in the series, and the final one offered in the first semester of class is “Basic Interactions: The Fast Lane to Getting Stuff Done on the Web” which you can read in the June 2018 Braille Monitor. In this lesson we discussed all the exciting elements that allow you to do things and enter information on webpages. We covered forms, tables, buttons, checkboxes, and radio buttons. We made a literal trip to the Expedia website to practice booking flights, and a metaphorical trip to both a hotel and the mall. Finally, at the end of our whirlwind tour, I offered you a few more websites that we can expect to work in mostly predictable ways so you could keep practicing.
Now, keep practicing. Keep pushing yourself, and keep exploring. You have your license, and in a very real way that is enough to get started. Everything we discussed in the past is still true. You will still encounter problems, but the more you practice, the more you will find your own ways around them and the more confident you will be when you sign up for the second semester of Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway. You still have all of the class notes from the first semester at your disposal, so take the time to review anything that you aren’t quite comfortable with yet, and keep spreading your wings. Help each other along with homework and extracurricular activities. You’ll be back in the classroom sooner than you think.
Second Verse, Same as the First, a Little Bit Louder, and a Little Bit Worse
In the upcoming semester, we are going to cover more advanced web-browsing topics. These will include:
Detours and Mechanics 101: We are going to discuss what you might do when the highway doesn’t quite provide you with the smooth and enjoyable ride you expect. Common strategies for working around inaccessible components and some of the most common errors in web design that cause blind drivers the biggest headaches will be discussed.
Defensive Driving—Protecting Your Car and Yourself: This lesson will cover some of the scummier and scammier things you’ll find on the internet and give you some good general strategies for protecting your computer, your personal data, and yourself from the car-jacking hooligans you may encounter while browsing.
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone (or at Least Really Annoying), Take This!: Remember how we talked about the ways you can customize your browser? Good. In this article we are going to discuss some browser extensions you might wish to employ, their advantages, disadvantages, and how you can install them if you so desire.
A Day at the Carnival—Everyone Deserves a Treat Now and Again: My co-instructor Karen Anderson and I are going to take you out to enjoy a day at the social media carnival. Learn about the short but intense Twitter-Go-Round, or perhaps you are more interested in the Facebook Funhouse. If you prefer, we can also take a tour of the contests and educational content on offer in LinkedIn Pavillion.
(Please Note—your professor is a member of the internet generation. All class names, structure, and order are subject to change without notice. We will cover the above topics, but as you may have caught from reviewing the first semester’s material, this series has morphed a number of times from the humble single article it was intended to be more than a year ago, and I cannot promise that the syllabus for next semester is going to resemble the above list in any meaningful way except that we are going to continue talking about web-browsing as a screen reader user using questionable humor and lots of car and driving metaphors.)
*Pomp and Circumstance begins to play. Students throw mortar boards in the air. Suddenly, the music changes, and we climb in our cars and rev our engines with Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” blaring in the background.*
Class Dismissed! See you next semester!
Abandon hope all ye who enter here in the audio edition of the publication. Also, to the narrator, I am truly sorry. This section contains a lot of links in order to keep them together for ease of reference, and sadly, that is probably not going to be particularly enjoyable for the folks who are reading or narrating the human-read edition of the Braille Monitor.
Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway—The New and Improved Rules of the Road
Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway Browsers—Choosing the Right Vehicle for the Journey
Download the latest Firefox: https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/
Download the latest Chrome: https://www.google.com/chrome/
Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway—Screen Readers: The Interface between Us and the Road
Chrome Vox Article: https://archive.nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr36/3/fr360308.htm
WebAIM Screen Reader User Survey: https://webaim.org/projects/screenreadersurvey7/
JAWS developer: www.freedomscientific.com
Surf’s UP! Surfing the Web with JAWS and MAGic:
NVDA developer: www.nvaccess.org
NVDA Audio Tutorials: http://accessibilitycentral.net/nvda%20audio%20tutorials.html
NVAcess Official Help Site: https://nvaccess.org/get-help/
Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway: Basic Navigation—Hitting the Road, and Finding Your Way
Google Search Engine: www.google.com
Bing Search Engine: www.Bing.com
National Federation of the Blind Homepage: https://archive.nfb.org
Wikipedia, The World’s Online Encyclopedia: www.wikipedia.org
NFB-NEWSLINE Online: www.nfbnewslineonline.org.
“42+ Text-Editing Keyboard Shortcuts That Work Almost Anywhere-” How-To Geek: https://www.howtogeek.com/ 115664/42-text-editing-keyboard-shortcuts-that-work-almost-everywhere/
Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway–Basic Interactions: The Fast Lane to Getting Stuff Done on the Web
NLS Bard: https://nlsbard.loc.gov/login//NLS–
Free White Cane Form: https://archive.nfb.org/free-cane-program