Crowdsourcing the Web Key IT way

By Amanda Mace at Web Key IT (12 December 2017)

Last month, four members of the Web Key IT team made our way over to Canberra for the 20th annual OZeWAI conference. Conferences such as OZeWAI provide professionals with a fantastic opportunity to teach and learn and to network. Conferences can also have an unexpected positive, such was my experience in November.

During the conference I had an email from a client requesting I check whether a reported error was still occurring. I found that indeed it was still happening. I had a look at the code but couldn’t se anything obvious there. To ensure it wasn’t just me, I asked one of our testers to have a look on their computer, they experienced the same problem. I then asked our Director, it was issue for her as well. It well and truly had us baffled.

So, what was this frustrating issue that had stumped us? The screen reader NVDA was saying 'link' at various points while reading the link text in inside hot boxes, which in this case is a clickable area that has an image, heading and a small description. The entire clickable area is encased in an ARIA label. It only happened in ‘Read All’ mode and only with NVDA.

I started asking some of the other attendees at OZeWAI including, blind users using screen readers, developers and other accessibility experts. No one had run into the issue before, but we were determined to find the cause and a solution.

The cause came about 24 hours later. It turned out the line length was causing the problem. NVDA has their max line length for characters set to 100 and the ARIA labels were quite long. If we took the long ARIA label away completely and had just the semantics, it would read out as three separate links when there is only one. This could cause even more confusion. The character limit for NVDA can be changed in the settings, but users would have to do it themselves and most, including all the blind NVDA users I spoke to at the conference had never changed those settings.

The solution was more complicated. Some users preferred NVDA to read out all of the natural semantics and didn’t mind that it read like three links instead of one. Others said it made sense to have ARIA override the semantics, so it would all read out as a link and the additional links NVDA was saying in the middles sentences would sound like a bug.

Thanks to those conference goers we were able to get back to client with the information and a recommendation. It is fantastic example on the importance of collaboration, user testing and testament to the positive attitude found in the accessibility world.

For those interested, we advised to keep the long ARIA label and add a statement to their Accessibility Statement to say the issue and step by step instruction on how to increase the line length in NVDA’s settings.