January is Braille Literacy Month. The focus of this important awareness campaign is that visually impaired students who learn Braille are more likely to finish school and find employment. For example, 90% of employed visually impaired adults know Braille, and although 85% of blind students go to public schools, only 10% of them are literate in Braille.
Imagine that you are visually impaired. Instead of reading your geometry textbook, you are only able to hear the equations being solved. You arent able to focus on them and review them one piece at a time, such as if they were written down. This is one of the reasons why students who learn Braille are more likely to be successful, and it’s important to have students learn Braille as early as they can.
Assistive Devices for Visually Impaired Users
Braille isn’t just used for standard reading and writing — it also allows the visually impaired to surf the web and use a smartphone.
Visually impaired people can browse the internet using a refreshable Braille device. This device, made up of a rubberized strip that has pins that rise and fall to create Braille characters, allows someone to “read” the information that is on the screen. The program translates the text on the webpage into Braille, which allows the user to access web content and navigate to different parts of the website. With a refreshable Braille device, those with visual impairments can use a computer independently and efficiently.
Screen readers are another tool visually impaired people use to access online content. Screen readers convert text from a webpage or document into synthesized speech to not only read the text from a page, but also to help users navigate the website. This helps people with low or no vision, people who have trouble reading, or those who are color blind.
Using screen readers boosts the performance of schoolchildren with disabilities, such as dyslexia, allowing them to keep pace with their peers more easily. This assistive technology is continuing to grow, and companies are taking accessibility into account early in the development process, incorporating voice apps or even “listen to this” buttons to make their websites easier for people with disabilities to use.
Testing for Accessibility
Two of the most popular screen readers are Voiceover for Mac and NVDA for Windows. JAWS, WindowEyes, and ZoomText are popular as well. Fire Vox is a screen reader for Firefox browser, and Orca works only on the Linux operating system. Aside from the fact that there are so many different screen readers, it’s difficult to test them with your website because there are many different devices that someone might be using with the screen reader as well. For example, your mobile site might not work as well with a screen reader as your desktop site. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with all of the major screen readers. While testing screen readers, close your eyes or turn off the screen, and listen to what the screen reader says. Does it make sense? Take notes so you know what you need to change.
The process of making your website compatible with assistive devices may sound intimidating but it doesn't have to be. We suggest hiring a consultant who is trained in screen reader testing and using resources wich are available to help you learn more about accessibility. Visit the Bureau of Internet Accessibility to keep up-to-date with web accessibility requirements, and get a free accessibility scan while you're on our site.
Want more information? Don’t hesitate to contact us at https://www.boia.org/contact.