Tuesday, March 29, 2011

JAWS! No, not the shark --- the software.

I've been doing a lot of research lately about Accessibility and Universal Design when it comes to websites.We all know how important the web has become to most people. It's where we download forms, buy movie tickets, decline invitations from real-life friends on Facebook, shop Craigslist...

Just imagine how things would be for you if the internet, or so much of it, wasn't available to you because of a disability? The web is still primarily a sighted community, where we navigate by seeing, or at least expect users to navigate by sight. Lately though, I've been learning about alternate ways of browsing the web, like with JAWS.

JAWS is a screen reader that allows visually-impaired users use computers and navigate the web by listening to text being read out through synthesized speech. As someone who is very used to having sight, it's a hard concept to grasp fully. It's amazing, really.

As a web builder, it's always my job to make sure websites that I build will render on different devices, whether it's a new browser on a PC, a mobile device, or what have you. Up until recently though, I'll admit, I had only given passing thoughts to the rendering of content with a screen reader. I think I was intimidated to try it maybe. I knew the concept of screen readers, but now that I've taken the time to see what makes JAWS tick, I'm confident that I can put together a site that is a lot more alternative-device friendly than ever before.

In fact, I'll be speaking on the subject at a tech conference at Royal Roads University later this week. Stay tuned!

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