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Feed Readers: Not Satisfying the Appetites of Blind Blog Readers

Feed Readers: Not Satisfying the Appetites of Blind Blog Readers

How easy is it for people with vision loss to use feed readers? According to a new report from the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) finding accessible RSS readers can be challenging for computer users with vision loss.

‘€œThe blogosphere is still foreign to many web users, but it can be particularly confusing for blind computer users because several of the blogging sites and tools are inaccessible,’€? said Jay Leventhal, editor of AccessWorld, AFB’s online technology magazine. ‘€œAFB hopes to help people with vision loss navigate this world with ease by identifying screen reader-friendly services and by working with bloggers and technology companies to ensure their sites can be used by everyone.’€?

Using a JAWS screen reader’€”an assistive technology product that reads the text and images on a computer screen’€”AFB evaluated five popular RSS readers: Bloglines, Feedster, Newsgator, FeedDemon and My Yahoo!.

Of the five sites reviewed, AFB found Bloglines and NewsGator to be the most screen reader-friendly.

Overall, AFB found the Bloglines interface intuitive and the site well labeled and screen reader-friendly. Users can create an account without encountering a captcha’€”those abstract renderings of random characters that ask users to retype the word they see (these images make it impossible for blind computer users to sign up for user accounts because captcha images cannot be read by screen readers). Bloglines also makes it easy to manage account preferences and set up personal blogs without sighted assistance. What’€™s more is the site’€™s feed reader software called the ‘€œNotifier’€? allows users to activate an auditory alarm that indicates when new content has been received.

In addition, AFB also found NewsGator to be usable for people with vision loss. The service provides a simple and easy-to-understand interface, with brief explanations of site features when they are implemented for the first time. Signing up for an account is also accessible and like Bloglines, the service does not require users to confront a captcha.

While Evaluating the Five Feed Reader Services, AFB Encountered the Following Accessibility Problems:

* The most serious accessibility issue around blog-hosting services was the inability to create user accounts. This is due to automated pictorial verification’€”also known as a captcha or the ‘€œvision test.’€?

* There is a lack of comprehensive how-to information aimed at novice bloggers and most tutorials assume users are able to access and see the instructional diagrams, applications, and web pages.

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* RSS readers are often difficult to work with. Some of the more serious problems included inaccessible installation procedures, menu bars that were difficult to navigate, and the inability to view the list of a user’€™s own subscriptions.

* On almost all the sites, evaluators found improperly labeled links, radio buttons, and edit fields; inaccessible combo-boxes; automatically scrolling lists of links; or a non-intuitive interface. All of these things make it difficult for screen reader users to navigate a web site.

For a full copy of AFB’€™s report on RSS, visit http://www.afb.org/RSSeval.asp.

View Comments (2)
  • I was wondering how visually impaired people get past captchas. It’s a shame there’s not an alternative, especially because so many sites use them. Maybe they should implement an alternate captcha that would digitally speak a random word or string of characters that could be used for verification. This is also a good reason to have an additional “lo-fi” text only version of a website, to ensure it can be read.

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