by Rab Bruce’s Spider

I had a wee rant yesterday about the Sustainable Growth Commission’s report not being accessible. Sadly, this is something visually impaired people are all too familiar with. Many websites are very difficult to navigate despite accessibility being a legal requirement. To be fair to the Growth Commission, their website was fairly basic and easy enough to find the various headings and links, but the way their report was presented meant that anyone using a PC Screen Reader is unable to read the report on their PC. I should mention that there are several different Screen Readers available. I use JAWS which is widely regarded as the top of the range, yet it simply told me the page I had opened was an empty document.

This sort of thing is very frustrating. I could not find a link on the web page to contact the Growth Commission to ask for a different format, so I tried the Scottish Government’s web page, only to discover that it, too, was extremely difficult to navigate, having a plethora of Headings and Links which just seemed to go round in circles. Once again, I was unable to locate any way to ask for help.

As I mentioned, this is not uncommon. I’ve had similar problems in the past with other Government websites. For example, I wanted to read the UK Government’s Brexit White Paper which was produced over a year ago. It, too, was completely inaccessible. There was, however, a link to an email address where alternative formats could be requested. I submitted a request but, nearly two years later, I am still waiting for a response.

The Scottish Government has done little better. The recent Consultation on Voting Reform is a case in point. An appeal was put out via RNIB for blind and partially sighted people to participate in the Consultation, so I sat at my PC and tried to download the document. All I was told was, “This file is not compatible with your screen reader". That’s JAWS, one of the very best, if not the best, Screen Readers available anywhere in the world. Yet the Consultation was inaccessible. Fortunately, there was a contact email and, once I’d explained the problem, the staff there were very helpful. They sent me a Word version which I was able to complete and submit via email. The issue, though, is that this should not have been necessary. It is not all that difficult to create a fully accessible website.

Some websites are very easy to use. Sadly, it is usually the larger corporations and official bodies who create inaccessible websites. I am not going to name names, but some of the online stores everyone uses are a nightmare to find your way around.

As for the Sustainable Growth Commission’s Report, the good news is that I have found a way to read it. Finding it via a Safari search on my iPhone was the hardest part, with the search bringing up dozens of media articles explaining all the things that are wrong with the Report’s conclusions, but none of them actually giving a link to the report itself. I did find one eventually, and, to my great relief, my iPhone’s Voiceover Screen Reader was able to read the text. I presume Android’s Talkback and Amazon’s VoiceView can do the same.

There are, though, a few problems with using Voiceover. Navigation is the first, with the normal swipes leaping through the report in odd ways. The biggest problem, though, is that if you stop the screen reader for any reason – like wanting to use your phone for anything else, it can sometimes revert to the beginning of the report when you go back to it. This means scrolling, page by page, and trying to guess how far through the report you are. Imagine reading a paper book, knowing you were on Page 123 but, instead of simply opening the book at that page, you had to go back to Page 1, close your eyes and turn each page individually until you took a guess at how many pages you had turned and then started reading.

Now, I know many people may think that blind people must learn to accept there will be problems for them whatever they do. Believe me, I know that only too well. How many of you could make yourself a cup of tea with your eyes firmly shut all the time? But web accessibility is something that should be easy to resolve. I know that all Governments will turn the actual production of websites and reports over to specialist programmers, but those programmers need to be told that everything they produce must be fully accessible. The Scottish Government, in particular, often makes claims that it is trying to build a better, more inclusive country. I fully accept that there are some very serious issues which they need to tackle, but web accessibility is such an easy thing for them to accomplish with only a little bit of thought. I know it is lack of appreciation of the issue rather than deliberate decision which results in web inaccessibility, so hopefully someone, somewhere within the Scottish Government will read this and maybe do something about it.

OK, that’s the end of this little rant. I’m still only a quarter of the way through the Report, so I’d better get back to it. Then I can return to posting about politics.