Since this is my first post on the IE Blog, I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Kelly Ford and I’m part of the test team responsible for testing the user experience in IE. I also head up our accessibility testing efforts.
Today I wanted to talk about three aspects of accessibility as they relate to IE and Windows in general. First is access to the Windows OS for individuals with disabilities, second are a couple of hints for users of screen readers using IE in XPSP2 and finally is a request for feedback to help guide our development in IE7 and beyond.
Accessibility Starting Points
Some blog readers may already be familiar with the wide range of technologies and issues around software accessibility. For those that are not I wanted to provide a few starting points to learn more. Whether you are an individual with a disability, know someone who has a disability or accessibility isn’t something you have much experience with, there are many resources available. The key point is that the computer and web can open doors to people of many different abilities. Through accessibility features in Windows or a category of software known as assistive technology, people with mild to severe impairments can find software and hardware solutions to help in getting access to the computer and web. Some resources to learn more about this topic are:
Microsoft Accessibility Home – http://www.microsoft.com/enable
Assistive Technology Industry Association – http://www.atia.org
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative – http://www.w3.org/wai
MSDN Accessibility Resources – http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dnanchor/html/accessibility.asp
Hints for Users of Screen Readers with IE in Windows XPSP2
For those unfamiliar with screen reading technology, a screen reader is an application that is used by individuals who are blind to access the computer. Text appearing on the screen is verbalized and optionally displayed in Braille with the appropriate hardware. Inside of IE, screen readers use a combination of Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) and the document object model to present a screen reader friendly view of web pages. Briefly, items such as tables are presented in a more linear fashion, structural information such as which text is a link, a heading, alternative text for a graphic or part of a list is inserted, and a general overview about web pages such as the number of links, form elements and alike is provided. There is much more that today’s screen readers do inside IE and if blog readers want more details around this technology let me know.
In monitoring feedback around screen readers and IE with XPSP2, I’ve noticed a couple of recurring issues for which I wanted to offer screen reading users hints.
Accessing the Information Bar
The switch from dialogs to the Information Bar for things such as automatic file downloads, ActiveX installs and related notifications was one of the larger user experience changes introduced in IE for Windows XPSP2. Although we offer a first time alert dialog notifying users of this change and detail how to use the Information Bar in help, I’ve seen many screen reading users ask about the Information Bar on various discussion forums. The most important question deals with how to get access to the bar with the keyboard. The hotkey for setting focus to the Information Bar is alt+n. You can then press space to receive a menu of choices related to the notification being displayed. The Escape key will close the Information Bar.
If you prefer notifications about blocked activities through dialogs, you can revert to this behavior by turning off Information Bar notifications for certain activities. The help under Internet Explorer’s Information Bar has full details on the procedures for making these changes. That said we recommend leaving the Information Bar on and using alt+n to access the Information Bar with the keyboard when it appears.
Pop-Up Blocking and Screen Readers
IE’s pop-up blocking technology attempts to allow a class of pop-ups that we consider “user initiated”. Briefly this means that if the pop-up is the result of pressing Enter or clicking on a link, IE will generally allow the pop-up.
As mentioned earlier, inside IE most screen readers present a modified view of web pages by default. One result of this is that when in this modified view, even though you may be pressing Enter to activate a link, the link itself is being activated through one of several programmatic methods. In some instances you may find that you press Enter on a link and the result is still a blocked pop-up. In such cases you can use a feature common to most screen readers and typically known as Pass Key Through or some variation on this name. Using your screen reader’s hot key for this feature and then pressing Enter on the link you want to activate will send the standard Enter key to IE. In most cases if the pop-up should be allowed by IE’s pop-up blocker after this, the new window will open.
Accessibility in IE7 and Beyond
Accessibility is something Microsoft, the IE team and I take very seriously. We want to continue building software that can be accessed by everyone as well as ensure that the wide range of assistive technology products for Windows and IE work well with what we develop. We’d like your feedback on what’s working well for you today, where you’d like us to improve and in general hear your thoughts around accessibility and Internet Explorer. We look forward to your thoughts on the topic of accessibility and Internet Explorer here on IE’s blog.