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"ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)" <[log in to unmask]>
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Wed, 25 Feb 2009 11:58:04 +0100
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Steven Pemberton <[log in to unmask]>
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On Fri, 20 Feb 2009 23:18:51 +0100, <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Does anyone have any research or personal experience observing blind  
> users using online forms with screen readers? Specifically, do blind  
> users
> typically browse the form first, then fill in the fields, or do they just
> start at the top of the form and fill in the fields without browsing the
> page first.
>
> Assume the form is marked up properly for accessibility. Also assume  
> users
> are told the number of steps in the form and any info they might need,
> before starting the form.
>
> Is their behaviour any different from sighted users, due to the fact  
> blind users are using a screen reader?

The place to ask this sort of question is on the W3C WAI lists, where a  
number of blind users hang out.
You might try the WAI interest group at [log in to unmask] (Archives at  
http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-wai-ig/), or ask there where to  
ask.

As I understand it, there are two approaches to accessibility software.  
One type, the screen-scrapers, use hooks into the presentation layer of  
the browser, and therefore read what is on the screen, so items will be  
presented in the order they are present on the screen, and if things have  
been made invisible, for instance using CSS, they won't be presented.

The other approach is for the accessibility software to be a presentation  
layer in itself, and they typically present things in the order they are  
in the markup.

These two approaches can cause a difference in how blind users use a form.

My limited experience with blind users filling in forms says that they do  
the same as sighted readers: sometimes they scan the form first, and  
sometimes, especially if they already know the form, they just pile in.

Accessibility software often has to use heuristics, for instance to tell  
which label belongs to which input control. There is currently work going  
on in WAI-ARIA to improve this situation, allowing pages to be more  
exactly marked up, to reduce the need for heuristics.

What I have noticed is that blind users often know much more about the  
underlying form than sighted users. I once had to help one user out  
because the label said "1", but the value returned was "0". As it turned  
out, that was what the form did, but it confused the user who thought as a  
result that he was selecting the wrong control.

Best wishes,

Steven Pemberton

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