Written by: Olivia Dirks, Certified Test Team Manager
People who live with disabilities deal with inaccessible websites all the time. We sat down with one of our WeCo Testers, and she shared with us her experiences living with a sight related disability and accessing the internet. WeCo Certified Test Consultants are hired and trained by WeCo to test websites for accessibility. As people living with disabilities, their user experiences make for a rigorous testing process run by knowledgeable professionals who can evaluate websites from the perspective of end-user needs. In short, WeCo Consultants are the experts in their field because they live with their disability every day and they understand what it takes to make a website truly accessible.
Maureen double majored in psychology and music, giving her a degree in music therapy. She has been surfing the web ever since it became a major form of communication. She fondly recalls the early days of the internet when everything was accessible to her screen reader, but she also tells us that the web has become less and less accessible over time. Maureen is an accomplished singer and songwriter. She has experience working with major advocacy centers like the Courage Center. Maureen has also run her own small business and has been doing a lot of speaking to groups about topics related to disability.
Maureen lives with both a sight related and motor skill related disability. This makes her experiences unique and extremely valuable. We asked Maureen to share about her experience browsing the internet with her disability..
“My experience is that I was a fanatic browser in the early ‘90s. I got on the internet in 1994, and everything was accessible. I would stay up until two in the morning just going from website to website. It was so wonderful, and then the internet changed. More and more sites became less and less accessible.
Now I would say I do not browse at all. I go to the websites that I know work and I order my groceries online, that works really well. I go to websites for the blind. And I would say that’s about it.”
We asked her why she’s stopped browsing and she said this about today’s websites, “There are so many that aren’t accessible. They say that they are, but until you spend an hour figuring out where things are and what word to look for, what you need to go find out or what it is that you want to read – it doesn’t work really well.”
The general inaccessibility of websites today doesn’t only impact Maureen, but they also impact the businesses she could be buying from. She told us about her experience trying to buy airline tickets. “I have a little laptop that has Braille and I have actually found that I can browse more easily with that as far as reading websites, but my laptop doesn’t work as well for filling in forms. In January, I was going to go to Tucson and I had to ask my uncle if he would get the tickets for me because I couldn’t find any websites that I could order airline tickets from.”
Airline ticketing websites are not the only websites Maureen cannot make purchases from. There are many websites for consumers which she cannot access. Another Certified Test Consultant, Jeff,
talks about his experience making purchases online. Jeff also lives with a sight related disability. “Sometimes it works relatively well, but there are also times when I can’t get it to give me a nice description of each product without actually opening the link in a new window. I know that on the screen visually there is a pop up that appears that gives a description, but that pop up is not verbalized by the screen reader. Because of that, it just takes me longer to make purchases. Sometimes I just give up.”
According to the United States Census Bureau, 19% of Americans over the age of 18 live with a disability. When you think about how many people that is it comes out to around 56.7 million. That is 56.7 million people in America alone who not only find the physical world they live in inaccessible, but also the virtual world by which we are now surrounded. If you are a business owner, that is a lot of people who could be buying your product but can’t because they cannot access your website.