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Digital Accessibility and Assistive Technology Spotlight: Mike S.

Mike with his former seeing-eye dog, Ruby

Accessible360 periodically showcases a digital superuser with personal insights into the digital landscape and assistive technology. By getting to know them, we learn more about the importance of digital accessibility, borrow their knowledge, and gain insights into important personal preferences.

Mike S., Assistive Technology User

What are a couple of your favorite websites or mobile apps? Why do you like them and what, if anything, makes them particularly accessible?
The Web sites I use to take care of most of the necessary evils of life, like banking with www.bankofamerica.com and paying my phone bill with AT&T are very accessible to me as a blind person. www.bookshare.org is also extremely accessible and easy to use. I like these sites because they are properly marked up with regions and headings so I can take care of business quickly by jumping directly to the information I need without encountering any road blocks or confusion. These are probably the easiest and most accessible ones that I use frequently.

I also really like to read creepy-pastas (www.creepypasta.com), which is a forum of people who submit scary stories they have written. It is really fun, and, although there are annoying inaccessible ads, there is a heading structure I use to navigate and the ratings system is provided in text form.

How is digital technology (websites and mobile apps) critical to your daily life?
Digital technology is a definite lifeline for me for many daily tasks. I depend on my phone not only to connect with anybody I need to reach by voice or text, but for its alarms and timers as well. I also use my phone for transportation tasks, like checking bus schedules and calling Uber or Lyft for rides.

I use my computer for work, but I also use a scanner and OCR [optical character recognition] software to read any snail-mail that I get, or print books that I can’t find in a digital format. I use my computer for finding books very frequently. I use the BookShare service, along with some other e-text services, and usually emboss the books I want to read on a braille embosser or I read them on a refreshable braille display.

I also pay all my bills digitally, and study foreign languages on various websites (I have a lot of dictionaries bookmarked). I figure out where businesses that I want to visit are located and plan routes that way, I read restaurant menus online before going out to eat, and I do most of my shopping online. It’s much easier for me to read product info for myself than it is to ask the a store employee the right questions.

What assistive technology do you use when visiting websites or mobile apps?
I use PCs with screen reading software, mostly JAWS. I also use scanners with OCR software, refreshable braille displays like the Brailliant, and a braille embosser called a Basic D. I use an Android phone with Talkback & Brailleback [screen reader apps].
Can you name some companies or non-profits that have given you the technology support you wanted, either supplying tools or training when you needed?
I usually find out about assistive tech by going to conventions or by word-of-mouth.
What are the most important accessible elements you look for in each website or app you use? What are the most common accessibility blockers you find when using websites or apps?
The accessibility elements that I usually look for on a Web site at first visit is whether or not it is structured with headings. The worst blockers I tend to encounter are ads that trap or move focus. They make a lot of news sites completely unusable.
If you could change one thing about the way all websites and apps behave or operate, what would it be? And how would that one change affect the way you use them?
If I could change one thing about how all apps and Web sites behaved, it would be that absolutely everything would be a standard HTML control and there would be no customized widgets.
Can you imagine assistive technology that you would find useful but does not exist today?
Dear Santa, I would love a full-page braille display, something that would allow me to hear where a baseball is so I could hit and catch it (without the ball beeping), and a color identifier that actually works well enough to sort Legos so I could make things that don’t look all screwed up and miscellaneous.
Are there any websites or apps you avoid, have a particularly difficult time using, or just want to call out as being inaccessible? What about them is inaccessible?
Signing up for the Health Care Exchange was VERY inaccessible, and I had to ask for sighted help numerous times and look at the HTML source to determine what certain controls were for. I would love to call them out as a government agency offering a necessity of life and, currently, a requirement of law but having a completely inaccessible site.
Do you have any thoughts on this survey you’d like to add? Or are there any questions we didn’t ask that we should?
Digital technology is a necessary link to the world for many of us, but don’t forget that it is just a tool and that what it is connecting us to is a big, awesome world!

Thanks so much, Mike! We really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions and educate us on the importance of digital accessibility!

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