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Digital Accessibility and Assistive Technology Spotlight: Bob Cavanaugh

Bob Cavanaugh climbing climbing wall

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.

Interview with Bob Cavanaugh

Would you tell us a little about yourself?
I am 24 years old and totally blind. I am a radio junkie, and I also like to go to trampoline parks and other stuff like that.
What are a couple of your favorite websites or mobile apps? Why do you like them and what, if anything, makes them particularly accessible?
All the websites I use daily work pretty well. is a site I visit daily, and although it’s sometimes a little slow for unknown reasons, it is quite usable. I also like an app called Today in History because it’s quite easy to use.
How is digital technology critical to your daily life? Or how does technology improve your life experience on a regular basis?
Where should I start? There are so many ways technology has helped me. I am a frequent user of Uber and Lyft, and I also use a variety of social networking apps to get together with old and new friends. It also keeps me entertained.
What assistive technology do you use when visiting websites or mobile apps?
I’ve used System Access for a little over 10 years now. The state technology specialist recommended it; then my mom found it some months later, and I’ve used it as my primary screen reader ever since. It was a little later that some online blind friends told me about NVDA, which I also use. I’ve used JAWS, but mainly at school and work, since I can’t afford my own copy.
What are the most important accessible elements you look for in each website or app you use? Or what are the most common accessibility blockers you find when using websites or apps?
Lack of headings is a big one, but one that is commonly overlooked is overuse of headings. Right now, I can’t think of any specific examples of this, but I know I’ve seen websites where the entire navigation bar is at heading level 3. When navigating by heading, that isn’t helpful.

Also, unlabeled buttons are a problem, but just as bad are links which System Access does not read and NVDA says something like simgid=345,, Some of those can get really bad.

If you could change one thing about the way all websites and apps behave or operate, what would it be?
Hmm, that’s a really hard question because the number of website designs is practically unlimited. I definitely think something needs to be done about images, and how the blind can get the information out of them. This means that alt text for an image containing text should actually read the text, instead of just saying that the image may contain text.
Can you imagine assistive technology that you would find useful but does not exist today?
Probably an image describer that can identify people and what might be happening in a particular image. For example, it was just a couple days ago that Facebook brought up a group of photos I posted a year ago. I was at a house party, and the owner of the house had put climbing handholds on the walls of his stairwell, which I was climbing in the photo in this post. A description as detailed as the one I just gave would be pretty sweet.
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?
Yes, Radio Online. First, there are no headings on any of that site’s pages. This is slightly eased by what appear to be landmarks on the page, as when I’m trying to look at the radio ratings for my market and the page is cooperating, System Access starts reading from the main content. However, if you’re not navigating by landmark and you lose your place, it is very difficult to return to where you were. Also, once in a while I’ll go down the market listings and open up the ratings for half a dozen or more markets. When I alt-tab through the open windows, all the pages say “Radio Online.” That doesn’t tell me what market those pages are. Is it Austin? Dallas/Fort Worth? Seattle? Portland? Atlanta? Spokane? Minneapolis/St. Paul? I have to look at the content to figure that out, and if I have a large number of those pages open, they can get really slow.

Another site I’d like to call out because it had the weirdest accessibility glitch I’ve ever seen, is that of The Great Inflatable Race. This is a 5K I did last summer with inflatable obstacles spread throughout the course. Yes, it is as fun as it sounds! Anyway, any time they mentioned social media on the site, instead of saying Facebook, Twitter, or the like, the alt text for the images read “image not found.” In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a big deal, but it struck me as quite odd and very easy to fix.

Thanks so much, Bob! We really appreciate you taking the time to educate us on digital accessibility/assistive technology!

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