Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Frustrations with NVDA-support

Because NVDA is free software, we do not have the resources to provide free, direct technical support to users. Therefore, the NVDA-support email list was set up as "a place where users of the NVDA screen reader are able to ask questions about how to use NVDA".

A common complaint about mailing lists like this is that they produce a lot of messages. Some users cannot (or do not wish to) handle this high email traffic and therefore end up unsubscribing from the list fairly quickly, thus limiting its usefulness. Instead, users contact us directly or are driven away from the project. When directed to the tracker and email lists, one user who contacted me directly complained about having to "sign up to a thousand lists".

To combat this, we decided to selectively moderate the list, as full moderation is too time consuming. Users who broke (or bordered on breaking) list rules or otherwise had the potential to generate a lot of unnecessary traffic were moderated. Any post from those users that was irrelevant, unnecessary or might start such a thread was rejected.

Unfortunately, several users have been unhappy with or even outright offended by this. Today in particular, I rejected a post from a user (previously moderated for an off-topic post) which, while intended to be helpful, provided an incorrect (or at least very indirect) answer which I believed would cause more questions than it answered. No accusation was made, but this user took this very personally and made it clear that he would no longer support the project in any way.

Another common gripe is that users are often told to read the documentation when they ask questions. If it seems that a user hasn't even tried to read the documentation before asking a question, I do not think this is unwarranted. If they've at least tried and don't understand, this is a different matter entirely. If they don't wish to make the effort to at least try to understand the documentation, they should not expect free support.

It seems I can't win. I tried to do what I thought best for the NVDA community in limiting the traffic on the list so more users would be encouraged to use it. As a result, I'm accused of being unfair, draconian and ungrateful. Therefore, I've disabled all moderation on the list and I am withdrawing from the list myself for a while. I am done with support for now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Inexcusable Inaccessibility: APC Goalball Coverage

Australia are currently hosting the IBSA Africa Oceania Goalball Regional Championships, where both men's and women's teams are playing to qualify for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Go Australia! :) They've provided a live internet stream with commentary, which is fantastic. Unfortunately, the Flash video player they're using is completely inaccessible to screen reader users. (Technically, it uses windowless Flash, which is not accessible.) Worse, the page doesn't even play the video automatically when it opens, which means you have no choice but to use the video player controls. Allow me to emphasise the absolute, inexcusable absurdity of this situation: they are broadcasting a sport for the blind, but the broadcast is inaccessible to blind people.

Digging through their code, it's not too hard to work around this. I was able to come up with a link which enables auto-play, so at least it begins playing automatically, avoiding the need to use the video player controls. However, the average user would not have been able to do this themselves.

Ideally, everything should be accessible to all users. Sometimes, for whatever reasons (valid or not), this isn't possible. When it isn't, at least consider your target audience. If, for example, a large number of them are probably going to be blind, it might just make sense to implement and test accessibility for screen reader users. The APC are using an external service to provide the stream. Regardless, they should have tested and resolved the problem somehow or, at the very least, openly provided a work around such as the one I gave above.

It's worth noting that Adobe clearly document that windowless (transparent or opaque) Flash is inaccessible.