Identifying Barriers to Information Access
for Diverse Web Users
Rachel Dols, Laura Hulscher, Tara Newberry, &
Class project for Web Accessibility course
• Redesign a website based on usability &
Original plan was to work with professional
accessibility testing organization
Grant from FLDS required us to publish and
present our project
Accessibility barriers on library websites
Information access needs of screen reader
Participants perform assigned tasks on a real
product, such as a website
Success or failure with tasks indicates
whether product is easy to use
“Think-aloud protocol” captures participants’
train of thought
Think-aloud protocol was adapted for screen
reader users (listen first, then speak)
Tasks were less specific, more exploratory
Our goal was accessibility, not just usability
• Accessibility = Usability for people with disabilities
Recruited through ACTC Disability Services
and Minnesota SSB
Participation requirement was using screen
reader for browsing.
Also tested with three sighted people for
• Web access
• Browsing patterns
• Strategies to locate specific items
• Comparison to automated tools
Participants frequently visit sites on topics of
interest: music, theater, fashion
None of the participants were frequent users
of library websites.
• 5 participants regularly use JAWS for Windows
• 1 regularly uses VoiceOver (for Mac)
Three main methods of exploring a new site:
Links list example
“Scrolling” using the down arrow
“Ctrl + F” key combination (word search) was
a common browsing technique
Participants would guess at a word they
expected should be on the page, e.g.
“Databases,” and search for it using Ctrl + F.
A few participants used links list search more
often than Ctrl + F search.
AChecker is an online tool which
automatically detects accessibility barriers
We used AChecker to evaluate the same
websites tested in the usability test.
There was little to no agreement between
AChecker and the human participants.
Number of coding errors
• The sites with the fewest “errors” were hardest to
navigate, and vice versa.
• The barriers most frequently encountered by the
human participants were not mentioned by
Difficulty using the catalog
Navigation and site architecture
Dynamic design elements
• Finding the catalog
• Scanning search results list
• Using the advanced search function
• Most participants had difficulty finding the
• When looking for materials, they mistook
other areas of the site for the catalog:
• References to the catalog search tool in other content
(FAQs and blogs)
• Curated lists of materials (e.g. the “Books” page)
...Heading level one Books Select a book in the scrolling
carousel below, or check out one of our book lists. Graphic
Holy Orders Graphic Weaponized Graphic Brilliance
Graphic The Age of Ice Graphic Sea Creatures Graphic
Babayaga Graphic Snow Hunters Graphic Five Star
Billionaire Graphic The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P Graphic
Sweet Thunder Graphic The Maid's Version Graphic Kill
City Blues Graphic The Crossing Graphic Lost Girls
Graphic Saving the Season Graphic Mother Daughter Me
Graphic Eleven Rings Graphic Deal with the Devil
Table with two columns and seven rows
Graphic eBooks, eAudiobooks, emagazines Heading level
three Link eBooks, eAudiobooks, eMagazines Access our
collection of electronic materials. Graphic The Maid's
Version Heading level three Link New Fiction September
two thousand thirteen Graphic These Few Precious Days
Heading level three Link New Nonfiction September two
thousand thirteen Graphic The March on Washington
Heading level three Link Civil Rights Movement dash fifty th
Anniversary Books about the Civil Rights Movement
Graphic new audiobooks Heading level three Link New
Audiobooks New audiobooks at the library. Graphic popular
Heading level three Link Popular Fiction The most popular
fiction titles at our libraries....
• Search results are time consuming to evaluate
with a screen reader because every word is
read in the order it appears:
Search Result #1. Barron's encyclopedia of cat breeds : a complete guide to the domestic cats of North America by Helgren, J. Anne.
Keep a list Place Hold (Request) BOOK
Title Barron's encyclopedia of cat breeds : a complete guide to the domestic cats of North America 2nd edition.
Author Helgren, J. Anne.
Pub date 2013
Holdings 5 copies at Main Branch, Bellwood Library, Northtown Branch, and Apple Hill Branch
Updated with the latest information on all recognized feline breeds, this valuable reference source includes a survey of feline history and evolution, a detailed
description of the attributes that make a purebred cat, a summary of ...
Search Result #2. Pete the cat and his four groovy buttons by Litwin, Eric.
Keep a list Place Hold (Request) BOOK
Title: Pete the cat and his four groovy buttons 1st ed.
Author Litwin, Eric.
Pub date 2012
Holdings 11 copies at Main Branch, Bellwood Library, Northtown Branch, and Apple Hill Branch, Lake Green Branch, Crossroads Library
Pete the Cat is wearing his favorite shirt--the one with the four totally groovy buttons. But when one falls off, does Pete cry? Goodness, no! He just keeps on singing
his song--after all, what could be groovier than three groovy ...
• Skimming results is much simpler with well
• Users can easily tab from item to item when titles
have been formatted as headings
From outline view generated by WebAIM toolbar (http://webaim.org/resources/wave/#toolbar)
• Combo boxes are challenging to interpret and use when
browsing with a screen reader
• One example: Layout choices can obscure filtering options
Location of buttons is
(participants didn’t think
to look for additional
Lack of proper hierarchical headings structure
Poor link labeling
◦ Non-intuitive anchor text
◦ Lack of context and description
Left: Example of misleading anchor text.
Right: Examples of context that relies on visual cues for comprehension.
More often than sighted users, visually impaired users
tend to predict or guess the words and phrases used in
Make site text intuitive and meaningful
Example: The highlighted text is not specific
enough. Changing it to “Make a Research
Appointment” would help alleviate confusion.
Libraries, particularly public libraries, appear to use the
home page to appeal to every possible user, leading to
an excessive amount of information for a screen reader
Excessive amount of links
The public library site tested had 185 links on the
home page alone. In comparison, the 2 academic
libraries had 109 and 75.
Minimalist design and content approach
Example: Minimalist library home page design
Strategic use of the home page
◦ Well-designed navigation menu backed by logical
◦ A well-structured site should be organized
hierarchically. The content should be divided first
into very broad headings, such as “Catalog,”
“Events,” “About Us”.
Three major problems in this category:
require mouse-over to reveal hidden links
cannot be accessed with keyboard only
Menu root shows up in links list
Left: Cursor hovering shows menu.
Right: Tab key highlights link, but
WAI-ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications)
developed new HTML 5 tags for accessible menus.
• These work very well, but still fairly new, might not be
widely supported yet.
Alternatively, make the menu root a real link.
• It can lead to a page listing the hidden menu links.
link to separate page
Two versions of the same combobox from
Library Site #1. One worked, and the other did
The accessible menu has a button. This makes
it possible for keyboard users to browse the
menu without accidentally selecting something.
When selected, the tabs change only part of the
page while the page’s URL stays the same.
Participants were confused because “nothing
happened” when they selected the links.
Problematic because link doesn’t go to new
• Screen reader only alerts users to new URL. They
expected the new-page sound but didn’t hear it.
WAI-ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet
Applications) Authoring Practices 1.0
Includes guidelines for accessible tabpanels
Makes use of new HTML5 tags
• Screen reader can recognize tabpanel and tell user
how to move around in it.
Suggestions for further research:
Test on a wider variety of screen reader
Expand usability testing to other disability
groups, not just visually impaired
Larger, more representative sample of library
websites should be tested
AChecker tool http://achecker.ca/checker/index.php
FANGS screen reader emulator https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/fangs-screen-readeremulator/
Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design http://www.uiaccess.com/JustAsk/index.html
WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) http://webaim.org/