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Things I learned by pretending to be blind for a week (silktide.com)
250 points by silktide on Jan 7, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 90 comments

Here is a tip from someone who lost his sight last year: If you suddenly see little black spots, don't f&##^ing wait and get your eye(s) checked out by a specialist at once! Have a deadline? A demanding client? Or perhaps it's just a really bad headache? Don't wait.

I literally waited a whole week and thats waaaay to long and saw the curtain close (literally, that's what it looks like: a curtain closing). Finally (and only thanks to my experience with inplant-contactlenses that made the doctor confident I would be able to hold still like a statue when they insert 3 or 4 metal tubes in your freaking eye with only local anesthetics). My eye was fully drained and I was operated at midnight. The nice thing about local anestetics is you'll get to see everything.

After 4 weeks I was able to see again. Another 4 weeks and my brain had made the new 'connections' linking my left and right eye. When I started seeing little black spots with my other eye (half a year later) I took immediate action and dropped everything. The doctors were able to use a laser to burn/isolate the distortion and prefented my retina from ripping up.

TLDR: DO - NOT - WAIT. Drop everything when you see black spots that remain constant. Regular doctors can't help you, even specialists have difficulty finding the little holes in your eye.

Seriously everyone, heed that advice. Don't wait.

Both of my father's retina detached and the only reason he can see today is because he got to the specialist in time for them to fix it. A matter of days can make the difference of vision for the rest of your life. Persistent black spots that "float" around your field of vision need to get checked out ASAP.

I've had several black spots that float around in my vision for over a year now. Is that a sign of retinal detachment? I visited the doctor and he said eye floaters were normal and people with myopia were prone to getting eye floaters.

My understanding is floaters are quite common and many in the population suffer from them. I've had them for a few years, I visited my optician and he said not to worry, and he could actually 'see' the floaters when he looked at my eye (it's litereally bit of debris floating about in there) so he knew it wasn't anything serious like a retinal tear. He said only if there is a rapid increase in them should I seek emergency medical assistance.

I think it's like many symptoms; the first time you should certainly seek a medical check ASAP to ensure it's not a symptom of a more serious underlying cause; but it should be cause for serious worry. I don't think you can walk around with retinal detachment for a year.

You are correct: Floaters are normal. Fixed spots are not. Floaters, well they float. You can easily see the difference when you look left and quickly look right. Floaters keep moving a bit because of the motion. Try it in front of a clear blue sky or white wall for best results.

Floaters can be a real annoyance. I managed to damage my right eye from over focusing four months ago. I now have a brown floater that takes up about 5% of the right eye's vision. Fortunately it doesn't settle directly in my line of focus, but manages to swing by when I shift my vision. Very distracting. It becomes very noticeable in daylight, as it appears that there are many fine threads connected to it that span the lower quarter of my vision.

Wow, I get this, but very minor (the bits are mostly transparent and really small, but I can see them looking at the sky). I didn't know for sure whether they were physical objects or something in my mind, but they way they moved made me think they must be physical. Good to know that's actually a thing!

These are white blood cells moving in the capillaries in front of the retina of the eye.

Those are simply nerves that run in the eye, everyone has them.

They're often just very small dust particles and minor variations in the thickness of the fluid coating the cornea as well. Those would be the ones that seem to float gently downward (sometimes almost forcing you to try to follow them, which is, of course, impossible) but which tend to reestablish their position after every blink. Annoying, but that's all.

IIRC the really small white ones that you see when looking up at a blue sky are actually white blood cells in the arteries on the inner surface of your eyeball.

It's called 'blue field entoptic phenomenon.'


Yes, Blue field entoptic phenomenon is the name.

I've also heard of visual snow, which seems to be related to migraines.



There are also distortions that can seem cataracts like when you wake up. That's just a residue/film on your eye that gets rehydrated and cleaned up as you wake up, it's not a cataract.

No, not a detached retina, but get them checked. The first time I had a "floater" was last March. Luckily, I had it checked out. Some blood vessels in the back of my eye were leaking and it was serious enough to require laser surgery. Like someone else said, get them checked the first time and/or if they get worse.

Might be worth seeking a second opinion, or maybe that of a specialist? Certainly can't hurt given what's at stake!

I bet I'm not the only one frantically checking their field of vision for anything resembling black spots after reading this. Glad you recuperated.

Here's a good article on the floating black spots you can experience in your vision: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Floaters/Pages/Introduction.asp...

TLDR; they're pretty common (I've had them for years), but you should go get them checked out if you see a rapid increase in the number of them.

Definitely not; I'm now panicking about the same. The advice is greatly appreciated by those paranoid about losing out eyesight.

“I’ve been seeing spots in front of my eyes.”

“Have you seen a doctor?”

“No, just spots.”

We aren't talking about those black floaters here, are we? With constant you mean "fixed in position" I suppose.

I think the same thing happened to the author Oliver Sacks, who wrote about it. He noticed it right before Christmas and lost some sight because no doctors were available during the holidays IIRC.

While a sudden increase in floaters could be an indication of a retinal tear/detatchment, so long as they do not continue to increase and aren't directly in your vision (or not easily ignored) you shouldn't worry too much about them.

Yikes... I wonder if there's an equivalent alarming-but-seemingly-innocuous situation for hearing. I'd imagine the analog for this would be something like tinnitus... anybody know?

Any rapid change that you notice in your body should be checked out by a doctor.

Tinnitus is frequently a result of hearing loss, I couldn't tell you if it is ever a precursor.

I have moderate tinnitus in my left ear and also some hearing loss. Tinnitus can be pretty obnoxious, it's one of those weird things that if you concentrate on it, it gets worse.

I'm hopeful for some sort of procedure or drug to someday alleviate it, but for now I just live with it.

I think maybe the same rule of thumb applies to tinnitus; if it starts suddenly without warning and persists then get it checked out. Otherwise, it may be normal. I've had mild tinnitus for years but it never occurs during the day unless I've been listening to very loud music and only rarely happens for a few seconds right before falling asleep. Fortunately, my symptoms also haven't gotten perceptibly worse for the last few years.

As a totally blind software developer everything he has in the article is accurate. There are two things he did not do though which I do on a regular basis and assume most other blind users do as well. First is using the feature of screen readers that allow you to view all links on a page as one giant list. While this isn’t helpful when initially browsing a page if you use a site on a regular basis and know where you need to go it’s easy to bring up a list of links and start typing to use first letter navigation to jump to the link you need out of the 150 that may be on the page. An example of this is typing “pri” to bring up the print link in order to view stories on a single page. Second is the ability to use a find feature of a screen reader to search for specific text on the page. Once again this is not useful for general browsing but if you visit a site on a regular basis and need to repeatedly access a section of the page that isn’t easily findable by links or headings searching for a text string you know will be there is a god send.

I don't mean to be insensitive, but I am morbidly curious about your condition (mainly because 23andme said I am prone to macular degeneration, a thought that terrifies me).

How does one program without sight? I have done something similar to OP on my latest project (I tried to use my product blindfolded + screenreader), and I found that it was a terrible experience. My site was absolute shite. It was only through my own familiarity with it that I was able to navigate it.

I would imagine trying to develop sightless itself would be a feat, so my question is: how? were you sighted before you lost your vision? Tactile feedback from the keyboard or voice commands?

I was born blind so have never known any different and have always done everything on the computer with speech and brail. From talking to people who have lost their vision later in life it generally seems the older you are when you lose your vision the harder it is to adapt and live a normal life after vision loss. Since you know it may be a possibility though I assume may have some time to at least cope with the fact that you could lose your vision and have a longer time to acclimate yourself to this fact rather than losing it all in a hunting accident. If you have a MAC play with voiceover which is built into the OS, it has a nice getting started tutorial. As for how I program see the following stackoverflow question. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/118984/how-can-you-progra...

Have you found some programming languages to be easier to work with due to their syntax?

For example, I was thinking I would have an easier time hearing Python vs hearing Clojure. I think that even if it were brail, something like Clojure would be more difficult to track.

Although giving it some more thought, I suppose the indentation of python might be the more difficult thing to deal with.

I haven't used Clojure yet although have been meaning to give it a try at some point. indentation is the reason I've never seriously looked at Python, although I know there are blind programmers who use it effectively. What matters more to me then the actual language is the variable names. If the variable names read more like English or at least follow a standard it's much easier to just listen to the code. The shorter the variable names the more likely I am to read a lot of code using my braille display instead of listening to it.

One thing I am curious about is what screen sizes you use. As a sighted developer having as much visible at once is most productive. I use two large screens and the only reason I don't have a third is lack of desk space.

The laptop being used in one of the Youtube links on the page looks to be at least 14 inches.

Does screen size affect your productivity? Do you care about resolution? Do you get the smallest screen size phones and laptops?

On a laptop screen size doesn't matter. In College when living space was limited I used a 13 inch 9 pound laptop that I'd lug everywhere since I needed the portability and performance. I then switched to a desktop with 6 cores and 8 gigs of ram as my main machine with a cheap netbook that I use when I'm traveling or want to do basic browsing or email from the couch. When I give into gadget lust or get a big enough raise that I don't feel so guilty spending $1500 when I still have two working computers I may get an 11 inch MacBook air with 8 gigs of ram. Ideally I'd prefer the 11 inch form factor but until recently I couldn't find an 11 inch laptop with good enough specs to be used as a main machine. As far as the phone goes the only touch screen phone I’ve ever had is an iPhone 4 so don’t know how screen size on phones would matter to me. I do know that on touch screen devices too much space can cause me issues since it’s hard to remember where things are. After playing with an iPad I decided to stick with an iPhone since it can do pretty much everything the iPad can without having so much screen space that I spend most of my time trying to find icons instead of the space separating them. I have heard of blind developers using iPads to get a spatial layout of web pages when they are doing web development. For that purpose I could see the bigger screen being an asset but since I don’t do much web development it’s not something I care about.

Jared, I have a few projects that target blind and low vision users, and I'd like your feedback. My email is in my profile.

As great as this article is, the title should be "10 things I learned about accessibility by pretending..."

I was hoping it might be about somebody who was 'blind' for a week in everyday life, and the potential shifts in their subjective perception of reality this might have caused.. it's something I've wanted to do for a while – anyone know of anything like that, actually?

Whenever you have the chance of being in Central Europe -- Budapest, Prague or Warsaw -- don't miss the Invisible Exhibition.


I've been there, and it's been one of the most deeply touching experiences I've ever had. Highly recommended.

I visited "Dialog in the Dark" exhibit in Atlanta with my wife a few years ago. It appears that is permanently closed but they opened a new one in NYC - http://www.dialognyc.com/ - however due to Sandy, it appears that is temporarily closed.

There is one in Hamburg [1], highly recommended.

It consists of a tour with several rooms modelling a variety of features of everyday life, including a boat trip. There is also a bar at the end, where you buy a drink (paying for it was rather humbling for me) and sit down around the guide for a final chat. You never get to see the guide.

You are given a walking stick but for me it was pretty useless, I was stumbling on everything and everyone the same.

They also offer dinners in the dark.

The best part of the experience for me was realising that you are in the blind person's (admittedly fake) world, some form of opposite of when the blind person is in your world when walking down the street and bumping against a car parked in the middle of the street crossing.

[1] http://www.dialog-im-dunkeln.de/

> anyone know of anything like that, actually?

No, but Eddie Murphy famously pretended to be white for a while and the results were frankly shocking (got free newspapers, easier time getting loans, etc.)

No, that was just an SNL sketch: http://www.snotr.com/video/422/Eddie_Murphy_goes_undercover

Funny, but not real undercover.

There was a famous book called Black Like Me about a white guy who pretended to be black in the south in the late 50s/early 60s.

Not only that, but did he do this for a week, or just for a few hours here and there?

Haha yes you're right, but the title was getting quite long, and I was hoping that would be implied! I could have extended this further and written about how being blind affected other aspects of my life, but I'm a web developer and wanted to write something about my field of interest. I too would be interested in reading an article about how it affects other aspects of life. maybe you should write one!

"10 things I learned about web accessibility by pretending..."

I agree with some earlier comments about watching out for black spots. I lost my sight in a grizzly bear mauling and learning to use adaptive technology was a critical part of my recovery which lead me back into the work place. The technology available is very helpful, but definitely has its limits and can indeed be quite frustrating at times. Agree with the article that Facebook is really not accessible in a meaningful way at all. While the mobile site is slightly better, it has no structure and is essentially made up of approximately 99 links on my mobile homepage. Like all skills though, you do get better at using a screen reader with practice. I believe the brain's neural pathways actually adapt to accommodate the way a blind user interfaces with the screen reader much in the same way it does for other tasks such as orientation and mobility (travelling blind). So, blind users actually do get used to the super fast speech that may be unintelligible to most people. With that said, I appreciate the article because there are very simple ways to make websites user friendly to the blind. Headings that are not over used and well labeled and having all controls on a site well labeled alone can make a huge difference. The other key is really simplicity. Less is more for the blind user for sure. I've tried to do that with my website (danbigley.com), but it can be difficult to test and ensure accessibility.

I'm a blind software developer who's been lurking on HN now for a couple years. Every few months an article about the blind comes across and seems to generate some discussion. I tend to stay quiet here on HN, as I generally feel I have little to contribute to the latest discussion on whether or not software is like a Japanese restaurant.

Now, a few points: First, and most importantly: your web sucks. I'm a very proficient computer user--the same gap between supertechnical and nontechnical users exists in the blind community, perhaps even magnified by other aspects such as secondary disabilities in a good chunk of the blind population. That aside, I've been doing this for around 13 years, using a variety of screen access solutions on Windows, OSX, and even the hellscape that is modern desktop Linux a11y. All of these solutions suffer from the same basic problem namely they are trying to squeeze a dynamic, multidimensional viewport into a linear text string for rapid communication. This don't work so hot, but like most things, you can adapt to it over time. So why does the web suck? First, a history lesson: Back in the halcyon days of the 1990's, when I was just getting started with this silly computer stuff, the problem that was desktop accessibility had already nearly been solved. Microsoft gave us MSAA, and several screen reader vendors implemented their own heuristics on top of it to give pretty good access to standard controls. Highlight detection worked ... reasonably-well to know when text changed on a form, screen readers would perform nasty little hacks including API hooking and other black magic to give a pretty good picture of what was going on at any one time. Then, along came the web. At first this wasn't too terrible. Several screen reader vendors made a stab at solving web accessibility, and thus the virtual buffer was born. The virtual buffer is where the story really gets interesting. You can follow along should you like -- I'm currently using the NVDA screen reader to compose this comment, and you can get it at http://nvda-project.org (for those who do, no I don't listen to that dreadful voice all day, there are alternatives.) Okay: So, you have a tree, the DOM, and you need to render it linearly, and not only that, but it needs to make some kind of sense. Enter the virtual buffer. Each screen reader gets a hold of the DOM through whatever ugly hacks, then renders your beautiful website with lovely topography into a flat, basically plaintext representation. Links get prefixed with "link", headings with "heading 3", so on and so forth. The software developers in the audience probably already see the problem coming, when I learned how this worked I was rather offended. So, for the screen reader, there are two single points of truth: the DOM, and the virtual buffer representation. As we all know, when a complex system includes information in more than one place, the two have a tendency to get out of sync. Consider what happens when you update your DOM with some javascript magic. The screen reader needs to, hopefully without making me lose my current place on the page, diff your changes against its current buffer, update its buffer, and somehow indicate to me that the content has changed, without interrupting my current task. Complex DOM manipulations aside, let's just talk about how poorly-marked-up your content is: For those of you who got NVDA, I invite you to explore around HN a little. Note the unlabeled links for voting, for instance. Is there any indication that the first edit field on a submission's page is where one enters a comment? And HN is hardly a dynamic website. How can one tell nonvisually (or visually for that matter) who replied to whom in comment threads? That's something that's puzzled me for a while, I just have to heuristically separate conversation threads.

Now, it's not all bad. Slowly, aria is being deployed to a variety of websites. Even more importantly, I've recently been looking into adding access at the UI toolkit level for some popular projects, especially Bootstrap.js (if a proficient web person would be interested in helping me with this it would be awesome, I'm primarily a desktop software guy (yes, the blind are one of the few subpopulations who haven't gone hole-hog for the web, and I'd argue a good reason for that is the web's lack of accessibility.)) Simple fixes -- adding aria-haspopup="true" to dropdown toggles, adding aria roles to various things can help, and I'm hopeful that work at the bootstrap and similar level will take the onus off of individual web developers.

I'm typically pretty difficult to offend, but I must say it's just a tad bit jarring to find the top comment thread on this submission be about how terrible it is to lose one's vision and how one should do absolutely anything to avoid it. Isn't this Hacker News? Where hackers talk about technical things? Mreh.

As for the article itself, a couple rather important things: Yes, I'm certain that it is extremely difficult to navigate the web as a newly-blinded person, and this is partially because of many of the issues that I outlined above. That said, if you people want to know how a blind person sees the web, don't ask a sighted person to wear a blindfold for a week and expect it to be at all representative of how someone who's been doing it their entire life does. Why not just ask a blind person? Just a few examples: Where as the author of the submission refers to headings as the primary navigation mechanism, modern screen reader users are quite lucky in that most screen reader developers have mapped hotkeys to nearly every type of HTML element. For instance, I hit f to navigate to the next form field on a page, shift+f to navigate to the previous. Similar keystrokes are available for all the levels of headings, for links both visited and unvisited, for landmarks, for tables, so on and so forth. The title attribute of a link is read in a few cases: 1: when the link is explicitly tabbed to, and 2: when the link does not have text. A perfect example of where the title attribute should* be used is for the HN voting links.

Anyhow, I think that's enough rambling for now. Anyone who would like to discuss this, my e-mail is in my profile.

Just a quick note to say that I did not mean to encourage replies to this comment by e-mail instead of using the comment system -- It's plenty useable enough for me to engage, and it's not until I reread my comment after the edit window had closed that I realized I gave that impression.

I find your long comment somewhat hard to read because there are so few breaks, especially in the second block.

(It's probably because the layout is not optimized for very long texts; it's hard to find the beginning of the next line when there are so many of them and the distance between them is small like this.)

It's currently on my to-do list to try going without sight for a month while I use my computer.

I figured I'd try using a high pitched tone generator to produce different buzzes depending on where I am on the screen.

EDIT: I am aware that using non-standard hardware will not help me develop accessible web pages. That's not the point of the exercise.

Read about WCAG (http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag), that's what you need to follow to make web sites accessible, not markup validation, which really means "jack shit".

Visual impairment does not necessarily equal total blindness. Accounting for text size, contrast level, etc. is a lot to consider. AA conformance level (middle level, so to speak) is very hard to achieve.

The Australian government made WCAG 2.0 a mandatory requirement of all government sites. Many claim to conform to the Double-A requirement, but very few bodies do accreditation and the standard itself is almost incomprehensible.

A List Apart did a pretty good article on the issues with WCAG 2.0 in 2006: "To Hell with WCAG 2" http://www.alistapart.com/articles/tohellwithwcag2

The Canadian government is in the same boat. In fact, they are offering an open source framework that is modern, responsive and complies with WCAG requirements: https://github.com/wet-boew/wet-boew

Here's a Wired article on this subject from today: http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2013/01/wet/

Many web devs use the W3C validator and assume the green tick means it's completely accessible. But they can only check for so much, which makes it almost useless. There's no substitute for actual user testing

Even as a fully healthy user, I often find the "mobile" versions of sites are much easier to use. They tend to have a lot less junk on them and make the actual content much more prominent.

I think "sighted" is preferable to "healthy". Just for future reference.

I was trying to find a succinct way to express that I had no disabilities rather than just that I can see. I'm aware my phrasing was awkward but hope people would realise there is no offence intended.

The politically correct term is "temporarily abled." This sounds goofy at first, until we realize that if we live long enough, nearly all of us lose our abilities in one way or another.

Have you never heard of the euphemism treadmill?

It doesn't matter what you call it - nothing is going to change the reality. You might as well use the first word that was coined for it and stop. Every new word you find will eventually have the same emotional significance, since the underlying reality isn't going to change.

And calling something by how you're not going to have it is ridiculous - yes, please walk into my charred pieces of wood, while I search for my soon to be lost keys and give you a ride in the crushed metal.

The "euphemism treadmill" is interesting, but the goal in changing terminology isn't necessarily to escape previous negative connotations. It usually better reflects our current understanding of a particular disability or state. Saying that it doesn't change the reality is pretty ignorant; many people overcome physical disabilities, only to be looked down upon by society.

For example, "retard" is overwhelmingly negative. Saying someone has a learning disability doesn't magically make them learn better, but it does:

A) treat them as a person. Imagine if we had a particular term for a person with cancer. They're not a person now, they're a "cancee", or whatever the term is. This is degrading, you're defining them in terms of their illness. The same is true of mental illnesses and physical disabilities.

B) affect reality by changing the social situation. Treating someone with a disability with respect and referring to them in the way they prefer doesn't fix all their problems, but it is a contribution you can make to helping them. This is really true of all people; you might not be able to fix everyone's problems, but you should still be nice to them.

I agree that the currently able label is a stretch, partially because it's about labeling yourself. If you don't want to be referred to as currently able, that's your choice, and I don't think it negatively impacts other people.

Edit: I meant to add that a good counter example for the treadmill is reclamation: see dyke marches, use of the word "nigger" in black culture. There aren't a lot of terms that have come full circle in modern culture, but there also aren't many iterations on the treadmill so far

Regarding the "euphemism treadmill": sometimes it is necessary to coin a new euphemism. For example, if the common usage of a word is different from its original meaning. "Homosexual" was the name of a psychological disorder, "moron", "retard", and "idiot" were all clinical definitions of mental handicap.

Times change, words continuously change meaning. Use the words that your audience understands, not the ones that your audience understood last week or one hundred years ago.

That's the whole reason it's a treadmill: The new words will rapidly take on the new, undesired but real, meaning.

I think we agree that the euphemism treadmill(ET) exists, and that (ET) means that our words constantly change meaning.

Your original post used it as a reason not to coin a new word: >>>It doesn't matter what you call it - nothing is going to change the reality. You might as well use the first word that was coined for it and stop.

I am saying that the (ET) is precisely the reason to coin a new word. Otherwise, your audience will not understand what you are talking about.

If you speak a language your audience doesn't understand, your audience will not understand your language. This applies to all languages: french, english, perl, python, and the euphemism treadmill.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do, including speaking the languages they understand if you would like them to understand your speech.

But whether I say "cripple" or "disabled person" or whatever the current euphemism du jour is, surely any audience understands what I mean equally well.

I think that we can agree that any reasonable audience acting in good faith SHOULD understand, but I think we can also agree that most audiences are not made up of reasonable people acting in good faith, which likely predisposes failures of understanding.

I'll get specific with two mechanisms of failure that I've seen. Let's say that there is a euphemism treadmill that starts with the word A then proceeds alphabetically to K. A was created in 1852, and K is "the current euphemism du jour". Your favorite word is E, created in 1960 and popularized in the 70s, replaced with F in 1981.

Mechanism 1:your audience consists of people born after 1981 who are unaware that E is even on the treadmill at all, and they don't understand that E->F->G->H->I->J->K .

They have an opportunity to act in good faith and say "lmm, the word E is incredibly offensive to me. Did I misunderstand you?"

And then you could reply "Yes you misunderstood me because political correctness ruined the word E, I actually meant the current euphemism du jour which is K."

Another case is a person who is aware of the treadmill and does understand you, but decides that they are more interested in being offended than continuing the discussion. They will then decide to talk about their poor little feelings instead of whatever the discussion was actually about.

If you want to get a point across to that specific type of idiot, you need to use their language so they can't get distracted with their "feelings". Same thing goes for the rest of their irrational customs, and probably most of yours and mine as well. When in Rome.

One thing to note is that old words sometimes really are so offensive that their meanings should be either treadmilled or redefined. Homosexuality was the technical term for an illegal mental disorder that the computer hero Alan Turing(Turing machine, Turing test, WWII Enigma decoder) was chemically castrated for. Bill Hicks has a short bit about Jesus not wanting to see people wearing crosses when he comes back, I would think the same would apply to people who survived homosexual persecution:


I've never heard this term, so far it looks like it has pretty niche use. In my experience I would just describe myself as "someone without a disability", "a person who does not have a disability".

You could say "fully able".

Am I the only one who thought this has startup potential? It sounds like a problem in search of a solution. I can picture for instance a service that would take a page, scan it, remove all the unnecesary clutter and make it as much screen reader friendly as possible.

> I can picture for instance a service that would take a page, scan it, remove all the unnecesary clutter and make it as much screen reader friendly as possible.

If this was technologically achievable, it would be in screen readers already ;)

Something I have noticed on HN lately is our (and I do me our) tendency to search for purely technological solutions and completely ignore the possibility of manual labor.

Wikipedia would not be possible without manual labor, as an example. We should not discount manual labor and the fact that humans are so versatile at dealing with ill-defined input.

Surely a "service" does not need to be a purely technological and automatic service.

I can imagine a portal, like google, that instead of storing vanilla cached pages, stores "vision impaired friendly" pages for viewing. I can further imagine that with the right tools developed, crowd sourcing could make this successful.

If one were to develop tools for slicing and cleansing or dynamically transforming pages such that these tools were friendly to blind and otherwise vision impaired users, you would have built in motivation among the crowd to participate.

That sounds like something that Readability, Pocket, or Instapaper could very well implement. Considering they already declutter webpages as it is.

Similar to Opera Mini? or Readability.

Opera Mini requests web pages through Opera Software's servers, which process and compress them before sending them to the mobile phone [...]. The pre-processing increases compatibility with web pages not designed for mobile phones.[1]

On the other hand, I thought that publishing useful accessible HTML content with minimal and logical markup would benefit mobile users and screenreader users at the same time. But, instead, many people would rather have an app for their phone...

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opera_Mini

Isn't that the job of the screen reader?

Screen readers aren't exactly hives of innovation, but yes this is exactly what they are for, so the startup idea is "make a better screenreader."

I thought it has startup potential too, but in a different direction; a league of blind people you can hire to give feedback on your website.

Yes, exactly. But you could go even further: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5021748


I was stunned by how fast the blind can "speed listen" in the linked video. Is this something anyone can learn?

It's nothing close to that video, but I use VLC's "playback speed" settings to watch TV at around 160%. It is definitely something you adapt to...I used to have trouble at 130%, and now that seems slow.

(If you do this, you also learn to appreciate good enunciation. Stephen Colbert is completely listen-to-able at 200%. His guests, not so much.)

As a similar, but easier, experiment, try listening to Adobe Acrobat read a PDF file out loud-- especially if the PDF contains anything at all interesting, like mathematics, figures, tables, or any kind of "float" that pegs to the top of a page as the text flows around it.

While tools are available to let the PDF creator tag the document in order to facilitate reading, in practice they don't seem to be used much, and even then the experience is painful at best.

Shouldn't websites start having an accessible version, like they have mobile versions of their sites? These would be free of too much JavaScript fu and go directly to the meat of the matter. In fact it is possible people with no physical challenges would start preferring these simpler faster versions too. Maybe in near future, the latest trend in web will be less JS, less graphics, less animation and more matter.

This is an absolutely terrible idea that seems to refuse to die. No, it is not reasonable to put the accessible content in some sort of blind-only ghetto. Amazon do this, for instance, with a text-based version of their website. It makes it more difficult to maintain unless you've architected from the absolute beginning for it, and over time the text-based version becomes useless. Think of it from the perspective of someone adding new features to your webapp. Let's put it in HN terms -- you're building your MVP, launching in three days or something absurd... Are you really going to go build a text-based version of your website? Are you going to keep that updated? No. The only solution is to make the actual web, the one we all use, accessible. This doesn't mean changing what individual developers do so much as making sure that it's harder to be inaccessible than to be accessible with technical fixes, I.E. fixing Bootstrap so all Bootstrap sites are more accessible.

Why shouldn't companies (their developers) put in the extra effort needed to keep both versions up to date? They can come up with a framework for it. It may not necessarily mean two totally separate code base. You could design your framework so that both versions feed off the same backend. And don't they have to put in that extra effort to make sure their mobile versions are up to date?

Startups have a good chance to start their framework with accessibility in mind.

An MVP could ignore this aspect, because it is not the final product yet.

Because they won't. I'm commenting from the perspective of a blind user--I know of what I speak. Note that I explicitly said you would have to architect for it, which you reiterated in your point. Doesn't it make far more sense to make the underlying tooling accessible rather than ghettoizing the content? My main point here is, if there's extra work to be done to make content accessible, that work simply won't be done. Hell, I wouldn't do it either -- a whole extra site template's worth for what? 1% of users? and I am totally blind.

I want to add further to my comment that I do not oppose the idea of making the web accessible by nature, but reading so far in this post and comments, it seems hugely difficult esp considering how much of the content/elements are manipulated by javascript. How are the screen readers going to cope with that?

Just a note of marginal importance: I'm pretty sure that speeding up movie 1.5 times would bring its runtime from 2hrs to 1hr:20mins (not 1.5hrs as mentioned). With 24 frames per second 2hr movie has 172800 frames. Speedup brings framerate to 36 fps, and dividing we get 4800 seconds, or 80 minutes.

Edit: Thank your for pointing that out leberwurstsaft!

you missed to multiply by 2h. 86400 frames equal only 1h.

By W3C validator do you mean the Markup Validation Service or the Web Accessibility Initiative aka WAI? I think WAI validators were introduced to address the issue you raised in your experiment. Is this true?

Anyhow, I can't agree more, "being W3C valid means jack".

While being "W3C valid" (passing validation according to a DTD or schema for the HTML) is insufficient, it's still useful in that tools, including screen readers, can more reliably process the content of a valid page than an invalid page.

Yeah I agree, it's useful as an absolute bare minimum. But you shouldn't just get the green tick and rest on your laurels

Has anyone had experience with newer versions of Chrome Vox (http://www.chromevox.com/)? Would that improve the experience over the other screen readers for web browsing?

I did look at this before doing testing for this article, but I assume not many blind users will use this setup. When I tested websites I tried to make my experience match the majority of blind users.

Very interesting experiment. Sighted people often take their vision for granted. I know I do and I try to think of what I would do if I lost my vision but we can all work on improving accessibility in general.

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