The gap between accessibility specialists and disabled persons

In recent years, I have observed that the gap between disabled persons and accessibility specialists is widening. In this article I would like to show this with some concrete examples. I will leave aside the fact that there are also disabled accessibility specialists.

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Non-accessible PDFs

PDFs can be just as accessible as accessible websites. The emphasis is on can. It is no coincidence that HTML is the reference for accessible PDF and not vice versa. In my long career, I have seen few PDFs that have reached the quality of a moderately accessible web page - with comparable complexity.

The problem can be summed up very simply: PDF is not designed for accessibility and, incidentally, it is not designed for responsiveness. Next to cookie banners, PDFs are one of the most annoying accessibility bugs on websites. You start at the wrong end: Instead of providing accessibility in the production process, at first a PDF optimised for printing is created, which is then made accessible and placed on the internet. An expensive and stupid process. But everyone is happy. The supplier does not have to optimise its processes and the specialist earns money from every mistake the designers made in the PDF. Unfortunately, the disabled reader does not take part in this story. If accessibility was a whodunit thriller, the disabled person would be the murder victim; he is talked about, but not with.

To the few who want to hear it, I say I prefer a website or office format to any accessible PDF.

From a user perspective, by the way, it doesn't matter whether it's the assistive technology, the reader application or the PDF. As a user, you want to read or work with a document, not struggle with standards and their problems.

The Language Attribute

The language attribute is used to tell the screen reader or other reading tools what language a piece of content wants to be read aloud in. Most advanced language users I have asked about this switch off the automatic language change. I have explained the background in detail elsewhere. Certainly, there are blind persons who are multilingual and do not mind if the screen reader constantly changes the language. But that is a minority. Every screen reader I know of allows manual switching of the synthesiser language, but not all allow disabling off automatic language switching , for example Android Talkback.

In the case of the specialists, such as those responsible for the BITV test, it goes in one ear and out the other. They demand that every foreign word be labelled with the appropriate language.

Alternative texts

I have the most discussions with specialists about image descriptions. Page X generates diagrams from dynamic data. The framework used automatically generates a picture description in which, for example, the number of columns or bars and their values are summarised. This is also in English on a German website.

I say, here a - existing - CSV is actually the better alternative. There may be cases where the form of the diagram and its visual appearance is relevant for a blind person - but I can't think of any. But the specialist tells me that Directive XY prescribes an alternative text.

Accessible, but a usability disaster

Many applications are accessible on paper, but a pure disaster when it comes to usability. My favourite example here is Microsoft Teams both on the desktop and on the browser. Microsoft has taken the worst of both worlds - desktop and mobile - and turned it into a fancy application for sighted persons. For blind persons, the application is a pure disaster. The fast movement within the app encourages the memorisation of countless key combinations. The app is so convoluted that you often have to click 10 times to reach a desired area.

And this also applies to numerous other applications. If, as is foreseeable, a large part of the software shifts to the browser or half web apps, it will become increasingly difficult.

I dread a little the future in which we will have to use such programmes. Unless there is a drastic change in software development or assistive technologies, I don't see an efficient way for blind persons with an IT background to work in this area.


I am actually a solution-oriented person. Unfortunately, I cannot offer a solution in this case. Perhaps it is also part of being a specialist in the field to no longer be interested in the opinions of those affected. It is also interesting that millions are spent on formal tests, but user tests are supposedly too expensive.

For me personally, I have drawn the conclusion not to talk to many specialists any more. I rely on persons who are new to the topic or who are not mainly concerned with accessibility. I have found them to be much more open.

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