From my point of view: Enabling independence for a better life.

05/08/2016 Written by Mike Taylor Senior Accessibility Analyst (DAC.)

In this final post for 'my point of view' series, I have put together my personal views on how accessible online banking is for me at the moment, and given information on how things can change to be more accessible and usable in the future. The following post gives information which will make apps and websites more accessible to all user groups, which gives greater independence to the end user as a result.

I am a tech-savvy person, and use technology almost every minute of every day and thanks to the developments in technology I enjoy much more participation in the digital world than I could have ever hoped for. I am totally blind and rely on my assistive technology to enable me to manage my finances securely and independently, which gives me the confidence to play an equal part in society and not be limited by my lack of vision.

Knowledge is the key to empowerment

I learned how to use the assistive technology by some basic training many years ago, and then trained myself on the rest. Like many people it’s word of mouth and just getting my hands on the software, which provides the best lessons, but of course this is not the best for all users. My ability to use a touch screen phone for example was learned by reading the software manual, listening to podcasts and speaking to friends; as well as making mistakes. Many devices now include built in software with a quick tutorial to help people get going.

If I can manage my money easily and be as independent as possible when carrying out my various banking requirements, I can make informed decisions about my finances, get in to the savings habit as we are all being urged to do, and access important information and statements about my accounts. Like many people I got my first account when I was 16, but only had braille statements to make the account truly accessible to me. Moving forward 20 years and I no longer have braille statements, it’s just my preference though as I now prefer electronic information through various sources such as the bank website or via the mobile app. Most of us have a credit file but we don’t always view it, some people may never view their file at all. I consider myself to be lucky though, as I can use my assistive technology to view my credit file and keep track of my credit score, and resolve any errors if they arise. I am able to view my latest statement from my pension provider, and hopefully make the correct decisions about my future. I am able to put some money away for my daughter for when she gets older, so as we can identify, the possibilities are endless with regards to what can be done using the technology which is now available to us.

What about cash machines?

Cash machines for me personally can be confusing, while some provide a tactile keypad in the form of braille or embossed print letters such as an ‘x’ on the ‘cancel’ button, I need to remember which buttons to press once I have entered my personal identification number (pin.) I also need to remember where the ‘cancel’ button is if I make a mistake, and of course where the cash dispenser and card slots are. My memory gets a work out every day, and yes there have been times when I have become confused, and need to rely on a hopefully trust worthy member of the public to tell me what is on the screen; or just hit that ‘cancel’ button and start again. Does this stop me from getting my money? No but each time I go to the cash point I am extremely cautious, and I need to be fully alert with my memory muscle working.

The current landscape of apps, websites and assistive technology

The assistive technology I use is called a screen reader, there are many different screen readers on the market today; some cost from £550 for a standard licence, while others are free, or pre-installed on to a user’s computer or mobile device. Screen reading software will announce through synthetic voice what is on the screen, and depending on the device being used; a user can interact with their device using keyboard commands or touch gestures if using a touch screen. Screen reading software will work as long as the information it is announcing is clearly structured, and where websites, apps and programme user interfaces are concerned, the information needs to be clearly coded with regards to what button performs what action and so on, as well as responsive to keyboard or touch gestures when they are used.

When using my bank’s website I find that many things work as expected for a blind user, although when I log in and view my statement for example, the table which contains the relevant information is not clearly structured; making it difficult for me to navigate. In this instance clear column and row information to tell me what part of the table I am viewing will improve this experience. Enter the mobile app. While using the app I generally find that while it is significantly easier, some items don’t always indicate if they are a button which can be selected such as different accounts for example. Thankfully though my bank has improved their button labelling a lot so this problem is now significantly diminished.

Inaccessible verses accessible

My job gives me a unique advantage where I am able to check websites and apps to ensure they work with the assistive technology that blind people use, as well as providing training and helping the web and app developers to identify problems so a fix can be implemented. I walk 2 paths, that of the end user, and that of the analyst and developer. Many aspects of an app or website can either improve, or inadvertently create barriers to accessing the content with screen reading software. The big areas of confusion are typically forms which do not clearly convey what data should be entered, error messages which do not clearly indicate what information should be corrected after a form has been submitted with errors, or links which don’t contain clear information relating to what action will be performed when the link is selected. It is difficult to list every problem in this article, although I personally and professionally encounter the issues above at least once a week.

A lack of a headings structure causes navigation problems, as users will not be able to move through a page section-by-section easily and it will take longer to complete a task when looking for information. Although they are implemented to reduce security risks, CAPTCHAs can cause a significant problem for blind people online. The prompt to enter the letters from an image, or to hear an audio challenge both have their limitations. An image-based CAPTCHA is inaccessible by default, as blind people will not be able to identify the letters in the image; while some audio-based CAPTCHAs are difficult to hear due to the heavy processing applied to the audio. Content which automatically updates without the user being made aware of it can confuse users, and reduce their confidence as well as their independence when attempting to carry out a task. An app or website which has unclear button and tab labelling, or contains items which do not respond to keyboard command or touch gesture can make the difference between someone using it, and not using it at all.

An accessible offering is to have all items respond as expected when a user implements the use of a keyboard on a desktop computer, or equally responding to a touch command from a tablet or mobile device. Including consistent labelling for all items, which can be selected such as links, buttons, drop-down boxes and form fields will make all the difference. Including an alternative method of verification such as SMS or email in place of a CAPTCHA, would be another option. Another alternative such as the ‘honey pot’ option, where a hidden field if completed will not allow the form to submit, while other options include the ability to stop a form submition if it was completed too quickly. The ‘honey pot’ option is particularly indicated here as blind users (like all other users of online forms) will typically take longer than a few seconds to view, understand and submit the form. A clear and logical headings structure makes the difference between difficult and easy navigation, which is a win-win on any page. Implementing such fixes as indicated above improves the lives of not just blind people, but all users, giving the ultimate freedom of choice and independence to all.