Good accessibility enables a visually impaired person to use services independently – user-friendliness would also be an advantage
Digitalisation and accessible digital services have enabled many people with visual impairments to take care of their matters independently. A service that meets the accessibility criteria can be used with different technical aids, such as screen reading software. However, the criteria do not guarantee that the service is also easy and convenient to use.
– I would not use the word “excellent” for any of the existing digital services, not even for banking services, says Jennifer Stanger, who uses digital services with the help of a screen reading programme.
As an example of a detail that is accessible but not so user-friendly, Stanger mentions invoices in PDF format.
– The screen reading programme reads the entire PDF invoice in one go, so it takes some time to find the reference number, for example. So, even though the invoice is accessible, it could still be more user-friendly.
Digital services make independent use of services and studying possible
Stanger is in her thirties and has grown up during the digital revolution. Service after service has been digitalised, which has made it possible for her to take care of everyday matters independently.
– Digitalisation has made everyday life easier, especially for those us who are visually impaired. For a long time, invoices were difficult for me as they were sent on paper. I needed a sighted assistant to help me read the invoice or I tried to scan the invoice with varying degrees of success. However, as online banking is accessible today, I can manage the financial matters myself and Suomi.fi Messages and other services provided by the authorities also enable me to manage other matters independently. It means that I no longer need to give my banking IDs to a sighted assistant like a few years ago.
Jennifer Stanger moves about with her 3-year-old guide dog Elli. – I have only had Elli for a few months, so we are still learning to work together, Stanger says.
Studying at university is also easier than it was a few years ago.
– Nowadays, finding the study material online makes it a lot easier for me. Before, I had to ask the teacher to give me the lecture material electronically, but everything is now available in Moodle, with only a few exceptions. Of course, it has sometimes been challenging to hand in assignments as I cannot always be sure if I sent the right file to the right place and if it was received. But I think it may be just as challenging for those who can see, says Stanger and laughs.
Sometimes, the daily routines are challenged by digital services that are too complicated even for an experienced user of a screen reading programme. One of the examples Stanger mentions is interpreting the timetables of Föli, the Turku region public transport.
– I cannot make any sense of their timetables with the screen reading programme and I always have to ask someone else to check the timetable for me.
Sometimes the functioning of the service depends on a small detail. An example of a service that does not function is the service provided by the early childhood education and care services for submitting day-care times.
– In my home municipality, we have to submit the day-care times electronically. With my aids, I can enter the day-care times in the form as required but cannot use the button that sends them. My spouse now fills in the times, but if I didn’t have my spouse, I would need someone to assist me with that too, Stanger says.
According to Stanger, services that do not function at all are very rare today.– It is great to be able to take care of matters online and not have to go anywhere, as long as the services work with the aids. If they do not, it can be hard work to find an alternative way to take care of that matter.
Small changes make services more user-friendly
Over the summer, Stanger has been working as an expert by experience testing the accessibility of digital services at the City of Turku alongside her studies. In practice, her work has included testing and use of digital services.
– Generally speaking, the services function well and we have not come across anything that would prevent the use of the service altogether. We have mainly come across situations in which minor improvements would make services more accessible for a person using a screen reading programme. For example, there are some challenges with menus. We came across a menu in which you should have selected your municipality of residence, but you were not able to select it.
According to Stanger, it is possible to learn to use even complicated services if you use enough time to internalise their operating principles.
– New services always require getting used to them first. Each service functions in a slightly different way and as a user, I must learn the operating principle of each service. Once you have learned the operating principle, the service is easy and fast to use.
Stanger hopes that user-friendliness as well as accessibility will be considered when digital services and the use of services in general is developed.
– If the service is accessible and user-friendly for a person who uses aids in the web service, it is definitely accessible and user-friendly for everyone else as well.
- Favour simple pages. A page with lot of graphics and images without ALT text are challenging for users of screen reading programmes.
- Favour a clear structure. Structure the content with headings and a hierarchy of headings, do not write just one long piece of text.
- Favour clear, simple menus. A tree-like menu or a menu that contains surprising content confuses the user.