Working on the Accessibility of Malaysian Websites

Last year, I had the privilege of conducting the first web accessibility workshop in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. Since then, the event’s organizers and I have communicated closely via email. And as part of our commitment to help the Sarawak government, we provide reviews and recommendations to help ensure that their websites remain accessible to persons with disabilities.

Below, I’d like to share one of the reviews I’ve recently done for the Sarawak government. This is an accessibility review of the Sarawak Government Portal (www.sarawak.gov.my). I used the JAWS (Job Access With Speech) screen reader in accessing the site’s pages. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0 is the document I used in doing the review.

Commendable Accessibility Features of the Website

Descriptive Web Page Titles

When titles of pages clearly describe the page’s content, screen reader users can quickly determine their location in the website. This is demonstrated by the Sarawak Government Portal.

Here is an example: When the user is in the homepage, the page title reads “Sarawak government portal – the official resource for Sarawak”, and when the user goes to the Online Services page, the title reads “Sarawak Government Portal | Online Services”.

This is what WCAG 2.0 says about descriptive titles:

2.4.2: Page Titled (Level A)
Web pages have titles that describe topic or purpose. (Level A)

Images Have Text Alternatives

Text alternatives enable blind individuals to understand the content and purpose of images. This is demonstrated in majority of the images in the site.

Here is what WCAG 2.0 says about text alternatives:

1.1: Text Alternatives
Guideline 1.1: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, Braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.

Headings are Marked Up Properly

The site has headings which use the correct tags (h1, h2, h3, etc). This enables screen reader users to use shortcut keys which let them quickly navigate from one heading to another.

Example: In the About Us page, there is an |”About Us” heading which is in level 1 (h1). This allows screen reader users to use a certain shortcut key to move directly to the About Us heading and read the contents under it.

Error Messages Are Understandable

This is demonstrated by the site in its Feedback/Comments page. When a user enters information on the fields provided on the page and hits the Submit Form button, the site checks if all the required pieces of information have been provided.

If, for instance, the user failed to enter his or her email address, the page will reload and display a message near the email field that tells the user to enter his or her email address. This allows users to quickly determine errors they have made.

Here is what WCAG 2.0 says about understandable error messages:

3.3.1: Error Identification (Level A)
If an input error is automatically detected, the item that is in error is identified and the error is described to the user in text. (Level A)

Accessibility Issues in the Website

No Mechanism to Bypass Repetitive Blocks of Content

At the top of each page, there is a block of content which includes links such as About Sarawak, Sarawak Government, Online Services, Residents, Investors, etc. This block of content is considered repetitive, since it appears in all the site’s pages.

Recommendation: At the topmost part of the pages, there should be a “skip to main content” link. This lets users bypass the aforesaid repetitive block of content and go directly to the page’s main content. Skip to main content links benefit screen reader users and persons who cannot use the mouse.

This is what WCAG 2.0 says about repetitive blocks of content:

2.4.1: Bypass Blocks (Level A)
A mechanism is available to bypass blocks of content that are repeated on multiple Web pages. (Level A)

Certain Link Texts Are Not Descriptive

Screen reader users depend a lot on the information provided by link texts.

On the site’s homepage, there are several link texts such as “more details”, “read more”, and “visit now”. For screen reader users who normally move from one link to another, it can be quite difficult to understand the purpose of the above-mentioned links.

Recommendation: Make the aforesaid link texts more descriptive. For instance, instead of just “read more”, the link text should say something like “read more of (the title of the article which the link is referring to)”. This will enable screen reader users to quickly understand the purpose and destination of the links.

Here is what WCAG 2.0 says about purpose of text links:

2.4.4: Link Purpose (In Context) (Level A)
The purpose of each link can be determined from the link text alone, or from the link text together with its programmatically determined link context, except where the purpose of the link would be ambiguous to users in general. (Level A)

No Means to Resize Text in a Page

Not everyone may be able to read the text on the site’s pages. Certain people with low vision, for instance, may find it difficult to read the site’s text at its current size.

It is therefore a good idea to provide a means to resize the text in the pages. Recommendation: The pages can have a set of links such as “normal text size”, “larger text size”, and “largest text size”. Once the user activates any of the said links, the text size would change accordingly. This will help persons with low vision to quickly adjust the text to a size which is easier to read.

WCAG 2.0 says:

1.4.4: Resize text (Level AA)
Except for captions and images of text, text can be resized without assistive technology up to 200 percent without loss of content or functionality. (Level AA)

Search Text Box is Not Properly Labeled

When a screen reader user presses tab to navigate from one link or control to another, and the user reaches the Search text box, the screen reader only says “edit” instead of speaking the label and “edit”. This can make it difficult for screen reader users to determine the purpose of the said text box.

Recommendation: The label of the Search text box should be positioned such that it will be read by the screen reader. This lets screen reader users quickly understand that they have currently set their focus on the Search text box.

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