I have been now working for an entire day without using the basic HTML view of Google or launching Outlook, to read my Gmail. Here are my findings on this first day of using the more advanced features of the standard view of Gmail and I’m going to throw twitter in as well.
I’ve done a lot of work in Gmail today, in both my Google apps for education account at work and my personal account. This is not been as smooth as using outlook to get through my piles of email. Unfortunately I seem to have lost three or four messages I was sending in the process of composing them. I’m finding the process of staying within the body of the message to be a little fragile. Yes in some cases the problem isPeBCAC (problem exists between keyboard and chair). However, I did find a significant difference in my ability to get the information I needed when I used NVDA the open source free screen reader.
I would be working in the body of a message that I wanted to send reading through the content before sending it and accidentally hitting the wrong key. Then I could never find the body of the message again. I tracked down the problem to hitting F10 by itself instead of hitting shift F10 to bring up the context menu. Of course with my poor spelling this was an action I took a lot. So if my fingers were just a little slower on one hand then on the other I would be lost. I do think NVDA had a definite advantage over Jaws because I was using JAWS first. So admittedly I was learning how to navigate the interface and navigate it with a screen reader well testing with Jaws. However, after the first day I still can not find the text of a message that has been opened to read it with Jaws without turning on the virtual cursor. I am finding that using JAWS requires me to drop in and out of the virtual cursor depending on the situation. Getting to know what the situations are will only take another day or two. In comparison NVDA seems to always be in the state i needed it to be when i needed it.
NVDA also had a distinct advantage in that one of the first things I did today was listen to Marco’s podcast on how to use Gmail in Firefox within NVDA. So I already knew what to expect and how to navigate with that screen reader.
Moving on to twitter now which was also a very pleasantly surprising experience. Twitter has created a very simple user interface to interact with it as an application. Many of the keyboard shortcuts that they have chosen are standard in other applications which make them easy to learn and remember. The only thing I am finding to be difficult in this transition is understanding the difference in terminology. Maybe I’m still too new to twitter I’ve only had an account for about a year and a half but the terminology used on the twitter website is very different than what I’ve heard from my friends and what I’ve used in clients in the past. For example I’ve always heard sending a private message referred to as sending a DM (direct message)but on the twitter website it is called a message. I still haven’t found where I can see replies and tweets from people that mention me. I think it is in the notifications panel but that also seems to have a great deal of other traffic in it. This means that I’m not really sure if I’m getting all my messages replies or re-tweets. I understand that the language people use to refer to twitter is a form of slang but it is so embedded in our culture today that I would almost find it useful to have a translation.
I’d like my readers to know that I am sharing these blog posts with development at both Google and Twitter and any other application I decide to add to this experiment. I will not allow them to censor what I post but I would like to give them an opportunity to respond to issues before I post. I frequently communicate with Google and I will post messages individually describing these problems in their preferred method of communication. The accessibility developer at twitter happens to be one of my followers and I have already messaged him with one or two things that with his help I was able to correct. Companies like these that put effort in to accessibility and respond to customers are critical for the improvement of accessibility in our future.
To summarize I think my first day with the apps is gone better than expected. I did have a fear that I would revert to Outlook or the basic HTML as soon as I hit an insurmountable barrier. However I did not do so. What I did was move away from the problem and come back at it later in a different way. I was only able to do this today because I took an official vacation day so did not have any pressing work to get done. I did this intentionally so that I would have time to adapt to these new interfaces before getting back to work in five days.