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Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 February 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 2

Access Issues

An Accessibility Check of the Yahoo Toolbars

It looks like it is time to shake off the holiday hangover and get back to real life. I can honestly say that I probably ate too much food and spent too much time in front of the television and radio watching and listening to holiday classics and football games. And of course, there are the New Year's resolutions I kept for, oh, about a week or two. There were the usual suspects, such as removing the clothes from the exercise bike, taking up jogging, and cutting out sweets, at least from breakfast, but I am definitely resolving to try out some new technology.

I have always been fascinated by mainstream technology and feel it is important for people who use assistive technology to familiarize themselves with the same tools used by their colleagues. In the last couple of years, the folks at Yahoo's accessibility lab have worked diligently with Yahoo engineers to revamp many products to work better with assistive technology. You will recall that I looked at "Getting the Most from Yahoo Frontpage" in the September 2010 issue of AccessWorld. In this issue, I will look at the Yahoo toolbar and how it works with my assistive technology. For the purposes of this evaluation, I used Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 3.6 on a Windows 7 laptop and the latest version of a popular screenreader.

What Is It?

Some people may not be familiar with toolbars or how they can be helpful. I have to admit, I am one of those people. So my first step was to visit the Yahoo toolbar landing page. There are three toolbars for Yahoo users, including the standard toolbar and one for sports and finance. The standard toolbar provides users with access to their e-mail, news, and weather. I activated the link for the demonstration video and learned that the toolbar allows me to customize and access information from the browser without having to start with the Yahoo homepage. Users can also access their Facebook and Twitter accounts from the toolbar without having to leave whatever page they are on. It is probably best to have a Yahoo account to take full advantage of the services offered, so if you have not already done so, sign up for a free account.

The Download

Now that I was convinced that this was something that I could use, I decided my next step was to download the toolbar. I activated the "Download now" link from the toolbar homepage, selected the installation options, and agreed to the software license agreement and privacy policy. I did notice that the page does not necessarily reload when the user activates a link, or in this case the "I agree" button. This might be a new behavior for you if you don't spend a lot of time on the Internet. If you feel like you have gotten lost, do not despair; the pages are well marked up and you can use your screenreader's navigation keys to find your way back to where you need to be. There is one more screen regarding the collection of data under the privacy policy and one screen describing the installation instructions. You may be prompted by your operating system to allow the installation, so don't walk away too soon to grab another cup of hot chocolate. (Did I mention that I can't be bothered by those pesky New Year's resolutions?) One of the final steps in the installation process is to add more applications to the toolbar. Because I was not aware of how accessible these additional applications are, I skipped this step, but I am sure that I can return later to play around with them if I desire. I downloaded the toolbar first on Internet Explorer and was pleasantly surprised to see that there was an option to also install the toolbar on Firefox within the same installation.

Internet Explorer 8

For Internet Explorer 8 users, you will need to familiarize yourself with the F6 button on your keyboard. The F6 key will cycle your focus from the web site content to the address bar and the toolbars. You can also hold down shift while pressing F6 to move backward. You will use the F6 key along with the tab key and the arrow keys to interact with the toolbar. It does take a little bit of practice, so please be sure to exercise some patience.

I suggest you open up a new browser window so you can keep AccessWorld open as you experiment. It really does not matter what page you are currently on, but you should be logged into your Yahoo account. Use the F6 key to cycle past the address bar and you should hear your screenreader announce "Toolbar search split button." If you don't hear this after cycling past the address bar, use the tab and shift plus tab keystrokes to locate the toolbar. From this point, you can use the arrow keys to move left and right as well as up and down to hear a variety of options for each button. If you don't hear the buttons for Facebook or eBay, you can press the spacebar on the button labeled "More" and then use your arrow keys to move around.

When you arrive on the Facebook button, press enter and you'll be prompted to enter in your username and password. You will now find yourself on the same application for Facebook that is found on the Yahoo Frontpage. You can check your Facebook status updates, look at friends' profiles, and see who has an upcoming birthday. When you are finished, use your screenreader commands to go to the top of the page and find the close button and you'll return to whatever you were previously doing.

If you want to do something other than Facebook, there are a variety of other Yahoo properties you can explore, such as news, weather, sports, and finance. You can also access your calendar, My Yahoo favorites, and address book.

Working with the toolbar offers Yahoo users quick access to all of the Yahoo properties without having to go to the favorites menu or address bar. You can quickly check your e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter; listen to music; or check the weather. There is a learning curve when it comes to the keystrokes used to access the buttons in the toolbar. You may need to experiment with the tab key and the arrow keys until you get the hang of it.

Firefox Experience

The Yahoo toolbar works quite differently when using the Firefox Web browser. The first thing that you will notice when using Firefox is that you can only use the F6 key to reach the address bar and then the focus returns to the web page that you are currently viewing. The folks at Yahoo managed to place the toolbar in the dropdown menu section of the browser instead of in the toolbar section, so all you need to do is navigate to the menus with the alt key and either tap the letter Y or arrow left or right until you find the Yahoo menu. Use the down arrow to move down the list and the left and right arrows to explore submenus. I could not figure out how to access the Yahoo Facebook application that I was used to on the Yahoo Frontpage. When I arrowed down to Facebook and tapped enter, I was taken to the regular Facebook web site instead of the application. This was a disappointment to me as I am not a fan of the traditional Facebook interface and would have preferred the Yahoo application. If you have figured out how to access the Yahoo Facebook application, please let us know.

The Firefox version of the Yahoo toolbar does seem easier to use because it is probably more familiar to me. There are no additional keystrokes to learn and it gives me quick access to all my favorite Yahoo properties without having to type in the addresses or find the links from the homepage.

The Bottom Line

For years, I have heard screenreader users raise their voices about the inaccessibility of toolbars. From conversations I have had with developers, it sounds if it takes a lot of work to make them accessible. Yahoo has obviously spent considerable time and energy to make their toolbar accessible. I do think the toolbar will be a useful addition to my Web-surfing arsenal and should improve my speed. It might not be great for everyone, but if you are curious, I would recommend you give it a try. You will certainly be able to appreciate the effort put forth by the Yahoo team.

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Copyright © 2011 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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