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Is It Time for National Public Radio to Update Its Website?

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A woman lies on the floor next to her laptop, frustrated with her web experience.

[Editor's note: The following post is authored by Marc Grossman, Accessibility Specialist, AFB Consulting.]

A recent frustrating experience on NPR's website (and iPhone app) prompted the title of this blog post. Allow me to explain.

A friend recently shared with me a link to the NPR story, "Blind Student Helps Make Denver Navigable For All." Sounded interesting, so I clicked on the link.

The page was mostly accessible—but certainly could use some improvement. It had headings for navigation, most of the graphics had descriptive text, and only a couple buttons were poorly labeled. For people with hearing loss, the program transcript was available right there on the page. What wasn't clear was there were actually two methods of listening to the story: one to launch the media player, and one to download the MP3 file and listen with your own media player. The reason it's not clear? On my screen reader, the link read: "NPR.Player.OpenPlayer(141514387, 141514382, null, NPR.Player.Action.PLAY_NOW, NPR.Player.Type."

Huh?

When you click on the link, a new window opens and the media player automatically begins playing. I counted 25 unlabeled buttons on the media player. This makes it impossible for someone using a screen reader to pause, forward, rewind, or adjust the volume.

I decided to contact NPR. There was no phone number, so I searched until I found the "Contact Us" link. I submitted my thoughts on the inaccessible media player, and mentioned that NPR really needs to live up to higher standards (since it serves the entire nation). The response I received wasn’t encouraging—a typical "Thank you for commenting... blah, blah, blah." It also encouraged me to use the text-only version of NPR.

Oh no. Did they really just say that? Don't they know how much people with vision loss hate being told to use text-only sites? But hey, I'm a professional web junkie, so I gave it a shot and logged onto the text-only site.

So what did I find on the text-only site? First and foremost, text. Of course. What I did not find was any method of navigating the site except for my arrow keys. There were no headings on the page to make it easy to jump around. There did not appear to be any method for searching the text-only site. I could find neither a search field nor a link to take me to a search page. So I returned to the regular site to find out the name of the show and the date it originally broadcast. Since the text-only site did have a list of shows, I was delighted to find "Talk of the Nation" and activated the link. This is a landing page for the show but only displays links for stories from that day. I had to continuously click the "previous" link until I reached the day I needed (October 19).

At last, I was ready to listen to the story on what was supposed to be an accessible media player. I found the link to listen, but was again disappointed to discover that the link only launched the file in Windows Media Player. So I saved the file to my desktop to see what else I could do with it. Turned out, it was a .wax file and could not play with the VLC player. I don't have a notetaker, but I am really curious if any of you out there could see if the media file works on your device. I sent a copy of the file to my Mac and iPhone, but couldn’t play the file on those platforms either.

Lastly, I turned to the NPR app on my iPhone. The NPR iPhone application has its own set of problems, but at least it had a search field. I entered the terms "Denver" and "blind" into the search field and the first result was the story I wanted, so I clicked on it. I found the "listen" button and double-tapped. Within seconds, the story began to play crisply and clearly. However, I was unable to find any controls to pause, forward, or rewind.

A frustrating experience, indeed.

The good news is that NPR covers important topics that affect people with vision loss. On the other hand, the company really ought to be focusing on making improvements to the accessibility of its online environment—including its iPhone application.

This sheds light on a broader issue— that this is way too common an experience for people with vision loss who rely on assistive technology to navigate the web. With the numbers of Americans with vision loss expected to grow, it's paramount that organizations keep their websites (and apps) accessible.

What are your experiences with NPR? What about other online news sources? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Topic:
Web Accessibility
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Re: Is It Time for National Public Radio to Update Its Website?



How much house can I afford


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