Are web applications that accessible?

Vincent Le Goff <vincent.legoff.srs@...>

Hello everyone,

Having used several Web applications in the last few years, I've been wondering why we still want desktop applications and claim for accessibility.  This thread is more to ask for opinion on the matter and perhaps, collect useful ideas we can shape into NVDA features or suggest to web application designers.  This is not a "plea for help" topic, but I don't think I'm breaking list rules (I hope not anyway), as this could benefit NVDA and is not a trivial issue.

Web apps are trendy.  And that's probably going to last for awhile, if not replace our Desktop applicaitons.  But for us, is it really a good news?  Why does a Desktop app tends to feel "more accessible" than a web app?  The thing is, there are lots of reasons why we appreciate our Desktop applications and get frustrated when we have to get the web application if a Desktop equivalent doesn't exist.  Beyond the fact that we're "used" to how an application works (which, obviously, is not the case when there's no Desktop equivalent), a website is in most cases incredibly more complex for us.  First of all, there are two navigation modes to understand and switch between instead of just one plain "way to do things".  There's no clear menubar and when we get an accessible menu, we can clap and send cookies to the web designer.  Sometimes (but not often) there's a real context menu we can really, you know, invoke from the application key and browse through the arrow keys.  And sometimes (often, to be sure), there are shortcuts to perform "standard" operations in the web app.

So do we just need to rethink our expectation of what an accessible application mean?  Some would say "come on! instead of using H and shift-H in Facebook app to browse posts, you use J and K, big deal!" But that's a big deal, because keyboard shortcuts are far from consistent.  Instead of screen reader shortcuts which can be somewhat standard and usable in most Desktop applications, web designers working on web applications feel like creating shortcuts that don't always make sense for screen reader users. Some conflicts with screen reader operations.  Some are just strange.  A user on this list asked if they could find an "accessible Facebook client".  Others said "Facebook is accessible".  While I agree 9I do use Facebook myself) I would tend to agree with the original poster: a web application is just not as simple as, say, a nice tree view with recent posts when you can just press the right-arrow to see the comments, or reactions, and press the application key to like, love, comment yourself.  I don't mean to critize Facebook here: they did a good job or creating such an application.  And I've seen much more problematic in terms of web apps.  I just want to point out there's a significant difference between a web application and desktop application in terms of accessibility.

So the answer to this thread, for me, would be "no".  Web applications are manageable.  They're not as accessible as a Desktop application for us.  And, might I say it, I doubt they ever will.  But let's remain optimistic here: there might be ways to improve global web applications on a screen reader level, not on an individual level.  Gmail is often quoted as being one of the best web application out there, regarding accessibility.  And frankly I really like it.  I would use it, but... yeah, I still use Thunderbird, just because some keyboard shortcuts feel awkward and I have other accounts that are not fortunate enough to use Gmail.  So perhaps I'm mistaken and web applications can and should improve.  In which case, perhaps we should just discuss means to bring the bad news to web designers.  I do it on an individual level when seeing a web application I can't access. But our efforts might be best invested in a group or something similar.

So, if this post is not too much frowned upon by NVDA moderators (I guess it could just be considered off-topic), I would really appreciate your thoughts on that.

Thanks in advance,


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