I am taking an HCI class this semester at school and one thing that is glaringly obvious is how the design of current online platforms is wanting in certain areas such as accessibility.

Why do a majority of the websites including, the StackExchange ones, do not have basic accessibility tools such as color inversion, speech input/output etc?

I know there are tools (Browser extensions, screen readers ) that facilitate this, but putting some of those on the website itself would only improve accessibility and ease of use for everyone.

I was wondering if there are any implementation issues with respect to design, uniformity, feasibility, effort-result tradeoff from the perspective of the platform, which is why these tools that (obviously) should be there, aren't there?

Let's look at the screen reader as an example.

It's not worth the money.

In general, the number of users that require assistive technologies is relatively quite small, compared to those that don't. To equip a website with a custom implementation of a screen reader would be quite a large project that would only benefit the users of that one site (small audience).

However, developing a screen reader that works for users of any site is a much, much larger number.

It's not practical.

Even if a site did manage to hook up a screen reader to their site. How would a blind user know how to engage it?

Inconsistent behavior.

Even if a user did manage to engage the screen reader, there's no way to predict how screen reader from Site A will behave compared to the screen reader from Site B.

Additionally, any customizations to the screen reader can now only be applied to that one site rather than allowing the settings to be applied universally.

(Certainly there are more reasons...)

  • okay. makes sense, that! But what about color inversion and speech inputs? Those do not seem that big a task such as implementing screen readers. Why are they considered more of bells and whistles rather than a necessity? – Peps0791 Oct 25 '17 at 19:02
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    Speech input is typically handled by the dictation feature in the operating system - see this answer above. Color inversion is usually handled by the browser or operating system - if you need it, you know where to find it. Now, designing a site with the proper contrast to invert well...that can be an issue...that’s one reason WCAG 2.0 has contrast requirements for each level. As a developer it’s hard to justify developing a feature users get “for free” from their browser or OS because, chances are, that’s the one they know and mine would mimic that UX and functionality anyway. – Josh Bruce Oct 25 '17 at 22:41

I would say that it violates the principle of single responsibility. Let’s say that Stack Exchange did implement its own screen reading tech on the site. That’s great, but now it needs to be maintained and tested which is additional overhead. It also means that users would have to forgo the tech that they likely have installed, such as NVDA, so that they can let the Stack Exchange tool do its job. They would also have to reconfigure the Stack Exchange tool to match their settings for their own screen reader and if the Stack Exchange tool doesn’t match the capabilities, the will have to toggle between the tools and hope they don’t conflict.

The easier thing to do is just let the user use their own screen reader that they are likely running to be able to actually interact with the browser program and OS since the Stack Exchange tool wouldn’t be able to read the user agent’s actual menuing since it’s outside the reach of JavaScript.

Additionally, a key thing that sites need to do, and Stack Exchange does for the most part, is use semantic markup. That means using <h1> tags, <label> tags, aria attributes, and other things that OS level accessibility tools use as hooks to be able to explain to the user what is going on.

In a similar fashion, the OS can offer high contrast features that can be applied at the entire graphics display level. It’s good to offer your own high contrast style sheet, but if you enable it at the same time the operating system enables high contrast, they will either cancel out, or fight.

In short, Stack Exchange does have accessibility features, but it doesn’t try to force a particular, potentially bad, implementation on you.

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