ARIA For GWT: My health Is feeling accessible

Posted by Emily Wood - Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 3:28:00 PM

Google Health is a rich Web-2.0 application built using GWT. It enables users to manage their online health records and relies on GWT to provide a highly reactive user interface.

As described in our earlier article outlining ARIA support in GWT1.5, widgets now include basic support for W3C ARIA, an emerging set of Web standards that enable AJAX applications to work smoothly with screenreaders. But there is more to using an application than interacting with individual user interface widgets — overall usability is determined by the complete user experience.

We have improved the usability of Google Health for screenreader users by enhancing the built-in support available in GWT 1.5 via JavaScript. The resulting user experience enables users of screenreaders and self-voicing browsers to easily navigate the interface to obtain relevant auditory feedback — see the following sections for additional details.

First Time User Tips:

Note that the accessibility support in Google Health requires support from both the browser as well as the adaptive technology in use. At present, we recommend Firefox 3.0 with screenreaders that support ARIA, alternatively, you can also use Fire Vox, the self-voicing extension to Firefox 3.0.

When signing in, first-time users should use this link ARIA-Enabled Google Health to turn on the accessibility enhancements. If you would like to use these enhancements whenever you sign in to Google Health, please perform these additional steps:

  1. Activate settings by pressing hot key e, or alternatively, press . to bring up the available actions and pick settings from the list of choices.
  2. Listen to the spoken messages that guide you through the settings interface.
  3. Check the option labeled enable screenreader support.
  4. Save your preferences.
  5. This will automatically activate ARIA support the next time you sign in as long as you use a supported browser.

Google Health: A High-Level Overview

You can have one or more health profiles on Google Health, and once logged in, you can create and access health profiles from the main screen. Use the navigation keys (arrow keys) to navigate the interface. The left and right arrow keys move you through the major categories, whereas the up and down arrow keys move through the items in a given category. adaptive technology in use produces appropriate feedback as you move. In addition, the item under focus is visually highlighted and can be magnified by pressing the = key. Auditory feedback includes spoken output from the adaptive technology, augmented by short auditory icons that help orient the user within the application.

The bulk of the Google Health application consists of navigating among various categories, finding the relevant item within a category, and if needed, updating the contents of that item. As an example, when working with your health profile, you can:

  1. Navigate to the category that holds biometric information, e.g., your height and weight.
  2. Navigate through the various items of data in this category with the up and down arrow keys.
  3. As you navigate, the current value of each item is spoken.
  4. Pressing enter allows you to modify the value of the current item.
  5. You can pull up a list of available actions at any time by pressing .. Use the up and down arrows to move through this list, and press enter to activate the current action. Notice that this list can be filtered by typing a partial command name in the edit field — this provides a power key feature.

This paradigm of navigating with the arrow keys, and pressing enter to edit the current item and using power keys for picking the desired action is applied consistently across all aspects of Google Health. Many categories in this application have a large number of items, e.g., the list of medications. In addition to the up and down arrow keys, these lists can be navigated by pressing capital letters to directly jump to the relevant section in the list of items. In addition, the application provides wizards for performing complex tasks, e.g., finding a doctor.

To conclude, here is a short summary of the generic key-bindings that are available throughout the application:

KeyFunction
ESCReturn to the main Health Profile screen
.Display available actions with completion.
?Speak keyboard help
=Magnify item under focus
-Shrink item under focus
LEFTMove to previous category
RIGHTMove to next category
UPMove to previous item in category
DOWNMove to next item in category

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