Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Can You Read Me Now?

Most of today I've spent tweaking one of the preferences on Atlas Quest. It's been on my to-do list since almost the day the site went live, and it's something that first knocked me over when I got quite a number of e-mails complaining that the text on Atlas Quest was too small to read. And later I learned, at least one member is considered legally blind! Knock me over with a feather!

How cool is that, though? Even the legally blind can enjoy letterboxing and surf around on Atlas Quest. Making the site accessible to the handicap (legally blind, color blind, Mac users--joking about the Macs!--or whatever) is always something I've wanted to work on more. I'm bless with great vision, I'm not colorblind, however, I did once get to experience Atlas Quest from a handicap person's perspective once.

I was at a college in Madison earlier this year, and sneaked onto one of their public computers to check on Atlas Quest. There was only one computer available, and I thought, "How lucky!" It wasn't luck, though--turns out, the computer's mouse didn't work. It didn't take me long to figure out why nobody was using the computer. Nobody could figure out how to work it without the mouse. Thing is, a lot of blind people can't use a mouse. Click here? Where the heck is here?

I'm actually pretty proficient with keyboard navigating and shortcuts since I use them quite often. If you're familiar with them, you can get things done much faster than with a mouse. Never before had I been required to not use a mouse, though, and I discovered I wasn't nearly as adept at it as I thought I was. I did manage to navigate around Atlas Quest, though certain pages were nightmarish to get through and didn't always work like I intuitively expected them to work. My Page, for instance, would start the focus on the right-hand column, go completely down the right-hand column, then move to the left-hand column. AQ Mail and message boards are always the most used things (for me, at least), and it seemed out of place that the right side of the page got the focus first, and my favorite searches were the very first. Favorite searches? I use them often, but not more than once every week or two when I'm actually ready to go out letterboxing.

The tab order was seriously messed up.

So I've been fixing stuff like that, quietly, in the background, for quite a number of months. Most of you non-blind people probably wouldn't have noticed, but that's okay. You weren't supposed to. =)

Yesterday, I tried squinting and blurring my vision while reading the site. Then I tried it after changing my preferences to use the large text version and a strange thing happened--I still couldn't really read it. The letters were too thin. When I made the letters thicker--the size stayed the same--I could read it better. I could still blur my vision too much at which point I couldn't read anything anymore.

I should point out--and I hope most visually impaired people know this, because you're website surfing pleasure can be greatly enhanced by knowing tricks like this--Firefox allows you to increase or decrease the text size of any webpage by clicking [Ctrl +] or [Ctrl -] respectively. I'd be surprised if IE7 doesn't have a similar feature, but I don't know what it is off the top of my head. It's kind of cool to see in action. Consequently, I haven't really felt pressured to allow more options for the text size on Atlas Quest. At least for Firefox users--and probably IE users--it's already built into the browser. I suspect a lot of people don't realize that, though, and are cursed to a life of trying to squint and read small text on websites.

But I digress.... The other thing I wanted to do was allow people to print clues with REALLY small text to save paper and ink. A lot of people do this already, copying and pasting clues into their own world processors and shrinking the text. Now there's this weird situation where I want to make text on Atlas Quest larger for some people, but the printed text to be smaller for others. All depending of if they're reading the screen or printing a page.

Firefox is useless to help here. It'll print stuff at the size AQ tells it to print at no matter what you try to say.

So, at long last, I've added a couple of new preferences. You can select your preferred text size while reading Atlas Quest on your monitor, and you can select a second text size for printed materials (namely clues, but it applies to anything you choose to print). Check them out and mark your preferences!

Alas, I'm blessed with great vision and don't really know how well these sizes work for people. Do you want really tiny text? Even BIGGER text options? I don't think I've ever seen a website with options as small nor as large as AQ now allows, so I like to think that means AQ covers all the bases pretty well, but let me know if it needs to be adjusted.

Now a little about color blindness. From what I've read, about 5-10% of men suffer from some form of it. That's a surprising number, I think. If you consider that there are about 7,000 registered people on Atlas Quest, and half of them are probably men, that means there are anywhere between 175 to 350 color blind members on Atlas Quest! Okay, a small number of woman may also be color blind, but there are probably more legally blind members on Atlas Quest than color blind women. =)

I've never heard of anyone complaining that AQ wasn't friendly towards color blind people. I try not to rely too much on color for functionality--just splashes of color so everything doesn't seem so dark or boring. But are there problems caused because someone can't tell the difference between two colors or mistakes one color for another? If this has happened to you, let me know about it. I want to fix it. =) I can't make myself color blind like I can make myself blur my vision!

Actually, I did find this website at that can display a web page as a color blind person might see it. It doesn't work well with Atlas Quest--it can't pull in CSS pages which AQ relies on heavily. To see what AQ looks like, I had to get a screen shot of AQ then upload the photo to the site--a rather clunky and slow why of testing how AQ looks to the color blind. To be really effective, I'd need to do it with each of the 30 themes AQ currently supports, and several different pages for each theme to see all of the color options.

For my purposes in this blog entry, though, I've run the AQ chick through several colorblind scenarios:

Can you spot the "correct" chick? If you can, you're probably not colorblind. =) The first chick is the "normal" chick you'll see on Atlas Quest. The other three chicks are what various forms of color blindness would look like.

Chick #2 simulates Deuteranope--a form of red/green color deficit.

Chick #3 simulates Protanope--another form of red/green color deficit.

Chick #4 simulates Tritanope--a blue/yellow deficit--and supposed to be very rare.

I can't really see a big difference between #2 and #3. Chick #3 seems to have more contrast to my eyes, but the color looks pretty much the same to both of them. Since they're both forms of red/green color blindness, though, I suspect it's because they really are supposed to look almost the same and it's not because I'm color blind to color blindness. =)

Chick #4 looks like a photo taken with 70's photography technology. The color doesn't seem quite right to me, but I'd have a hard time describing why. Compared to the others, it seems like it's lost its color, but look at it by itself. It feels off, but I'd have a hard time describing why.

Fun, isn't it? =) And happily, I can report that even color blind people should have no trouble figuring out what the picture is of.

The most important thing, I suspect, to help color blind people is to make sure there's a high contrast between the foreground and background, which I generally do anyhow since it helps us non-color blind people see things better too. I'm not really sure how or where I might have gone wrong with making the site difficult to use for the color blind, but if there are problems, let me know! I can fix it! =)

I've done quite a bit of reading about how to make websites "accessible," and if you're interested in doing some reading yourself, check out the page at

Reading through some of the articles, though, I've come to the conclusion that it's not always possible to make every single feature 100% accessible to everyone. It's a noble goal. It's a goal I want to reach, and I will try to reach, but AQ may fall short at times. What else can I do to make Atlas Quest more accessible?


Anonymous said...

Love the pink chick GT, - reminds me of that Google image of you in the pink outfit.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the varying font size. It is a helpful feature and your diligence at researching this issue is amazing.

Anonymous said...

I am going to be using the (ctrl +) when reading AQ boards late at night! Awesome!
Six Stars

Anonymous said...

Oh, Ryan, you've added a shorter step to my use of Atlas Quest! I already use the larger font size on the screen - not so much for me actually reading, but to make it easier to navigate my mouse to where I want to go to click to have my screenreader (JAWS for Windows) read it to me.

When it came to printing clues, I always had to copy and paste into Word, then change the font and increase the font size - which necessitated much reformatting of text. Ugh. Now I'll just use the larger font in printing directly from Atlas Quest!

You are a Godsend.

Warrior Woman
the legally blind one

Anonymous said...

The company I use to work for "lent" me out to a govt operated group who were Visually Impaired. It was my job to teach them to use our computer programs - including a mouse. We installed a program called JAWS - don't remember what it stands for, but it read everything off the computer screen where the mouse landed. I thought it was pretty cool, until I had 6 of them in for a training and the noise was unbearable. But what a great program and thanks for this great update.

The Traveling Dudeks

Anonymous said...

Always with the helpful upgrades, Ryan ... thanks!

I know you probably started out just joking around about color blindness but ... about this assumption of yours: "Okay, a small number of woman may also be color blind, but there are probably more legally blind members on Atlas Quest than color blind women. =)"

You may be incorrect because you DO have a color blind woman who is a member of AQ ... that would be me.

I am red/green color blind and judging from the "chicks" example you posted plus things I found at the link to the vischeck site, I think I may have both types of red/green color blindness. All three of the first "chicks" look exactly the same to me! LOL

However, color blindness isn't just a "harmless" disablity. My father, in his younger days, was disqualified from the job of his dreams (a State Police officer) due to his color blindness (He had no idea he was color blind until the end of his application process)

There is a woman I know who lost a 911 telecommunicator job opportunity due to color blindness.

I found out I was color blind in the 3rd grade. The Nuns let the 6th graders use our class for their sciene projects and one girl chose to test for color blindness. The 6th grader was peeing-her-pants-excited to find that rare being ... a COLOR BLIND GIRL. So much so, that she kept saying things like, "You are SO STRANGE" "Don't you know GIRLS are almost NEVER color blind" and "You're like this weird insect specimen, you're going to MAKE my science project!"

By the time she finished, I was a sobbing mess. Sister Emily had to take both of us to Mother Superiors office but of course her hurtful words couldn't be taken back.

So, if you have a child with color blindness ... PLEASE don't ever make them feel like a "weird insect" and if you have a friend who is color blind DON'T ask them, "but what do you see when you look at grass or a fire truck?" because they can't tell you what they see. If you've never seen green how to do describe it? Like me, what they see is what they have come to UNDERSTAND as being red and green.

I know grass is green and fire trucks are red and no, the colors don't look exactly alike IN THAT CONTEXT. However, give me several socks that are red, green, and brown and I promise I will not be able to match them up correctly.

It's a snap to find the "hidden" number in those Ishihara plate tests (where there are lots of little colored circles) for those of you who are not color blind, almost beyond simple, I hear.

However, I assure you I can NOT see the number, not even by squinting and trying to discern a pattern based on the size of the little circles. It's simply not there for me to see.

Anyway, thanks for your ongoing CQI to Atlas Quest, Ryan. As always, you do good work. (grin)

Sail on!
---Bindle Babe

Anonymous said...

It's amazing that you thought to check for color blind impact. How considerate!

I've a strange form of the inherited tendency. I can see what I call red. I can't tell the difference between reds. Some oranges are the same. Many times I have to be told it's orange rather than red, or visca versa.

I can see green, but that strange color y'all call 'aqua' won't hold still. It shifts constantly between green and blue when I look at it.

..and I HATE those dot tests. If they'll give me enough time, I can find one dot that doesn't match and then follow it around to form a numeral. I know that's not the way normal folk take that test. I always wind up having to explain that I'm not so much color blind as color dysfunctional :)

(also female!)

Ryan said...

Well, that's at least one legally blind person and two color blind women who uses Atlas Quest. The color blind women do seem to outnumber legally blind in this very unscientific survey. Where are all the color blind men, though? They have to outnumber you by at least 10 to 1 and there's not a peep from any of them.

I'm confused--why would being color blind affect someone's ability to be a 911 telecommunicator? A police officer even seems kind of sketchy to me. How often do police depend on being able to see colors to do their job? That just makes me mad, though. Certainly there's room for color blind police to do a good job, though. Sue! Sue!

Anonymous said...

My Dad, my uncles, brothers, and both of my sons are colorblind. The type they have causes green, orange, and brown to look the same.

I never could understand why my boys didn't enjoy "leaf-peeping" in the Fall. I now know that, to them, all of the leaves look the same- dull brown, I think.

Sometimes it can be funny, as when they can't see an orange golf ball lying on green grass. But, as one of the comments noted, this handicap does eliminate some career choices. -Rosmarinus

Janila said...

I am the mother of Out of Sight, a 100% blind letterboxer. She uses this site often when our youngest letterboxer, Lil Milkmonster, gives her a break from Mommyhood. I know that I can speak for the two of us when I say, thanks for any aids that you can provide to the blind.

We do thank the creator of the JAWS program for this wonderful development which allows my daughter to reach outside of her little world and use the internet. And any aids that you provide are more than we can find on many JAWS unfriendly websites. Isn't it amazing what you can discover by "walking a mile in their shoes" as you did at the college in Madison. Out of Sight is not able to use a mouse and I often find myself so frustrated when I use her mouseless computer since I am not proficient at keyboard navigation. It always amazes me to watch her zoom through the screens that I struggle with.

And one more thanks. I am at that age where font size can give me difficulty. I do use Firefox but was totally unaware of the Control + or - capabilities. What a great service you did to all of us who have the middle age sight issues.

Ryan, there is a reason that we all are addicted to Atlas Quest and it begins with your attitude and thoughtfulness.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ryan,

Thanks for thinking about us colorblind folks. I am a red/green deuteranope. The first three chick images all look the same to me, too. So far, haven't had any trouble with AQ, though! Sometimes I just don't know what I'm missing, because, well, I can't see it!!

The [Red and] Green [Colorblind] Guillemot