Yandex for the blind and visually impaired

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    Four months ago, a change petition was created on change.org calling for the leadership of Yandex - the petitioner asks to pay attention to the accessibility of Yandex service interfaces for blind and visually impaired users. It is alleged that until 2014, Yandex services were well optimized for blind users and compatible with screen access programs. Subsequently, the situation began to deteriorate:
    Difficulties for every blind and visually impaired user begin already when creating an account, but I will describe here only two of the most important and critical:

    1. A blind person cannot protect his account. When creating a mailbox on passport.yandex.ru, it’s possible to ask a secret question for password recovery, but at present the list with the option to select a question is not voiced by the screen access program, which means that you can’t choose anything and restore the lost password or protect myself from potential crackers I can.

    2. Yandex refuses to provide support to the blind and visually impaired: feedback forms, also called “Write to support”, have a list of topics of contact where you want to choose one. As you might have guessed, from this list using the keyboard you can’t select anything, which means you can’t send a message.

    In 2016, Denis Kuznetsov, manager of the search interface development department at Yandex, told vc.ru in an interview about how the company developed interfaces taking into account people with disabilities:
    The process of adapting the service for blind and visually impaired users differs little from the standard development cycle.

    • With the help of our testers, we conduct an initial audit of the service and identify the most problematic places.
    • Developers make improvements to the interface.
    • We conduct repeated testing, look at the improved interface, check the degree of change, identify new problems.
    • We repeat steps 2-3 until all accessibility problems are resolved (depends on the complexity of the work).
    • We roll out all the changes and talk about the availability of the next Yandex service.
    However, in the same interview, the manager of the search interface development department noted that:
    It is important to add here that Yandex products may be released without the status of available. However, if accessibility is officially announced, this means that accessibility has been checked more than once and this was preceded by a serious amount of work according to the described scheme. We are responsible for assigning this status to a product.

    Now in Yandex, for people with disabilities, the main page is available in the domains .ru, .ua, .kz, .by, Mail (its light version) and Yandex.Browser. Work on the adaptation of many services is underway, some of them support basic availability.

    As for the "Search" - now it is also quite accessible, however, we only have to solve one small problem related to the semantic frame of the page. Therefore, the “Search” cannot be called fully accessible right now, however, you can use it with the help of screen access programs without serious problems right now.
    The petition is currently signed by more than 67 thousand people, however, according to its author, there was no reaction:
    Quite a lot of time has passed since the last update about the petition, in which I asked you to write to the Yandex.Money support service.

    But so far there has not been a single response from the company, not the slightest reaction.
    It is worth noting that this is not the first petition of this kind - 10 months ago a petition was created on the same change.org with a request to adapt Yandex navigation for blind and visually impaired users. It is noteworthy that at that time, representatives of Yandex responded - on October 12, 2018, the author of the petition wrote:
    Not so long ago, Yandex officially responded to the petition and encouraged everyone to cooperate on the availability of their navigation applications.
    The first beta version of the Yandex.Metro application for Ios has already been released, and in the near future they promise to present a beta version for Android devices.

    Next week there will be meetings and conversations with the blind on the topic of mapping applications and the availability of Yandex.Maps in particular.

    In general, work is in full swing and Yandex representatives are always in touch with us.
    However, on February 7, the author of the petition complained:
    It seems to me that Yandex fell into hibernation, in the New Year’s suspended animation, so to speak)

    If the first time, right after Yury Podorozhny’s answer, they talked to me, reported on all the development steps, encouraged and wrote something at all, now that it’s released Yandex.Metro beta version and partly fixed accessibility errors in certain parts of Yandex.Maps, the company disappeared somewhere.

    Nobody asks for anything (they used to be interested in how to do better, asked questions and held meetings), nobody publishes anything. In general, there is silence on the air.

    Then things went better and the petition can be considered satisfied - Yandex.Metro has become accessible to the blind and visually impaired, like Yandex.Maps (in the future, at least).

    How many people with visual impairments?


    Visual impairment is a loose concept. There are blind people (in whole or in part), there are visually impaired people, color blind and other visual impairments. According to WHO estimates, in the whole world 10% of the population suffer from certain visual impairments.

    According to UN estimates, in the world 0.55% are completely blind and 3.5% are visually impaired. The share of blind people in the USA is 0.43%, and visually impaired people are 1.13%. For Russia, there are no exact statistics, but, according to some reports, 218 thousand are considered blind and visually impaired, of which 103 thousand are completely blind. If we assume that these numbers are underestimated (due to the fact that not all patients are taken into account) and apply statistics for the United States, then in Russia there may be more than a million completely blind residents.

    What about the availability of software for the blind and visually impaired?


    Definitely bad, even despite the fact that various kinds of programs to help the visually impaired and blind appeared back in the 90s. A synthesizer for reading information from video memory (and attempts to use Morse code for dubbing due to limited resources and expenses for speech synthesis), a Braille board (which is the only tool for the blind and deaf) and others.

    When the problem of accessibility of websites for people with disabilities became more or less noticeable, special versions of websites came into fashion. Most often, the versions had a larger font (or the ability to adjust its size), a contrasting theme (or the ability to choose from several) and the ability to voice the text written on the page. Support for the two versions had a number of inconveniences, the main of which was the high cost. To get rid of the need to make a special version of the site, developers began to introduce the so-called accessibility to the main version of the site.

    It is difficult to say how today sites and software are optimized for use by people with disabilities, however, if even giants such as Yandex have problems, it is obvious that the situation is far from ideal.

    How to optimize sites for people with disabilities?


    The basic guide for optimizing your site is WCAG 2.0 - a set of W3C recommendations that describes common practices whose goal is to simplify the interaction of users with disabilities with web resources. There is also a domestic analogue - GOST R 52872-2012 .

    The recommendations, in general, are very simple and easily implemented in practice:

    • Non-text content should have a text version (the same alt'y for pictures, alternative forms of captcha, etc.)
    • Media content should contain alternative ways of transmitting information (accompanying video with captions, etc.)
    • The correct structure of information (headings, subheadings, etc.), the ability to change the text size
    • Ability to navigate and control with just one keyboard
    • Ability to skip blocks (containing the same information on all pages, for example, a header or footer)

    In addition, we can say that site optimization for people with disabilities is more like the “do the right layout, and not as usual” procedure:

    • Tables can be a big problem for people with visual impairments if they don't have header and footer tags (thead / tfoot). Many website developers prefer hats and footers to either not do at all, or visually separate them by background or color, instead of using native tags
    • Flash, frames and tables used for layout of page elements - a clear evil, including for people with disabilities
    • Strict requirements for the user's device (for example, the obligatory presence of a mouse / cursor or the included Javascript for following links, etc.)
    • Missing page and language encodings
    • Inadequate or excessive contrast of the colors of the text, background and other elements
    • Text size in pixels, not rem or percent

    How and why to test sites for accessibility for people with disabilities?


    It’s best to test the site with potential users - people with disabilities. If this is not possible, then you can easily use the tools that they use - screen magnifiers, screen readers and other specialized software.

    Why waste time on this? If not out of a desire to make the world a better place, then at least because any person can become a person with disabilities due to an accident, accident or illness. No one is immune from this and it will be extremely unpleasant to be in the camp of those whose convenience no one thinks trite.

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    Do you ensure that your sites are accessible to people with disabilities?

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