The Art of Filling Out Web Forms
by Jenine Stanley

In an effort to implement some of the provisions of resolution 2005-15, designed to address the digital divide, the board of publications provides this column. In this issue we look at on-line shopping and forms. The convenience of being able to select items, order and have them delivered right to your home opens up vast resources for blind people. On-line shopping can be quite intimidating, so we will start with some basics.

Before We Begin

You will need to do a little research before venturing on-line. Know your access technology. If you use a screen magnifier, understand how it enlarges different areas on the screen versus the screen in general. If you use a screen reader, understand how it handles on-line forms.

Many web sites are designed to display pages using a specific number of pixels or dots along the vertical and horizontal planes of the screen. Many screen magnifiers are set to display fewer pixels on the screen. This means that as you enlarge the screen in general, parts of it will disappear. Learning to use the screen magnifier’s scroll functions is crucial if you simply enlarge the entire screen when using the web. This way you can look at everything on screen. Your magnifier may also allow you to “zoom in” on an area of the screen and enlarge it separately. Study the manual and any tutorials for your enlarging software to see how these functions work together and individually before heading onto the web.

Your screen reader may have specific ways it handles elements of forms. You may have to type a certain key combination to enter a form field or edit box. If you do not hit this combination, any text you type will not be entered into the box.

Let’s Go Shopping!

On-line shopping can be broken down into three stages. First, learn the layout of the site. Using your down arrow key, move through the site to read different areas. Unfortunately, many large on-line shopping sites have a number of links with no alt tags (text labels), so they appear as a long jumble of words and punctuation. Sometimes you can learn the function of a link with no alt tag by looking at the very last bit of text in its string.

For example, chocolateworld.com/php/bars/dark_10?/order.html might represent a link for ordering while chocolateworld.com/php/bars/dark_10?/chekcout.html is the link to check out. No, these are not real web links.

Once you’ve become familiar with how the site displays information, you can then begin to narrow your search. Let’s say that the site has very good alt tags and you can select the category and actual product you want. By hitting “enter” on that item, you may be taken to a page specifically about it where you can then read a text description and other information. Using your screen reader’s web navigation keys, you can move directly to this bit of text and use your arrow keys to review it and surrounding links or buttons.

Don’t forget the power of your screen reader or screen magnifier’s “find command” to locate text such as “Buy Now.” For a review of navigation and web site controls, check out the Web-Wise article in the March 2009 issue.

Finally we come to one of the most intimidating aspects of shopping on-line, filling out the order form. ACB has a very good example of an order form each year. Our annual convention registration form is very similar to many web-based forms. It will ask you to provide certain data and make choices in order to register and pay for your convention tickets. One good rule of thumb when first dealing with web forms is to read through each screen carefully before taking any action. You can always return to the top of the page and move through the form when ready to add your data and choices.

This form uses primarily two types of controls, the “edit box” for entering text, and the “check box” for indicating choices. We will be dealing with two primary keys in this exercise, the tab key, located to the left of the Q on most keyboards and the space bar. One extremely important concept to remember when filling out forms is not to hit the enter key until you reach a button or are instructed to do so by the form itself. Hitting "enter" may send an incomplete form or move you to another part of the form or web site.

Edit boxes

If you use a screen magnifier, you can simply tab to an edit box and the cursor will automatically be placed into it. You can then type the text required. This is how people not using any access technology handle edit boxes on forms.

If you use a screen reader other than JAWS for Windows version 10 or Screen Access to Go, you will need to use a combination of keys to be able to enter the edit box. The screen reader will notify you when this mode has been activated and you can simply type information into the box. In JAWS version 10, it is important to make sure that the “virtual cursor” has been restored so that you can move through the rest of the form. This may not happen automatically and you may need to give the command manually to exit forms mode. See the documentation for further explanations.

Our convention registration site is coded so that you need never leave the mode described above. Once you type your information into the box, just hit the tab key to proceed to the next edit box. The form field data will be automatically spoken such as “Name,” “Address 1” or “Credit Card Number.”

Note: Not all forms are coded in this manner. If you tab and hear only the words “edit box,” you may need to exit the mode to review the text required.

Now that we have entered our data, let’s choose what we want from the list of activities. On the registration form, each activity has a check box to indicate whether you want to add it to your registration. Check boxes are usually automatically unchecked. To “check” one, simply hit the space bar. You may notice that your screen refreshes or reloads. Wait until you hear the line with the check box repeated as “checked.” Then it is safe to move to the next check box.

ACB’s form is designed to allow you to stay in “forms mode” or “browse mode off” and hear the text of check box choices, hit the space bar to select the item and move using the tab key to the next item. Remember, do not hit the enter key during the check box selection process.

At the end of various sections of the registration forms you will find buttons for going to the previous screen, the next screen and other places. Each button has a clear description of its function. Now you can hit “enter” to activate the button you want.

If you use a magnifier, you can move your cursor to the button and either hit enter or click the left mouse button to activate it.

Our registration form is a good example of a well designed, accessible form. Don’t be afraid to give it a try. Please let us know what other types of web site issues you’d like to hear about in our Web-Wise column.

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