April 2007 Contents
Seeking an Accessible and Usable Survey Tool
By Karen Mardahl and Lisa Pappas
Karen Mardahl is a technical writer based in Denmark. She is co-manager of the AccessAbility SIG of STC along with Lisa Pappas.
Lisa Pappas is an accessibility analyst with SAS in Cary, NC. She authored the Institute's accessibility white paper: Universal Design: A Commitment to Accessible Software. She works with software testers to identify and prioritize accessibility issues, with development teams to address issues found, and with sales to complete accessibility checklists used in procurement.
When we set out to survey members of the AccessAbility SIG of Society for Technical Communication (STC), we needed an accessible tool to live up to the SIG's name and charter. Free was also a nice price tag.
Survey Monkey is the most frequently mentioned free survey tool among various special interest groups in STC, so our search started there. The very first test revealed a major accessibility stumbling block: it is not fully keyboard accessible. Keyboard accessibility is crucial, as assistive technologies such as screen readers and voice-input systems depend upon it. When we asked the support team at Survey Monkey about this issue, they replied that Section 508 compliancy was under consideration, but there was no known date for delivery.
Thanks to a tip from the STC Suncoast chapter president, Survey Gizmo was next on our list. It was definitely closer to accessible: keyboard navigation and submission was possible, it survived Freedom Scientific's JAWS screen reader nicely, and you can choose high contrast colors. High contrast support is very important for low-vision users. One drawback is that you cannot put alt text on a logo image (to promote your organization); however, you can omit that without losing value.
Because we found an accessible tool, we stopped our search and deployed a survey with Survey Gizmo. Survey creation and activation was simple, and the results were easy to gather. But most importantly for us, our users with disabilities reported no difficulties in accessing, completing, and submitting the survey.
Lisa took the practical approach to validating as opposed to an automated check, which would probably flag accessibility issues with this survey. Automated tools can check code, but the results may provide false positives and will completely miss manual checks, such as whether alternative text for graphics is in fact meaningful.
Jim Thatcher's site has more information about making your forms accessible (accessed March 11, 2007).
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