Braille Monitor                                                    April 2008

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An Accessible and Highly Usable Webmail Service


by Curtis Chong

From the Editor: Curtis Chong is president of the NFB in Computer Science division. Here is his interesting brief report on America Online’s Webmail service:

Curtis ChongAny blind person who has used a talking screen-reading program to read email with a Web browser (sometimes referred to as "Webmail") has had to deal with an interface that is both awkward and inefficient. This interface is so cumbersome, in fact, that, when given a choice, most of us prefer to use an email client such as Outlook Express or Eudora whenever we get the chance. In most Webmail services, when you open a Webpage that displays the body of an email message that you want to read, it often takes four or more keystrokes to move the cursor to the body of the message before you can read it. (One typically presses the down arrow key over and over again until one hears the first line of the message.) The Reply and Delete controls are often placed so far away from the message itself that only an advanced user can find them with less than five keystrokes. Finally, no shortcut keystrokes take you directly to the inbox or to a screen where you can type a reply.

Well, let me tell you about the Webmail offering from America Online (AOL). To begin with, it is now possible to obtain an email address from AOL free. That's right, free! Simply point your browser to <www.mail.aol.com> and get yourself what AOL calls a screen name. As part of the process you will be asked to copy some graphical text into an edit box (the dreaded visual CAPTCHA), but fortunately AOL provides a way to copy the text using an audio prompt.

As for the AOL Webmail service itself, the first thing you will notice (once you have switched to "accessible view") is that a number of very useful shortcut keys are now available. For example, Control+Alt+N takes you directly to a screen where you can write a new email message; Control+Alt+A takes you to your list of email contacts; and Control+Alt+M checks for new email. When you are reading a message, you can press Control+Alt+D to delete the message, Control+Alt+F to forward the message, Control+Alt+R to reply to the message, or Control+Alt+J to mark the message as spam (unsolicited and unwanted email). You can store names and email addresses of those with whom you exchange email, and the spell check function works quite nicely with talking screen-reading software.

On each page that is part of the AOL Webmail service, you have the option of bringing up a table containing the list of available keyboard shortcuts. You can either click on the link which says, "Click this link to show or hide the keyboard shortcuts table," or simply press Control+Alt+H.

I have used a number of Webmail services over the years, and none of them has impressed me as much as the AOL Webmail service. As most people who know me will tell you, I am a hard person to impress. I find little to criticize about the AOL Webmail service and much to be glad about. I believe that a lot of careful thought and hard work went into the design of the accessible interface to the AOL Webmail service. The design clearly demonstrates a strong understanding of the way screen-access programs for the blind work, a knowledge of the shortcuts they use to facilitate efficient navigation of Webpages, and a practical understanding of what blind people need and want in an email system. Kudos to AOL for making this accessible Webmail service, and kudos to its director of accessibility, Tom Wlodkowski, who in my view was largely responsible for making this happen.


Consider a Charitable Gift

Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

Points to Consider When Making a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind
• Will my gift serve to advance the mission of the NFB?
• Am I giving the most appropriate asset?
• Have I selected the best way to make my gift?
• Have I considered the tax consequences of my gift?
• Have I sought counsel from a competent advisor?
• Have I talked to the planned giving officer about my gift?

Benefits of Making a Gift to the NFB
• Helping the NFB fulfill its mission
• Receiving income tax savings through a charitable deduction
• Making capital gain tax savings on contribution of some appreciated gifts
• Providing retained payments for the life of a donor or other beneficiaries
• Eliminating federal estate tax in certain situations
• Reducing estate settlement cost

Your Gift Will Help Us
• Make the study of science and math a real possibility for blind children
• Provide hope for seniors losing vision
• Promote state and chapter programs and provide information that will educate blind people
• Advance technology helpful to the blind
• Create a state-of-the-art library on blindness
• Train and inspire professionals working with the blind
• Provide critical information to parents of blind children
• Mentor blind people trying to find jobs

Your gift makes you a part of the NFB dream!

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