Blog Date: 
Friday, September 27, 2013

At Desire2Learn, we care about the user experience of all users, no matter how they are accessing our system. But we know that even when we try to make things as intuitive as we possibly can, there are going to be places along the way that make people raise their eyebrows in confusion. One of them is the WYSIWYG editor.

A What's A Who?

The WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor shows up anywhere where you might want to add objects or formatting to text. So...a lot of places. A student might see it in discussions or email. An instructor sees it in countless places throughout the interface. It is a toolbar full of buttons to bold, underline, change the font, insert a link, a file, a table, an equation, you name it, there's probably a function to do it. Most users find this tool pretty handy...but as you well know, screen readers and WYSIWYG editors don't always see eye to eye, resulting in some unplanned and unwanted formatting. I think it's safe to say that most people using a screen reader see a WYSIWYG toolbar, and steer clear of it. I know I do, for sure!

So How Do I Get Around This Thing?

The first thing to know is you don't have to tab all the way through the WYSIWYG buttons to get to where you want to type. There are keyboard shortcuts built in to help you skip straight to the place where you type your message, discussion post, whatever it may be. We have two different editors, and the shortcut you use depends on which editor is in front of you.


How Do I Know Which Editor I Am Using?

You can tell which editor you're seeing by noting the first links you come across when you enter it. If you first see links to basic and advanced, then that's our older editor. This editor has a keyboard shortcut of Alt-z that will take you directly to the text field where you can start typing. If you want to go back up into the toolbar of buttons, press Alt- q. Our newer editor starts with a link that says "skip toolbar". That will take you straight to the place where you start typing. To get back to the buttons, you can just Shift- Tab as normal. We tried to show less things by default, so people would have less things to move through, but if you need to get to the hidden items, there is a button called "show all components" at the end of the toolbar right next to the text field where you type. When you're done with whatever button you wanted, just press enter on "hide all components” and the toolbar will go back to its original size, hiding all the less used options. Clear as mud? Yes, I know.

I'm Still Annoyed by This Thing!

As you use the system, you may find that you never ever touch a single button in this whole blasted set of tools, and really, you wish the toolbar would just go away. Well, you can do that, too. If you go into your account settings, there is a setting called "turn off rich text editor and view source". Check the box, save your changes, and that thing is gone across the system. But the plane text field that you get now is still smart enough to accept html code, so if you wanted to use HTML to format your writing, add a link, etc. you still can, and you also still have access to the spellchecker, which I tend to think works pretty well for screen reader users.
Any Reason Why I Might Want To Leave It On?

There are only two drawbacks I see with eliminating the rich text editor. First, you lose some of the buttons like "insert stuff" that aren't as easy to duplicate by writing raw HTML. Second, if you like to include the original message in a discussion post, while you're editing your reply, the original message will contain the code that was inserted when other users used the WYSIWYG editor. This will disappear when you post, but you might just find it annoying while you're writing. But if you don't like this, you can always go back to your account settings and reactivate the editor.

That's the WYSIWYG editor in a nutshell, and hopefully when you come upon it, you will be less confused. Try working with the editor on, try turning it off. Figure out which way you prefer.

I hope this little tip helps make some people's lives easier. Feel free to check out our screen reader accessibility guide; for more tips and tricks on how to get around our system with ease with a screen reader.