I recently had reason to investigate why someone using JAWS 11 with Windows 7 (64 bit) and Internet Explorer 9 was unable to identify or select checkboxes in a particular form. I quickly found that the problems were not restricted to this form and so I initially thought it might have something to do with JAWS or Windows 7. However, after some testing and digging I found the culprit was Internet Explorer 9 and although the problem (bug) is recognised, it does not appear to be well publicised or known: Hence this post.
I test the accessibility of websites and although I can use various screen readers I don’t consider myself to be an expert in their use. For the purpose of this story, I should add that I am sighted, so I don’t need to rely on a screen reader and I am able to see things that may not be reported by a screen reader.
When I first tried to use the form with JAWS 11 and IE9, I noticed that in Virtual PC mode, the checkboxes appeared to be basically ignored when I just let the page read or if I arrowed down the page. I checked a different form with checkboxes and radio buttons, and once again the form inputs were not identified in the usual fashion. In effect, someone relying on the screen reader would not know there were checkboxes or radio buttons on the page.
I then asked a friend, Andrew Downie, who is a competent screen reader user, to look at the forms. All up, Andrew and I tested the two forms on several computers using either Windows XP or Window 7; IE 8, IE 9 and Firefox 9.01 browsers; and screen readers JAWS (various versions), NVDA 2011.2 and Window Eyes 7.5.2.
We found the forms behaved pretty much as you would expect with all combinations of operating systems, browsers and screen readers, apart from JAWS 11 and IE 9 (only tested with Windows 7).
We also found some other anomalies when using the forms with JAWS 11 and IE 9. When tabbing down the page going from one checkbox to the next etc, the checkboxes and radio buttons themselves were not identified, but the content of an explicitly associated label would be voiced. Interestingly, if the checkbox had no label but had a title attribute this was ignored. Even though it was possible to tab onto a checkbox (or radio button), we found that we could not select the item in the usual way (by pressing the space bar). Sometimes, when attempting to select a checkbox, the browser would return to a previously visited page or just shut down.
Clearly, the inability to identify and select checkboxes or radio buttons could be a serious problem for anyone who also happens to use IE 9 and relies on JAWS 11 and yet I can’t remember ever reading or hearing anything about it. With the aid of Google I found a few mentions of this problem including the following release note for IE 9 from Microsoft:
Problems reading web content using JAWS Virtual PC mode.
When reading web content using JAWS Virtual PC mode in JAWS 11, there are two issues you might notice. One issue is that some webpage content and some form controls such as radio buttons or check boxes are missing. The other issue you might notice is multiple blank lines and space characters when reading webpages. These two issues are resolved in the latest JAWS 12 release. Using Compatibility View will resolve this issue in JAWS 11.
I have re-tested the forms using IE 9 Compatibility View with JAWS 11 and they perform normally.