A while with Google Chrome

A few months ago, I decided to give Chrome a spin for a while. I started out by simply using it to do simple searches on Google and reading articles.
The next step I took was testing it on apps such as facebook and twitter. Then, I progressed to Gmail and complex web apps.

In the following sections, I will outline several pros and cons of Chrome, with some audio examples using NVDA.
/I am exclusively an NVDA user, and thus I never use Jaws, so please don’t ask me how Chrome works with Jaws, because I haven’t tested this. I know how to use Jaws, but just simply do not have a need for a commercial expensive screen reader in my day to day life.

As of June of 2017, Chrome accessibility can be described as mostly sufficient for day to day use, with a few caveats, which are being fixed. In some ways, it is better than Firefox, although it is certainly rough in a few areas.
However, a massive quality control checkup is needed on some areas, as outlined.
Also, keep in mind that Firefox has more than a decade of actual users beating on it and battle testing it, but now has a lot of legacy code that is going to make for some pain in the near future, for a while with the switch to multi process support. Firefox being an old codebase means that it is less buggy, and fantastic, but it also lags in some areas. on the other hand, Chrome is a newer codebase, and has been multiprocess from the start. More on this later.

The benefits

Speed in large complex web apps:

Simply put, Chrome outperforms every web browser in large web apps. If I take Firefox for a spin with Google drive it is very easy to notice lag.
If I press down arrow in the files list, Chromes response time is a lot faster.
This is an audio demo of Firefox, Chrome, and native Google drive.
In Facebook, Chrome is better for speed. I don’t have an audio demo of this, because I don’t want private info from Facebook being exposed to people. However, the effect is not as heavy.
Anecdotally, Twitter seems also faster when navigating from tweet to tweet, although less so than in drive. However, Chrome has other issues on twitter, which make it impractical, and I will discuss that later.
The moral of the story is that Chrome outperforms other browsers in most spaces, at least where speed is concerned.

Security indicators.

One of my favorite things about Chrome is that if you press shift+tab from the address bar, you are placed on a menu with security info. If you press the menu button, a panel expands with a dialog explaining the security settings, and anything this site has asked you permission to use, and the status of whether you granted it permission.
This is very accessible. I was honestly surprised by this. It is very nice.
Also, I get the different level of security indicators such as this site being verified as a company, or just secure, or even no security. (There should be a label of insecure or mixed security on the mixed security menu IMHO).
One of my annoyances with Firefox is as a blind user, I am forced to go view the certificate for this from the page info, and this is painful, and leaves many less experienced users vulnerable to phishing. The padlock is simply not accessible, and the “green” isn’t shown in any way.
I hope that when Google warns users if they put data into a form which is insecure, that this is made accessible, and alerts the user in a similar way to that which we get currently. It doesn’t seem this is blatantly obvious in canary, but it should be in the label of the form or such, so users don’t miss it.
My only annoyance with this is the Google official page seems to not explain this to a screen reader user as well. (In that menu click learn more to see what I mean). They should say what the alt text of this menu is, rather than just the color of the padlock.

accessible extensions bar

The Chrome extensions bar is accessible.
In Firefox, most less than advanced NVDA users, and the clear majority of JAWS users simply can’t get to the addon bar. It requires object navigation with NVDA, and has no built-in keyboard accessible way to get there, and arrow along it. This has always annoyed me, because there should certainly be a way with the keyboard to get to the descriptions 3.
In Chrome, this is a breeze. You simply press f6 from a web page, press tab or shift tab (Either will eventually work), and you are on the bar of extensions.
From here, you can press the arrow keys, do the twist, and eat cake. (Okay, those last two are obviously a joke and a fair bit random, but all people have been commanded to have fun in life, otherwise, they will turn into a prune).
Once on the extensions bar, arrowing along it lets you move to each extension, and you can activate each extension by pressing its button (Assuming the extension is accessible). My only complaint here 2 is that the Chrome bar doesn’t allow you to use single letter navigation.
Firefox doesn’t offer any way for keyboard only users to focus extensions list, or the Firefox menu for that matter (IMO this is a serious shortcoming).

Very simple UI.

The Chrome UI is very simple. For beginners, it gets out of the way.
This is one of the best things about Chrome. I am used to a browser with tons of menus, so it was very weird at first, but it made me realize how little I use the random features that are scattered about. Chrome has most of them still, just not as surfaced.

Shortcomings or annoyances.

Well, those are my noteworthy features. Here are some annoying things. Note that I list general bugs, but I don’t go into super detail on every little bug, because Canary is so rapidly improving that if I list bugs and say every little bug that annoys me, the list will be out of date in a month. That is indeed a good thing.

Chrome live regions are broken.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 said Twitter, but alas, I didn’t know!!!
What? twitter is accessible right? Yes, Chrome live region support is broken still in some ways. Some live regions don’t read, and some of them read twice. Aria-atomic is ignored sometimes, and other times, Chrome reads and spells live regions multiple times. In short, this part of Chrome is being worked on and badly needs love.
In a test I did, adding text to pages with innerText and innerHTML yields different results.
Aria-atomic is ignored completely, (It might be fixed in canary based on last minute tests I performed, but there are other broken cases), and acts differently based on the insertion method.
No one supports aria-relevant (From the SR side) so I didn’t test this.
Also, role=”alert” is very different than plain aria-live, and Chrome isn’t marking role of alert with “alert” roles in the IA2 tree.
I need to file a ton of bugs with Chrome for these cases, but I wrote up an aria-live workout page to test things with 3.
there are several controls on the page. The pages divided into 2 major regions, the first is to test polite live regions, and the 2nd is to test assertive live regions.
Within each section, there are many controls.
there are buttons to update the live region for each subsection with the innerHTML and innerText methods, and there are buttons to do each of these things 10 times (to see how well it does at updating the live region multiple times).
The atomic ones should speak hello and then the unique number.
finally, the toggle button which says ” toggle ouch” toggles an alert being thrown every 2 seconds which says ouch. This is designed to test whether the browser properly is working with the alert role.
every time a button is pressed on the page from the regions other than the full-page controls, the status bar updates. The status bar should be treated as a live region as well.
this page is not user-friendly, it’s simply something I wrote so that I can make sure I understand what’s going on before I filed bugs to fix live region support.
in short, this test page that I wrote is giving me the ability to test Chrome live region support against other browsers and the aria spec, and make sure it is working as intended.
when using Google Docs with NVDA in Chrome Canary, the experience was quite decent, even though these applications use lots of life regions. This was after a few bugs were hunted, so the experience will probably be less than stellar on the stable version.

editor bugs

every browser vendor ever has hated doing editors. Editors are extremely hard to get right. After all these years of accessible Firefox and constant effort to make it better, we still don’t have a bug free editor. This is no different in Chrome.
when I say editor, I mean the edit control and associated code for making such things as typing into text fields and complex rich edit support work.
this problem is hard to solve, because there are simply a ton of edge cases. There are no shortage of editor bugs in Chrome, and most of them are very hard to reproduce, which makes reporting them a challenging task. Fixing these bugs is an ongoing job.
I’m sure this will get better over time, but do not be surprised if blank lines report as full of the text on the line before them, or such.

Quality control help needed

Google needs to have stronger accessibility policy in the quality control department.
It is the case that dialogues all over Chrome, (and other Google products) have unlabeled buttons.
This has always been the case, and it seems to happen more with Google products than with other major companies.
It is also common for new apps to be released with tons of easy to fix and easy to catch accessibility bugs, which could be fixed by giving all employees accessibility training and baking awareness of accessibility into developer culture, no matter what role a developer plays.
for a company this size, I am surprised and very disappointed that something as important as the extensions dialog and download manager have simple accessibility bugs such as unlabeled buttons.
A lot of these simple problems, such as links with base 64 encoded gobbledygook text, can be detected with automated testing tools, and could be caught before they ever go live.
Lack of page structure should be caught in code review, and a user should at least be testing core dialogs such as history for usability.
A strong accessibility policy can rocket a company towards fixing these problems. I urge that a strong accessibility policy is implemented in the next few years, which helps to address some of these problems before they ever arise.

Download manager

the download manager has an unlabelled button after each download.
When enter is pressed to download a new file, there is no feedback given to the user that file download is in progress, and until the user presses F6 a few times to land on the new area of the screen which popped up, the user will be clueless to the fact that this exists.
Once a user is in the new download area, they can tab to the controls in it, but the button to open the downloaded files more options is not labeled. Also, it is not clear to the average user that pressing enter on the download will launch the file (potentially causing trouble if it launches an executable program or such).

extensions store

The extension manager’s main page is accessible. However, installation of extensions is where the roses die.
Trying to install an extension is like drinking an entire soda at once. It hurts.
the tabs (I assume) on the top of the page with extensions, apps, and such, are simply links, where a list or tab control would make it feel more like an app.
There are radio buttons, which are half checked labeled “and up”.
Worse, is a very weirdly labeled set of links on the homepage. Snippet below.

klejemegaoblahjdpcajmpcnjjmkmk...
ngghlnfmdgnpegcmbpgehkbhkhkbkj...
kcahibnffhnnjcedflmchmokndkjnh...
lomnfkdphjhajchdfmimbipjciepnn...
kmmpkhpajpecmpdmmbpjmkmcmfdahk...
klejemegaoblahjdpcajmpcnjjmkmk...
ngghlnfmdgnpegcmbpgehkbhkhkbkj...
kcahibnffhnnjcedflmchmokndkjnh...
lomnfkdphjhajchdfmimbipjciepnn...

This is an excerpt of a chunk of the links on this page which I see.
Along with this, are a myriad of unlabeled links, a complete lack of structure for the entire page, and no headings.
From a usability point of view, this page has no value whatsoever for a screen reader user in its current form, other than the search field.
If rated on Wcag2, it isn’t even level A compliant, not even close. I can’t list everything needing fixed here if I want to, because I don’t know what is being presented.

Other notable page quality control issues.

  • The history page is a structure desert too.
    The same is with the bookmarks page.
    These two pages need a complete accessibility rework.
  • The settings page has seen some love in the last few months. If you still see problems, report them.
  • Some dialogs can’t be read in browse mode, and that issue just got triage, so I know it’s being investigated.
  • There aren’t labels for access keys in the menus.
  • lately, right click menus don’t gain focus when the apps key is pressed. This issue was tracked, and triage.
    However, it was a regression and hasn’t bubbled out of canary, so that’s good news. [5]:

Developer tools

The Chrome Dev tools is not accessible enough. As a developer, I understand that some people depend on dev tools for their job. If dev tools aren’t accessible, a blind person can’t develop for Chrome very easily.
It may be the case that if a developer can’t read the JavaScript errors on their page, they lose their job. I really think dev tools needs careful thought at being fixed in Chrome, and that it isn’t sidelined as a low priority issue, because a recent stack overflow survey found that almost 2% of developers are blind, and only 4% of despondence of the survey chose to disclose their disability. 4
If I as a developer (In that two percent) cannot debug my code, I lose my job. If I lose my job because the dev tools aren’t accessible, it is quite frustrating, degrading, and not pleasant, aside from the fact that blind developers face lots of other challenges getting a job in the first place.

Conclusion

Chrome is becoming a great competitive browser for screen reader users, and it is doing this in leaps and bounds. We have progress to make before it is a polished experience, but finally, there is competition in the accessible browsers market. I am very excited to see accessibility in Chrome now, (Back in the old days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I was a boy, it had no accessibility at all). Jokes aside, I will continue to monitor Chrome closely, and keep using it, along with Firefox, on a daily basis.