ACCESSIBLE CONTENT: The Talking Web Page for Products

Low Vision Icons

Great ideas are all around us. You just have to listen.

Case in point: a chance meeting with my neighbor John last week when I was out walking my Black Lab Gracie.

“My vision is not what it used to be, Mary,” John told me as he bent to pet Gracie behind her ears. A retired business executive in his mid-70s, John was diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago, and has been dealing with low vision for the last few months.

According to folks at The Cleveland Clinic, low vision is “vision loss that can’t be corrected with glasses, contacts or surgery. It isn’t blindness as limited sight remains. Low vision can include blind spots, poor night vision and blurry sight. The most common causes are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetes.”

John told me he was having a difficult time reading online content…especially product information so he could make informed purchasing decisions. I suggested he give a screen reader such as NVDA or JAWS a try. “Cheez, Mary,” he replied. “I am so ‘old school.’ Every time I try to install something new on my laptop, it messes everything up. A friend of mine has a screen reader, but the voice sounds so monotonous I find it difficult to understand what is being announced. Some people I know have those Alexa gadgets, but, to me, they feel intrusive. I don’t want all this confusing technology in my life.”

So what can be done to help a not-so-technically-savvy Internet user who is in the process of losing his/her sight?

“I just wish I could push a button on a product page and have the content read to me,” John said as he turned to walk back to his house.


In his article Voice Content and Usability, product architect and strategist Preston So writes: “There’s one significant problem with screen readers: they’re difficult to use and unremittingly verbose. The visual structures of websites and web navigation don’t translate well to screen readers, sometimes resulting in unwieldy pronouncements that name every manipulable HTML element and announce every formatting change. For many screen reader users, working with web-based interfaces exacts a cognitive toll.”

And remember that conversations mean business. According to Michael McTear, Zoraida Callejas, and David Griol in The Conversational Interface, we start up a conversation because:

– we need something done (such as a transaction),
– we want to know something (information of some sort), or
– we are social beings and want someone to talk to (conversation for conversation’s sake).

Enter The Talking Web Page for Products

Inspired by John’s wish, I contacted marketing audio pro Frank Pival of Never Alone On Hold, a Washington-state-based company specializing in the scripting and production of on-hold marketing messages. My thought was if an audio message could be professionally produced in a conversational tone, then it can also be embedded as an audio file on a web page so the content could be easily played and understood. Successful human conversation has many nuances: emphasis of certain words, pauses that attract attention and so much more.

“Conveying your content message clearly to customers is imperative in these challenging times,” Frank told me. “Providing a unique economical way your “voice” can be gently amplified over the din of your competitors is the key to continued business success. The on-hold audio messaging concept can certainly work for web page product content. You are providing the user with an easy way to comprehend the product’s info and your call-to-action message. This is something your competition has probably not even considered.”

Hear It for Yourself – Monotone vs. Conversational

As an experiment, I decided to use part of the information from a web page about an e-book I’ve authored called “PDF Accessibility Remediation: How to Fix 40 Common Errors.” You can see the original page here. For this test, I reduced the script to certain sections of the content for a shorter test.

I sent Frank the script and he produced and returned an MP3 file that I could place on the web page using an accessible media player called Able Player, an open-source fully-accessible cross-browser HTML5 media player you can use to embed audio or video within a WordPress page.

I also made an audio recording in MP3 format of the NVDA screen reader announcing the same script I sent to Frank.

Monotone Audio Example: NVDA Screen Reader That Also Announces HTML Elements As Part of the Content

Conversational Audio Example by Frank Pival, Never Alone on Hold

Some items to note:

In the NVDA Monotone example, the tone is flat. You can hear the screen reader also announces information about some of the HTML elements it encounters:

1) the words “heading” is announced before a headline is read
2) the phrase “list with four items” is announced before reading the bulleted list items

There are also an announcement glitch on the word PDFs:

3) The word “PDFs” is read as “P-D-F-S”

In the Conversational Audio Example created by Frank, the tone is enthusiastic. The information simply flows and is more easily understandable due to the emphasis on certain words and pauses. There is a clear call the action that attracts the user’s attention.

An Important Review

Yesterday I demoed the Talking Web Page test for John. When he heard the screen reader version of the audio, he was not impressed. But when he heard Frank’s version, John clapped his hands and exclaimed, “Yes, that is what I am talking about! I have no need for your PDF remediation book, Mary, but now I understand what it offers. Such a simple process. And I didn’t have to read a word.”

Give It a Shot

Remember: the senior population is growing. By 2030, people over the age of 65 are predicted to make up 20.6% of the population of the US. Vision loss is by far the most common disability reported by elderly individuals.

If seniors can make use of your products and services, make it easy for them to hear about your offerings via Talking Web pages.

You’ll be outsmarting your competition and increasing your business.

Frank Pival
Web: Never Alone On Hold
Cell/Text: 360-340-5767