Note: This letter represents documentation of a single user experience and is not reflective of a thorough and objective web accessibility audit.
I am a completely blind technology user. I access the Internet using the newest version of the Mozilla Firefox web-browser (http://mozilla.org), and the newest version of the JAWS screen-reader from Freedom Scientific (http://freedomscientific.com). A screen-reader is a piece of software that can access information from computer applications and web-sites, and can present the information to a user through synthesized speech and / or Braille. Along with being a technology user I am also an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Accessibility Consultant. I have provided accessibility consulting for organizations such as the Fluid Project (http://fluidproject.org), OpenConcept Consulting Inc. (http://openconcept.ca), and Drupal.org (http://drupal.org).
Today I tried to access information, particularly video coverage, of the Vancouver Olympics on CTV's Olympics web-site (http://ctvolympics.ca). I generally found the experience to be thoroughly frustrating, and specifically I was unable to accomplish my objective. The reasons for my frustration, and my inability to access the information I was seeking is that the CTV Olympics web-site was not designed with any reasonable degree of consideration given to accessibility. I cannot state conclusively that no consideration was given to the accessibility of the site. I can state that it is my professional opinion that no reasonable effort was put into ensuring that the CTV Olympics web-site be accessible to individuals with disabilities, particularly those accessing the site using the technology that I must use.
On arriving at the home page of the CTV Olympics site I invoked a command in JAWS that indicated to me that there were 342 links on the page. From a usability perspective (making a site easy to navigate and understand for all users) placing 342 links on a sites home page is very poor practice. Although there may be use-cases where this number of links is best practice I would say that this would only be true the extreme edge-case scenario. From the perspective of making a site accessible to a blind user, this is an even worse practice, as blind users do not have the ability to visually scan a page to assess the grouping and location of content, or to visually locate the grouping of keywords that may aid in locating the desired content or link.
There are four embedded Flash objectives on the CTV Olympics home page that are completely inaccessible to the blind. Flash as a technology is known for being a difficult platform to use when implementing a web-site that is accessible to the blind. To the best of my knowledge the information within a Flash object cannot be made accessible to blind users who use the Apple OS X or Linux operating systems. Some types of Flash objects can be designed to be accessible to blind users who use the Windows operating system. The Flash objects on the CTV Olympics web-site are not accessible to any blind users, and as far as I observed there was no alternative method of accessing the information within the objects.
As my objective in visiting the CTV Olympics site was to access Olympic video I navigated to the Video page (http://www.ctvolympics.ca/video/index.html#). When I arrived on the page I was happy that video did not begin to play automatically. I was disappointed to find out that in order to access the video content that I would have to download and install the Microsoft Silverlight plugin for Firefox.
I did download and install the Silverlight plugin and then returned to the Video page. To my disappointment the video, and audio, began playing when the page loaded. Having audio that begins to play when a page loads is an incredibly poor accessibility practice. Taking the needs of blind users into consideration, having audio playing in the background of a page makes it much more difficult for a user to be able to hear their screen-reader speak any of the other content on the page, including the identification of controls (stop, pause, etc.) for the video or audio player.
On the CTV Olympics web-site the audio which began playing when the Video page loaded was not what prevented me from identifying the video player controls. The video player, as I already mentioned, is designed using Silverlight. Although there has been some work done to Ensure that Silverlight objects can be used by blind users, the Silverlight video player on the CTV Olympics web-site was not accessible to me through Firefox 3.6 and JAWS 11. Because the video player controls were not accessible to me, I was unable to Stop or Pause the video, to adjust the Volume of the video, or to make any other viewing choices where the controls for these choices were embedded in the video player. I searched the entire Video page for the words "Stop", "Pause" and "Help" and found no results.
In conclusion I believe that CTV did not take into consideration the needs of blind users in designing the CTV Olympics web-site. There are other groups of disabled users whose needs were likely also not taken into consideration by CTV. Making a web-site accessible is not an unreasonably challenging project. Designing an accessible site requires the selection of technologies with adequate accessibility support and an understanding of how to apply the web accessibility guidelines as set out by the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (http://w3.org/WAI).