iNaturalist Still Inaccessible to Screen Reader Users

Hi all,

I am a blind screen reader user and I started using iNaturalist several years ago. However, the site as a whole has become less accessible over time even as iNat has made it easier to upload audio observations. I drifted away as a consequence of this.

Then, just before the pandemic, I was required to use iNat for a university class. Through my professor, I contacted the iNat team about the accessibility of both the site and the iPhone app. They readily admitted that accessibility was not remotely up to par and said that a time-consuming rebuild or retrofit of the site would be required, as the site was not initially designed with screen readers in mind.

It is now nearly three years later, the New York Times has featured iNaturalist, and things are no better; they may actually be worse. Over the last few days, I have tested several basic features of the site on several platforms as well as the iPhone app (thanks to @marissa190 for your help!). What follows is a partial list of issues we found:

  • Can’t suggest IDs on any platform (Windows/Mac/iPhone;
  • Can type, but can’t arrow through results of dropdowns on mac (e.g. suggest ID, add taxon to observation on upload). On Windows, choices are announced but cannot be selected, and you get stuck in a loop;
  • Location box on upload not editable with a screen reader;
  • Old observation form (deprecated) somewhat works with a screen reader, but non-intuitive and problems noted above still exist;
  • Choosing category for a new forum topic not great;
  • Windows - won’t select file on upload;
  • iPhone app totally inaccessible (EDIT: this is inaccurate; see post #8 for specific accessibility problems);
  • Audio player does not work on Mac or iPhone (Chrome on Mac being the exception).

Again, the list above is in no way exhaustive, and the iNat team said it might take a while to fix all the issues. Seeing as it has been nearly three years and they have expanded their team, I would like to know what the deadlines are for resolving this. Making science accessible means actually having an accessible website and app.

Has anyone else had success using iNat with a screen reader? If so, I’d love to know your suggestions for getting around these problems.

Best,
Daniel

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I’m a fan of iNaturalist. I’ve been able to give leading IDs to a lot of photo observations posted in my area without an ID. But I’m terrible with sound IDs and started bugging my birder friend Dan to help me out. It was so disappointing to learn how Dan couldn’t access the site. He and so many other blind birders (and other naturalists) could be such as resource to iNat if it were more accessible.

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Would be great to see the suggested changes implemented to make the site more accessible for screen readers, as well as soliciting suggestions from other disabled folks.

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This should be a big priority for iNaturalist. Different ways of “observing” nature should absolutely be supported.

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Really appreciate you sharing your experience and taking the time to do all that testing. I’ve previously wondered if iNat could be used with a screen reader and it’s very disappointing to hear that the site isn’t up to snuff in terms of accessibility. I’ve often heard that one of the core principles that makes iNat great is the low barrier to entry - theoretically, anyone can create an account and start posting regardless of how much they know about nature. But that rings a little hollow knowing that a significant number of people are being excluded by the very layout of the site. I really hope staff can make this a priority and resolve the issues you’ve raised.

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this is sad to hear!

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Hi Daniel,

Nice to hear from you again, I hope you’ve been well.

I can only speak for the parts of iNat that I work on, so apologies in advance for not addressing all of your issues.

Our iOS app should support Apple’s VoiceOver, is it not working for you? I just double checked and it’s working for me, and voiceover announces the custom accessibility labels I’ve made to describe custom buttons and such.

Regarding sound playback, the iOS app should play sounds for observations that have them. I just checked this as well and it’s working for me.

Are these features not working for you? Or is there another set of accessibility features that we’re not supporting on iOS that you would like us to? Our iOS app has been in low development / maintenance mode while the team works on a replacement, but I’m still happy to make accessibility improvements if you can help me understand what I can do to help.

Thanks,
alex

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Hi Alex,

Thanks for your response. I should say first that I should have tested the app a bit more thoroughly before making a blanket statement - I had focused more on the website. In any case, my experience with the iNat app is that many of the buttons are unlabeled. So they’ll just say “button” with no description of what the button actually does. From a cursory glance, there are unlabeled buttons in / next to each observation in the app, plus at least 3 in the search box. I don’t know where the sound player is, although the sound recorder seems to work & I was able to upload a recording just now.

I don’t mean to put you in the position of divulging anything you shouldn’t, but are you saying iNat is working on a new iOS app? If so, is accessibility testing a priority?

Again, my apologies for being hasty as regards the exact accessibility problems of the app.

Thanks again,
Daniel

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Maybe iNat if they are reworking aps right now (didn’t some new developers just get hired?) maybe could hire part-time, or contract Daniel to provide access review?

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I recall iNat has planned a multi-platform app to replace the current iOS and Android apps. Hopefully, they will provide full accessibility features.

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Thanks for this! iOS normally takes care of providing a default label for buttons, using the text of the button label, but in this case either it’s not showing up or more likely, I’m using an image or an icon and not providing alternative text. Another possibility is that we’ve got a tap gesture installed on a ui element that isn’t normally a button, so that element is intended to work like a button but iOS doesn’t realize that and so doesn’t install the accessibility labels for us.

We have a release coming up to fix a few bugs, and I’ll delay that release by a day or two so I can quickly audit and fix as many of these issues as I can find and incorporate those fixes into the next release.

I have a few questions about the specific ones you mentioned:

When you say there is an unlabelled button in / next to each observation, do you mean in the “My Observations” tab where your observations are shown, or in the Explore observations where others observations can be found? And did you mean in the list view, where multiple observations can be scrolled, or in the observation detail view, where details about a specific observation are found?

Also, in the search box, which search box did you mean? I ask because many screens in the app provide search, for example: search for observations/taxa/people/etc on the explore tab, taxa search for observations, location for observation details, projects search, guide search, etc. If you can help me narrow it down it’ll help me get it fixed faster.

On the details screen for an observation with sound, you can tap on the sound icon (where a photo would be for a photo observation) and it should open the iOS native sound player UI. However, if you haven’t noticed that, chances are I missed another accessibility label on a button with an icon, so I’ll fix that too. Apologies.

No worries, but yep we’re working on a new mobile app. The announcement was made here: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/inaturalist-mobile-app-development-news/27157 I’ll let someone from that project speak to their priorities and accessibility plans, since I’m not really involved in it.

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Hi Alex,

The unlabeled button next to each observation is in the “Me” tab, but I do not see an option to switch between grid and list views.

In every observation page, as well as next to the main search box on the “Explore” tab, there is a group of three unlabeled buttons that seem to be a three-way toggle. On testing just now, I also realize I can’t get the search box to open.

The unlabeled buttons in each observation page do not seem to allow me to play sounds. For example, following are all the items, in order, on the observation page for a sound I just submitted today:

  • The back button, which takes me back to the “Me” tab;
  • the edit button (the editing screen also has a couple of unlabeled buttons near the top, between “done” and the species name);
  • A block of static text listing observer, date, and time (in this case: "daniel5, 12/19/22, 11:28 AM);
  • The “share” button, which happens to be unlabeled also, but in this case I guess VoiceOver sees the icon and predicts it is a share icon, which seems to be correct;
  • A button with the species name, here “Melanerpes Carolinus, Red-bellied Woodpecker”, which takes you to the taxon page with the link to the iNat site;
  • The three unlabeled buttons which seem to be a toggle;
  • Text listing the location, which takes you to the map, etc.;
  • Lastly, the data quality heading and indications.

In other words, there is no control I can find that plays the sound. I clicked all of them. :)

I hope this helps, and I’d also love to see how accessibility is implemented in the new app.

Thanks,
Daniel

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Thanks @daniel5 for educating us on this. It would be great if iNaturalist could be a leader on accessibility. I’d give this a higher priority than many of the feature suggestions that have been made. Let’s do it!

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Thanks Daniel, this is super helpful. Thanks to your help I was able to figure out why the sound player isn’t registering with VoiceOver and fix it. That should be fixed for the next release.

I also learned that Apple has a utility for developers called “Accessibility Inspector” and a few videos from WWDC (Apple’s annual developer conference) talking about how to use it. I apologize but I’ve never watched these videos before and don’t know how to use this utility. I’m spending the rest of the day today and all day tomorrow watching these videos and doing Apple’s tutorials to learn how to 1) audit apps for accessibility issues, and 2) fix the issues.

If you’re willing to be a beta tester for our current iOS app, please email me at alex@inaturalist.org and I’ll get you invited.

I spoke with the team and we’d also love to invite you to the beta program for our new app, but we won’t be ready for beta testing on that app for a while, and I don’t have an estimated date.

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Hi Alex,

Thanks so much for your update, and I really appreciate you taking all that time to watch the videos - I’m sure you had other plans.

As for the beta testing, I’ll be emailing you directly. :)

Thanks again,
Daniel

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Hi again Alex,

Email sent. :)

Best,
Daniel

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Hi again all,

Following are the best ways I have found to use iNaturalist between a Mac and an iPhone with the VoiceOver screen reader. To be clear, this is not ideal, and I’d like to see much more work done on the website end of things. But this is a place to start.

  • To upload an observation:
    • Record a sound and upload it using the iOS app;
    • Use the old observation form (deprecated) on Mac, but note that the species selector does not speak choices and you may have to make several attempts;
    • I haven’t tested this, but I think it’s likely that Safari on iPhone would work as well with the old observation form.
  • To search for and play sounds:
    • Use Chrome on Mac;
    • iOS app functionality coming soon, see below.
  • To suggest an ID:
    • Use the iOS app
    • Use Safari on iPhone.
  • When someone sends you an observation:
    • On iPhone, it will open in Safari;
    • Airdrop it to your Mac, where, unless you have set things up differently, it will also open in Safari;
    • Open Chrome on your Mac and paste the web address from Safari. You should then be able to play the sound on your Mac and suggest an ID on your iPhone.

When browsing audio observations in Chrome on Mac, you can airdrop the link to your phone and suggest an ID from there. This is because the sound player does not work as expected in any version of Safari, the iOS Chrome app, or the current iOS iNaturalist app. This last is about to be fixed according to @alex.

I hope this helps anyone looking to use some basic functionality with VoiceOver. Again, I’d like to see updates whereby it is possible to use iNat without having to resort to several platforms.

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