It appears that Microsoft is entering the field of RSS aggregator web sites with its Start.com incubation experiment. RSS aggregators allow Internet users to collect and quickly stay current with blogs, Podcasts and all other web sites that provide their information in the form of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds. In this arena, Microsoft will be competing with such currently established web based RSS aggregation sites as BlogLines for an increasing usage share of those learning to take maximum advantage of all that RSS has to offer. If successful, it can be safely assumed that the service provided by the Start.com experiment would be integrated into those already provided by Microsoft’s free and premium MSN portfolio of web based offerings. Microsoft’s approach to providing equal accessibility to Start.com is unique. Rather than providing a separate accessibility site or potentially limiting the visual appeal of the primary site, Microsoft has chosen to add a clearly defined link at the bottom of the page that enables the user to turn on and off “accessibility mode” on the fly. Preliminary test show that, once activated, “accessibility mode” does enable a blind person to use the site effectively.
Please feel free to comment on this unique approach. Let’s make sure to provide feedback to Microsoft on the effectiveness of this “accessibility mode” scheme as it will probably start popping up on other Microsoft web sites in the near future. Have you seen it implemented elsewhere on the Internet? How is it working for you?
So, how does the site behave with accessibility mode off? From what I see when I view the source, the HTML is identical in both modes. The CSS is also identical in both modes. I haven’t fired up a screen reader to listen to differences, but from this, I don’t expect to hear any.
Using JAWS 6.0 and 6.1, I have found that I must have “accessibility mode” on at start.com in order to be able to “hide” or “show” the various sections of the site, such as the “add content” section. Interesting. Otherwise, no, I find no functional difference, but this one is pretty big.