You'd Have to Be an Acrobat: Bus Schedules in New York City
New York City bus schedules are equally if not more problematic than the ones for Capital Metro. New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority posts its bus schedules in Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF), as in the screen shot shown in Figure 5-8.
Figure 5-8. Screen shot displaying part of the Long Island Rail Road page for Babylon Village. The page shows part of a table listing times for selected stops on the route from Babylon Village to Penn Station in Manhattan. Accessed June 9, 2001, at http://www.babylonvillage.com/long_island_railroad/. Used with permission.
It's hard to believe that this schedule is any more accessible to people who can see it than it is for those who can't: the font is tiny, perhaps only three or four points. And even though Adobe Acrobat provides a magnification tool, a screen reader may be everyone's best bet! Even so, it would be a hard task. Used in tandem with Adobe's Acrobat 5 Reader, the JAWS screen reader is able to read some, but not all, of the information in this dense, complexly formatted schedule. For example, JAWS reads the abbreviated names of bus stops listed across the top row of the schedule, then reads the times listed on the next row, and so on. But, as with the Capital Metro schedules, it is impossible to tell what times are associated with the individual stops. Moreover, the Acrobat 5 Reader the first version of Acrobat to work with JAWS and other assistive technologies, representing a major victory for accessibility advocates has been available for less than a year as of this writing, and it will be some time before it's safe to assume that most people will have this version. (Usability expert Jakob Nielsen suggests that it may take as long as two years for new software versions to become widely disseminated.) We'll talk more about PDF documents and accessibility in Chapter 12.
On Board: The Long Island Rail Road Schedule
It doesn't have to be quite so hard. The Long Island Rail Road, which is also part of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, does a considerably better job with the schedules for its commuter trains. The screen shot in Figure 5-9 shows a portion of the page with part of the schedule for trains from Penn Station in downtown Manhattan to Babylon Village on Long Island. This schedule shows only a few of the many stops the train makes on its homeward journey Penn station, then Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, Jamaica in Queens, and lastly Babylon Village. There are links to a more complete train schedule and to the schedules for connecting bus service (including the PDF schedule we discussed in the previous section). On the same page (but not shown in this screen shot) there is another table providing links to the timetables for weekday and weekend rail service to Long Island and to New York City.
Figure 5-9. Screen shot displaying part of the Long Island Rail Road page for Babylon Village. The page shows part of a table listing times for selected stops on the route from Babylon Village to Penn Station in Manhattan. Accessed June 9, 2001, at http://www.babylonvillage.com/long_island_railroad/. Used with permission.
The schedule from Penn Station to Babylon Village unlike those for Capital Metro is formatted as an HTML table. This means that people using screen readers and talking browsers can get some basic information about this schedule. Instead of hearing just a list of stations followed by a stream of numbers, they can determine which station is associated with a specific time listed in the table. This is very important because of the extremely complex page layout, which includes several frames, one of which is borderless. As Figure 5-9 shows, the table headings actually scroll up off the screen into a borderless top frame as the passenger moves deeper into the schedule.
Even if the column headings are out of sight when the screen reader says, "Seven thirty one A M," JAWS users can press Alt+Ctrl+ NumKeypad5 to hear the following information: "Row 11. Column 4. Jamaica. Seven thirty one A M."
This is a small thing; nonetheless, it is quite helpful. This JAWS feature would be even more useful, however, if we could get directional as well as positional information are we going toward Babylon Village or away from it?
But this is the best JAWS can do with the information that the table markup gives it to work with. The code fragment below shows the markup for the column heading Flatbush Avenue. Note the <th> element.
JAWS relies on <th> elements like these to create a simple association between the column headings that identify train stops and the data cells (<td> elements) that show times. Figure 5-10 shows the HTML source code for the data cells.
Figure 5-10. Source code for the Long Island Rail Road's weekday schedule of commuter trains from Penn Station to Babylon Village, Long Island. A line is highlighted to show the complex formatting of a typical data cell. Accessed June 10, 2001, at http://www.babylonvillage.com/long_island_railroad/. Used with permission.
The markup makes each data cell (<td> element) show the time for a scheduled stop in the user's default font, followed by the notation "am" or "pm" in a smaller font. But that's as far as it goes.