Accessibility Barriers in Digital Forensics

From the Editor:
Emily Kiehl is an Information Technology major at the University of Cincinnati. She serves as the President of the Ohio Association of Blind Students. Emily’s chosen major has presented some challenges but also grants her the opportunity to work with accessibility for blind students, which she writes about below.
This semester, I took a class called Digital Forensics Lab where we were introduced to the industry standard software that digital forensic scientists commonly use. The forensics field as a whole is not non-visually accessible due to the detailed nature of the work, and since there aren’t many blind people in the field, there hasn’t been a huge need for accessibility. I couldn’t participate in any of the labs or do the same classwork as my peers since I can’t read my computer screen. This problem isn’t unique to this class; I’m an information technology major and deal with accessibility barriers all the time. But this was a particularly eye-opening experience since I couldn’t find a workaround to participate. When we were given the opportunity to pick a research project topic, I knew I wanted to further investigate the digital forensics tools with my screen reader. I documented my processes and results in my final paper. There weren’t any resources on my topic, so I used the opportunity to make my own, which can hopefully also serve as a reference for the next blind students who take Digital Forensics Lab and future blind digital forensic scientists.
I tested a variety of tools with JAWS on my Windows computer: Forensic ToolKit (FTK), FTK imager, Cellebrite, and Autopsy, which are comprehensive digital forensic software suites, and Wireshark, Registry Viewer (from AccessData) and Windows Registry Editor, which are complementary tools that assist in specific aspects of a forensic investigation. The results of my research were predictable but nevertheless frustrating. Every tool had features that I could not access with JAWS, even after spending hours going through each and trying many navigation methods and cursors. The difficulty of use for the products made by different companies vary, however. Wireshark was surprisingly usable. I could navigate the screen, read menus and find some relevant network information, although I couldn’t access the network log files from a scan, which is one of its main features. Cellebrite was about the same, where I could get around the tabs and panes but not read the most important log data. The AccessData products (FTK, FTK imager, and Registry Viewer) were the most disappointing because they are the most highly regarded proprietary software suites - it should be the best. There was no useful or relevant feedback from JAWS at all, except for where to access the help guide in FTK Imager, which was consequently inaccessible. All of these tools have potential to be great for users of all demographics, however they have a long way to go. I’m so glad to be a part of the process and help make this corner of the universe a little more accessible.

You can find the entire research paper here: Accessibility of Digital Forensics Tools - Emily Kiehl Final Fall 2021