The sound of thinkorswim

June 10, 2024 Chelsey Sleator
As a blind person, Walter Donovan experiences thinkorswim with his ears, and a team of experts makes sure it sounds just right.

As a new trader, buying your first stock can be an intimidating process. For example, take a look at this thinkorswim® web view:

An image of thinkorswim web. It is busy with lots of data and numbers including a chart. It is visually overwhelming.

There’s a lot of information to take in, and someone just getting started may not have the confidence of knowing what it all means. (Although we do have experts to help you with that.)

Now imagine buying a stock for the first time, but doing it with your eyes closed.

Walter Donovan found himself in a similar position when he was taking advantage of a recent stock award to start his trading journey.

Walter is blind due to a degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which breaks down the photoreceptor cells (rods and cones) in the retina. As a Schwab employee of two years, he had some financial knowledge, but he admits that trading had always seemed foreign to him, and as a member of the Diversity & Inclusion team focused on neurodivergent talent, he didn’t have direct exposure to that part of the business.

Like the example above, Walter also went to thinkorswim web, one of the trading platforms available at Schwab, to make his first trade, and this is what his experience was like:

Screen Reader Example (yes, it really sounds like this)


That’s the audio of the screen reading software that Walter uses that relays the same information shown visually in the image above. Yes, it’s in English. Like many blind people, Walter uses his screen reader at an incredibly fast speed. In fact, this is a slower speed than he usually uses—he slows it down a little bit for websites he visits for the first time.

“It’s amazing what you get used to if you use something for over fifteen years,” says Walter of the screen reader. “Believe it or not, some people listen at an even faster speed than I do.”

Buying your first stock may be intimidating for anyone, but Walter says his experience on thinkorswim web was surprisingly good. He was able to navigate tables using key commands and he could easily access all the positions, and gains and losses of the companies he was interested in. He acknowledges that it’s a lot of information to sift through (after all, there is a lot to consider before making a trade), but that’s the same for a sighted person. 

“A blind user is looking for equitable experiences,” says Walter. “We need to be able to conduct tasks in a comparable way. But it helps to understand that a blind person may access site content with a screen reader in an entirely different order than a sighted user depending on how the website is designed and scripted. Thankfully, we have a great team that knows this and goes to great lengths to ensure that thinkorswim flows in a logical way.”

Walter Donovan, a member of Schwab’s Diversity & Inclusion team.

Photo of Walter Donovan

Hearing through clients’ ears

One way this team designs accessible experiences is by testing the platform with blind users. Dawson Laney, a product manager for thinkorswim who is not himself visually impaired, likes to put himself in clients’ shoes when conducting this research. 

“It’s a good mental exercise to close your eyes and imagine how this information is being conveyed to the user accessing the site via a screen reader as you hear it being read aloud. And then to try to think about where they are on the site and hear how they respond to the experience,” says Dawson, who follows-up with the user to ask them how their experience was. 

Dawson and his tech partner Darin Allen, both agree with Walter that an equitable experience is the goal. But it can be a challenge, especially with thinkorswim where data visualization plays a big role.

“One of the benefits of data visualization is that you can get a lot of information at a glance,” explains Darin, referring to things like candlestick charts which show a stock’s performance over time, including daily highs and lows. “What we do is translate that data into a table with numbers for the screen reader via code. It’s not the same ‘at a glance’ experience, but all the data is still there.”

Now more than ever, the Department of Justice is taking a firmer stance on web accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but Darin and Dawson agree that there’s the compliance part of it and then there’s the heart of it. Technically, something could meet the requirements of the ADA, but the experience may still be subpar for a person with a disability.


We do care about compliance of course, but what is our metric for success? We want every single user to have a fantastic experience.

- Darin Allen, Schwab Technology

Good design is good design

Walter is proud of the work being done by Schwab’s thinkorswim team. He’s even offered to test and provide input on his experiences as they continue to innovate and rollout new features. 

“It makes me feel valued as an employee and as a client that the company cares to make my experience an inclusive one,” says Walter.

And he points out it’s good business to design products with people with disabilities in mind. What’s good design for one group is usually good design for all. Since we know taking the leap to trading isn’t easy, removing any barriers to entry should be a priority. 

Walter is now a frequent thinkorswim user (or “swimmer” as he says), and he’s up to full speed with his screen reader which sounds something like this:

Walter's Preferred Listening Speed