Postcard of a painting

Yesterday I received notification of publication of a Web Accessibility Special Issue of the Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology journal, focusing on a selection of the best work presented at recent W4A conferences. I had the pleasure of editing this edition of the journal, and the result is what I think is a very neat cross-section of the web accessibility research and development going on right now.

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We can create

Last week, I gave a talk on web authoring tool accessibility at a Scottish Web Accessibility Briefing event, in Glasgow. It was an excellent chance to catch up with fellow accessibility advocates from Scotland – Mark Palmer, Alan White, Jim Byrne and Colin Hamilton. Co-incidentally, the latest draft of Version 2 of the W3C Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) is currently out for public comment.

So I thought I’d summarise the points I made in my talk (my slides are available on Slideshare). Why do web authoring tools have an increasingly important role to play in supporting web accessibility, and why is it so important that we talk about authoring tool accessibility in the right way?

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Finest worksong

I had the great pleasure recently of giving a talk at the Universitat de Barcelona‘s Department of Library and Information Science (in Catalan). It was organised by Mireia Ribera, and attended by staff and students on the Masters of Digital Content Management course, and I’m very grateful to Mireia for the invitation to talk, and to visit such a beautiful city!

I’d been asked to give a perspective from the UK on developments in web accessibility over the years, and in putting together my talk, I ended up with a 10 year biography of web accessibility. I thought this was a nice, round figure, given that it’s almost 10 years to the day since version 1 of WCAG was published by the W3C on 5th May 1999; and nearly 10 years since I started working in this area as a researcher/consultant in the newly formed Digital Media Access Group.

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Talk about the passion

So, I’m back home after a week in Spain. The main purpose of my trip was to serve as General Chair of the International Cross Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility (W4A 2009) held in Madrid on 20-21 April. I thought I’d reflect on how I felt the conference went, and the key messages emerging from presentations and discussions.

But first, some background. W4A was started up by a group of accessibility researchers at the University of Manchester, and was first held in 2004; founders Simon Harper and Yeliz Yesilada still do an enormous amount of work behind the scenes each year.

I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the last three W4As in various roles. What makes W4A different from other accessibility, web standards and human computer interaction/usability conferences?

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Can’t get there from here

Earlier this week I presented a very influential paper to our reading group: Damaged Merchandise? A Review of Experiments that Compare Usability Evaluation Methods, by Wayne Gray and Marilyn Salzman. Reading it again reminded me why it had such an impact on me first time around, and I thought I’d share my views on why I think it’s such a worthwhile read, even 11 years after it was published.

The paper critiques 5 prominent (i.e. published in prominent academic publications and subsequently cited) studies that compared different Usability Evaluation Methodologies (UEMs). It found that for each study the experimental design casts doubt over the validity of the conclusions made.

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Living well is the best revenge

Last week I gave a session to third year HCI students on the relationship between accessibility, usability and aesthetics. Part of this session was to explore how aesthetic appeal can override apparent usability limitations in influencing the success of a product or interface; and we also explored the extent to which accessibility and aesthetic appeal can co-exist.

One of the discussion topics was “do accessibility and usability advocates lead by example?” Do their web sites exist as inspiring examples of good design? We had a good laugh finding examples of where that answer was a resounding ‘no’ – although disability charity web sites are certainly improving in terms of design quality – and I pointed students to the fantastic Design Eye for a Usability Guy makeover of Jakob Nielsen’s Useit.com web site. The serious point was that if people wish to inspire designers to think about accessibility while maintaining creativity and design appeal, we need to show that it can be done. Not all accessibility advocates are talented designers (I wish I was), but we recognise the importance of getting the message over in an appealing way.

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Beat a drum

Education, Education, Education. Much of the buzz filtering back through Twitter from this year’s South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) surrounded the launch of the Web Standards Project’s InterAct Curriculum.  It builds on the efforts of Chris Mills and colleagues at Opera in developing their Web Standards Curriculum, and, while it’s still work in progress it looks – from a first glance – like it will grow to be an excellent set of resources to promote the teaching of best practice in web design.

These initiatives are all evidence of a brighter horizon, the product of efforts by web standards advocates to improve the quality of web design education, and thus the skillset of people entering the web design industry. This follows criticism of the standard of web design education, particularly at university level.

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