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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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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Sweetness follows?

There have been reports in the UK press of plans to reduce the speed limit of traffic on rural roads from 60 to 50 miles per hour (96 to 80km/h). The main argument, of course, is to improve road safety, but there is also an argument that speed limits on their own do not necessarily lead to safer drivers:

  • a speed limit may imply that driving at, or just below, that limit automatically means ‘safe’.
  • a safe driving speed depends on context – weather, time, road condition, surrounding environment, visibility, to name but a few factors.

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How the west was won and where it got us

I read a blog post by web standards advocate Drew McLellan yesterday, the opening sentence of which alarmed me greatly:

As a web developer, there’s little I dislike more than building sites to be accessible.

That’s some confession. Now, cards on the table – I don’t know Drew, though I do appreciate his efforts in promoting web standards adoption. And I’m not here to suggest he is arguing against accessible design – on the contrary, from his blog it’s something that he feels obliged to do, so he does it:

So as much as I find it an unpleasant chore, I’m firmly committed to building sites that can be accessible as I can make them.

What I do take from the blog, though, is that this is an example borne of frustration that accessibility considerations are stifling innovation in web application design and development. As I’m not yet familiar with the technologies discussed in the blog, I’ll leave the details of the argument surrounding those technologies to others.  I will say that much of Drew’s ‘accessibility’ objections seem to focus on the avoidance of dependency on JavaScript – which, since publication of WCAG 2, is no longer considered a disability accessibility showstopper (in other words, the very use of JavaScript does not immediately exclude a particular group of users on account of a disability).

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Perfect Circle

One of the most frustrating yet fascinating challenges to achieving an optimally accessible Web is trying to complete a perfect circle. Three parts of that circle are covered by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative’s triumvirate of guidelines: conformant content (WCAG), created by conformant authoring tools (ATAG), and accessed using conformant user agents (UAAG). This approach has some practical flaws – not least in that there’s a missing part of the circle: conformant users.

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