The Accessibility Chronicles

Dean Kamen’s self-elevating wheelchair: not just assistive, but liberating.So everyone’s all of a sudden talking about accessibility again. Just as you thought 2005 was going to be the year of folksonomies, APIs, and Ajax, the discussion over the last two weeks seems to have centered on a “new” aspect of accessibility:

Whether we really know what we think we know.

Ever since the original movement towards web standards led by the WaSP and many others, we’ve had similar messages sent to us:

“Valid code makes for accessible websites.”

“Use proper semantics to help screenreaders interpret your pages.”

“Use lists for navigation and any other list-like content to improve accessibility.”

And so, for several years designers and coders took these rules of thumb to heart, tried in earnest to follow best practices, and went about thinking their websites were “accessible”.

Why would they think that? Not because they physically observed it, but because they were told it. And who could blame them? You’re a web worker with a million things on your plate. Which is easier to do: hire an accessibility consultant to physically test your sites with disabled people or simply believe what you’ve heard? 99% of us, including me, chose the easier route.

Is accessibility really a “bonus”?

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I adopted web standards in my work at ESPN, ABCNews, Disney, and other properties for at least five reasons parallel to accessibility:

  • Browser agnosticism
  • More maintainable code
  • More creative page layout options
  • More interactive advertising possibilities
  • Bandwidth savings

I also created sIFR for reasons only tangentially related to accessibility.

Accessibility was, as people would have you believe, a “bonus” which happened to come along with the use of web standards. Great. I like bonuses. The newer sites we designed did seem more accessible than the old, but how accessible were they?

That is where the recent discussion of observable accessibility comes in and that’s where it should have been from the beginning. Not “what should work better in theory” but “what actually does work”.

Does CSS-P automatically create a better user experience for blind people than table layouts?

Those who know say no.

Are unordered lists always more navigable than manually linebreaked items?

Those who know say no.

Are today’s screenreaders able to consistently interpret even the cleanest of code?

Those who know say no.

So it seems what we’ve been following here for the last few years is a mental model of accessibility than none of us has had the time, resources, skills, or desire to even test. I’ll admit I’m one of those people, but at the same time, I’ve never really bought into the concept fully from the get-go.

Now, keep in mind I’m talking about major media sites here because that’s what I’ve been working on for the last 5 years, but I simply don’t buy into the concept that you can create a huge site which is designed to be explored spontaneously through wildly varying page layouts and intentional distractions and then just go hiding things with CSS in order to make it “accessible”. People come to sites like ESPN partly because they aren’t just a list of links. They come for golf and they end up in the Fantasy Football section… and that’s a good thing. For both them and for ESPN. But does a blind person benefit from this sort of thing? I don’t think they do. The tolerance for distractions, advertising, and indirect navigation paths would seem much much lower for this group of people.

What all of us would really like is to create experiences which put disabled users on as equal footing as possible with fully-abled users… much like Dean Kamen’s self-elevating wheelchair pictured above (the “iBot”). Kamen didn’t like the fact that wheelchair-bound people couldn’t climb stairs or that they were always positioned a couple of feet below everyone else so he built technology to eliminate both of those problems. The end result wasn’t just assistive… it was liberating. So why should we settle for basic wheelchairs on the web when we may be able to create iBots instead?

Solutions for the real world

So what do I think is the solution for this sort of dilemma? Server-side accessibility in part. I’ve talked about it a few times before but I feel like if your content is abstracted well enough from a database and templating perspective, you can serve up entirely different code to these groups of people and not rob them of any of the content. Your core navigation remains untouched as does anything else essential to use the site, but gone is the javascript, the Flash, the visual distractions designed to make you explore, and what you’re left with is a clear path to content. Yes I think this can be achieved client-side with CSS on simple sites like blogs, but on major sites, I’m less convinced.

It may be difficult to get buy-off from your company on such a strategy since accessibility is currently not a monetizable endeavor in most cases, but that’s when the emerging mobile industry comes to the rescue. Create a bare-bones variation of your site with essential navigation and content, and bam… you’ve got a mobile site which likely works on the majority of wireless devices out there today — whether they support CSS or not.

But enough about server-side implementations… that’s not what this article is really about. It’s about exploring ways to turn accessibility into something real. Something that designers and developers can learn and then put into practice in a meaningful way.

The realities of cost/benefit analysis

I, for one, would love to help the disabled. However, there are limits to how far I and everyone else should be expected to go in the real world. Here are some examples:

  • A small percentage of adults are either completely illiterate or read at a 2nd grade level or below due to a disability. Does that mean every sentence on a web site should be written at a 2nd grade level?
  • I just found out about a 1000 pound man who, due to congenital obesity, can’t even make it through a standard doorway. Does that mean all doorways should be twice as wide?
  • Because people in wheelchairs can’t walk up steps, should we be expected to install ramps on all buildings?

Whoa. Wait a second. That last one is legit. But why is it commonly accepted while the other two aren’t?

Because of its cost/benefit ratio.

In case #1, you have a cost that is too high. Expecting all content creators to translate every single word on their site into remedial reading material would take forever. It’s simply not a reasonable thing to demand.

In case #2, you have a benefit that is too low. How many 1000 pound people are there in the world? Probably 9,999 out of 10,000 people can fit through a standard doorway so you’re not helping enough people by enacting a law to widen doorways.

In case #3, you have a relatively low cost and a substantial number of people you’re helping, and that’s why it’s a law. A building costs hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars to erect and a ramp is a tiny fraction of that… thus the low incremental cost. And if you combine all paraplegics in the world with elderly wheelchair-bound people with people who simply have an easier time walking a ramp than stairs, you have a substantial group of people.

SO… how does this relate to web development? Let’s apply the cost/benefit ratio. Benefits first. There are clearly enough low-vision and no-vision people in the world to where the target group is large enough to matter to us. I don’t have any stats on this, but I imagine the number is higher than that of people who need wheelchair ramps. So that part is taken care of.

Now comes the hard part though: cost. It seems that from the number of either completely inaccessible sites out there or sites which think they are accessible but really aren’t, we have a problem of costs being too high. Following are some elements of that:

Education

In the 1990s, most people just never really learned about accessibility. The web developer or designer who had a proper knowledge of the subject was tough to find and thus, cost a lot more by definition. Thanks to the web standards and accessibility movements, I think this element has begun to take care of itself. A larger percentage of web workers out there now at least pay attention to accessibility, even if they are not masters at it.

Methodologies

We’ve seen some progress in this area as browsers and screenreaders have improved, but as Eric Meyer points out, I’m not sure we’ve seen enough. Every browser but PC IE will now scale fonts specified in pixels, which eliminates the potential cost of designers losing font control (once people get off of IE), but in the screenreader world, have things really gotten much better? Are companies still spending their time concentrating on reading bad code when so much better code is now being released? Have makers of screenreader software fallen a bit behind the times now? I don’t know that they have… I’m just asking, because when I read more and more reports about how perfectly valid, perfectly semantic code still isn’t read optimally by screenreaders, I begin to wonder if we’re chasing a false ideal here. Here’s a thought: why aren’t governments funding the development of better assistive technologies on the web? If Freedom Scientific has to charge $1095 for a copy of JAWS, that either means they are very greedy or the market is too small for them to recoup their costs of development in a cheaper pricing model. I’ll assume the latter. If the latter is true, perhaps this deserves a subsidy. Seems like a noble cause to me. The other option is for OS makers to step up their efforts. I’m not sure how the new assistive technology in OS X is, but I’ve heard decent things. How about Microsoft? Could a $270 billion company afford to help out here? I think so. The bottom line is that if you want me, as a developer and designer, to code using methodologies that are “accessibility friendly”, you need to make sure those efforts actually result in good experiences for end users. Right now, I’m not confident they do.

Testing

This is the biggest problem spot as far as I’m concerned, and I’m not sure how it can be improved. Simply put, if you don’t test your site specifically by putting it in front of blind or vision-impaired people, you have very little idea exactly how accessible it is. That doesn’t mean grabbing yourself a copy of JAWS and pretending you’re an actual screenreader user and it doesn’t mean putting on a blindfold and seeing how well you can do. The fact of the matter is that people with disabilities have their own unique ways of dealing with assistive technology and any attempt by you to emulate that will yield false results. Currently, there are firms out there who will test your sites with disabled subjects (for a fee) and that’s probably the best option for now, but I can’t help but think this won’t be the norm for quite awhile.

So that’s my addition to the Accessibility Chronicles of the last two weeks. If I could leave you with a question, it would be this:

What can we do to lower the costs, monetarily and figuratively, of creating truly accessible web sites?

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39 Responses:

  1. Aaron Jones says:

    Great article, Mike. I’ve often wondered if making things accessible was really worth the cost. While I hang on every word that you and the other gents I consider masters (Shaun, John, Dave, and Jason) I can’t help but wonder if the amount of work you put into accessiblity ever really pays off. I only go as far as making things compliant with all browsers – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    Cheers, well written!

  2. Mike D. says:

    Aaron: Thanks. Yeah, making things “barely usable” at the cost of a ton of effort and testing is probably not worth it, but making things “legitimately usable” at the cost of a more reasonable amount of effort is definitely worth it.

    My fear, however, is that the state of accessibility today is closer to the former than people think.

  3. There are clearly enough low-vision and no-vision people in the world to where the target group is large enough to matter to us. I don’t have any stats on this, but I imagine the number is higher than that of people who need wheelchair ramps.

    I would seriously doubt that. My guess is also unsubstantiated, however, based on that I almost never see a low/no-vision person, and that I see a person in a wheelchair almost every other day, I’d guess that’s not the case.

    Of course, I could be wrong.

    (Editor’s Note: I agree with you if we’re talking only about no-vision people. I just feel like low-vision is probably a pretty huge group. I mean, if you want to be liberal about the definition of “low-vision”, you could pretty much include anyone who has trouble reading a computer screen.)

  4. J. Wheeler-

    I’m sure you have factored in the fact that you wouldn’t know if you saw a low-vison, or even blind, person, whereas someone in a wheelchair is clearly identifiable? :)

    I don’t have a lot of answers here, but that was a great read, Mike. I do take a bit of exception to you’re “changing a false ideal” comment, though. That ideal is not false — it may be unrealistic or “not there yet” in today’s web, but to stop chasing the ideal would be counter-productive, as well. If screenreader manufacturers aren’t doing a good enough job reading valid and well-formed code, then we need to kick them in the ass and get them to start chasing the ideal with us. If we just give in and decide the ideal will never happen, well, it never will.

    All in all, great job. I’m certainly convinced that most of our standards-based sites aren’t really accessible, but are simply more accessible (which is good, but not good enough).

  5. Masklinn says:

    Jeff, I’d say that people with vision disabilities aren’t *blind* per se, it’s much easier to notice someone in a wheelchair or walking with crutches that someone who’s has vision defficiencies.

    I quite often see people with white sticks, probably as many as wheelchair users, and they’re merely the worst case of visually impaired. For most of the visual disabilities, colour vision deficiencies for example, you don’t get anything that claims “I’m disabled”, and we as “non disabled” don’t have anything to see that these people actually exist.

    Yet they do exist. Even though they don’t advertise it and we can’t spot them as easily as we can spot someone who’s missing an arm or who can’t walk.

  6. kevin says:

    J. Wheeler

    I would seriously doubt that. My guess is also unsubstantiated, however, based on that I almost never see a low/no-vision person, and that I see a person in a wheelchair almost every other day, I’d guess that’s not the case.

    When you’re dealing with a site or set of sites with daily pageviews in the millions, just because you never see these people while you’re walking down the street does not mean they do not potentially represent a huge number of customers (though perhaps a small percentage).

  7. Interesting points Mike. Ideally of course, money wouldn’t come in to it, sites would be designed to be accessible just because it’s the right thing to do, but to take that view point would be a little naive in todays society!

    Although using CSS-P and properly marked up lists don’t automatically make a site more accessible, it does generally help, at least a bit. I’ve seen several people decide to take the leap into CSS, and after a while of learning the basics, getting much more interested in the semantics of writing good code and designing with accessibility more in mind. It seems one of those natural progressions a lot of people make.

    Personally I feel, if someone has the right training/education, writing relatively accessible code doesn’t really cost more than other coding. As long as the issues are known about in advance, and built in to the general development process, the additional costs are minimal.

    I’ll admit it’s probably harder with large media sites as you’re used to, I’ve never been involved in anything on that scale, and it doesn’t get away from the fact that there are a hell of a lot of inaccessible sites out there, maintained by people without the skills to make them accessible. There are obviously some pretty major costs to train people and then recode/redesign sites.

    Screenreader makers also need to pull their thumbs out their arses and try and catch up with the other browsers around now. Perhaps WaSP shouldn’t have ended the browser development campaign completely, but shifted focus from the IE/Opera/NS/Moz browsers to Screenreader writers.

  8. Conánn says:

    There is alot of truth in what you are saying but it does remind me of the arguments small business owners had in California a few years ago when it was decided that all buildings with two or more floors had to have a elevator.
    But really should a step ladder company need to have wheelchair access? Should a sports website have an accessible layout option?
    Web access is very different from public building access, correct ramp ratios, elevator sizes, have been worked out, but I have never seen a vision impaired version of a building directory or an exit sign (yes there are a few with braille). We have Skip to content and accesskey# but there is no guidelines (I am aware of) for accessible type style or contrast, based on solid research. Other then being more attractive is there any research into whether a CSS zoom layout is better then unstyled HTML or user style sheets.
    Mobile stylesheets will not always be high contrast, low color affairs which can double as accessible layouts, specialized layouts will be necessary eventually but until the details are worked out a small number of people will talk up a storm for a few years and sweat out the details for the rest of us. By then screen readers will be smarter and probably included in ever OS so we can all use them to read our feeds while we have our breakfast.

  9. Richard says:

    Good piece Mike.

    There is nothing like sitting with a person using a screen reader on a site you’ve just coded to learn how they ‘see’ your site. I just did it today as it happens, and I’ve gone back and made some tweaks to the markup the CMS generates as a result.

    One example is that JAWS reads 2:30 as a time, but not 2.30 .

    I’d recommend everyone spend at least one session with Blind person and screen reader. It is a revelation.

    We have also hired a consultant who has access to testers with a range of disabilities.

  10. Su says:

    As to testing with actual people, I recently stumbled across Independent Testers. Has anybody use them? Given that there’s only 285 total as of this writing, there’s probably some backlog, but if you plan ahead, I could see it being handy if you don’t have the budget for a consultancy.

  11. Malarkey says:

    “Whether we really know what we think we know…”

    I don’t think we do, and as such how can anyone else (including Governments). That is why I believe we cannot or should not be legislated.

  12. Jason G says:

    If Freedom Scientific has to charge $1095 for a copy of JAWS, that either means they are very greedy or the market is too small for them to recoup their costs of development in a cheaper pricing model.

    It is cheaper to buy a Mac Mini with a built in screen reader than it is to purchase just JAWS for Windows. I cannot vouch for the quality of Voice Over in Mac OS X 10.4 especially when compared with JAWS.

    What I do know is that in order to be proficient wither either it takes a lot of time memorizing keyboard commands and the like. This is not bad – it just means that in order to truly evaluate how useful these programs are you have to really be able to use them.

    But that is a side note – the point I really want to make is this:

    Governments are required by law to provide assistive technology to their employees should they need it (I believe schools are also required to provide AT for students who need it). Governments almost exclusivly run some version of Windows, and JAWS is pretty much the defacto screen reader for Windows. Maybe Freedom Scientific knows this. Maybe Freedom Scientific takes this fact into account when they determine how much they want to charge people for their software? I don’t know.

    Maybe one day insurance companies will cover assistive technologies like screen readers, in the same way that some cover hearing aids now?

    Now, if it costs so much to make a screen reader for such a small market, why would Apple make one and include it with their OS?

    The simple answer is because no other vendor was doing this for Apple, and if Apple even wanted to take a shot at getting into goverment they need to have assistive technology available for their platform.

    The benefit is that now anyone can have a computer with a screen reader for $499. That would cost upwards of $1500 in the PC world.

  13. Joe Lesh says:

    I worked for a software company whose main application has been Section 508 compliant for years. The silly thing about Section 508 is that it merely means you’ve made an effort *and* show improvement from release to release, not that it’s actually usable.

    My company provided pretty good support for accessibility, mostly due to our wish to sell to the government who requires the Section 508 work. But we were greatly informed by one of our developers was blind and could point out all the problems from a true usability standpoint. His complaints were brought home to me when we bought JAWS and actually used the app through the screen reader.

    Which brings me to the real, well, “DUH,” moment that I had after using JAWS. Of course acessibility is not in following standards. That’s because accessibility is a special case of usability. It’s like assuming compliant HTML always results in an easy to use website. As for HTML not working in screen readers, when has it ever ‘just worked’?

    Forget the consultants. Buy a copy of JAWS and use your web site. You probably already have the tools to undesrtand how usable things from door handles to GUI widgets are. JAWS is only $1,000 and a large development organization or one focused on web design should spring for a single license that can be used for learning and as part of your final QA process.

    BTW, the U.S. government does subsidize quite a bit of assistive technology. Each state has different programs in addition to the support provided through Medicare. My sister has received lots of different, expensive pieces of equipment over the years: microfiche-style magnifying machines that turn everything into very high contrast for reading print, portable touch-screen speaking aid, blind radio service receiver, membership in ‘accessible toy libraries,’ all of which cost over $500.

  14. I don’t believe accessibility is as big of a deal outside of major sites. For example, what percentage of blind people are going to come to my lowly site, as compared to ESPN.com or CNN.com?

    In my opinion, I agree with Mike that there are more visually impaired people in the world… but my estimation is that why would they deal with the Web? I would think that somebody with a hardtime seeing wouldn’t have a yearning to explore something on a computer.

    With that said, however, I do agree with everyone who says that it’s our responsibility to bring the option to them. I just don’t think right now it’s a must do.

  15. I think accessability is a noble goal, but at the same time, I can’t go overbudget on a project simply to make it accessable to Group X that may or may not visit the site.

    Part of the problem is that it’s too easy to be tempted to put all “disabled” people into one lump group. But the needs of someone who is a parapalegic vs. a blind person vs. a deaf person are all different. The parapalegic probably can access any site a “normal” person can. A blind person would most likely use a screen reader. A deaf person would probably access the site “normally.”

    But, since every human being is different, including having different abilities (and disabilities), we can only do our best. For instance, I’m red-green color blind. Does that mean someone should design their site in a way that I can see the colors “normally?” No. I’m USED to the way colors appear to me. Should they make the effort to at least underline links as well as alter their color? Yes! The point being is that there is no way to communicate to a blind person that the color of a shirt on JCPenny’s web site is red, other than telling them it’s red. I, personally, see certain shades differently than a non-color-blind person. But I’m used to it. People make adjustments to their own disabilities.

    One trap of accessability is to use it as a box to confine creativity. Go to a store, you know, the brick kind. Wal*Mart or something. Due to the ADA of the early 1990s, some adjustments are apparant. Wheelchair access in the bathrooms and dressing rooms. Automatic doors with curb-cuts for wheelchairs. But the overall shopping experience for a “normal” person is unchanged.

    And maybe we’re attacking the problem all backwards. Maybe the people who make screen readers and such should be looking at the way designers design and making the screen readers work better for that.

    What we’re really talking about is accessability for sight-limited people. Not for all disabled people because the web is a visual medium. But those of us working on tiny little budgets have other things to worry about, like getting a site done with a profit. I can’t charge 25% more to make a site “accessable.” Even if I want to.

    Imagine if we had to make thing accessable by law for all disabilities. We’d go out of business. Would you have to make a shopping site more difficult to use for shopping addicts? How do you design a site that is usable for someone suffering from some unknown ailment? They know what they need, but how do you?

    I guess, in the end, we just need a good, firm set of “rules” that we can follow that make sites as accessable as they will ever be without designing every site individually for every person. And I think that good markup and CSS are a great place to start.

  16. timswan says:

    Great read, as usual. I find it unfortunate that people are seeing this as in any way an excuse not to pursue accessibility. My read is that you are stating the obvious:

    1. we need to test our “accessible” sites with actual disabled users,
    2. we need better technologies for offering complex content,
    3. we need better ways of identifying important content to ensure that we are providing equivalent experiences to all users,
    4. disabled users need better tools for accessing web content,
    5. and, finally, the line of what is accessible is blurry and will probably always be moving, but that doesn’t mean we should stop pursuing the goal

    Makes sense to me.

  17. AnnMarie Johnson says:

    I can’t believe anyone thinks that simply because someone is visually impaired that they wouldn’t want to use the Web. That would be like saying that they wouldn’t want to read a book or any other printed material. Of course they do! There are also folks who are required to use the Web for work or for school who have no choice, regardless of their abilities. Don’t forget, as well, that these guidelines also assist those who use keyboard or other input devices as well as those who use screen readers.

    As far as the numbers of visually impaired folks out there–as others have commented, they are much harder to see. I had a legally blind friend in grade school. She didn’t need a cane, but couldn’t read a thing that wasn’t an inch from her face if that (she used a magnifying machine to read at home). She rarely even wore glasses because they helped so little it was more hassle to have them than not.

    I began wearing reading glasses at age 25 (on top of contacts). I find it very difficult to read anything below 12 point fonts on a computer and prefer 14+; due to accessibility guidelines I rarely find websites anymore that don’t allow me to adjust the fonts. That wasn’t true just a couple years ago. My case is a minor one, of course, but goes to show that accessibility guidelines do help people out, even those who aren’t completely blind.

  18. To everybody who replied to my comment:

    Yes, I do agree with the point he was making. The number of low vision users is high enough to require this movement, however I was simply giving my guess, which is certainly, and proven by you all, unsubstantiated.

    (Wow, who knew that that many people read all the comments…)

  19. Nick says:

    I think one important thing to remember the core purpose of your site when determining need for accessibility. Something like this:

    Do you have an obligation to bring the information available on your website to your users? (this would be government sites, product support sites, etc.)

    If so, then you need to consider this broad term “accessibility.”

    If not, do you have an interest in doing so? (i.e. Amazon.com and ESPN.com were created to generate profit. Are they necessary to anybody? Well, probably not.)

    If so, then if they want to expand their reach, the should consider “accessibility” (but this is, I would say, a choice)

    If not, then is it the “wrong thing” to not consider accessibility? I would say no. This is in response to the comment “ideally, developers and designers would make their sites accessible because it is ‘the right thing to do’”. That would certainly be true of sites that are needed by those with disabilities, but why is it even the “right thing to do” if your site has neither a need for that market (a site that is too small) or an obligation to serve them?

    It would certainly be nice if everyone could use everything with no hinderance, but hinderance is the nature of a disability. We all have them in some form.

  20. Dan says:

    Getting Jaws or Window Eyes to read Skip Links can be frustrating. Anyone have any insight?

    - Using a pixel gif with an alt attribute works, but Yuck!
    - Setting the style of the Skip links to display:none or visibility:hidden hides them from the screen reader as well as the browser display.
    - Positioning the Skip links off screen works for Jaws but not Window Eyes.

    That pretty much leaves coloring the skip links the same color as the backround and hiding them on the page.

  21. Zach says:

    I work in a technology department at my college and we recently purchased a JAWS license. After installation I quickly realized how difficult it must be to learn to use this application.

    I first checked out Zeldman.com and Mikeindustries.com, and boy what a disaster. First of all, the program read a whole bunch of garbage that left me entirely confused. I looked through the manual (itself, a beast) and the number of shortcuts and CTRL combinations made me nearly wet myself. Eventhough I could *SEE* exactly what was on the monitor, I still couldn’t figure out what or where the scary voice was reading.

    I have since discovered that the program needs to be “configured” and I need to browse the web “in a certain way” for JAWS to function properly, but I think this is folly in and of itself. JAWS should just work right out of the box and websites should be clearly rendered verbally.

    This would make it much more pleasant for people like myself, who need to use JAWS in order to test for Section 508 compliance. As of now I am damned to reading sites in print only mode (and even then sometimes doing something as simple as reading the previous or next paragraph is a challenge.)

  22. Myk says:

    If we want lower-cost, I suppose the easy answer is going to go back to browsers. It would be nice if Firefox would give us a screen-reader simulation mode, right. They don’t need to do the whole screenreader software, but perhaps a sort of debugging mode, see what I mean?

    So like, I design my page, do all my web standards and accessibility stuff, test it in FF, Safari, IE, etc. Then my final bit of testing would be to run it through the firefox JAWS simulator:

    Screen goes blank, split in two. On the top, the text that the screenreader would be reading to the listener. On the bottom, source code with highlighting.

    This sounds feasible, doesn’t it? Someone smarter than me should just make the firefox plugin. You could even throw in all the keyboard shortcuts and stuff of JAWS.

    I imagine that the tricky part of the screen-reader, the part that costs 985 of the 1000 dollars, is the voice and reading and etc, right? So, a mocked up display of what would be reading should be simple enough to anyone who knows how JAWS works?

    Or am I just naive? That would be a handy, handy tool. Or is there one?

  23. Chris says:

    Can we stop putting everyone in a group.

    I have seen many people who have lots of ways of using the internet so to simply say “sit down with a blind person” solves nothing.

  24. Greg says:

    I just posted this a response about screen readers on Veerle’s blog and thought I’d share it here too.

    For those of you who have never seen Adaptive Technology in use on the web (especially in person), I think that these videos will help give you some more insight. I hope they help others. I know they helped me.

    These are definitely worth watching.

    http://www.doit.wisc.edu/accessibility/video/

  25. I see more people in wheel chairs during the day then 1000 pound people, actually I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in persons besides on the internet or TV.

    Good Article. I currently work for a Construction company that has to deal with ADA standards on a constant basis. After having completing a project having a handicap person roll up a ramp in a wheel chair is heart warming.

  26. Andy Davies says:

    As someone who’s currently working with some developers on making accessible eLearning content I though I’d throw my $0.02 worth in…

    One of the problems with using lists and then styling then is that Jaws etc don’t fully understand the styling so the user get’s ‘bullet’ read out before each item (if it’s a long list it soon get’s frustrating)

    You also shouldn’t just think of blind people as the only ones who need support – there are all kinds of visual, cognitive and motor difficulties around. One of the things that helps some people is alternate color schemes e.g. hi/low contrast e.g white or blue, and have come across situations where it makes it easier for people with things like dyslexia.

    Lots of able people find things like Jaws really intimidating but if you watch an experienced user with it they really motor.

    There are free trial copies of accessibility tools like Jaw, SuperNova etc available to download and try – give them a go there an interesting experience!

  27. Kristopher Leslie says:

    Well I look at it like this, considering all the blame/pointing fingers and other abstract views of accessibility, the core of the topic is that there is a issue with accessiblity. This is a by product from the OS, Browser, and software/hardware manufactor’s lack of design, ability to hear a customers opinion and explain why or why not there isn’t such good accessiblity (x) on the market now, and the overall denying that people don’t want to cater to that “group” of users.

    I for one am happy to be a webdesigner. I have been designing since I left high school which will make it 7 years and counting. However, I can always recall as a kid all this crap about improving the accessible design blah functions of this here device (x) or this here piece of software (x) when really I didn’t see anything out that helped but really just generalized idea’s and ideals that were suppose to be active by the year 2k and beyond again this was fueled by all your famous magazines, and other tech related shows we all have seen.

    I for one wish I could have stuck it out to contine being a programmer but its not my forte even though I dabble in it. To me it seems that manufactor’s need to 1) Get a group started 2) get user opinions 3) develop core commitment to fixing the problem 4) Do user research / test and gather as much info as possible 5) Define a scope to go by 6) Implement 7) Test again and finally realease a set of software/hardware that work efficiently together to get the desired results.

    Had I been born with genious of the developers of apple,mac,linux I would have already released my own OS, Browser, and UAC ( User Accessibility Core ) on my own. But alas, I only care about designing print/web data.

    I do have something to point out. When I was a kid and was making crap pages for excite.com I recall dozens, hundreds of people running to make websites. I didn’t recall but only a few people at that time that were impared that even cared about the web. I didn’t know then to cater to the blind, death, diabled etc.

    Funny, I went to our cpu lab and asked some of these people how do they use the computer when they have impairments. Some say well “if the gov. gives me my 10k grant money to get my new pc and screen reader software and magnification hardware I’ll make it,”. Some never were even that lucky some were lucky your school even cared about you.

    I then thought about it but never realized how important it would be to me and others to get data accessible to other people. I currently read a book called ” Thinker Toys -A Handbook of Business Creativity for the 90′s” by: Michael Michalko. Which all of you should read but it is dated but its a good book.

    I think if we can definately get a want to develop the right core set of tools and software for accessiblity then we can but at who’s expense? BILL maybe? Laws of physics say to get energy something has to be given. Who’s gonna give this time for the good guys/gals?

  28. During his presentation at @media, Robin Christopherson of AbilityNet explained to us that the closest we (= non-disabled webdevelopers) can get to doing a reasonably reliable form of accessibility testing is by grabbing the 30-minute trial of JAWS, turning off our monitor and doing a quick run through our page.

    If we can navigate through it and find the content we were looking for, chances are big that an experienced JAWS (or other screenreader) user will be able to use the site very well. They know their screenreader much better than we do, they can use it much faster and more efficiently, so if we can use a screenreader to access our site’s content, they definitely can.

    It’s just one rule of thumb to go by, mind you, but at least it’s something.

    Personally, I more or less did this a long time ago when I first tested my site using a screenreader. This was about 6 months ago, very shortly after actually launching my site. It was far from perfect, but it was a CSS-pure design. I didn’t turn off my monitor, because I was too fascinated by watching JAWS move the cursor around on my screen. However, the overall experience did make me feel like things were much better with this method.

    Robin Christopherson’s presentation was an eye-opener to many people when it comes to true accessibility and the impact of inaccessible code to a blind web user. Along with Joe Clark, Ian Lloyd and Derek Featherstone’s presentations, it pointed out two very important things:

    1) true accessibility is nearly impossible, as there are too many factors and complications that we simply cannot tend to effectively considering today’s technology
    2) you can get very far nonetheless through some basic principles and best practices. CSS layouts do help with this

    The subsidy idea for assistive technology producers is a great one. I’d much rather see governments spend their time and money on that than on legislating accessibility for websites.

    Damn, Malarkey is gonna love me for saying that.

  29. Only one problem, Mike: you assume that’s I’m someone in the know. I might be as much an observer as anyone else, right?

  30. Ed says:

    Myk writes:

    It would be nice if Firefox would give us a screen-reader simulation mode, right. They don’t need to do the whole screenreader software, but perhaps a sort of debugging mode, see what I mean?

    Do a search for Fangs Screen Reader Emulator. It’s a plugin for Mozilla-based browsers that creates a text output mimicking what a screenreader would output.

    Or do a search for WebbIE, a standalone app that can do the same thing.

  31. goodwitch says:

    Mike, awesome discussion. Here is my two cents. My tactic on making a site accessible is this:

    1) Make sure the web designers have had accessibility training.
    2) Design the site with both accessibility and usability in mind.
    3) During the usability testing phase of design, include accessibility testing for representative pages.
    4) Have access to a tool like Watchfire or LIFT to crawl your site and help you see where accessibility and/or usability problems are developing.

    I’ve got another set of tactics for established web sites…but I won’t bore you.

    And as for web standards vs. accessibility…this is a hard one for me. I’m such an optimist that my long range plan is this…rely on web standards to help us all work smarter. When there is conflict between web standards and accessibility reality…make it accessible and work on bringing everything into alignment. That may mean helping Freedom Scientific prioritize changes in JAWS or appealing to MS to “do the right thing”. Do I really think this can be achieved? Yes! Look back for a moment and see how far we’ve come. I told you I was an optimist, didn’t I?

  32. Klobikauer says:

    I’m glad Andy Davies pointed out that Accessibility isn’t just about vision impairments and screen readers.

    Accessibility is about everybody.

    The majority of which must be catered for, the Accessibility movement of the last few years has been a huge success in this regard.

    Sorry for making such an obvious comment, but it seems people are forgetting how much they benefit everyday from the changes that have been happening.

    I realise it is difficult, but could we try to imagine how websites might look if Accessibility never happened?
    As goodwitch says “…see how far we’ve come.”

    I, like you, don’t truly know the benefits that Accessibility may or may not have brought to the Vision Impaired, but I do know that it has brought huge benfits to me and many, many others.

  33. Our website contains numerous accessibility guidelines and might be of interest to you: http://accessibility.frecosse.com

    There is plenty of free advice about how to quickly create accessible content for websites.

  34. Jerry says:

    I wonder! today when the cyber world has made accessiblity so simple to common man, they still talk about accessibilty is a big deal.

  35. Jack says:

    Is this going to be released in Australia sometime? And is it released yet do you have a set price? Look forward to the reply!! :)

    Thankyou,

    Jack A Dexter

  36. Webler says:

    Accessibility woes

    As Mike Davidson did point out, the buzz over what accessibility is or isn’t has increased a lot over the last weeks.

    Having been immersed in an Actionscript project for the better part of those days, I managed to miss the comments to the posts, and…

  37. boagworld says:

    Accessibility Guidance planned

    It would appear that the Disability Rights Commission might be taking its first small steps towards introducing definitive guidelines in regards to web accessibility.

  38. Redesigning the Wheelchair

    When will a designer take on the challenge of making a wheelchair that looks great? Instead, everywhere you look, they are made of harsh looking metals and awkward moving parts. It’s wonderful that people are trying to develop a…

  39. Standards and Accessibility

    In my Web Design classes I typically try to convey to my students the importance of standards and accessibility when creating a web site: Standards because without a unified format for creating web pages, the web becomes a cluttered, ugly…

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