Liveblogging a panel at South by Southwest 2005 (; ) with James Craig, Derek Featherstone, Ian Lloyd, Glenda Sims; 2005.03.13 10:06

Glenda asks: Which Web-accessibility standard would you go for and why?

  • James would go for WCAG Priority 2.
  • Derek: WCAG Priority 2+: “Anything that we can easily add in from Priority 3 that isn’t’ gonna cause us any problems”
  • Ian: “I agree. I’m an idealist. I’d love to say that what I do tends to go toward Level 3, WCAG 1.0. It usually ends up around 2”
  • Glenda: 508. “As a campus where I can’t make anybody do anything, what I had to do was pick the standard that was the easiest to accomplish…. I have nothing but carrots; I have no sticks, nor do I want any sticks to beat my Webmasters with.” Wants something simple so here Webmasters don’t have to go to a year-long course to learn.

James complains about 508’s letting you exempt scripts from being made accessible if you just tell the user the script cannot be made accessible.

Glenda has listened to her forms in Jaws and they work fine without labels. So, Derek, does she nonetheless have to use those labels? “Absolutely,” since adaptive technology will continue to improve. “In a multiple-choice question… the answer will be read but the user will actually think that they’re checking off option one and they’re actually checking off option 2.” (Of course, you can’t use multiple identical labels for the same control in HTML, which is what you’d have to do in that case anyway.) Plus it makes “a larger clickable area for the user,” says James.

“I will not agree with them on P2. I’m gonna hang on 508, and they can lead a better life.”

“One of the things for me [that bugs me] is long description.” There’s no need to hide it, she says. “I want the text readable by everyone, not just a person with a screen reader,” including someone with another disability “who can benefit from seeing the picture and the text at the same time.”

Some people need not only a picture but a thousand words, says Derek, so why not give them both? “Despite the fact that longdesc has wonderfullish support [laughter], why hide it?”

John Slatin points out that most user agents open the long description in a new window, though the spec doesn’t require that; in fact, you could just link to an anchor on the selfsame page. But you told us that that method doesn’t work! James points out. John agrees (neither Jaws nor Home Page Reader can handle that code), but user agents will eventually have to improve.

Making client-side scripts accessible does not mean “I have to use noscript,” James says. “You don’t have to use the standard first choice, first thing that pops into your head, to make it accessible.”

Question from audience: What about making the long description available to other computers, as if it were tagged as such? James agrees it’s usable. Ian mentions a Firefox extension for longdesc.

Glenda: “Can I have just an accessibility checklist – check-check-check and it’s done?” Ian: His department of 25 developers were “not up to speed at all” on accessibility and had to unlearn old practices. So he built a little microsite, and people still didn’t read it even at “seven quite long pages… because people weren’t interested in sitting down and reading it.” So he gave a seminar with a single laminated page that they must keep with them at all times. So for him the checklist worked.

Derek: “First, my viewpoint is, clearly you’re not a consultant. You might be, but you clearly don’t think like a consultant…. When people get a checklist… they’re just applying these rules without understanding in theory what these rules are about” and the reasoning behind them. Checklists sometimes “cause more problems… they’ll misapply rules, they’ll misapply techniques.”

James: “We’ve all got stories about things we tried doing [early on] and got horribly wrong, at least with good intentions.” His example: He’d use a data table for forms. “It was really unusable until you actually try it out in a screen reader, and I had to E-mail John [Slatin] and ask him, ‘Why does this suck?’ … We didn’t figure it out until we actually tried it in a screen reader.”

Glenda would hire an art-history major to make a museum site accessible. James complained to the AIGA about the fact their national site was inaccessible tag soup. “What’s the majority of the content on this page? Articles. Who wouldn’t enjoy reading articles?” Museums don’t just display art, but teach you about it and hold seminars, after all. “The AIGA Journal of Design is essentially a blog…. Why not make that resource available to everyone?”

Derek: “There might be a parent that’s trying to help their child with their homework. You really don’t know. You may have your primary target audience – it may be graphic designers – but the Web is not just for graphic designers…. We design it, we build it, and we kind of forget that we really don’t know who’s going to be there” reading our site.

Glenda: Google is, of course, a blind user. “What’s the return on my investment? Well, Google!”

Glenda mentions “quasidisabilities,” like using an old computer.

John mentions that one of the early inventors of the Web was Vint Cerf, who has a hearing loss (though I’m not sure he did at the time).

Glenda’s new startup didn’t have enough time to ship the actual product and also do so accessibly. “It was hard to call myself the Web-accessibility goddess when I had some content out there that’s not accessible.”

Derek just finished a project with a VC-funded startup. “The strategy I used with them was, I didn’t try to convince them. I just did it.” It wasn’t a question of “spending precious resources,” since they were already spending them. James: “Any new client site we’re working on, if we’re working on it ourselves, we’re going to make it standards-compliant and accessible, at least as much as we can…. We don’t even mention it until something comes up” that interferes with standards or accessibility.

Glenda: The alt Text Game Show. The panelists have to write down, in ink, an alt text for different images. First one shows, in black and white, a lone tree in a denuded forest and the caption “The Valley, from the Mariposa Trail.” A human figure leans against the bottom of the tree, whose trunk has no branches till the very top.

Derek: “I ran out of time, so I went with alt="".” James: “I disagree.”

I point out they missed the person against the tree, the denuded landscape, and the missing branches. “Joe, you’re probably the best alt-text writer in the world,” Glenda says. “Oh, bullshit!” I say. (James claims I said that myself! Such vile calumny from esteemed colleagues.) Glenda thinks my description is actually a longdesc.

Next image is a screenshot of the image in context, in the NYPL Digital Library: “Early Landscape Photography of the American West.”

James and Ian would change their entries to alt="", but Derek notes that the text next to the page does not describe the image.”

James puts up an example from the AIGA Austin site, with images, title as a link, and a short description. All of them use alt="".

Ian Lloyd gave a whole segment about his company’s homepage, with an illustration of three different chocolates signifying three types of mortgages. Obviously alt="Illustration shows three types [or flavours] of chocolates".

James shows Zoot Suit Culture as an accessible site. “I don’t know if I would say that [Flash] is ‘very’ accessible, but ‘somewhat’ accessible,” James says. James does agree, though, that this is a good example of Flash accessibility done well.

The University of Texas Photojournalists site got an honourable mention in the AIR rally last year, and later went in and cleaned up all the things they knew they hadn’t done at the time. The Umlauf Sculpture Garden was done by Frogdesign, but not by James.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.03.13 17:00. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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