YOUR NEUTRAL APOSTROPHES SICKEN ME

Liveblogging a presentation by Robin Christopherson and Curt Holst at @media2005, London, 2005.06.09 (; ; ; )

AbilityNet is the U.K.’s leading I.T/disability charity (and the only one). Are revamping the accessibility section of the BBC site, coming out in mid-July.

Definition of accessibility? “Joe Clark did a much better one.” Which standard to use? Between Level A and Level AA, plus usability testing, which they consider very important. “If you can find a dog that has difficulty using a standard mouse, that would be beneficial…. Disabled user testing is like extreme user testing: If it’s going to work for them, then it will absolutely be a dream for everybody else.”

“It runs into millions and millions” of people with disabilities, “of extra people, the six million with dyslexia in the U.K.,” others without English as a first language. Then there are people who aren’t as net-savvy as Web developers. In the DRC research, sites that met Level A were more usable even for nondisabled people.

“How accessibility impacts on people that are using different kit.” If you ask people to buy a computer or spec out 1,500 computers for a corporation, they’d all imagine the same things. But Robin doesn’t use a screen or a normal keyboard (an ergonomic one instead). “So I don’t use any standard kit – what people know of as a standard computer.”

There’s so much to do with implicit association of items laid out on the screen. Someone with mild visual impairment might just adjust the browser. “Your site shouldn’t fall apart” under conditions like high contrast. He shows Arsenal.com at normal size and at Largest in IE/Win. (Actually, he tried to do that but never managed it in Jaws.) When he selects “Ignore font size on Web pages,” the page disintegrates (with middle column moved all the way to the bottom). He later changes text size from Medium to Largest and back again in high-contrast mode, and nothing changes.

Screen-magnifier users “have an issue with the great plethora of pictures of words used on Web sites.” Five-times magnification makes the words look pixelated, he says (though they’re still easily readable).

“Use a clear non-seriffed font such as Arial, Tahoma or Verdana” says one of his slides. A lot of E-learning sites use Flash. “95% of what they’re doing really could be done in HTML, and it could be made to look just as sexy, just as swish,” which also means you’d only have to create 5% of your content in an accessible alternate format.

Shows Amazon.com in IBM HPR and it reads giant enumerated URLs. “Labeling of images – I mean, you guys all know about this, but have you really tasted the pain? …Things get a little bit better further down, but believe me, there are pockets of extreme discomfort.” Amazon is acclaimed for usability, but these are the kind of issues we have. When you click on a link, you end up on a page with the same repetitive inaccessible links.

He has to use NetSuite at work, “and it’s a disaster.” “We’ve been working for nine months with these guys who said they’d get it sorted… and we’re only kind of part of the way along the road.” Maybe they thought they’d get the contract with us if they made their product accessible.

Shows Amazon with alt texts. Shows Disney site with Flash announced as “object.” “If there was some noobject there, we’d at least know” what the content was. There’s an alternative on the page, but “I don’t appreciate or know if that’s a direct equivalent.” Flash is difficult.

“Now, British Sign Language is based upon English; they’ve got the same words…. But it has a different grammar… and they don’t have a large vocabulary.” (I’m sure he meant BSL speakers don’t have large English vocabularies, which may be occasionally true. And BSL is not based upon English.)

Runs an interview with Tony Blair that name-drops AbilityNet. “So that is an example of a captioned video if anybody hasn’t seen one yet.” But there were no captions (in part because the entire video frame wasn’t visible onscreen).

Curt: Mentions the captions were offscreen. (Robin: “Oh, sorry.”) Talks about motor impairment and its adaptive technology. Most computers come with set items like a screen, a standard mouse. Holding a mouse flat out with your thumb and little finger, and also click, is a problem and can cause pain. (You can also move the mouse merely through the action of clicking.) They recommend that link text be a reasonable size. Shows South Cheshire College with a tiny link to an HTML version.

Shows Disney site that does not work with voice recognition because the links are in Flash and don’t have text equivalents. Also has to use an overlaid grid with numbers to locate a certain part of the screen and click.

For dyslexia, one of the many guidelines on his slides is “use a clear non-seriffed font and don’t fully justify text. Dyslexic Web users prefer a beige background.”

Robin notes that people here know 90% of what they were talking about, but the 10% of the accessibility information that people in the audience do not know differs for everybody in the audience.

  1. Question from woman: We use screen readers a lot to test our pages. An Irish university uses “UHI” as an acronym for themselves, which always comes out as “ooey” in voice. Using dots between the letters isn’t acceptable to the client.

    Robin: There isn’t a short answer. Jaws may support acronym and abbr, but maybe not by default. Somewhere on the homepage, one hopes, would be the full expansion, and you the user could add that to your exception dictionary.

  2. Question from man: You didn’t mention anything about accesskeys [though they were on a slide].

    A. They are obviously useful for keyboard users, but even though there are some U.K. standards that I don’t particularly think are very useful (using 10 or the first letter), but in one case it broke the drop-down menu list.

    Addition from other man: You might actually hijack shortcut navigation from Jaws or other screen readers or other browser functions.

    A.
    Screen readers process keystrokes before anything else, so yes, it’s a problem.

  3. Question from man: “title tags.” He had titles on every link. When do you want to hear a title tag as a user?

    A. Jaws and Window-Eyes, but probably not Hal, by default just read the screen text of the link. I would resort to title only if the text link were singularly uninformative if it were really important to me. In authoring, they use it to inform people a link will open in a new window.

  4. Question from Jake: I read AbilityNet’s report on airline Web sites, and Virgin claimed to have improved its site, working with AbilityNet, but it had a lot of classic accessibility mistakes. What is the tradeoff between getting the publicity of working with big sites and diluting the message through bad work?

    A. It’s true it was so far short of best practices, but on balance, we thought we would have a bit of joint PR about it, but if you read the PR, it doesn’t imply an endorsement or that we worked with them every step of the way. I can use the site no problem. We aren’t a lobbying organization, and this sort of thing is [almost?] the only publicity we get. We thought the PR was appropriate, but yeah, you’re absolutely right, it’s not such a great site. But we live in the real world.

    Q. They’ve dumbed down the able-bodied individual’s experience in order not to break some accessibility guidelines, like the world map of their routes.

    A. One map’s better than two, but yeah, they could have done a better job. I don’t know what it looks like!

  5. Question from Bob from Snow Valley: Is it worth it, from a usability point of view, to add a link saying we’re making the new site accessible and please come back when that’s done if you can’t use the current site?

    A. I personally would say that it’s a nice idea, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to actually come back.

  6. Question from man: Testing and the price of assistive technology. Their clients say their budget for accessibility testing is only £2,000, so they either lose money or use simulators like Fangs. As a sighted tester, using a screen reader without really knowing it well is not a realistic comparison. Is using something like Fangs or a text version enough as a compromise?

    A. It’s important to have product knowledge. Learn the basics and turn off the screen, “and that is way too painful for most people to do.” HPR is cheaper than Jaws, and you can just run demos on different machines. It’s representative of the vast majority of screen readers out there; you don’t want a really sophisticated screen reader that is going to paper over the problems people have [with older technologies]. (Curt agrees.) We also do some ad-hoc consultancy and can give your Flash or whatever a whirl once or twice.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.06.11 17:26. 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:
https://blog.fawny.org/2005/06/11/atmedia2005-1b/

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