“NO ONE IS SUGGESTING YOU CAN CONQUER GAUL BY DEADLIFTING 4 PLATES”

150 or 200 years ago, the TTC claimed it had set out to revamp its Web site. This occurred at the behest of the only Macintosh user in the place, the man you think can do no wrong, TTC chair Adam Giambrone. I had previously given the topic scant and fleeting coverage. Time for an update.

Who bought the RFP?

The closing date was extended to this Thursday, 2007.09.27. I’m not going to check the bidders’ list between now and then and report any changes. As it stands, all these people or companies bought the tender documents. Note how very many PR agencies are listed; I contacted them all for an explanation, but was of course ignored.

  1. Active Network

  2. Another Take Studios

  3. Bad Math 1 (numeral sic)

  4. Bell Canada

  5. Boden Consulting Inc.

  6. Brandworks International Inc.

  7. Bryan Mills Iradesso

  8. CDConsulting

  9. Cine Blue One Marketing

  10. CM Inc.

  11. Cogeny Communications

  12. Company B Communications Inc.

  13. Compliance Marketing Services

  14. Computan

  15. Creative Niche Inc.

  16. Crescent Group Ltd.

  17. Cundari Group Ltd.

  18. Cyberplex Interactive Media

  19. Danima Technologies Inc.

  20. Dashboard

  21. Delvina Interactive Inc.

  22. Develcon

  23. Devlin Ebusiness Architects

  24. E Solutions Group

  25. Elemental Inc.

  26. Envision It

  27. Extratonix

  28. Extreme Group

  29. Field Day Inc.

  30. FJ Micro

  31. Fourth Wall Media

  32. GenX Solutions

  33. GJP Advertising & Design

  34. Grey Worldwide

  35. GSI International Consulting

  36. Haven Knowledge Systems Inc.

  37. IBM Canada Markham

  38. IC Group

  39. Idealminds

  40. Imagination Plus

  41. Imex Systems (many years ago, I did some work for them, but I’m quite sure they’ve forgotten me)

  42. Infinite Media

  43. International Web Dev. Corp.

  44. Intrafinity Inc.

  45. iStorm

  46. iStudio Canada Inc.

  47. Ituitive

  48. James Maguire

  49. Life Capture Inc.

  50. Livewire Communicatons

  51. Lyton Promotion Dev. Group

  52. Maclaren Mccann Canada Inc.

  53. McGuire Networks

  54. Mighty Digital

  55. Mindblossom

  56. N-Visionit Interactive

  57. National Public Relations

  58. Navantis Inc.

  59. Netex Software Company

  60. Nortak Software Ltd.

  61. 1544773 Ontario Inc. (there’s a name that instills confidence)

  62. PGE Signature

  63. Principle Inc.

  64. Publicis

  65. Radiant Core

  66. Razorbraille Creative (a wrong choice just from the name)

  67. Redwood Custom Comm. Inc.

  68. Sapient

  69. Scott Thornley & Company Inc.

  70. 7th Element Webworks

  71. Siva & Associates Inc.

  72. SI3 Canada

  73. Slingshot Inc.

  74. Socs Retail Solutions

  75. Solstice Solutions

  76. Stewart Gossage

  77. Tattoo Direct & Digital

  78. Marketing Pad

  79. Thornley Fallis Comm. Inc.

  80. Tiny Planet Consulting Inc.

  81. TPM Communications

  82. Website Experts

  83. Xstream Canada Inc.

  84. Y Factor

A word about Infinite Media

You may recall the site set up to canvass public opinion about new streetcars, appropriately called MyNewStreetcar.CA. It was another example of how the TTC screws up even when it knows it’s being watched.

There’s a Flash version (the fact that there are versions is already a problem) labelled “See it all, get fully involved.” Then there’s the ghetto version for cripples, “Non-Flash Version. Text only for the visually impaired.”

Text-only is not accessible, and neither is a separate site, and blind people aren’t the only group affected by Web accessibility, so that’s three fatal errors right away. But even the Flash version uses tables for layout. At least the claimed accessible homepage uses only one table. If you load the page today, an illegal meta refresh writes itself over the real site (you can watch it happen on a slow browser) and gives you incomplete and unhelpful URLs to download various reports.

And what do those reports say? To use the title of the main consultant’s report’s own orthography, “Let’s Talk LRVs – the new streetcars What we heard” (PDF) states that the consultation project was led by the TTC with Ehl Harrison Consulting (pollsters) and Infinite Media “([W]eb and creative design).”

One of the innovations of this consultation was that the [Web site] was JAWS enabled [sic]. People with visual difficulties were able to manipulate the look of the site to meet their unique needs. […] “I love the accessibility of the [Web site]. It is fabulous.”

But not everyone was happy. Suggestions included “[s]low down the scrolling pictures.” Autoscrolling pictures are a WCAG violation and an actual accessibility barrier.

This is the kind of Web site the adults running the TTC seriously and intentionally present as accessible, and Infinite Media are the vendors the TTC thinks are up to the job. I asked Infinite for comments on its basic competency, but was ignored.

Developments

TTC held a bidders’ meeting on 2007.09.12 – while I was away in Brighton, or I would have attended and liveblogged it. Present:

  1. Active Network

  2. Advoca

  3. Bad Math

  4. Brandworks

  5. Delvina

  6. Develcon

  7. Elemental

  8. eSolutions

  9. IBM

  10. Imex

  11. Infinite Media (of course)

  12. McGuire Networks

  13. Mindblossom

  14. National PR

  15. Netex

  16. Radiant Core

  17. Regen

  18. Sapient

  19. Solstice

  20. Tiny Planet

  21. Website Experts

Five people from the TTC were present. Minutes were later circulated, which I almost completely distrust. There is no way in hell that the questions posed were as listed in these minutes. (Among many other issues, it claims the bid closes “Wednesday, September 27, 2007,” a nonexistent date.) But let’s go through some of the nonsense that is still in the RFP.

  • Does the site really have to be self-voicing? (It’s the kind of thing a complete accessibility newbie, or a Windows user, would think is cool, and it’s in there.) “TTC requires that the site [be] fully compliant with W3C, Priority Level 2[;] therefore the requirement is for the site to be compatible with screen readers and allow visitors to enable their own software.” Yet again the assumption that accessibility means making blind people’s software happy. (Later: “ ‘Is visual impairment the greatest disability issue?’ ‘The TTC wants the Web site to be as accessible as possible for the visually disabled.’ ”) “However, there may be a requirement for the site to have its own built-in screen-reading capabilities for visitors. TTC is exploring its options. Proponents should provide pricing as requested in the RFP.”

    This is yet another wishy-washy way of avoiding an admission of colossal error. The requirement shouldn’t be in there, and no bidder, at all, should claim to intend to comply with it. There’s similar nonsense about programming little widgets to change foreground and background colours. (I trust it is noncontroversial now that no site should ever have little buttons to change font size.)

  • On the topic of unethically inducing vendors to work on spec by providing one or three homepage designs, well, suddenly that was dropped (in a previous document). Why? “TTC has decided that evaluating samples of recently-completed Web-site redesign projects will suffice.” I know this is just me, but I would have preferred an honest answer to the question, namely an admission of error.

  • Yet another error, required support for IE5: Again, TTC simply does not understand this means support for the standards-noncompliant and almost completely unused IE5 for Windows and also the much better but also almost completely unused IE5 for Macintosh: Yes, IE5 is still there because “people are comfortable with using it. Remember who our audience is – from experienced to inexperienced.”

    Each and every one of those IE5 users should be encouraged to upgrade to Firefox, Opera, Safari, or something else. It would be very difficult to find a Windows configuration that could not run Firefox or Opera. In fact, IE5 and IE6 users on Windows should be explicitly urged to change browsers for their own good. Friends don’t let friends use IE6.

  • Something else they haven’t rescinded is the requirement for machine translation of Web pages, an abomination that shows up TTC staff as unschooled and ignorant. I can say that because TTC staff have had ample opportunity to amend the requirement and they haven’t. This will be so fantastically offensive to speakers of those languages – and it’s completely avoidable. Oh, but now “ten [languages] may be too many.”

Why aren’t any of these mistakes corrected? Well, you tell me. “We took a long time to develop this the second time.”

More:

  • The TTC does not have a set of Web logs that show browser usage and traffic! (They do, however, have research on “user dissatisfaction” which they “will share… with the successful proponent.” No, I’ll request a copy myself.)

  • There may be a shortlist of vendors who would have to perform a song-and-dance in person.

  • TTC is alone in believing that four months is enough time to finish this project (try six at minimum); “however[,] you may suggest why it might be longer.”

  • The new site might be hosted in the U.S.; Patriot Act, anyone?

  • In an epic mistake that threatens to become the TTC’s own MFP scandal, the two processes for Web-site redevelopment and Internet trip planning really are being carried out separately. Even though the latter was recently upgraded to require WCAG Priority 2 compliance, it’s still going to be a disaster. The trip-planning application will work only in IE6 with JavaScript running, will produce horrendous code, and simply won’t interface with the new site; its output will have to be presented in an iframe of some kind. I repeat: They’re spending, in round numbers, $600,000 on these two projects and they are not going to be compatible because nobody at the TTC is requiring them to be.

  • Bidders are still required to host a beta site (as the document calls it, a “beta trail” site).

  • Contrary to my assumption, no, this project is not coming out of the capital budget but the operating budget. That is the same budget currently under threat. Now remember: When I said that it was helpful to look at useless features like colour-changers and machine translation in terms of cancelled bus routes or the number of stations by which the Sheppard subway was shortened, I turned out to be right.

But there’s more. The TTC previously issued an addendum that contradicts the transcript mentioned above in key areas. Beyond that:

  • TTC rather ominously states that its Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation “will assist… in selecting the participants” for user testing. “The user group will also include ACAT members.”
    In other words, the TTC’s preferred disabled people will have a veto over test subjects, can inject its friends into the cohort, and will be test subjects themselves even if they don’t have a relevant disability.

    I see this as one step short of giving ACAT a veto over anything it deems to be inaccessible about the site, which would naturally expand to include every single thing. Then we’ll read complaints in the press that some disabled person on ACAT didn’t like a feature, and those complaints will be presented as ironclad proof the feature makes the site inaccessible.

  • Q. Is there a requirement to allow non-technical users to create and publish PDF documents?

    A. Yes, there may be a requirement for a non-technical user to create and post a document.

    Everything is a “document.” A JPEG is a document. What you’re reading is a document. The Encyclopædia Britannica is a document, as is one volume thereof. Essentially, yes, if you want to bid on the TTC’s new Web site you also have to gin up software that will create PDFs. (They have 1,800 of those already. Making them accessible simply hasn’t been considered. Nor has the issue of the “HTML” that is produced by the only tool anyone there knows how to use, Microsoft Word.)

How badly is this going to turn out?

A significant difference I see between this project and signage and wayfinding is that this project doesn’t have the TTC’s top two guys running around answering every question – even “Hi, how are you today?” – with “We’ve got a standard and people are happy when we use it.” It’s going just as badly in every other respect.

The problem, as ever, is lack of adult supervision. These people see right through fonts (“I can read it”). Their online world is limited to Windows NT and an installation of IE6 with extensive intentional filtering by the TTC’s IT department. (Sites they have been known to be banned include Torontoist and Steve Munro. This is the same IT department the winner will have to work with.) They pretend to consult with and hire experts, then ignore everything they – we – tell them. A billion-dollar transit system run by numbers guys remains impervious to evidence.

I would expect substantive and credible bids from IBM, RÄDIANT CÖRE, Bell, Cyberplex, Infinite Media (proposing Flash and “accessible text-only” versions; it’s all they know), Navantis, Sapient, and Bad Math. I would expect half-assed bids from a couple of others.

Each and every bid must include a Web-accessibility expert on the team, with qualifications attested in writing. Let me put it to you this way: They can’t all have hired the jovial and matey father of three and former rugger.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.09.23 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:
https://blog.fawny.org/2007/09/23/ttcupdate/

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