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Constructing Accessible Web Sites 301

Posted by timothy
from the conclusions-to-leap-to dept.
actiondan writes: "Constructing Accessible Web Sites is about how to build websites that can be used by people who rely on assistive technologies to browse the web. When I picked up this book, accessibility was an area that interested me but I am now convinced that it should be in the thoughts of every web developer. Some of the laws that are emerging to regulate accessibility look positively scary and there are lots of other good reasons to take accessibility seriously." Read on for the rest of his review.
Constructing Accessible Web Sites
author Jim Thatcher, Paul Bohman, Michael Burks, Shawn Lawton Henry, Bob Regan, Sarah Swierenga, Mark D. Urban, Cynthia D. Waddell
pages 415
publisher Glasshaus
rating 8
reviewer actiondan
ISBN 1904151000
summary The whys and hows of making web sites accessible to all.

What does the book cover?

Chapter 1 is an introduction to web accessibility. I would guess that most people who pick up this book will already know at least a little bit about accessibility, but this chapter provides a good overview and presents some compelling arguments for providing accessible websites. Interestingly, none of these is based on a moral argument -- they are all sound reasons why it is in the interests of an organization to think about accessibility. For example, one of these sections mentions that people with disabilities in the U.S. are estimated to control a discretionary income of over $175 billion. Making a site accessible to these people gives it access to an additional market that non-accessible sites cannot tap.

This first chapter sets the tone for the whole book. It doesn't preach about accessibility for the sake of people with disabilities but rather seeks to convince the reader that accessibility is in their interests.

Chapter 2 concentrates on one of the major reasons for making web sites accessible - laws that compel us to do so. It presents an overview of the state of the law in different parts of the world and a couple of examples of cases involving web usability. I have to admit I skimmed this chapter, as I wanted to get on to the technical stuff.

In Chapter 3, the book gets on to the mechanics of accessibility -- assistive technologies. It provides a short survey of the screen readers and other technologies that are available. I would have liked to have seen more information here on how widespread these systems are, even if just approximate.

Chapter 4 is where the book starts talking about the actual work involved in creating accessible content. It runs down the basics of accessibility (most of it is good practice such as using ALT text and so on). The blink tag even gets a mention and a "good for them!" is given to Opera for not supporting it :) This chapter will not be news to anyone who has done any accessibility work (or even just best-practices web development). The information on how tables are handled by screen readers is good though.

Chapter 5 looks in more detail at navigation. The advice here is good even outside of an accessibility context and there are some good points about 'gotchas' that could make sites difficult to navigate with assistive technologies.

In Chapter 6, input gets the same treatment that navigation got in the last chapter. I wasn't sure about the stuff on PDF forms (does anyone actually use these for web input?) but the advice on HTML forms was great.

Chapter 7 is about testing for section 508 (of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act) compliance. Initially, this was another chapter that I skimmed, as I am not based in the U.S., but then I realised that the testing advice in this chapter is not just useful for section 508 compliance -- it is useful for general accessibility testing.

Chapter 8 studies the accessibility of web development tools themselves. This doesn't apply to me but it was interesting to see how the tools (Dreamweaver, Frontpage, GoLive, Homesite and BBEdit) compare in terms of usability. This would have been a lot easier if there had been a summary table of the ratings given to the applications.

Chapter 9 seemed a little out of place. It is on "Separating Style from Presentation" and basically looks at CSS. I'm sure most people picking up this book will, like me, not need to be taught CSS basics. I skipped the chapter and very nearly missed an interesting little section on aural stylesheets.

I was surprised that chapter 10 was devoted to Flash, as I expected that Flash coverage in an accessibility book would be limited to a few paragraphs lambasting Macromedia for creating such an inaccessible technology. Well, it turns out that the new version of Flash supports accessibility much better than previous ones. This chapter was a real eye-opener for me. Clearly there is more work to be done but well done to Macromedia for putting accessibility support in!

Chapter 11 didn't really interest me much -- it seems to be more aimed at people who need to implement an accessibility strategy, one to hand over to managers once the technical content of the book is digested.

Chapter 12 is a bit of a heads-up on newer technologies and how they affect accessibility. There is some brief but decent discussion of how technologies such as SVG support accessibility.

The last actual chapter, Chapter 13, is a more in-depth look at U.S. web accessibility law. This was another one that I skimmed but one section did catch my eye. There is a discussion that raises the scary idea that web developers may be held liable for inaccessible web sites, even if their client told them to ignore the issue. If this is true, then it is an important point for every web developer to consider -- could you be held liable?

There are three appendices in the book; a quick reference guide summarises the most important advice given in the book, a glossary of terms and an appendix that details the U.S. Section 508 legislation.

Conclusion

Apart from the basic CSS coverage and the more U.S.-specific sections, I found the vast majority of the information in the book to be very interesting to me. The style was good too -- I was surprised that a book with 8 authors manages to maintain such a consistent and readable tone throughout.

Overall, I found the book a much more interesting read than I was expecting it to be. It gives specific advice about the way web sites should be constructed with accessibility in mind and offers strong arguments for following the advice.

It seems that accessibility is going to be a fact of life in web development. That being the case, every web developer needs to learn at least something about it, if only to use as ammunition in interviews. I would definitely recommend Constructing Accessible Websites as a good source of information on the area.


You can purchase Constructing Accessible Web Sites from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Constructing Accessible Web Sites

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  • by mong (64682) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:07AM (#4453023) Homepage
    This is a book I think I'll be ordering as soon as my next personal budget is approved. In fact, I think the boss will order it anyway.

    We take this so seriously that we've now hired a blind guy, to ensure that all of our sites are accesible. It's quite amazing what I'd discovered within a month of working alongside him! I've been developing/designing for years now, and thought I was pretty good at alting my tags and commenting my forms... But he's really opened my eyes to how a few simple and quick practices can be adopted to make a BIG difference.

    So I recommend books of this ilk (I've not read this one yet obviously). You really can't afford to ignore these matters anymore. Even if just to find out about blindness accessiblity... generally though, Nielsen is right; most sites have significant failings in these areas.

    Buy it :-)

    M.
    • by mong (64682) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:10AM (#4453046) Homepage
      I forgot to mention of course that in many EU countries, certain bodies (governement, education, , vendors, larger companies et al) MUST make at least the core functionality of their sites accessible to people with sensory disabilities. I'm not sure what the exact laws are, but if you develop for any of the above, and you don't do it right, you could end up in a lot of trouble!

      Slashdot would *just* pass the basic test, I'm informed :-)

      M.
    • by matresstester (568333) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @11:15AM (#4453464)
      People should also remember accessible sites are also nice and searchable sites!

      My clients come to me wondering why Google doesn't index them - their site is a mess! All those fancy Flash animations are just plain opaque to the search engines and screen readers, of course they can't navigate!
    • "You really can't afford to ignore these matters anymore."

      I also can't afford to hire a blind guy at my work. But hopefully the book will cover most of the bases.

  • Why buy the book... (Score:5, Informative)

    by v4mpyr (185039) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:08AM (#4453024)
    when you can check your site for these guidelines on the web here [watchfire.com]?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Bobby does not like Slashdot.org!



      Slashdot massively fails the Bobby Test [watchfire.com]. Hope you are proud of yourself Taco.

    • by cheezycrust (138235) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:29AM (#4453175)
      Why read the HTML 4 specs [w3.org] when you can validate [w3.org] your page?
      • by v4mpyr (185039)
        Exactly! I, like most people, learn by doing, not by simply reading a book. Bobby is nice because it not only tells you exactly what is "wrong" but also gives informative explanations as to why it is wrong and how to go about fixing it.

        Can't get interactive help like that from a book. :)
        • by BrianH (13460) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @11:58AM (#4453835)
          First, let me state that as an educational web software developer, accessiblility is half my job.

          The problem with tools like Bobby is that they only address half the issue, things like ALT tags, commenting, etc. What Bobby does NOT do well is address "readability" issues. While implementing CSS, using ALT Tags, formatting forms, and commenting your pages are nice, a poor layout can make the page completely unreadable to a blind user. I couldn't tell you how many pages I've seen that "passed" their Bobby checks, but were totally unuseable by screen readers because of poor table and content layouts. Instead of using Bobby, try this one on your next page: Download a copy of JAWS [freedomscientific.com] or the IBM Homepage Reader [ibm.com], put on a blindfold, and try to surf your website by ear. If you have designed your website well, you should have no problems. If the reader makes no sense, then your site is NOT accessible...whether or not Bobby likes it.
    • by Isofarro (193427)
      Why buy the book...


      I've been reading the book off and on over the last two months. There's a lot of useful material in the book that guidelines don't cover, like legal precedents and tackling some of the myths raised against accessibility. Its practical in some aspects too and complements, not replaces, guidlines such as WCAG and RNIB.
  • crazy laws (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tmark (230091) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:08AM (#4453031)
    Some of the laws that are emerging to regulate accessibility look positively scary

    These laws are not only scary, they are crazy. If serving people with disabilities is so important, then I'll do it, because it makes financial sense for me to do so. But if these people are largely irrelevant to my target market (say, I run a website for bird-watchers or target-shooting enthusiasts - should I be obligated to put up a version readable by vision-impaired people ?), I should have the right to ignore this segment of the market - at my own peril, of course.

    If they're going to legislate me into putting in 'assistive technology' into my websites, why don't they force magazines to put out Braille versions, or make them supply audio-cassettes or CDs with the contents transcribed ? Why don't they widen airplane and car and bus seats so morbidly obese people can sit in them ?
    • Re:crazy laws (Score:4, Interesting)

      by macdaddy (38372) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:21AM (#4453126) Homepage Journal
      Or you're the DMV and you have a website dedicated to folks wanting to get their license. What about a website for people wanting to learn to fly? The ADA laws can't be applied to everyone, can it? It just doesn't make sense.
    • Re:crazy laws (Score:5, Informative)

      by Masem (1171) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:26AM (#4453151)
      In general, it's very easy to create a site that is accessible from the start, and takes more work to make it inaccessible (eg, adding JS navigation).

      Adapting existing sites, on the other hand, can be troublesome. If the site was designed well from the start that certain elements are modulized, adaption to accessibity should be near trivial. However, those sites that build every page uniquely will have a much harder time of getting to the end goal of accessibility. Particularly for those sites that were build by WYSIWYG editors that do not account for accessibilty options (such as tag-soup output engines).

      But the key is here that there's two critical legal elements that will affect site accessibility in the States at least: Section 508 rules that apply to gov't sites and those that want to contract with it, and the potental requirement of accessibility to those commercial sites that may be covered by the ADA (see the recent stories on lawsuits against American and Southwest Airlines by blind users). Hobbists', non-commercial, or otherwise personal web sites have yet to be concerned for accessibility and I don't believe they ever will be, as these provide no required service to the general public.

      That's not to say that you shouldn't think about accessibility if you run that type of site. Accessibility is not only about making your site available to more people, but it's also about better web design in general; seperate presentation from content, don't treat the browser as a pixel-perfect rendering engine, and the like. A causal site design would certainly do no harm in converting an inaccessible site to one that is, and that could mean more visitors and also improving one's HTML/web page skills.

    • Re:crazy laws (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Planesdragon (210349)
      If they're going to legislate me into putting in 'assistive technology' into my websites, why don't they force magazines to put out Braille versions, or make them supply audio-cassettes or CDs with the contents transcribed ? Why don't they widen airplane and car and bus seats so morbidly obese people can sit in them ?

      IANAL, but...

      I believe that the standard for disability is something like "resonable effort for reasonable access." Things like ramps for stores, and magazines printing out braile versoins if they can afford to do so.

      Don't take my word for it, but if you get a complaint about someone wanting to force you to make brail-versions of your bird-watching website, check with a lawyer if you can't come to a compormise; I suspect that you'd be able to tell the angry blind man to go away if it requires unreasonable effort to accomodate their wishes.

    • Re:crazy laws (Score:5, Insightful)

      by henben (578800) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:36AM (#4453217)
      If they're going to legislate me into putting in 'assistive technology' into my websites, why don't they force magazines to put out Braille versions, or make them supply audio-cassettes or CDs with the contents transcribed ? Why don't they widen airplane and car and bus seats so morbidly obese people can sit in them ?

      Because for Web technology, the extra costs of making your site accessible are trivial, and have lots of additional benefits, like making it accessible to sighted people browsing from PDAs, cellphones and WebTV.

    • Re:crazy laws (Score:5, Interesting)

      by vrmlguy (120854) <samwyse.gmail@com> on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:36AM (#4453219) Homepage Journal
      There are many bird-watchers who are blind. How do they do it? They listen to the birds, identifying them by their songs. If you are a small publisher, then the laws will exempt you, but all it takes is one dissatisfied customer to poison your good-will.

      Many books and magazines are available on tape. I know, my wife is a reader for college textbooks. I also recall several years ago, someone sued to get Playboy on tape. He was blind and really did "just read it for the articles".

    • And should you be allowed to choose who desires to read your website. Many people can be legally blind but Bird watchers. What about the people with the degenerative diseases? Who was a bird watcher all his life and contributed to the community all his life, but now he can't even read the website that quotes his work profusely.

      If given the choice, everyone will say they don't serve the blind simply because nobody is really targeting the blind for their produce unless its a specifically blind aide product...
    • Re:crazy laws (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kamasutra (172848) <markosNO@SPAMelite.org> on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:38AM (#4453235) Homepage
      I spent seven months doing civil service for Slovenian association of blind people and it was a really eye-opening experience.

      First, and less important, bird watching and target-shooting are among hobbies of blind people. Yes, I was surprised to learn that too. Bad examples, but I know what you mean.

      Second, I do understand your point, but think about this from different perspective. There are around 7000 registered people who are either blind or visually impaired in Slovenia, which has a population of 2 million. How many would be willing to spend time and money to make sites accessible for them? I can even give you an answer to this, because lacking legislation that USA has in this regard, the answer is pretty much noone does.

      I believe it's important for society that nobody is a second class citizen. Sometimes this means that majority of us have to make some effort for that. And if sensibility of public is not enough, than it's good if there's at least legislation to push us all in the right direction.
      • by autocracy (192714)
        I spent seven months doing civil service for Slovenian association of blind people and it was a
        really eye-opening experience.
        Man, you're cruel. That pun is just so wrong...
    • I think the submitter is a little mistaken; as far as I know, only government sites MUST be compliant with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act: Section 508).

      I agree with the parent post which asserts that it would be crazy to force accessibility upon private owners. And for the reasons he gives and more, I believe that's why Section 508 does not apply to private websites.

    • Re:crazy laws (Score:2, Informative)

      by MrAtoz (58719)
      If they're going to legislate me into putting in 'assistive technology' into my websites, why don't they force magazines to put out Braille versions, or make them supply audio-cassettes or CDs with the contents transcribed ?

      Well, in a way "they" do. Under the US copyright law, publishers are required to allow agencies serving people with disabilities to produce accessible versions of their books without charging royalties. Thus, for example, organizations like Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic [rfbd.org] can freely produce audio textbooks for distribution to students with print disabilities.

      And there's more on the way. A bill has been introduced into congress (the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act) that will take this further, requiring textbook publishers to provide electronic text files in a uniform format for use by agencies that produce Braille and audio books for students with disabilities.

    • Re:crazy laws (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pere (23710) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @11:16AM (#4453479)
      Making accessible websites is about a lot more than serving people with disabilities.

      Web-accessibility takes a lot of inspiration from whats called "universal design". (As opposed to "special sollutions" that tries to solve the problems for a specific group). The point of "universial design" is that you with very small means can make the world accessible to a lot more people, in different ages, with different abilities. Examples of "universal design" is wider doors, lower and bigger light switches, electrical doors, ramps, lower busses etc etc). Braille and wheelchair elevators are examples of "special sollutions" since they mainly helps those with that special disability.

      The really interesting part about "universal design" is that good designs often seems help a lot more people than originally intended. I saw a report one time (sorry, dont have exact reference) about who used wheelchair ramps. Actually just a few percent were wheelchair users. More than 95 percent were mothers with baby carriages, travellers with big suitcases, people making deliveries, roller scaters etc etc The point is: By making it accessible, you also help a lot of people that you usually does not consider diabled. THAT IS ALSO THE POINT WITH WEB-ACESSIBILITY.

      So why should you make your bird-watcher site accessible? (Even if you have the right not to do it). My answer is that you should do it without asking, because it takes you just a few minutes and because "you'll never know".

      I guess thats not the answer you are looking for, so Im going to give you some other reasons (Note that this is not a complete list. The point with accessibel design is that you plan for situations you cant predict):
      * Mobile users. A real bird watcher site should be availiable from the field. You should anticipate that some of you power users accessing the site using a Nokia 9210 Communicator, or maybe even a 3510i or maybe even a newer model. If you follow the w3c accessibily guidelines your site will be readeable. If you dont think about accessibilty, and choose to design for the most common browser, you fail to serve your customers when they really need you.
      * Search engines, robots etc. A very important part of web-accessibility is making all information availiable textual (not using only images for important information). That also ensures that the search enignes can index everything on your site.
      * Slow connections. If you have a picture heavy site, some of your users, might choose to turn off images. For instance just turning it on when they have found the image of the bird they are looking for. By making the site accessibel, you have made sure that this is possible.
      * Temporarily disabled users. One of your bird watchers might have fallen down from a tree. Spending lots and lots of time in his hospital bed surfing the web using a voice controlled system. Have you made your system generally accessibel, he will be able to do that.

      I could come up with lots of examples. The point is: You'll never know.

      Of course you should have the right to ignore this segment of the marked. Chances are however that using just a few minutes making the site accessibel will be worth it.

    • Re:crazy laws (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rudedog (7339)
      In general, serving people with disabilities rarely makes financial sense, because the market is too small and their financial clout is too limited. Businesses that ignore the disabled market are not doing so "at their peril" - nobody will ever notice or care, other than the disable people and they simply don't have a very loud voice.

      The laws are there because our society deems it important to integrate the disabled into society at large, and society can't rely on businesses to do it when it makes no business sense to do so.

      As for your strawman examples of bird-watchers and target-shooters, if you didn't make those sites accessible to the blind, nobody would likely care. The laws are there to give a disabled person recourse if he wants to access a certain resource and he can't. Contrary to what the libertarian/right wing says, there simply isn't an army of blind people going around harassing "inaccessible" businesses.
  • My dad has a good friend that has some sort of degenerative disease that makes his fingers and toes decay, and also makes his vision fade very quickly. A book like this will help people to write websites that he can access too. He has a screen reading device that reads the screen to him, and he also has a small touch pad that he enters morse code to enter keystrokes. He can "type" almost as fast as some non-afflicted people that I know! But, anyways, I think that this book will be very good for any webdesigner out there that is willing to look out for people like him.
  • by mustangdavis (583344) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:11AM (#4453053) Homepage Journal
    The last actual chapter, Chapter 13, is a more in-depth look at U.S. web accessibility law. This was another one that I skimmed but one section did catch my eye. There is a discussion that raises the scary idea that web developers may be held liable for inaccessible web sites, even if their client told them to ignore the issue. If this is true, then it is an important point for every web developer to consider -- could you be held liable?


    Don't get me wrong, I think that web sites should be made to be accessible to everyone ... but being FORCED to make them accessible!! Isn't that going a little too far?? ... especially if a web developer is held liable even though his client said not to worry about it???!!??

    Again, I don't want to sound like a big jerk here, but where does freedom of expression and freesom to create come into play here? If a person wants a "cool" looking web site, and uses features that don't follow the "code" ... or if they don't want ugly alt tags popping up all over their site when people put the mouse over a pic .. that should be their right!

    However, since I am a web developer, maybe I should pick up a copy of this book to keep up on the laws on this issue .... (but I'll allow the review of this book determine if I purchase THIS book)

    Are there any other good books out there that have similar content?? - anyone???

    • by stratjakt (596332) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:24AM (#4453141) Journal
      Nope, you miss the point.

      This isnt about your personal website, this isnt about your blog, or your Sailor Moon fan fiction.

      The key here is if you run a venture that is designed as a place of *public accomadation*, then it must be accessable to all the *public*. That's the key word.

      If you sell products or offer services, everyone needs to be able to access those products or services.

      Ie; there's no law saying you need a wheelchair ramp on your home. If you run a restaurant, hotel, or other place of public accomodation, then there is.

      The same rules about accessability coincide with good web design for the most part. Don't scan your paper catalog and serve a bunch of jpg files. Dont force people to chase down one of those stupid javascript adverts that blocks the page until you answer its poll, etc.
    • don't want ugly alt tags popping up

      Oh, come on. If this really bothered people, wouldn't browsers provide an option to disable it? How much time does the typical user spend mousing over non-navigation images anyway? This is exactly the sort of non-objection that creates the need for legislation.

    • > If a person wants a "cool" looking web site, and uses features
      > that don't follow the "code" ...

      You clearly don't understand web technologies. The whole point
      of using a markup language (such as SGML or XML) with separate
      style information (CSS) is so that you can make the site _look_
      however you want it to look, without butchering the content in
      the process. It's not even that hard. You just write according
      to the specs mostly, and then work around a small handful of
      browser layout bugs. (So far, I've discovered one significant
      layout issue in Gecko and two in IE6; that's three. If I did
      web design for a living I'd probably have discovered a couple
      more, but really the major browsers these days _mostly_ follow
      the specs.)

      > or if they don't want ugly alt tags popping up

      Alt text doesn't pop up unless you use an ancient browser from
      the days of yore. The relevant standards clearly indicate that
      it should not, and I only know about one browser released in
      the last two years that violates this, and it's still claiming
      compatibility with Mozilla 4 (which was obsolete quite long ago),
      so it really can't be considered a modern browser. If you happen
      to _want_ tooltips, there are some provisions for that, but they
      are totally separate from alternate text.
  • by FreshMeat-BWG (541411) <bengoodwyn&me,com> on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:12AM (#4453065) Homepage
    I never understood this until I started using my television as a computer monitor. Even set at 640x480 with large fonts, so many web sites were still illegible thanks to hard coded font sizes, tiny images with no alt text, etc.

    You can't really have an appreciation for accessibility until you need it. It is a good lesson for everyone designing web sites to really try to use them with their monitor turned off and with speech software or on a television screen from across the room.

    If anyone cares about your website, then the content matters as much or more than how it looks on your monitor. Well, I guess except for pr0n.

    • My vision isn't that bad (at least with my glasses), but I find that many sites are almost unusable for these reasons. I have a medium resolution "17 monitor, and many sites have fonts way to small to be usable. Things are easier now that I switched to Galeon which has a nice zoom feature with a control right on the nav bar by default. Even then, sometime when I bump the magnification up to a usable level, some things start to run over each other (text on text, or text over image).

      Don't these people do any testing? If you want an example, just check out the link for the Lulu Tech Circus here on /. This site just sucks.

  • Jumping Ahead (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oddRaisin (139439) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:14AM (#4453077)
    It would be nice if the web were accessible to people using non-standard browsers in general. The number of Windows IE specific sites ( the Mac version of IE doesn't seem to be compatible ) out there, especially for major vendors, is sickening.

    So instead of focusing on making the web accessible for people using alternate access methods, we should settle on a web standard. It would make the alternate methods that much easier to implement.

  • by macdaddy (38372) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:18AM (#4453105) Homepage Journal
    I don't intend to sound cruel to folks that are disabled. I feel for them, really I do. However I don't believe the way to convince webmasters to design universally accesible web pages is more draconian laws. We might as well put authors and publishers in jail for not printing their books in every possible language. Our webmaster is having a horrible time designing a Unv website that complies with the ADA requirements. It's truely a nightmare. Now privately held companies are being sued because someone can't visit their website? This is not right.

    I think the way to go about writing univerally readable pages is to incorporate it into W3C HTML specs. I'm not saying eliminating all the things that aren't ADA compliant like javascript and tables. I talking about bringing the standard up to speed and making sure all browsers adhere to it strictly. If all browsers adhere to the standards very strictly then no non-compliant pages can be viewed with them. There's the incentive for webmasters to stick to the standards. Why are standards such an important thing? If everyone adhered to the standards, it would be infinitely easier to build tools for people with disabilities. Audio readers could parse the pages and read them back in an easy to understand way. ADA people could do what they need/want to do without pushing draconian requirements on to the rest of us.

    Like I said before, I don't mean to sound like a hardass. I just don't see how the needs of the few could justify draconian legislation. If we could adhere to a standard, it would make things easier for everyone, not just handicap persons.

    • I think the way to go about writing univerally readable pages is to incorporate it into W3C HTML specs
      Although it isn't part of the HTML specs, the W3C does address the issue [w3.org].
    • I think that a lot of people are missing the point made here. It is not private web designers that would be liable, nor would the companies who employ them. The standard, as it is now, just makes it mandatory for companies who wish to deal with the US government in their business. Following their own lead, as it were.

      I wholeheartedly agree with the assessment that if all browsers followed standards, this wouldn't be as big an issue. And as for the ADA standards for web pages, I think you may be misinformed. Tables and scripting are not against ADA. The ADA simply lays down how these tools can be effectively used while not hamstringing screen readers and the like. For example, a table can be perfectly readable if you add an 'id' attribute to each tag and to each tag. I know that reworking legacy code could take years, but for new development this shouldn't be too terrible, right? Besides, aren't we moving to XML data and a transforming display layer anyway?
    • by wandernotlost (444769) <slashdot.trailmagic@com> on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @12:51PM (#4454320)
      Our webmaster is having a horrible time designing a Unv website that complies with the ADA requirements. It's truely a nightmare.

      Clearly, your webmaster is incompetent. Tell him to learn HTML. Accesibility has been built into HTML from the beginning. The only source of nightmare in designing an accessible site is a misunderstanding of the web. The most common error is trying to make the web a graphic design medium. The web is not a graphic design medium. Disavow yourself of the mistaken notion that you can control what your site will look like on every (any) browser. To do that is to defeat the central premise of the web.

      HTML was designed to provide a logical description of textual content, which then could be formatted to the needs of the user. The designers of HTML have taken great pains to ensure that HTML, when written correctly, remains accessible in every type of browser. The problem is that incompetence is dominant in the web design field, and people write incorrect, poorly thought-out HTML, attempting to do something with the technology that is counter to its purpose. Dictating layout robs users of one of the great benefits of the web: that of being in control of the content's presentation.

      The web was designed to support users changing font sizes, etc., to meet their own needs. Fortunately, it was also designed with accessibility in mind, and thus a properly written HTML page is one that is also accessible. If you're using stupid tricks like spacer images and tables all over the place to try to control layout, you deserve whatever nightmares you're bringing on yourself.

  • by wd123 (209211) <wd.arpa@com> on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:25AM (#4453145) Homepage
    When I picked up this book, accessibility was an area that interested me but I am now convinced that it should be in the thoughts of every web developer. Some of the laws that are emerging to regulate accessibility look positively scary and there are lots of other good reasons to take accessibility seriously.

    As a disabled person I hope people take accessibility seriously because there are disabled people who need or wish to use the internet as well. I have a permanent visual impairment and one of the worst things is websites that force a tiny font on you instead of respecting your browser's settings for what *you* need the fonts to be sized as. I really hope that people would design ther websites in such a way that both disabled and non-disabled can use them easily, and I know this is totally possible, and doesn't even require any great sacrifice on the part of the designer in having a nice looking site. Unfortunately, of course, I suppose most people won't bother until it becomes a legal requirement. Still it would be nice if they did...
    • by VargrX (104404) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:49AM (#4453307) Journal
      I have a permanent visual impairment and one of the worst things is websites that force a tiny font on you instead of respecting your browser's settings for what *you* need the fonts to be sized as.


      Then why do you let the html dictate what font's/fontsize you see?

      In the 3 major browsers, its easy:

      Moz: Edit|Preferences|Appearance|Fonts - choose your font's and typesize, and uncheck "Allow documents to use other fonts"

      IE: Tools|Internet Options|General Tab - Fonts Button: Set your Fonts and typesize here|Accessablity button: check the 2 "Ignore font..." box's, or you can supply your own style sheet

      Opera: File|Preferences|Fonts: there are too many options that you can control here, upto and including using your own style sheet.

      It's not difficult for the end-user to do, or to have it done for them by a helper.

      Just my .02
      • Then why do you let the html dictate what font's/fontsize you see?

        Mostly because I'd like to preserve as much of the design as possible. I think that (at least on some sites ;) people choose specific fonts for a good reason. I have in the past not allowed pages to use different fonts, but I would hate to be pushed back into that.

        The simple fact of the matter is that since just about every site out there is "done for IE" people *know* what the default fontsizes in IE are. It is very uncommon for people to change their default fontsizes, and I think that when they do webpages should respect that simply because that does not violate POLA. It's not *just* for visually disabled people, those who want fonts bigger or smaller for whatever reason should be able to get them, and it doesn't take much to not hardcode your fontsizes.
        • You have argued yourself into a bit of a paradox here. If you'd like to preserve the author's design, accept what he gave you. If you require a version suitable for usage with a disability, turn on the necessary browser options and accept a small loss in artistic vision. Suggesting that you shouldn't have to set your browser for the alternations you prefer, and instead imposing them on all of us, is no small amount of hubris. (Flamebait retardant on)

          And it is important to realize that some small part of what's done here is art. Design. In the modern web, the design and the content are intertwined, and beyond certain standard accomodations that anyone should be able to do (like alt-ing your images), it should be up to the viewer to decide what parts of the message are immaterial.

          • I understand what you're saying, and I'm not trying to 'impose' anything on people per se. I will take the extra step to make things more useable for me. I'm saying that I would *prefer* to alter as little content as possible. I will alter as much as I need to to make things useful for me, though.

            What I'm trying to get at is that specifying fonts in terms of "proportions of the default size" is just better design all up. You don't know what font-sizes are readable on *anybody's* devices (disabled or not) so it makes more sense to specify your fonts in terms of proportion than specific sizes. That is just plain good web design. If people followed plain good web design in this case the upshot would be that people such as myself would have just a little less trouble with the reading of pages, but would still be able to get as much of the visual message as possible.

            I really don't want to trample anybody's design senses, and of course in the end it is up to the creator to decide what is best. I can see what you're saying, and I don't mean to come off as saying my needs are more important than others, I just happen to feel the font issue is one of good design (and more).
          • by stephenbooth (172227) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @12:41PM (#4454226) Homepage Journal

            I think it comes down to the difference between absolute font sizes and relative font sizes. I like to use the 'Larger' setting for font sizes in IE (I've recently moved to Mozilla and now use the 150% setting) as it's more comfortable for me and I can read default sized text OK. If a web page uses relative font sizes then I can still read it OK as IE (or Mozilla) will apply the size adjustment I've specified on top of the one specified by the web page. However if the page specifies an absolute size the IE will render the text at that size (I haven't been using Mozilla long enough to make a definate statement on what it does yet), not appling the size adjustment I've specified.

            I've tried using the overrides in IE, including local stylesheet, but have found it patchy at best. For example if the page specifies a separate stylesheet IE will use my local one instead, if it uses an inline stylesheet it will override some settings but not all and if it uses style settings in the body of the page it won't override them at all.

            Probably for some sites the design and the content are intertwined, however most of the sites I use most often (mainly technical how-to sites, product information sites and Buffy fanfiction sites) the important parts of the content are separate from the presentation/design side of things. I want to be able to read the text, not struggle to read it due to it being set to a small font size or get a headache from the color scheme the page author has chosen to use (e.g. pale yellow on orange, yellow on blue, dark brown on black &c, those are real colour schemes I've seen in the past few weeks).

            Stephen

      • Just try it some time. There are a lot of sites that don't respect font preferences, and some that don't scale well when you use the zoom function.

        My problem is way too common to really be considered a disability. I'm in my early 40s and starting to lose depth of field. I can't move closer like I used to in order to see things better. Sure, I'll probably have bifocals to help correct this before long, but that is besides the point.

        Web designers that don't get this are hurting themselves and their customers, and it is just plain unprofessional. If you don't have the time or inclination to do this right, then get out of the business and leave it to those who do care.

      • Moz: Edit|Preferences|Appearance|Fonts - choose your font's and typesize, and uncheck "Allow documents to use other fonts"
        Better still: Edit - Preferences - Appearance - Fonts - Minimum Font Size.

        I'm not 'vision impaired' (though I do wear glasses) and I have this set to 12pt. Why? Because I dislike sites like ATI who try to shovel "xx-small" fonts at me.

        Almost a best of both worlds situation. Of course, if I don't like the author's font choice I could always disable their ability to change the fonts on my end. We must always remember that every single one of the tags that comprise a web page are OPTIONAL. Merely reccomendations to the browser to suggest what they should do to the content within. I've used a few Italics tags within my comment thus far (and now I've also used bold) - but some of you likely won't see them. Why? Because you can disable such stylistic preferences. I believe the Links/Lynx text-browsers render Italic text in reverse-video, or in a different shade of ${User_Defined_Text_Colour}.

        This stuff is all client-side. If you don't like certain tags, (try to) have your browser of choice implement an option to disable them. If it makes the website into a total mess when you do so, don't visit that website.

      • Haven't used Opera much and only recently started using Mozilla so can't really comment on those. However I can tell you from bitter experience that the overrides in IE (and the last version of Netscape that I used, four point something I think) work patchilly at best.

        Typically they will override somethings but not others, depending on how the page sets things. The overrides are not a universal panacea for poorly accessible pages.

        Stephen

    • browsers have a "minimum font size" setting in most cases. I know Mozilla does, and I think IE has it hidden in there. You may want to consider looking into this. And for the crowd who only cares as to what group can see their page if it might apply to them, the way I see it, there are a lot more mobile devices these days that can use the internet, and most won't have a fancy browser. Therefore I make my pages at least navigable in Lynx as a guideline. While they're prettier in Mozilla, a good looking site can be made "readable" in other browsers if you use the right methods.
  • Ending Words (Score:2, Insightful)

    by forged (206127)
    "I would definitely recommend Constructing Accessible Websites as a good source of information on the area."

    You hit the sweet spot here. The problem is, with the trend in websites today (all flash/frames/javascript), no-one care.

  • Betsie (Score:5, Informative)

    by horace (29145) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:26AM (#4453153)
    This is how the BBC tackles this issue: Betsie [bbc.co.uk] It was simpler to handle things this way rather than expand rules for coding pages.
  • Simple Question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by scott1853 (194884) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:28AM (#4453169)
    Why changes millions of webpages instead of making a few screen readers work better? It seems like spending billions of dollars throughout the country on upgrading everyones webpage isn't quite as effecient as spending a few million to research and develop some better OCR technology.
    • Re:Simple Question (Score:5, Informative)

      by wd123 (209211) <wd.arpa@com> on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:39AM (#4453239) Homepage
      Well most peoples' websites don't need to be changed. These laws are only for institutions offering public services. This isn't your blog, somebody's homepage, or anything like that. This is sites that everyone needs to access because they are pointed there in order to do business with a company, or work with a government agency.

      I think a good compromise here would be what a lot of people did back when frames were all the rage. Simply offer a no-frills page for people who are disabled. You get to keep your flashy page for your regularly abled (hah) consumers, and those who need special access can get it.

      Also, I don't personally use/need screen readers, what I do need is websites that do simple things like respect my need for larger fonts (that means flash is right out). A lot of websites don't do that, and until the last year or so I had to actually copy out the text I needed to read and paste it into something else. Now mozilla at least does text enlarging which makes my life a hell of a lot easier.
    • Re:Simple Question (Score:3, Interesting)

      by NulDevice (186369)
      Well, it's not so much the problem with screen readers - that's just it. How do you screen-read something that's blinking? Or screen-read a picture without any information about what it is? Or screen-read a lovely layout that is position-sensitive?

      That's the issue - there are things that rely on visual cues, which just *can't* make the leap to screen-reading.

      There are other problems too - screen-readers aren't the only devices used for accessibility, as the visually-handicapped aren't the only disabled people using computers.

      There's a large number of issues to take into account, but frnakly none of them are too daunting to plan for. One can make a lovely and useful website that's fully s508 compliant as long as you're thinking about it in the deisgn phase.

      And the DIV tag is your friend. :)
    • I used to maintain a system that had a screen reader for its blind owner. At the time, a decent 486 cost about $2000. The screen reader (hardware and software) cost him another $4000. Not every blind person is on public assistance (read: YOU get to pay for this with your tax dollars).

      I don't know what the current cost is, but that may be a serious stumbling block to getting all those old screen readers upgraded (assuming they CAN be made better).

      If I were developing a screen reader, I'd probably look at making it a glorified OCR process, but that means a pretty fair chunk of hardware under it, and -- well, I have vision-impaired clients, and most are still running old 486s, because that's what they can afford (aside from that they don't need the horsepower to do anything beyond basic documents and basic browsing, and had enough trouble learning their current systems). So much for that idea!!

  • Save some time... (Score:5, Informative)

    by toupsie (88295) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:28AM (#4453170) Homepage
    If you know how to design HTML pages*, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort by visiting W3C. They have a great HTML validator [w3.org] which will help you in your goal of accessable web pages. The NYC Public Library has a great page on making your web pages accessable [nypl.org].

    * That doesn't mean using Dreamweaver or any other GUI HTML design software. Real HTML-ers write it by hand. Real Men use vi [thomer.com] from what I hear but I like BBEdit [barebones.com] for UNIX [apple.com].

  • by meh237 (582408) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:33AM (#4453198)
    Interestingly, none of these is based on a moral argument -- they are all sound reasons why it is in the interests of an organization to think about accessibility. For example, one of these sections mentions that people with disabilities in the U.S. are estimated to control a discretionary income of over $175 billion. Making a site accessible to these people gives it access to an additional market that non-accessible sites cannot tap.

    This first chapter sets the tone for the whole book. It doesn't preach about accessibility for the sake of people with disabilities but rather seeks to convince the reader that accessibility is in their interests.

    Actually I think it more relates to ETHICS -- as it is dealing with one's profession -- but all the same. All the analogies other people have posted about how unfair these laws are and "why don't they make magazine publishers publish their magazines in Braile or spoken-word" are completely missing the point. Using a digital medium such as the Internet, it is easy to make your website easily accessible for persons with disabilities. Is it too hard to use the use of both your hands to enter in a few extra tags so that the Internet is "accessible to all!" You Slashdotters spuge yourselves when you think of how cheap it would be to put together free or close to free Linux boxes and ship them down to South America, yet your "creative expression"? is being denied by having to put in a few extra tags explaining the purpose of a picture. Give me a break you capitalistic freaks.

    • You are right on with respect to professional ethics. The review also mentions the point that accessable websites are actually easier to code than inaccessable ones. Standards are critical no matter what the MS wannabes say. Embrace and extend hurts everyone, and anyone who says otherwise is buying into the ethics of MS marketing. The only way you can do this is to leave your professional ethics at the door. IE is not the only browser even if that is what the maketdroid down the hall says. If you have to have a lot of flashing UI interaction stuff, then you had better do your homework on what works and where.
  • by ChrisMWage (158008) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:39AM (#4453250) Homepage
    This site was incredibly useful for me in making my website more accessible.
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:42AM (#4453262) Homepage

    Just make sure that your site is browsable with lynx [browser.org]. That's a pretty good indication that you've placed content and usability above presentation.

    Hmm, I wonder how text-to-speech handles the <blink> tag?

  • by palmech13 (59124) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:51AM (#4453315) Homepage

    Mark Pilgrim has a wonderful site at http://diveintoaccessibility.org/ [diveintoac...bility.org]

    It's set up as a 30-day transformation process, with each day containing a new change. He includes has a few example characters, each with their own unique set of disabilities and/or web-browsing choices, and he explains how each of these people would benefit from said changes.

  • I may be taking a simplistic view of this, but I've always thought it would be better to let people design buildings, web pages, whatever, however they wanted to, and then leave it to engineers to come up with products to allow accessibility for anyone who can't use the 'normal' methods of access.

    Didn't the inventor of the Segway first make a wheelchair that could walk up stairs?

    Unfortunately, these solutions are often expensive, but so are the widespread accessibility that is built into products nowadays. Either the company making the product has to pay, or we could subsidize the development and deployment of accessibility tools with a corporate tax. In essence, take the money that's going to be spent on making web pages accessible, and use it to develop and distribute more capable accessibility tools that can read normal web pages.

    It's just a thought. I'm not saying it would work.
  • by NulDevice (186369) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:56AM (#4453347) Homepage
    I've seen a lot of peole complaining about the guv'ment legislating their freedom of website-expression with section 508.

    Well, there seems to be a bit of misunderstanding, and it would've been better had the reviewer mentioned this.

    Section508 applies primarily to governmental websites. So if you're a .gov or a .state.us then it's likely you need to comply to section508.
    If you're a federal or state contractor you may have to comply.

    If you're not one of those things, do whatever you want.

    However, it may still be in your best interests to at least consider accessibility. You may not necessarily comply with all the W3C priority 1,2, and 3 standards but a few of them isn't going to hurt, and are generally common sense. There's a huge market out there for the disabled - if you ran a brick-n-mortar shop you wouldn't turn away $175billion worth of your customers, so why do it on the web?

    It's not like *all* of them are blind, deaf quadraplegics. I know people who use expanded fonts just because their eyesight isn't *great* - they're still legal to drive with glasses, but reading fine print on a screen necessitates assistance. Variable font-sizing and alt tags would suddenly open your website up to a lot of people just like that.

    Basically, to help make a site more accessible it doesn't require much - start with your alt tags, maybe longdesc if you're feeling generous, try not to deisgn with 7 layers of nested tables, and use relative font sizes. Most sites won't even need to be fully overhauled to accomplish this, just tweaked, and it can open up the availability to hundreds of thousands more people.

    It's not about being politically correct, it's not about avoiding lawsuits, it's about doing what's best for your website and delivering your content to the widest audience.
  • by kuwan (443684) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @10:56AM (#4453349) Homepage
    I'm surprised that there isn't a chapter on accessibility and dynamic visual data (charts and graphs, etc.). This is probably one of the most difficult things to do in creating an accessible site. Example: how do you get a description of those ever changing stock charts, or sales information? There are lots of data that are displayed graphically that also needs a description to be accessible, but there aren't many tools out there for creating that description dynamically. Corda [corda.com] seems to be one of the only companies that I've found that has a solution for this. Their tools will create a text description whenever you create a graph. Sure the description may not be the best, but most of the time it will do the job.
  • by Insightfill (554828) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @11:00AM (#4453380) Homepage
    With few exceptions, I've usually found that accomodations to ADA laws (or just accessibility in general) often benefit everyone, not just those targeted.

    Examples: Ramped entrances, curb cuts at intersections for sidewalks, large and clear print, low-sided bathtubs, hand-rails everywhere, wider wheelchair entrances, lower switches and controls on walls...

    The list goes on, and of course there are exceptions of accomodations that are either counter to the needs of those not at benefit (or just annoying), but generally I've found that a well-designed web site or doorway helps everyone.
    • With few exceptions, I've usually found that accomodations to ADA laws (or just accessibility in general) often benefit everyone, not just those targeted.

      Well, yes and no. All that stuff isn't free, and will all have to be factored into the price. If you aren't in a business that the "disabled" patronize, what's in it for everyone else?
  • Added benefits (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Matey-O (518004) <michaeljohnmiller@mSPAMsSPAMnSPAM.com> on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @11:06AM (#4453412) Homepage Journal
    Building ADA compliant websites pull in some audiences that normally you wouldn't expect. If the font tags are properly coded, and the page devolves well if Style Sheets are turned off, you'd be surprised how your sites assist the elderly who can't see 12 pt text at 1600x1280, but can select a larger default font in thier browser.

    Likewise, our major application (initial unemployment registration) can be accessed with an Ipaq IR connected to a nokia cellphone and works well (enough) at 9600 baud.
  • We should be supporting other vendors that sell these titles, not just the most-expensive ones. I personally recommend using isbn.nu [www.isbn.nu] for my book purchases. It allows you to locate a book by title, author, isbn, etc. and compares the price on the top 10 or so listings, including Amazon, Barnes, etc.

    This book can be found here [isbn.nu] on isbn.nu.

    I'm all for making this "required reading" for those self-proclaimed "webmasters" and "web developers", who use tables for layout, specify font sizes, override user defaults, remove titlebars, try to disable right-click, and a whole host of other things that define the ineptitude of these individuals, and their lack of skill in proper design.

    Come join some of us on #html on Efnet and you'll see the defining class of pedants like myself, and the others who insist that they aren't breaking usability by full-screening a browser window, removing all of the titlebars and then disabling right-click, and setting it to onBlur() by default.

  • Quick Question... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Loki_1929 (550940)
    If I run a commercial site, where does the responsibility end? Must the site be made accessible to the blind? How about those who are blind and deaf? And how about those who are blind, deaf, mute, and paralyzed from the neck down? There's always someone who will be discriminated against because of their disability. It wouldn't be called a disability if you were able to do whatever you wanted. I'm not indifferent to the needs of the disabled, and I can certainly understand having businesses make a reasonable effort to accommodate the disabled as best as possible; but where do you draw the line?

    My point is that no one needs to use the internet. People got along just fine before internet use was popular. Now we have a great convenience to do everything from ordering pizza to booking flights online. Does this mean that everyone must by law be able to use these conveniences? We don't allow the blind to fly airplanes, nor do we allow multiple amputees to fly the space shuttle. In those cases, there's a safety hazzard, obviously, but we're still denying them that. I don't see too many blind atheletes running around either (although the ref' sometimes appears to be). Should all businesses be forced to serve a customer over the telephone who's blind, deaf, and mute? Surely it's possible to serve this customer over the phone, but you know what? People got along fine before phones as well. As a side note, I don't believe newpapers are very accessible to the blind either.

    Should we bring the web experience for everyone to a lower level to make it more accessible to people? Two websites? Do you know how much more that would cost a company like Southwest Airlines? The more likely scenerio is that if they were forced to make it accessible to the blind, we'd see a very, very wattered-down, much less user-friendly website where Southwest's site used to be. I don't know about you, but I don't think it's fair to make it less accessible to millions just to make it a little more accessible to dozens. As far as the cheaper web faires, I'm sure Southwest would be happy to make a best effort to ensure they help the disabled who contact them via telephone to get the best faires possible. Has anyone even asked?

    My point is simply this - we should be thankful for whatever modern conveniences we're able to make use of, as we're much better off than those who came before us. Those who are paralyzed, blind, deaf, etc are now much better off than ever before. But don't think for a moment that that entitles every single person to enjoy every single convenience. I think this is one instance where more government intervention isn't going to help matters at all.

  • I think accessability is a good thing - especially for "public" websites. That said, I find it interesting that I work for a company that builds/maintains a fairly significant site for the Gov. and we've asked them several time when they want to schedule us some time/money to making it more accessable, and they say it's not a priority - even after we point out the laws, etc.!
  • ... you can also look at Mark Pilgrim's Dive Into Accessibility [diveintoac...bility.org], which I've found quite helpful.
  • by tmoertel (38456) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @11:59AM (#4453842) Homepage Journal
    I'm surprised at how many people are complaining about having to make their web sites accessible. Why is this such a big deal? It's easy to do and helps not only people with disabilities but also you the creator of the web site.

    Why? Here's the quick course:

    On the web, the primary way that information is represented is in the form of HTML and XML documents.

    Neither HTML nor XML was designed as a visual medium; rather, both are intended to represent information in a manner that is independent of presentation.

    However -- and this is where the problems start -- almost all other media that designers and content creators have experience with (e.g., the ever-popular ink on paper) are visually oriented media, and so many designers and content creators approach web media with this bias.

    As a result, all too many web sites are designed with the goal of looking a certain way instead of communicating the intended information clearly. This is an understandable error because with most other media (e.g., ink on paper), these two goals are one and the same. But it is still an error.

    To correct the error requires nothing more than the following:

    1. Make sure that the designers and creators clearly understand what is to be communicated, not merely how it looks.
    2. Make sure that each piece of information to be communicated is represented explicitly, not relying upon a particular visual interpretation to convey its meaning. For example, if you want to represent the text "Chapter 1", use the plain text "Chapter 1"; do not use GIF whose pixels can be read as "Chapter 1" when visually interpreted. (If for some reason you are compelled to use the GIF rendering, annotate it (via ALT) with the text "Chapter 1" so that the underlying information is once again made explicit. Note, however, that unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, it is best to use the plain text. Being able to render text in your pet font is not a compelling reason.)
    3. Then, once the information is represented clearly and explicitly, attach style sheets to lend the desired visual (and other) presentations to the information.

    Even if your web site's audience does not include people with disabilities, there are many good reasons for making your site accessible:

    • Information in an accessible site is readily available to web crawlers, indexing agents, and search engines. As a result, an accessible site is more likely to be properly scanned, categorized, and presented as a valid search result to people who may be interested in your site. In short, accessible web sites are easier to find. Therefore, if you want a larger audience, make your site accessible.
    • Making your site's information explicit and independent of any particular presentation makes it easier to change your site's content and easier to change your site's design. It also makes it easier to delegate one or both of those tasks.
    • Accessible web sites are also well-formed and valid (i.e., conform with the appropriate HTML and XHTML document type definitions). This eliminates a class of "browser errors" and makes accessible sites easier to process with automated tools such as machine translators, indexers, and so forth.
    • Finally, it is often easier to build a great web site by separating the content from the presentation than it is to muddle these concerns and attempt to manage them as one. After you build a few web sites that enforce this separation, you'll never want to go back to the old way.

    There you have it. When doing the right thing is easier, why not do it?

    • I'm surprised at how many people are complaining about having to make their web sites accessible. Why is this such a big deal?


      Web designers have great difficulty in taking responsibility for anything - that's why they are web designers and not artists or authors. They've spent years pretending they have a profession.

      Now that people are expecting a professional service (how dare they!), web designers are compelled to avoid doing the right thing as much as possible. So they need to pretend its incredibly difficult, incredibly expensive, doesn't apply, leads to bloat, the browsers can do all the work.

      Its about the unwillingness to take responsibility.

      And thank you for an excellent post.
  • medical websites (Score:3, Informative)

    by alkatraz (617373) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @12:00PM (#4453863)
    A few weeks back, vennix.com [vennix.com] had a very interesting article on what they consider accessible websites for the healthcare/medical industry. Interesting read.
  • Bobby (Score:4, Insightful)

    by r_j_prahad (309298) <r_j_prahad AT hotmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @12:15PM (#4453993)
    I am surprised that nobody has mentioned Bobby yet. Developed by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in cooperation with the W3C, Bobby is "a software tool designed to help expose and repair barriers to accessibility and encourage compliance with existing accessibility guidelines."

    I've used it extensively over the past year. It used to be freeware when it was owned by CAST, but still... at $99USD it is a miniscule cost for any company that must comply with accessibility on it's web pages.

    "Bobby" [watchfire.com]
  • by mgrochmal (567074) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @01:21PM (#4454536)
    From the posts that I've read, there are some misunderstandings about the intentions of the book and the ADA.

    First, a bit of background on what I've learned over the past few years. I was born with a few visual defects, but I could still get around with a good set of glasses. Over the years, my vision has steadily degenerated, partly from the stiffening of the eye muscles, partly from a bad accident in my younger years. Now I can't see out of one eye, and only see a monochrome image in 20 degrees of vision, where a normal person can see about 120 degrees.

    My second year in college, I became friends with someone who was completely blind. He's an excellent writer, and has publications in a few magazines (don't recall which, though). However, when his printer's error light started blinking one night, he called me on the phone and wanted me to fix it. It was out of paper, but because the printer was old, it wasn't telling the computer what the problem was*. He couldn't fix the machine because it wasn't telling him what was wrong. All he knew was that he hit print and nothing was happening.

    As for some of the comments about forcing standards on people's creativity, consider many of the real-life standards from the ADA. When you go to a major store such as a shopping mall or a Wal-Mart, how often do you see several handicapped parking spaces or a small ramp on the sidewalk on the sidewalk? Those are the kinds of adaptations the ADA covers. The people who design the blueprints have standards they adhere to to make the building accessible, so they do it in the beginning. It's not like companies make them do it unwillingly, but they just do it.

    In a response to someone who said that disabled people shouldn't complain because they get fat disability checks: I'd love to hear how you define "fat". I get a disability check because of my visual problems and Asperger's Syndrome. I get ~$170 a month. My rent is around $650, but is subsidized down to around $200. Given that I also have to pay for utilities, transport, food, Internet access, and other basics, how do you explain how I shouldn't have to worry? I want to work, but the last 10 jobs I interviewed for were turned down for other people. I don't want people to bend over backwards to accomodate for me. I want to live independantly.

    Overall, the comments on this article are interesting to read. Some people understand that this about reasonable acomodation. Others feel this is about requiring people to crimp their writing styles for people they may never meet. It's not about that. There's a difference between making Internet portals and information archives accessible and making Sally's "This Is A Picture Of My Cat" page universally accessible. Businesses have handicapped parking spaces and ramps. Your house probably doesn't.

    *Before anyone jumps on how the guy should've had a better printer, many of the people I worked with don't have the latest tech because they cannot afford the new computers. Thus, they get help from an agency that trains them in adaptive technology. Most of the computers they give people are whatever people donate to the agency or are found in second-hand sales. They get funding from the government and independant donations. Think of things like this when you complain about paying for taxes

  • Not just for blind (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stankyho (172180) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @01:27PM (#4454589) Homepage
    Accessibility is not just for the blind. A Web site builder needs to think about if someone like Stephen Hawkings or Christopher Reeves could navigate the site as well, without just "tabbing" through every link. Also Web standards does not equal accessibility either.

    A good example of an accessible site is the one for the School for the Blind. [k12.ma.us]

    I don't think Flash should go away, but designers need to decide when is an appropriate time to use it. Games sites like NickJr.com [nickjr.com] and PBS Kids [pbskids.org] make good use of Flash and shockwave(I have kids). But band sites and company sites that are all in Flash do little but get real annoying fast and alienate those who can't use the site.

    Wired [wired.com] just recently did a complete redesign of their site to follow Web standards and use XHTML and CSS. More info is here [wired.com].
  • by Bazzargh (39195) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @01:58PM (#4454893)
    as Churchill would say. The problem with getting widespread accessible websites is the widespread tools that make it a chore to do. DW users get all the support they need to have javascript blinkenlights everywhere, but there is no preview of what the page would look like on a screenreader. Or, better still, a mode which allowed wysiwyg editing of the resulting alt/title/longdesc'd to bits page.

    If this appeared as a default tab in DW, Frontpage, and other html editors, it would become very hard for people to claim they didnt know their page looked crap in anything but IE6.

    The best hope for this I guess is Mozilla, which has an ongoing accessibility project [mozilla.org]. If only the option to turn off fonts, images, tables, ... was one click instead of twenty, and could be toggled without diving into preferences, people might actually use it to preview their pages. Its not everything, but its a start.

    -Baz
  • How to Test? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @02:41PM (#4455265) Homepage Journal
    I have been developping my webpages with compatibility in mind for as long as I can remember. Ever since XHTML 1.0 I have developed my pages to be in compliance with that, hoping that, this way, they would work correctly both in HTML viewers and in much simpler to make XML viewers. Testing has always been a major concern (not everyone complies to the standards, I'm not mentioning any names, but M$ is a good example) for me. The only thing I never got to was arual style sheets. I would _love_ to use them, but have not been able to find a good, free test suite, let alone a browser that honors Aural CSS. Such a browser would be great both for testing purposes and for reducing the amount of work my eyes have to do... Does anybody know of any such program that works on Linux or *BSD?

    ---
    A computer without Windows is like a race car without an entertainment system.
  • by malana-cream (546316) on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @05:10PM (#4456542)
    here's an interesting webpage about this topic, with some useful tips for developers (sorry it's in german).

    einfach für alle [einfach-fuer-alle.de]

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