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Friday, August 06, 2004

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How To Sell Accessibility

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

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Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

CSS2 Reference
Slow down your Internet connection!
Use WebSlower to simulate a slow Internet connection to test your pages for usability over telephone modems.
Accessibility refers to writing pages accessible to a variety of user agents, including search engines. The free online tool, Poodle Predictor, shows your site the way the Google sees it as it spiders your site.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I learned something new today from sitepoint.com:

If you have a wheel in your mouse, hold CTRL and scroll up or down to increase the size of font in the browser.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

From a Watchfile e-mail newsletter:
We recently examined up to 3,000 links for each of the financial firms in Business Week's Global 1000 list and analyzed the results of an Online Business Management audit. Here is a sample of what we found:
  • 66% of the sites collect personal information with no security.
  • 18% of the sites use forms that could potentially leak personal data to 3rd parties. The average number of 3rd party links per site was 67.
  • 53% of the sites collected personal data without a link to a privacy policy.
These are serious privacy and security exposures, and they violate both the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and the OCC Web Linking Guidelines.
  • Not one site passed either the US Government's Section 508 or the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
  • 96% of sites analyzed had at least one spelling error and 86% had at least one broken link.
Quality issues are significant and they damage the brand and the image of an organization.
Recent lawsuits and bad publicity will force financial institutions to address accessibility issues over the next year

Friday, October 03, 2003

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Blind 'see with sound' is an exciting idea. It seems only a matter of time that relatively low cost PDA devices with built-in GPS can talk visually impaired users through unfamiliar terrain: sort of like a seeing eye computer.

Ambitious? The NSF has available grants for substantial projects on related to Universal Access. Five awards available with a total funding amount of $1,900,000. That is serious money.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Using CSS positioning, instead of tables, to layout content on a page is important when developing content to be used by all user-agents, not just GUI browsers. Nigel Peck has written a clear article on the terms that apply to CSS positioning: CSS Positioning Properties At-A-Glance Guide.

Two tools to help create templates for table-less layouts are

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Watchfire's Gerard Torenvliet has written two short articles: His conclusion is that the problem of coding accessible web pages is solved by cleanly separating the content of your pages from their presentation. This includes tables - use tables for layout only as a last resort.

Monday, September 29, 2003

The January 2003 issue of Syllabus: Technology for Higher Education magazine contained an article by Margaret M. Thombs titled Accessible Web Pages: Advice for Educators. Her article provides a nice introduction to accessibility issues for a non-technical reader.

Another article geared towards newcomers to the area is Making Online Information Accessible to Students with Disabilities by Janna Siegel Robertson.

Friday, September 26, 2003

More as notes to myself, related to another project I am involved with, here is a review of the Accessibility of Online Chat Programs. Many people conclude that IRC, since it is text based, works well for instant messaging.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

In keeping with the principles of separation of content from presentation, images that are used merely as decoration should be set and positioned in the CSS and not in the HTML code. It is fairly easy to do with the background-image property in CSS. Excellent examples of how CSS can present the same content with huge differences in presentation, including images, can be found at the amazing site: CSS Zen Garden.

Two tutorials on the technique are Using Background Images to Replace Text and In Defense of Fahrner Image Replacement

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

What are the best fonts to use for accessibility (and readability)? Best is a loaded term and one person's best is another person's nightmare. I recommend not going overboard with carefully setting your Web page's font typography in CSS. While it is possible, the universality of the Web also restricts your choices. What looks great on your own computer with the right fonts installed may look terrible on a Macintosh computer (not picking on Macintosh, just cautioning against making assumptions).

I found this article useful: Understanding web typography - an introduction. The author concludes that the two cleanest fonts for web use are likely to be Verdana (sans-serif) and Georgia (serif) as they have been designed specifically to look good on low resolution screens.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Apply This Software make available as freeware a useful utility called BrowserSizer. It allows developers to quickly check how their web pages look on screen resolutions of 640x480, 800x600, 1024x768 and WebTV without having to change the monitor's screen resolution. They make a shareware version of this program for $20 called BrowserMaster with a few added features. To me, the nicest feature in the shareware version is that it can run from the system tray. However, I do not think it is worth $20.

An online tool by AnyBrowser.COM that allows one to quickly check a Web page design for different resolution is Screen Size Tester.

My view on the best screen resolution is to make your design liquid horizontally. Avoiding horizontal scrolling is most important. If the page design does not display well without scrolling on screens with horizontal resolutions of 600 (or even better 480) pixels, it will be a nuisance to some users. Vertical scrolling is less problematic.

On the home page, I try to make it the entire content fit a 1024 x 768 screen with no scrolling. It is nice to present the entire page to the user upon entry. However, going the extreme and making the entire content visible with no scrolling at 800 x 600 resolution wastes too much screen real estate when viewed on high resolution displays (like high-end notebooks).

Going the other way, it is a challenge to make the design fit small-screen devices like PDAs. My experience is mainly with IE on Pocket PCs and my approach is to use table-less designs displayed without the CSS applied. Not perfect, but not that much extra work either.

A well-written article on Liquid Design for the Web can be found at evolt.org

Monday, September 22, 2003

Evan Goer reports on the results of testing 119 XHTML sites for standards compliance. Bottom line:
  • 88 sites (74%) failed validation of the index page
  • 18 sites (15%) passed validation of the index page but failed validation of at least one of three secondary pages linked from the index page
Do the math -- that leaves 11% of the sites passing simple W3C Validator tests on four prominent pages!

Friday, September 19, 2003

AccVerify makes available a free HiSoftware Link Validation Tool to check for broken links. It works well if you remember to use it.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

An example of good write-up on an accessibility study is How Accessible Are Australian University Web Sites? by Dey Alexander, Usability Specialist at Monash University. The answer: 98 percent of the sites audited failed to comply with W3C Priority 1 Guidelines.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Here are links to other Blogs on Web accessibility I have stumbled across:
  1. Anitra Pavka: Accessibility Weblog
  2. Accessify: Latest Accessibility News
  3. isolani: Web Accessibility
  4. This be Simon Willison's Blog

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

I read an interesting study today on Web accessibility: State/Federal E-Govt Full Report, 2003

Among other things, it looked to see whether websites are accessible through any type of handheld device or personal digital assistant. They found that 1 percent of the 1,663 state and federal government sites are accessible through personal digital assistants, pagers, or mobile phones.

There is still a long way to go to compliance. The study found that only 34% of state and federal sites in the United States meet the W3C disability guidelines (priority 1) and only 24% satisfy Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Federal sites (47%) are more likely to meet the W3C standard than states (33%).

Monday, September 15, 2003

Penn State has done an outstanding job recently implementing a university accessibility policy and the tutorial Web 2003 Accessibility Essentials for contemporary Web Design.

In addition to the standard 508 guidelines, Penn State put together a Web Accessibility Checklist that is excellent. WebAIM has put together a Section 508 Checklist that is most useful as well.

One of their checklist items, "If you use mathematical or scientific notation placed as a graphic, be sure to include ALT text that accurately "reads" the notation", got me thinking about MathML (Mathematical Markup Language) and how much easier it would be if MathML was widely implemented in browsers. A software program to help with the creation of MathML markup is MathType.

Friday, September 12, 2003

A Canadian group based out of the University of Toronto that does good work involving Web accessibility is the Special Needs Opportunity Windows (SNOW). Follow their link to Web Accessibility for a series of interesting articles, tools, and resources.

One article of theirs that I bookmarked in my favorites is Access to Web-based Learning: Reaching the Widest Possible Audience.

University of Toronto is also home to the group that developed A-Prompt, an easy-to-use analysis and repair for Web accessibility.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

508Compliant makes available for download on their Diamond Demo Tools Page three bookmarklet tools for checking accessibility with IE.

  • Kill Style Sheets [what does a web page look like with CSS off?]

  • Grayscale the Page [enough contrast for colorblind viewers?]

  • IMGs without ALTs [do all the images have ALT attributes?]

I use Kill Style Sheets quite often. Section 508 requires that pages be readable without style sheets and this is an easy way to test pages with a single click of the mouse.

Note: Bobby online validator has begun displaying the page being tested without its stylesheets applied in its output page. This is a very nice feature.

While many will argue that since all current browsers support stylesheets, why go to all this bother. That is not the point of accessibility. Design for user agents, not for GUI browsers. Not everyone or every software agent is going to want your carefully crafted stylesheet applied.

I have become quite interested in writing pages that display well on PDA devices as well as on big displays. One easy way to do this is by setting up the code so that the PDA ignores the CSS and takes care of the display using its default settings. Since this my same strategy as the one I use to make content accessible to older browsers that do not support CSS well, no extra work is involved. Critical to making this work on PDAs is avoiding the use of tables for layout, another topic.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Here's a cool free site. Visit One Format and follow the simple steps to create a user style sheet that overrides web designers choice of color, text size, background images etc. Are you sick of websites with tiny text, pale colors, or annoying backgrounds? Then use a personalized style sheet and set your browser to override the website's settings with your own preferences.

It was very interesting to then browse sites I have developed to check my sites' robustness. Everything was OK, phew. Another good reason to develop based on standards and to use HTML to mark-up the structure.

A practical application of using user style sheets is for people with vision problems that need larger fonts or particular color combinations in order to browse the Web.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

If you use the Mozilla browser during development of HTML pages (and you should), a convenient tool for quick access to a variety of free and commercial online validation and analysis services is the Checky Plug-in. I use it all the time. The catch is that the HTML page needs to be on the Web server for Checky to work, it cannot be on your local file system.
Toby A Inkster has written a similar tool for Opera 7 called w3-dev Menu.

Monday, September 08, 2003

An online reference IMS Guidelines for Developing Accessible Learning Applications is worth the read. Two sections I find interesting are Guidelines for Developing Accessible Asynchronous and Synchronous Communication and Collaboration Tools.

One link included in the IMS Guidelines I really appreciated was a reference to a tool for converting Microsoft Office documents to accessible HTML documents (including PowerPoint). Once this tool is installed, a new Office file menu item appears: "Save as accessible HTML Page ...". Clicking on this menu item starts a wizard that collects needed accessibility information and then produces the HTML page(s) and graphics.

While this tool is not perfect, IMHO it is much better than relying on Microsoft's converters that embed so much XML that the code becomes unreadable. The tool is similar to Office 97 converters, if anyone else remembers back that far. The code generated can be hand-tweaked for accessibility purposes without too much problem.

Prior to discovering this tool, I relied on Tidy's "strip surplus tags in Word 2000 pages" option. Tidy is built-in to HTML-Kit, still by favorite text editor for Web development.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Here is a well-written tutorial on techniques for Web accessibility: Dive Into Accessibility: 30 days to a more accessible web site by Mark Pilgrim. Look at the XHTML and corresponding CSS for an example of how to write accessible code.

Mark Pilgrim is an opinionated writer, but a very smart guy who is usually right. Here is an interview with Mark Pilgrim

Thursday, September 04, 2003

I try to remember to read w3c-wai-ig@w3.org Mail Archives a couple of times every week. There are often very interesting discussions and tips on accessibility.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Here is a Web-based tool from Accessify.com called Acrobot - Abbreviation and Acronym Generator that automatically creates and inserts <acronym> and <abbr> tags into html pages.
Unfortunately, Internet Explorer does not visually show the presence of acronyms, so some styling in the CSS helps. Here is what I use: acronym{cursor:help;border-bottom: 1px dotted #808080}

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

One author's view of Accesskey standards. And another: A List Apart: Accesskeys: Unlocking Hidden Navigation.

Personally, I think the biggest problem with access keys is people do not think to use them. Even with Windows, I expect the majority of users rarely go beyond the copy (Ctrl-C) and paste (Ctrl-V). Still, keyboard only access is important and if tabbing through the links seems too onerous, then perhaps access keys help. I would be interested in hearing how many users take advantage of access keys.