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A Rant On Accessibility

Relates to Web Standards and Accessibility

A bit of blogging lethargy recently, after returning from a week's holiday in rainy old St Ives. Admittedly, work has kept me away from the more pleasurable side of the web through the last few days. Seems to have been lots going on in my time away, but with time currently short and sweet, I will fire off this post in similar vain.

Just really want to have a little rant about where things are (or are not) going in the realm of Accessibility. Just picked up on the formation of the EuroAccessibility Consortium from the (still below par) RNIB Press Centre. So, I though I'd delve a little deeper and had a look at the towers of strength that would be representing Ol Blighty in this very justified initiative.

  1. Ability Net
  2. Access in Mind
  3. RNIB (Royal National institute of the Blind)
  4. RNID (Royal National Institute for Deaf People)

Well the RNIB rebuild has already been documented extensively, but I decided to have a quick reccie of the other sites, since they must surely represent pillars in the Accessibility community.

Didn't get very far since I got held up on the first page of the Access in Mind website. There are a number of very useful accessibility tools in Opera 7 which I enjoy running over numerous sites I visit around the web.

Test One: Validation
XHTML 1.0 Strict Passed. Great Start.
Test Two: Checkpoint 1.1, Kill Images
Shock, horror! Where did the nav bar go on the left? It appeared there was no alt text for the images. Well delving deeper, the alt text was there (which it surely had to be since the site claims AA Conformance), but the problem was a lack of size defintion for the images. Yet a one-for-all height/width declaration in the base stylesheet would resolve this.
Test Three: Structural Semantics
Test two actually lead me straight to this. The navigation bar is erroneously defined as a table - the 90's all over again!? Yet are we not using XHTML Strict here? In fact, surely for a site exemplifying accessibility, CSS designed text menus would be far more representable of the movement then the choice of false structured images.

At this point, the testing ground to a halt and I fired up my blogger. Ok, it can be argued there is the base menu to cover the failure in Test Two, but once the text is enlarged, this menu is not visible without scrolling, leaving no navigation readily available on screen. This hardly RNIB See it Right certifiable. Another quirk is the one-pixel defined skip navigation container visible in top left of screen. I am guessing this has probably been used to avoid JAWS missing it if declared display:none in the style sheet. But wait a minute….Doesn't CSS define alternative media types??? Surely this container could be hidden on screen media, while made accessible on a separate aural stylesheet. Alas, the AiM CSS file doesn't do it many more favours, with a lot of repetitious and redundant declarations. Again, maybe an accessibility guru would turn around and say these rules and this layout is necessary to support Screen Readers or Braille browsers, as has occurred in the RNIB debate over recent months. But it is this very thought that stirred a rant in me.

I feel this approach to accessibility is not resolving the issue, but simply turning it on it's head. Building websites for less-abled users at the expense of all other users. This is certainly not what the WAI and Web Standards is all about. The tools are readily available now to make a site that is accessible to all, offering the benefits to each user based on the agent they have chosen to use, or the abilities they have. Sometimes workarounds are required for more complex design issues, but this doesn't mean the basics should be ignored. While clearly important, blind, deaf and visually impaired users are not the only demographic that accessibility addresses. What about portables, low bandwidth users, text users, legacy users etc etc….?

Phew, I have had my say….

Posted on Jul 31, 2003 at 19:46:14. [Comments for A Rant On Accessibility- 0]

Netscape RIP

Relates to Browsers

Netscape RIP. End of an era perhaps?

It has been learned through public and private sources that AOL has cut or will cut the remaining team working on Mozilla in a mass firing and are dismantling what was left of Netscape (they've even pulled the logos off the buildings). Some will remain working on Mozilla during the transition, and will move to other jobs within AOL.

[…]
4. The non-profit and independent Mozilla Foundation has been started and will control Mozilla development. Notice the new web site at www.mozilla.org 5. Mozilla is NOT dead, far from it. 6. AOL TW will donate $2 million over the next 2 years. Since the Mozilla Foundation is non-profit, companies (including AOL TW) can continue to donate money basically for free since they can use it to reduce their taxes. AOL will also continue to support Mozilla in areas such as domain names, servers, bandwidth, etc. 7. IBM and Sun, among other companies, have said they will continue to support Mozilla.
[…]
Finally… 9. MOZILLA IS NOT DEAD 10. MOZILLA IS NOT DEAD 11. MOZILLA IS NOT DEAD Summary of what has happened by Cygonea

Posted on Jul 16, 2003 at 23:52:30. [Comments for Netscape RIP- 0]

Useful Tools In Opera 7.11

Relates to Browsers

Just got around to updating my Opera browser to version 7.11 the other day, and only just discovered some nice additional features.

  • Two additional buttons have been added to the standard Hotlist, (sidebar). The first is Information giving quick access to useful page information - good for development. And the second is Notes. An option I am sure I will use when I am doing research as a repository for weblinks and information. Normally I cut and paste copy into a WordPad file, but now any text content or URL can be copied straight into Notes using the context menu (right mouse button).
  • The pop-up note on an element marked up with title attribute now specifies the content is the title. This is quite handy on anchors, where both the title and the URL are now given in the pop-up. I do like to see the where I am going before following a link.

Opera has been my browser of choice for the last couple of years, although recently I have found myself working more with Mozilla and the DOM inspector tool. However, Opera still continues to offer some excellent instant tools for testing the accessibility of a site, such as the additional stylesheets, one click disabling of images, javascript, plugins and the like and window size testing. I have also always found Opera the best performance browser for research, when I am using multiple windows and rapidly jumping from page to page. The additional Notes tab just reinforces my sentiment towards this.

If you don't use Opera or have never tried it, why not download the software and give it a go. The only thing as a developer now is I have to remember to keep checking my sites on the rusty IE, before getting too carried away with the stylesheet capabilities offered in Opera and Mozilla. Hope the next MS operating system hosts a more compliant browser!?

Posted on Jul 14, 2003 at 19:34:09. [Comments for Useful Tools In Opera 7.11- 0]

Building Accessible Website Available Online

Relates to Accessibility

I see that Joe Clark's Building Accessible Websites is now available to read on line. I will certainly be having a browse over the next few weeks.

Posted on Jul 13, 2003 at 23:57:23. [Comments for Building Accessible Website Available Online- 0]

OpenOffice.org

Relates to Java and Basic, The Office

Over the weekend I finally decided to give my modem a grilling and download OpenOffice.org. I have heard a lot of favourable reviews about it around the web and been wanting to do a comparison to MS Office for a while. Besides the four hour plus download time (inluding the developer manuals), I have been immediately impressed. At first glance it does not appear to have the depth of MS Office (I currently use 2000), yet at the same time, the GUI is visually clear and very easy to get to grips with. I had read in an Amazon review, I think, that the learning curve was quite steep. Well, I see this as far from the truth. If I were to recommend a suite for a newcomer to Office tools, I would certainly push this over Office. The interface presents less steps to some common formatting tasks, like table creation/insertions and style manipulation.

What I have found most exciting is the clarity and simplicity of building extensions using both Basic (OpenOffice version) and more extensive UNO interfaces with Java over TCP. My Java experience is not extensive, but I had a client-server connection up and running within a few hours with data manipulation functions on a Calc (Spreadsheet, Excel equivalent) file. Having built numerous application in VBA for Access, the Basic IDE was familiar, and the object library is readily navigable. The flexibility to program custom interfaces (with component libraries available for Python and C as well) seems to be far more available than in MS, where much information is buried away in cryptic files on MSDN. The Developer's Guide [Note 14MB PDF] and the API Reference Manual are both good places to start learning.

So, OpenOffice.org may not have the depth of features that MS Office has, or perhaps I haven't delved deep enough yet anyway? But, this is an Open Source Project, it does not cost anything, and is a must for a small business considering an alternative to MS Office or the starter MS Works. Perhaps the one thing it does lack is an integrated mail client, like Outlook, but then it would appear Mozilla can be readily integrated with it's own mail client.

Posted on Jul 13, 2003 at 23:56:29. [Comments for OpenOffice.org- 0]

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