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Ask an Expert About Web Site Accessibility 276

Joe Clark is an expert on handicapped accesibility for movies, TV, the WWW, and other media. The launch party for his new book, Building Accessible Websites , is Dec. 3, which is also the International Day of Disabled Persons, so this a perfect time to ask questions about how to make a Web site -- or a TV show or movie -- accessible. As usual, we'll send 10 of the highest-moderated questions to Joe, and run his answers verbatim when we get them back.
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Ask an Expert About Web Site Accessibility

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  • We get to slashdot the most "accessible" site on the net into an oblivion of inaccessibility.

    Well on the otherhand, we'll test how accessible it is all right

    Yo Grark
    Canadian Bred with American Buttering

  • What makes you qualified to write a book on website accessibility?
  • by newsdee ( 629448 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:05PM (#4794232) Homepage Journal
    Macromedia Flash has integrated many accessibility features in an effort to promote development of content for special needs.
    However, can we realistically try to turn any mutlimedia feature into its accessible equivalent? Is it even feasible other than providing a text-only equivalent?

    • "However, can we realistically try to turn any mutlimedia feature into its accessible equivalent? Is it even feasible other than providing a text-only equivalent?"

      A few months ago, Slashdot ran a story about a Quake mod that was all sound. The intent was to allow blind people to play.

      Somebody in that article posted a link to a site that was made for the vision impaired using Flash. It not only gave you sound cues when to click, but it also let you know if you were close to something clickable.

      Can every feature be implemented? Nobody's claiming that. Who says that's necessary though?
      • If it is possible to develop websites/games based only on sound (like the sound-only Quake), then can we justify the dramatic increase in development time to reach a minority that would be better served by text-only content?

        (the same could be asked about any kind of alternative content that needs extra development).
        • "can we justify the dramatic increase in development time to reach a minority that would be better served by text-only content?"

          a.) Who says it'd be a 'dramatic' increase in time? How long do you think it takes?

          b.) If they're better served by text, then go with text. Nobody's saying "use sound in every possible case in every possible situation", I don't live in a world of absolutes. However, nobody would be 'better served' by using text only in a game like Quake.

          There is no single solution. There's no such thing as 'one size fits all'. You don't try to solve problems that way.
          • a) web designing takes time, and you design with a specific target in mind. If you have to redo everything with a new target, you can expect to have to spend an equal amount of time since many things will have to be reworked. Unless, of course, that you consider that "accessible" websites should have an inferior design.

            b) I'm talking mostly about websites. Since games are based on the mix of several media, you can't realistically expect games to be "accessible". For a website, however, I expect most useful content to be text.

            I am not talking about using a single solution, but there's only a certain amount of time that you can spend in developing alternatives to your main website. So you have to choose the solutions carefully. A "text-only" approach not only would work for blind people, but with those sick of IE's fancy features as well. :-)

    • by Alien Being ( 18488 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @02:44PM (#4795208)
      "Macromedia Flash has integrated many accessibility features..."

      Ball Street Journal:

      Macromedia has won patents on a new technlogy which enables wider accessibility to information on websites.

      Chief technology officer, Hassan ben Sober, said "By eliminating unnecessary multimedia content and presenting the most relevent facts in 'FlashText tm' we can help the web realize its full potential"

  • by EHUDs_Rhino ( 548263 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:06PM (#4794239)
    A family friend works with mentally handicapped children and teenagers, and was recently bemoaning the lack of computer equipment and software for her students. Is there any such hardware and/or software available that she doesn't know about? Are we even far enough along in our understanding of mental retardation to adequately solve this problem?
    • I think this is not an issue. Many sites can indeed be viewed with Internet Explorer, thus this particular kind of disability is very well catered for...
    • These guys? [nylug.org]

      Seroiusly, though, what different hardware would be needed for those who are mentally, rather than physically, handicapped? Or software, for that matter?

      • I would imagine some kind of hardening would be good. In addition, a mouse that you can't lift, or a keyboard with bigger buttons would probably be better, since a lot of mentally handcapped have poor motor control (and thus are, in a way, physically handicapped).
  • Some resources (Score:4, Informative)

    by dorward ( 129628 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:06PM (#4794241) Homepage Journal
    I can't think of any questions right now, but some places to start if you want to find out about the topic (and hopefully generate some really insightful questions) include:

    Dive In To Accessibility [diveintoac...bility.org]

    WAI [w3.org]

    Colour blind checker [vischeck.com]

    ISU [iastate.edu]

  • biggest problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by robbo ( 4388 ) <slashdot@si[ ].net ['mra' in gap]> on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:07PM (#4794255)
    What, in your opinion, is the most common complaint concerning accessibility and web sites? In other words, if in the interests of accessibility you could encourage site owners to change only one thing about how they operate, what would it be?
  • by sketerpot ( 454020 ) <sketerpot@@@gmail...com> on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:07PM (#4794260)
    I know that it isn't very hard to make an accessible web site (I make it my general policy) -- but it is a lot harder to make an accessible site that looks snazzy. And I mean the sort of flashy web sites that you see mostly made for large companies, littered with java and flash and pictures for everything, not just a few pictures here and there.

    How would you create a web site that is both? Perhaps make two versions of the site?

    • I second this question. My phrasing goes like this:
      "In your opinion, is it better to create a separate handicap-friendly site (100%) off of the original site, or is it better to incorporate more handicap-friendly features (60%) into the original site, but still lean more towards the larger regualar viewing market?"

      I can understand that to create a separate site takes more time, patience, and work, but is much more comfortable to use in its entirety. On the other hand, if 60% of the original site was handicap-friendly, then it would be more obvious to use and would be easier to implement.

      Thanks.
  • Accessible Slashdot? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ictatha ( 201773 ) <.moc.smetsyspen. .ta. .ekim.> on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:07PM (#4794262)
    How does Slashdot stack up? What about blog-type sites in general? What can be done on these types of sites to make them more accessible?

    • by Xaoswolf ( 524554 ) <Xaoswolf@NospaM.gmail.com> on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:25PM (#4794449) Homepage Journal
      I'm guessing that the typo's on slashdot lead to some interesting stuff comming out of your speakers if you use any of those text to speach programs.
    • Pretty good, actually. My accessibility test is to use lynx (a command line text only browser) to (try to) navigate a site. Slashdot is very navigable.

      I don't know if that would help the guy on the right hand side of this group [nylug.org], but...

    • by 5KVGhost ( 208137 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:36PM (#4794558)
      For advice on making weblogs more accessible my favorite resource has been Mark Pilgrim's "Dive Into Accessibility" series:

      http://diveintoaccessibility.org/

      The specific customization techniques he demonstrates are aimed at the most popular weblogging packages like movable type, and greymatter. But most of the tips are easily applied to any web site, weblog or not.
    • May I modify your question?

      If you could only change one thing to make Slashdot more accessable, what would it be? Why?

    • by Accipiter ( 8228 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @05:18PM (#4796422)
      To put it bluntly, in this regard, Slashdot sucks.

      The site is absolutely littered with horrible, nonstandard HTML, broken tags, tables, markup hacks, and other things that would confuse the bejesus out of any web accessibility tools.

      Of course, the first step to solving this problem would be to overhaul Slashdot to resemble SOME form of web standards-compliance. That single step would improve accessibility tenfold. Instead, Slashdot has decided to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn't exist. I noticed they actually went so far as to block the w3c's validator from accessing Slashdot. (When you try to validate it, the validator complains that it received a 403.)

      For such a widely popular website, Slashdot is poorly constructed, and has made no effort whatsoever to rectify the problem. For an example of a really nicely created site, take a look at Wired [wired.com] sometime. Run a page or two of theirs through the validator. View their source. They've learned to favor div tags over tables for formatting, and their pages actually validate properly.

      The first step to accessibility is valid HTML. If you want to go further, there are some good resources [w3.org] available.
      • I noticed they actually went so far as to block the w3c's validator from accessing Slashdot. (When you try to validate it, the validator complains that it received a 403.)

        To be fair, I bet Slashdot rejects anything that looks like an unfriendly script/bot that tries to access it. The largest websites, IRC networks, etc., are always ripe targets for DoS and other attacks.

        Aside from that, I agree. Slashdot's standards compliance is terrible. About the only good thing they have going for them in terms of accessibility is that their look is consistent.

  • Accessibility (Score:5, Insightful)

    by acehole ( 174372 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:08PM (#4794270) Homepage
    Do you think that where companies are being sued or forced into updating their webpages at great expense to include accessibility for the blind in their webpages when the blind could easily find another similar service offline is reasonable?

    nice example right here [slashdot.org]

    • Do you think that where companies are being sued or forced into updating their webpages at great expense to include accessibility for the blind in their webpages when the blind could easily find another similar service offline is reasonable?

      Pleeeease don't ask this question. The cited example was plain bad management and poor research by the Sydney Olympics organisers and IBM. They deserved what they got.

      The rules were set out from the beginning. If they'd bothered to take notice of them, they wouldn't have been sued and it wouldn't have cost them anything.

  • How should an Airline make a website accessable for the handicap? For that matter any "sales" site.

    Should a "hidden" fields point to a phone number to blind, so they have same access to "cheap" fares.

  • legacy browsers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fleener ( 140714 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:12PM (#4794318)
    How would you handle the following criticism? For the average web site, there are more users of version 4 browsers than there are disabled users needing the latest accessible code. A table-based site can be accessible, while still accommodating the larger abled audience. Now is not the time to pursue full compliance with W3C specs.

    • Re:legacy browsers (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You can make a site that is:
      1. Nice looking in modern browsers
      2. Accessible
      3. Usable in older browsers
      4. Standards compliant
      If you use CSS right. Wired did a pretty good job of it.
    • Re:legacy browsers (Score:4, Interesting)

      by superflippy ( 442879 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:40PM (#4794593) Homepage Journal
      First, I would have the owner of the "average site" in question check their site logs. In both my personal and work sites (which serve very different audiences), version 4 browsers became a less than 10% minority over a year ago. IE 5 dominates, IE 6 and Mozilla-based browsers are gaining ground, and the percentage of Netscape 4 users continues to shrink.

      By the way, you can have a site that's still "table-based" and yet complies with standards. All the table tags exist in the latest W3C specs [w3.org]. Accessibility can still be achieved with a table-based layout.

      If you need more ammo to convince a boss or client that building to standards is wise, go to MACCAWS [maccaws.org] (Making A Commercial Case for Adopting Web Standards) to get some ammo for your argument.
      • Yes, my logs show slightly above 10% of users have v4 and v3 browsers. In what other business would ignoring 10 percent of your customers be acceptable?

        I agree accessibility can be achieved with a table-based design, but it is not optimal. It is not the future. Here's my issue with tableLESS designs -- "Is the future now?"
    • I don't think you full understand the goals of W3C specs. They're actually aimed towards accessibility.

      If you make your site "accessible", you're helping everyone access the content of your site, even if they're using screen readers, have poor eyesight or have a legacy browser such as Netscape 4 or even Mosaic.

      Just because it's a "newfangled" CSS layout based website means it's somehow less accessible. In fact, it's the other way around. All your content is still there. If coded properly (proper semantics, and use of structure... not just endless amounts of DIVs with CSS classes), it's even a lot easier for, say, screen readers to use since they'll see the structure (Hn tags, ULs, etc...). That's a lot better than wading through a bunch of TD tags and spacers gifs that are used for layouts. In fact, you should only use table tags for tabular data.

      Check out Wired.com [wired.com] for instance. It has a table-less layout. If you remove the CSS (Opera's user pages, or one of many CSS toggle bookmarklets for Moz) all the content remains easy to read and is accessible.

      Now is the time to pursue full compliance with W3C specs.
  • by ragnar ( 3268 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:13PM (#4794324) Homepage
    I'm considering a starting up a web development firm with a focus on accessibility. I have good relations with the principles of an accesibility testing firm and believe the businesses can compliment each other well. I'm a part owner of a web development firm at the moment that isn't interested in pursuing this market, but I believe there is a significant market.

    Can you elaborate on the market for web development firms that focus on accesibility? Aside from the normal perils of launching a new business (which I'm fairly acquainted) can you expound on the market need for firms that endeavor to deliver accessible content.
    • I have good relations with the principles of an accesibility testing firm and believe the businesses can compliment each other well.

      --Mmm, my, your web site is nice!

      --Why thank you, sir, I find your testing well up to scratch!

      --Good news, though it is nothing compared to the quality of your output!

      --Please, you flatter me - your reputation is well deserved in your specific domain, there's no hiding it!

      Etc... Should lead to a healthy collaboration, though not necessarily terribly productive. :-)
  • by kuwan ( 443684 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:17PM (#4794360) Homepage
    I see that chapter 6 addresses the image problem which you state is "... a core concern in accessibility." My question is, what is your solution to data-intensive sites that display their information using graphs? For sites that have constantly changing data (stock charts for example), what solutions/tools are there to make their graphics accessible?
    • "For sites that have constantly changing data (stock charts for example), what solutions/tools are there to make their graphics accessible?"

      Flash? If somebody's blind, for example, you can make a Flash interface that's all sound. I doubt it'd be all that hard to say "Intel: Up FOUR point thREE" or something like that.

      It's not that the problem's unsolvable, it's that nobody (that I'm aware of anyway...) has put a lot of effort into catering to that demographic. I saw a site once that used Flash to cater to the visually impaired, and I was quite surprised with the results. I think the guy made his point tha it's possible. However, there is a huge hurdle: How does my site identify somebody with a disability?

      Too bad my website can't ask the user's browser: "Is this person blind?"
      • > Too bad my website can't ask the user's browser: "Is this person blind?"

        How about a nice chartreuse colour scheme (like Larry uses, actually)? If your reader hasn't already left then you can safely assume they have some degree of visual impairment.

  • by superflippy ( 442879 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:17PM (#4794368) Homepage Journal
    Increasingly, people are using non-computer devices (cell phones, PDA's) to browse web sites. What alternative devices are disabled people using, and how are they using them in ways web developers might not have considered (e.g. voice browser in cell phone)?
  • by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:21PM (#4794401) Homepage Journal
    There are a lot of sites out there that look great in the latest Microsoft-issued browser, but decompose badly in alternative browsers such as Opera [opera.com], and are completely unusable in a text-based browser such as Lynx [isc.org]. Sadly, the formatting that breaks down so badly is often completely unrelated to the content.

    Can you give some examples of sites that have excellent content, but are rendered useless for people with disablities by presentation-level bells and whistles?
  • by DarkSkiesAhead ( 562955 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:21PM (#4794405)

    Could you list the names and sources a few of the most common tool with which handicapped users would be browsing?

    Also, is there anything special that webmasters should keep in mind while testing out the accessibility of their sites?
  • Do you have any advice for making sites less accessible? Like a retard-proof 'Post' button?
  • Slashdot (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stud9920 ( 236753 )
    What do you think of slashdot's poor implementation of conform code ? Apparently, the w3c validator is not even allowed to have an opinion on the matter. [w3.org]
    • Apparently, the w3c validator is not even allowed to have an opinion on the matter.
      Actually, if you go beyond that 403 error and save the page, and submit the page to the w3c validator, you'll get hundreds of errors. And not only are there errors, there's also lots of redundancy in the style defs : no use of stylesheets, sirree. If they were to implement CSS usage, I think their bandwidth would easily be reduced by half (stylesheets and images are static and can be cached anyway).

      Why do they stick at such poor quality anyway ? Compatibility ? My ass ! Everyone has a computer with IE6+ installed nowadays. The others are either not giving a fuck (lynx does not handle style anyway), either having a browser that supports the lowest common denominator (newer html tags are just ignored by well designed older browsers). And if you're still running Mosaic, you definitely do not give a fuck about how the fucking page looks like.
  • Bobby (Score:3, Informative)

    by Conspiracy FACT ( 590760 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:25PM (#4794453)
    Check your web site for accessibility using Bobby [watchfire.com]. I've found Bobby to be an invaluable tool when trying to design accessible web sites.
  • Is it hopeless? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gorilla ( 36491 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:26PM (#4794460)
    When even disabled themed sites such as The Terry Fox Foundation [terryfoxrun.org] have flash animation and other non-accessable features, I have to wonder if we'll ever win the battle. As you can see when you read stories on sites like slashdot when stories about accessability come up, there are a large number of people who aren't just ambivilant about accessability, they are actively hostile. Will we ever get to a state when accessability is as natural as IE compatability?
  • by vofka ( 572268 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:26PM (#4794464) Journal
    I am a partially sighted person, and I have to admit that I do frequently have difficulty with accessability issues, particularly with large corporate web sites which all seem to be full-flow multimedia blitzes which require 1600x1200 resolution or higher, and usually override the default browser fonts to make them smaller.

    However, there are a number of browsers, such as Mozilla (Just one example, I'm sure there are others!) which allow the user to 'zoom' the text on a page, to override colour settings etc.

    Though it is undoubtedly important for Webmasters to pay great thought to the design of their sites in terms of colour, font size and multimedia content; how much relative importance should be placed on browser design, and the browsers ability to override the design decisions of the creator of a site?
  • by imr ( 106517 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:27PM (#4794472)
    There is a pdf file to download on your site but :
    The PDF isn't the accessible kind. Apart from ineffectual text equivalents for each page image, there is no way to make it thus. Further, as a Macintosh user, I cannot add alternate texts using Adobe accessibility tools; all the relevant ones run on Windows only.
    Is adobe grip on the market so big that you just couldnt find an alternative ? Or was it just not worth to bother since no one would have downloaded it (which is kind of the same, when I think of it) ?
    What features a cross platform alternative to pdf should have from accessibility standpoint?
  • by pease1 ( 134187 ) <bbunge@MONETlady ... om minus painter> on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:28PM (#4794484)
    US Government websites must now be built to an accessiblity standard called Section 508 [section508.gov].

    What do you think of the Section 508 standard? A few Govt webmasters sometimes bemoan that it doesn't allow them to use the most sexy stuff. Although if you build to 508, your site will work for just about everyone.

    Do you think Section 508 is a good model for private industry to use?

  • by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:33PM (#4794523) Homepage Journal
    That is, do we know how many blind Web users there are in the world? Do we know how many visually impaired but not fully blind users there are? What about other conditions that lead to accessibility requirements? The figures on color blindness are fairly well-known, but what are the other big ones?

    With solid figures, it might be easier for those of us who are interested in providing more accessible web apps to actually convince the folks with the money to throw down for the extra cost of making sites more accessible.

    This would also help prioritize usability issues. For example, is color the issue that affects the largest number of special needs users? Or is it type size or alternate text for text readers? What comes next? As much as I'd love to be able to accomodate every single special need, just as with featureset prioritization on any project, I need to know what issues to tackle first.

    • by paranoic ( 126081 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @02:11PM (#4794914)
      That is, do we know how many blind Web users there are in the world?

      And how many would it take to make you do your web apps so that a special needs person could use them? Is 10 sufficient, 100?, 1000?, 10000? ....n? And just what will you tell the n - 1 user?

      This is not featureset prioritization, it's education on your part.
      • How many it takes?

        Very simple example but the reasoning holds true:
        Cost to make my website friendly for the blind =$10.000
        Average earning per sale from my site = $100
        10.000/100 = 100


        If I believe I can make 100 sales to blind people then I'd indeed be stupid not to make it accessible. If I believe I'll make less than 100 sales, then the financial incentive to do it is not there, thus it'll be done if and when I want to. Few businesses can validate doing something that'll lose them money, in the above case goodwill and PR may be extra incentive however.

        • keep in mind that many families of disabled people, like mine, will not do business with companies that refuse to cater to disabled people. So you lose more than just the disabled person's trade.

          I agree that it doesn't make sense to spend a huge amount of money to capture a tiny market. But refusing to even look at ways to make your business more accessible, as so many do, is foolish, and hardhearted. First it takes the will, then the means follow. And, don't forget that disabled persons are a growing demographic.

          Have you even done any research on who your customers are, and who you are losing through poor site design? I bet you haven't. Most small businesses don't. That is why they make incorrect assumptions, like "Oh, it's only one or two customers I'm losing, who needs them." When actually they're chasing away a lot more than they think.
  • Yuck... (Score:5, Funny)

    by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:33PM (#4794525)
    The cover of this guy's Web Site Accessibility book is bizzarely reminiscent of that goatsx guy. Ugh.

    http://joeclark.org/book/images/bawcover25.jpg [joeclark.org]

    • Which brings up an interesting question:

      How do you rate the goatse website? I guess the impact is lost with a screen reader, how can his be fixed?
      • maybe you need to go visit goatse again, they have an ascii version, so i would say that it's plenty accessible (actually, i would say that it's more accessible than i would prefer!)
        • they have an ascii version, so i would say that it's plenty accessible (actually, i would say that it's more accessible than i would prefer!)

          Has anyone actually tried ascii-art in a text-to-speech browser? Hmmmm...

          Phil, just me

      • Clealy the goatse guy is highly accessable. That's what makes it so scary!
  • by wapcaplet ( 231540 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:36PM (#4794561)
    Being a web designer, and generally in favor of W3C compliance and accessibility standards, I have encountered some resistance to the prospect of putting effort towards making sites accessible, probably due to the relatively low percentage of disabled users.

    However, I've read a few somewhat-hypothetical cases of technology that was developed for the disabled being of possible benefit to the non-disabled; i.e., that perhaps people in general may want to use website screen-readers to enable them to access and interact with web content in situations where hands-off or eyes-off interaction is required (such as while driving a car).

    Such technology is not in widespread use now, but to what degree might it become more prevalent among the general population of web users?
    • It's safe to say that in nearly every case, a feature added for accessability benefits everyone. Wheelchair ramps can be used by people with pushchairs. Electric doors can be used by people carrying large packages. ToggleKeys can be used by people who don't WANT TO TYPE LONG PASSAGES WITH THE CAPSLOCK KEY STUCK ON.
  • There are many sites that are dynamic enough that content is driven by the end-user through different interfaces. With these, some companies have chosen to use multimedia such as DHTML, Flash and Shockwave. As these regularly aren't too accessible to text-only browsers or the blind, would you like to see more companies stop using these navigations to assist the blind, or would you see any potential to have parallel non-multimedia sites as a cost-effective alternative to allow the blind to view these sites?
  • by mttlg ( 174815 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:40PM (#4794591) Homepage Journal
    When designing a site to be accessible by someone with a specific disability, certain key features are often obvious from the definition of the disability. However, it would seem to be a greater challenge to look at accessibility for the non-disabled, where there is no obvious starting point. Different people will have different expectations in terms of content and navigation, which can make accessible design difficult without a specific user base to test designs against. For example, the concept of hyperlinking comes naturally to some, but not others - some people wouldn't even think of clicking on something unless the words "CLICK HERE" are nearby, while other people might try to click on anything that is underlined or somehow set apart. How can you balance making things obvious to less web-inclined users and keeping things unobtrusive to more advanced users?
  • Better Software? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AltImage ( 626465 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:52PM (#4794707) Homepage
    There is obiviously a lot of emphasis in coaxing web developers into making their sites 508 compliant. To me, this seems like the difficult and inherently flawed approach. There is never going to be 100% compliance when you have billions of pages on the Internet. Wouldn't it be easier and more efficient to invest all the time and resources involved into simply writing better screen reading software. Sure, it's probably a difficult task, but so was putting an man on the moon and sequencing the human genome. This is not un-solvable and it clearly seems like case where one piece of perfect software could fix the issue for everyone, developers and disabled alike. Also this appears to be the perfect place for open source software. So now onto the actual question. What are 1 or 2 of the major technical issues preventing such a piece of software from existing. Are there any Section 508 open source screen reader projects in development? And, if funding is the question, do you believe that this is something that the goverment should underwrite to help with Internet compliance of the laws that they passed?
    • I'd say that the major problem is a lack of natural language understanding algorythmns. It really takes an 'AI' approach for a program to break down a page's content into the the useful stuff. For example, take the typical slashdot page. If I had a screenreader, I wouldn't want the nav bars to be read out. In this reply window I wouldn't want the 'important stuff' to be read out, I might want the quote at the bottom of the page. None of these have any markup which would help a program understand what they are.
  • Is it worth it? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cybergibbons ( 554352 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:53PM (#4794711) Homepage

    This is probably going to offend a lot of people, but then I don't really care.

    The proportion of blind/physically handicapped etc. people who use computers and the internet is very low. It seems like a lot of effort to make websites that they can "look" at, so is it really worth it?

    My website inherently has a lot of images on it. It isn't the same without them, and I know for a fact that they aren't possible to convey to a blind person. So why should I develop for them?

    I also don't support older browsers for the same reasons - if they can't display the site effectively without a lot of effort then I can't be bothered.

    A similar situation has occured in London. There was a drive to make public transport more accessible to disabled people. This involved a lot of new buses having lowering decks to allow wheelchairs on. I have never, ever, seen one used by a wheelchair bound person. Some statistics show that each journey by a wheelchair costs several hundred pounds because of the extra costs involved with the design and implementation of disabled friendly facilities.

    And surely the use of websites is one of the smaller problems? I can't see Windows being an effective method of working without sight. Maybe it would be better to start from scratch.

    • Re:Is it worth it? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bratgrrl ( 197603 )
      yes it is worth it. You not seeing wheelchair users on buses means nothing. The world is very hostile to disabled people. Perhaps the buses are accessible, but there is no good way to get to the bus stop. Perhaps it is not publicized. Maybe the buses are not as accessible as you think they are. Most 'accessible' designs are very poor. Obviously not tested by real disabled people.

      Anyone can do a quick Google search for statistics on the numbers of disabled people. In the US, about one-third of citizens have a physical impairment of some kind.

      I challenge you to spend one day in a wheelchair. Then come back and tell me how accessibility for disabled people is not important.
      • Bus stops are on the sides of the road every couple of hundred metres. All you do is call the travel information lines, find out which buses wheelchair users can get on, then go to the nearest bus stop. The whole bus lowers down to kerb level and a ramp goes from the door onto the pavement. I cannot see how it can be easier.

        There were talks of making all underground stations accessible to wheelchair users. Most stations do not have lifts, and most trains come in at different levels to the platforms. It would require platforms to be raised and lowered, lifts to be added etc. Don't even try thinking about the stations where 3 different sorts of rolling stock use the same platform.

        The costs are immense. The people who can use it don't. So why should my train fares and taxes go up? They shouldn't.

        And my website will stay as the graphics intensive thing that it is.

        If you can't look at a website to read it, get someone to read it out to you. With the amount of shit on most sites, you'll need to cut out a lot of advertising anyway....

  • by crystall ( 123636 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @01:53PM (#4794719)
    I've been to several Section 508 presentations and have seen screen readers demoed, so I know how annoying table layouts can be to sight-impaired folks trying to get the sense of the content of the page.

    I also know that many designers are turning more and more to CSS for layout these days.

    How do various accessibility technologies handle CSS? Is it a "good thing (tm)"?"
  • by zoward ( 188110 ) <email.me.at.zoward.at.gmail.com> on Monday December 02, 2002 @02:02PM (#4794830) Homepage
    Do you believe, in whole or in part, that the Americans with Disabilities Act should apply to the internet (or that part of the internet (if any!) that belongs under US jurisdiction)? If so, why? If in part, what part? If not, do you see avenues other than legal ones as the best way to pursue alternative access to the internet, and what would those avenues be?
  • How do you feel about the Web Accessibility Initiative [w3.org]?. Do you support it, are you a part of it ?. Do you think that accessibility-aware standards are the way to go (even though some software companies try to stick their own closed protocols instead of open standards)?
  • WAI and Section 508 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ssn ( 190953 )

    What's your opinion about the Section 508 [section508.gov] laws in that they almost ignore the existence of the work developed by the W3C's WAI [w3.org] group?

    Why have the USA created a different set of rules? We all have learned that having several standards is always worst than a single one. Developers don't want to worry about which standard to implement

    Why haven't they done the same as other countries [w3.org] that simply adapted WAI standards?

    From W3C's comment on Section 508 [w3.org]:

    In diverging from evolving consensus on Web accessibility, the provisions in the NPRM have the effect of fragmenting the industry standard rather than harmonizing with voluntary consensus industry standards as advised by a U.S. Government directive. Should the proposed provisions go into effect as is, Sec. 508 would not only fail to take advantage of supporting provisions for accessibility in Web-based authoring tools, browsers, accessibility checkers, and existing training materials; but also complicate implementation of accessibility features in these products, potentially increasing the cost of compliance.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @02:10PM (#4794902) Homepage
    Can you demonstrate a significant sales increase for a major site achieved by making it more "accessable"?
  • Examples, Please! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tbaggy ( 151760 )
    Can you give us examples of good, easy to use, lots of information websites as well as bad, clunky, slow ones?

    My first HTML experiences were to see what others did, and use that on my page (with modifications to the data a bit etc..). I don't see why this should be any different. Let the builders build off of sites which are proven to be good.

    I'm looking at this from a corportate angle, not so much a "Bob's Homepage" pagetype.

    Oh, please don't use crazy terms like XML, Java, DHTML etc, just point me to the sites!! :)

    What sites do you like and why?
  • by Maul ( 83993 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @02:25PM (#4795029) Journal
    This question is mostly directed at making web sites accessible to the blind.

    Most people who design pages think visually when creating their sites. A good web designer will place text and images in a way that looks visually appealing and brings attention to important information on the page. Even those who make pages with little or no images are still likely to think visually.

    For someone who is visually impaired, however, much of this appeal will be gone, even if the important content of the page is still accessible.

    Any ideas on how to make a page that is more appealing aesthetically to the visually impaired?
  • Is it just me or do you also think that Joe's book cover [joeclark.org] look like goat.cx?
  • I understand that you are more concerned with accessibility for the handicapped (I am assuming physical handicaps), but why build a website that is inaccessible to a specific browser?
    Problems viewing the site? Then your browser is too old. Over 500 items are available at my various sites, and nearly everything produced since 2000 is fully-valid, accessible HTML. Netscape 4 chokes on many components of my sites; that's Netscape's fault. More details in the Site Design section.
  • What is the relationship between usability and accessibility? Does improving accessibility improve usability, and if so, why? Is one more important than the other? Can you name some web sites that are easy to use, and accessible so we have some examples to follow?
  • Dear Mr. Clark,

    I am a web developer for the Program on Employment and Disability at the School of Industrial Labor Relations at Cornell University. Web accessibility is a serious issue for us, and we try to keep abreast of innovative approaches to design so we can find that elusive place where universal accessibility meets intelligent and aesthetically pleasing layout. We recently spoke with Cynthia Waddell (one of 8 authors of Constructing Accessible Web Sites, also out fairly recently) on this subject, but I found her unwilling to commit to anything other than 'suggestions' rather than real technical solutions.

    There are two sticky issues that I have encountered. The first is the notion of universal access. Mrs. Waddell indicated that, working with the W3C, she was coming up with a list of web sites that met Priorities I-III of the W3C WAI and were still aesthetically impressive (she did not have a list ready). As you are no doubt aware, many sites that tout universal access are themselves victims of poor design -- the problem of 'yes it's W3C/WAI compliant across the board, but it's ugly as sin.' Do you believe that a site can have a single interface that is truly 'universally' accessible, or do you believe that sites should have alternate interfaces? (the web equivalent of 'do we have a ramp and stairs or just a ramp?')

    Along those lines, it is apparent to me that the accessibility guidelines are designed to be useful in a manner proportional to the lobbying power of disability rights groups. That is to say, blind people and deaf people, although they comprise extraordinarily small percentages of people with disabilities, have an enormous amount of political clout when compared to people with cognitive disorders -- ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Autism, Schizo-affective disorder, Schizophrenia, et cetera. Because these disability groups lack the considerable power of a strong advocacy group, do you feel that they have been left by the wayside when it comes to Section 508 or WAI? (and do you personally believe that total-WAI compliance is necessary, or just Section 508?)

    My apologies for several questions at once, but we take this issue very seriously here and your answers will go a long way to helping us do what we do to better suit the community that ILR serves.

    Thanks so much,
    Samuel W. Knowlton
  • The REAL question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GodHead ( 101109 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @02:58PM (#4795325) Homepage
    Why doesn't anyone ever listen to you guys?

    Seriously, I've seen TONS of studies, articles, and books on this. But I don't see many sites - even large ones - following through.

  • What are some other benefits of making sites handicapped accessible? Sometimes businesses don't care if they reach what they consider a minority. But they might care if there are other benefits. For example... the site is probably better searchable if it is more accessible. Any others?
  • To me the WWW seems like a near perfect solution for people whose "disability demographic" can be in a wide number of disabled groups, but only if service infrastructure forms around the 'Net to serve these individuals.

    For example, if regardless of disability (deaf, blind, motion disabilities come to mind) an individual could access a common site to call for a local taxicab service, etc. However, I doubt that there's a cab company in existence that would spend the money to create and maintain a web site designed from the ground up with accessibility in mind.

    So my question is this: how can we as programmers etc. make accessibility to a web site (or set of web sites) translate into increased accessibility to service resources, etc. in the real world?


  • Why should the architect of a website be forced to devolve what is a visionary new medium instead of the impetus being on the creators of translation software for the handicapped person's experience? In other words, if Dean Kamen's wheelchair can climb stairs...when can we stop having to put in ramps?

    I realize that this may sound insensitive, but why not have innovative websites drive innovative translators rather than stifle innovation in defense of the least common denominator?
  • Joe, do you know Jakob Nielsen? What's he like?

    (Sorry, an overt attempt at +1 funny, if you know what I mean.)
  • Currently, accessibility is a prime argument in the case for following W3C standards. How long do you think before proprietary standards are developed for accessibility?

  • by Florian Weimer ( 88405 ) <fw@deneb.enyo.de> on Monday December 02, 2002 @04:42PM (#4796180) Homepage
    Quite a few people assume that web sites which are unsuable with Lynx (because of frames, JavaScript, Flash, extensive use of tables, image-based navigation etc.) aren't accessible for disabled people. (They usually write complaints to site owners expressing this concern.)

    What's your experience? Is Lynx compatibility necessary or sufficient to guarantee accessibility? Or are there fundamental problems for visually impaired people with hypertext documents?
  • Mr. Clark,

    The problem of browser lock-in (sites that will only fully work with a specific browser type or version) still exists. How do you see such lock-in tactics affecting options for people with visual impairment? (either partial sight or complete vision loss).

    More specifically; Have you found one type or version of browser to be more or less "impairment-friendly" than others?

    I have a particular interest in an answer to this, as my wife is legally blind and what little vision she has left may not last the rest of her life.

    Thanks much.

  • surfing for pr0n? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rinikusu ( 28164 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @07:58PM (#4797611)
    So, um...

    Just how does a blind person surf for pr0n on the internet these days? From my experiments with AALib, I really wouldn't see the point...

  • Blueskying (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Fjord ( 99230 ) on Monday December 02, 2002 @08:28PM (#4797810) Homepage Journal
    If you could carte blanche make changes to the HTML standard (new tags, entities, or attributes to existing tags) for the purpose of making it easier to create accessable sites, what would they be?
  • Building blocks (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tve ( 95573 ) <`ln.ollehc' `ta' `muidupirt'> on Monday December 02, 2002 @08:30PM (#4797822) Homepage
    Do you think the current W3C standards, when used properly, are adequate to create both an appealing and an accessible website? In other words: are the proper building blocks available? If not, what's lacking?
  • Deaf Blind (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gmhowell ( 26755 ) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:42PM (#4798234) Homepage Journal
    Text to speech works fine for blind people (mostly). Deaf people can see most web content. What the heck are deaf-blind people supposed to do?

    One of the joys of Delphi, GEnie, Compuserve, etc. is that the discussion boards worked fine with simple telnet access, and braille tty's. The various web boards that have supplanted them don't seem like they would work as well (sorry, haven't tried any yet. Those braille tty's ain't cheap:)

    Yes, this is a personal question (see .sig).

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