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Re: Accessibility humanized

From: david poehlman <david.poehlman@handsontechnologeyes.com>
Date: Sat, 21 Aug 2004 13:19:21 -0400
Message-ID: <00fc01c487a3$00793920$6401a8c0@DAVIDPC>
To: "John M Slatin" <john_slatin@austin.utexas.edu>, "wai-ig list" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

yes, it is the technologeye who is disabled, not us.

Johnnie Apple Seed

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "John M Slatin" <john_slatin@austin.utexas.edu>
To: "david poehlman" <david.poehlman@handsontechnologeyes.com>; "wai-ig
list" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Sent: Saturday, August 21, 2004 1:01 PM
Subject: RE: Accessibility humanized

The article below makes some important points, and I second the notion
that accessible design is (or should be) an extension of user-centered
design-- an extension that has to begin by expanding the concept of
"user" to include people with disabilities.

But I take issue with (and am somewhat offended by) the following
statement from the article:

There is no way we can make disabled peoples experience of the web
equivalent to that of non-disabled people. What we can do is to make it
less tedious within their particular field of experience.

This is (pardon the technical expression) pure hogwash.  Or rather, this
is the best that can be hoped for if you make the supposition that
accessibility begins with a completed Web site designed for people with
perfect vision, perfect hearing, full range of motion and feeling in
their limbs and extremities, and the cognitive apparatus of (name your
favorite brilliant person), and then tries to "provide access" to that
experience for people who are "deficient" in one or more of those areas
(who isn't?).    That's called retrofitting, and it's true-- sometimes
you're starting from a finished design and all you can do is retrofit
and do the best you can.

But accessibility doesn't always have to start from a completed design
that has to be retrofitted.  If you have the good fortunte to be working
on a brand-ndw site, design can *start* with accessibility in mind,
start with a determination to create a r ich and satisfying experience
for all prospective users. I believe that if you start by trying to
create such an experience for users who have disabilities-- the "most
difficult" needs to meet-- you'll also create a rich and meaningful
experience for users who don't have disabilities (the reverse is
manifestly not true: just look around you).  That's a hell of a lot
better than "mak[ing] it less tedious for them."

Speaking from my own perspective as a user who is blind, please don't
patronize me by trying to "make things less tedious" for me.  Please do
*yourself* the honor of setting out to create the best damn Web
experience you can for *all* your users.

Sorry for the rant.

"Good design is accessible design."

Dr. John M. Slatin, Director
Accessibility Institute
University of Texas at Austin
FAC 248C
1 University Station G9600
Austin, TX 78712
ph 512-495-4288, fax 512-495-4524
email jslatin@mail.utexas.edu
Web http://www.utexas.edu/research/accessibility

-----Original Message-----
From: w3c-wai-ig-request@w3.org [mailto:w3c-wai-ig-request@w3.org] On
Behalf Of david poehlman
Sent: Saturday, August 21, 2004 7:35 AM
To: wai-ig list
Subject: Fw: Accessibility humanized

Accessibility humanized
A user-centred approach to web accessibility


Most web developers act in blindness when they design accessible
websites, since they know next to nothing about disabled people and the
technology they use. Accessibility guidelines and validation tools
doesn't provide this insight. Accessibility should rather be approached
from a user centred perspective.

In a governmental health care project, we had both an accessibility
consultant and a blind person evaluating a website. The accessibility
expert ran the site through a systematic validation and found "6
priority 1 errors" and "8 priority 2 errors." This gave the site the
lowest evaluation
possible: "A bad website in terms of accessibility." Our blind
accessibility tester evaluated the site with his screen reader and was
fairly pleased. He praised the site for being well-structured and didn't
find any severe accessibility problems, though he had problems here and
there. While the outcomes of the two tests were disturbingly different,
it was even more disturbing that most of the problems that the blind
tester found didn't attract the attention of the accessibility

There may be many explanations to the different results. One is that
meeting the letter of accessibility requirements might not be the most
important thing when designing web sites, which are well-functioning for
people with disabilities.

The potential of accessibility

The Internet is a gift from above to people all over the world. For
disabled people, the potential of the Internet is particularly
remarkable. It opens a whole new world of opportunity and independence
to them.

Disabled people are able to access websites using inventive assistive
devices, which help them overcome their disabilities. This includes
sites, which don't comply with the official accessibility requirements.
But badly designed web sites can make it quite tedious - and in the
worst cases impossible - for disabled people to access its content.

With a little thought, web developers can improve the online life of
disabled people remarkable. Adding text alternatives to images make the
world in difference. Imagine a blind person using a screen reader having
to listen to all the file names of the images with no text alternative:

graphic right underscore corner dot gif graphic spacer dot gif graphic
left underscore corner dot gif welcome to john smith's website graphic
pict 5 9 4 9 3 0 8 5 dot jpeg graphic spacer dot gif...

Adding text alternatives to pictures and leaving them blank for images
used solely for visual design, the page would read like this:

welcome to john smith's web site graphic picture of me eating a

Much more comprehensible.

Approaching accessibility

Since most web developers have no idea of how disabled people experience
websites, they grope in the dark when trying to design accessible web
sites. Knowing nothing about disabled people and the tools they use,
they lack two of the most vital prerequisites of good design: knowledge
of the media and knowledge of the audience.

Most developers resort to official accessibility guidelines such as the
World Wide Web Consortium's ( W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
( WCAG), and relies on validation tools, such as Bobby. The rationale is
that "If I follow these guidelines and Bobby is happy with me, this site
will be usable for disabled people" - or just "...then I got my arse

While guidelines and validation tools can be very useful tools, they
cannot replace human expertise. In spite of all good intentions,
guidelines are by nature vague and require interpretation and testing
when put into practice.

Even if you adhere to the accessibility guidelines, you can still screw
things up. Recall our previous screen reader example. If John Smith
chose to meet the letter of the WCAG Guideline 1, which tells him to add
text alternatives to all images, we could end up with something like

graphic left blue corner graphic blue spacer used to add white space
graphic right blue corner welcome to john smith's website graphic
picture of me eating hotdog...

Fortunately, most web developers know that they should leave a text
alternative blank, if the image is used solely for visual design.

Disabilities and their accommodations

There is no way we can make disabled peoples experience of the web
equivalent to that of non-disabled people. What we can do is to make it
less tedious within their particular field of experience.

Some disabilities are quite simple to accommodate. Since the web is
mostly a visual media, the obstacles of deaf and hard-of-hearing are
minor. Other disabilities are, in practice, impossible to accommodate.
For people with learning disabilities reading is the biggest problem,
and there is no proven way to make textual websites accessible to people
who cannot read well.

And then there are technological "disabilities", which people using
antique hardware or mobile phones with tiny screens suffer from. Some
purists will claim that accessibility counts for everybody in any
imaginative situation. But technological "impairments" are in most cases
self-imposed and can be changed - severe physical impairments can't.
Designing a good-looking web site, which is truly universally accessible
for all kinds of inventive devices, is almost impossible.

The disability groups that we can and should accommodate are colour
blind people, mobility impaired people, people with low vision, and
blind people. Unfortunately, it's outside the scope of this article to
present you to the ways that these disability groups experience the web
and how to accommodate them. Fortunately, others have already done that.
I can strongly recommend you to read Joe Clark's book, Building
Accessible Websites, which will give you a head start. He explains web
accessibility in a very engaging way and has tips on how to make
websites accessible on basic, intermediate, and advanced levels. If you
want more, read Mark Pilgrim's Dive Into Accessibility. His book starts
out with a gallery of fictitious disabled internet users, which will
give you an idea of how disabled people experience the web. Both books
are available online.

Designing and testing accessibility

Designing websites for disabled people is essentially no different from
designing websites for non-disabled people. It requires knowledge of
technological possibilities and limitations and knowledge of the users
and their needs. Without this knowledge, you are designing in blindness.

Reading books about accessibility is a good start, just like it's a good
start reading web design books when designing for non-disable people.
They provide you with a basic knowledge of the problems that disabled
people face and practical advice on how to accommodate them.

If you are starting from scratch, it might be tempting to hire
accessibility consultants to guide you and run screenings of your work.
But be careful. Some of them - even experts from highly estimated
consultancies - will simply throw lots of accessibility guidelines at
you (including the ones they make up themselves) and run sites through
validation tools, which are available online for free or can be bought
for a fraction of their fee. You can do that just as well yourself. Then
it's better to make contact with some experienced internet users with
disabilities, whom you can consult when needed.

If you want guarantees that a website is well-designed for people with
disabilities, you have to run usability tests with disabled people. Some
consultancies offer such tests. You can also choose to run the tests
yourself. Most disabled web users will be glad to help you out. You can
always adjust the number of tests and tests participants to your budget
and time scale. Having a single disabled user evaluate a site is not
optimal, but can still be quite an eye-opening experience.

And then we have the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which will
cover our arses.
Received on Saturday, 21 August 2004 17:18:48 UTC

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