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Fall 2000 UA: A bar too low!

From: Bryan Campbell <bryany@pathcom.com>
Date: Sun, 12 Nov 2000 18:05:27 -0500
Message-Id: <>
To: w3c-wai-ua@w3.org

In getting into high gear to review the UA I looked at the site and read "1
November 2000 Implementation Report"
http://www.w3.org/WAI/UA/WD-UAAG10-IMP-20001101/ Guildline 1 on
device-independence left me aghast by using the same word, extensive, to
describe keyboard support in IE and Opera. Yes the Report has strong
disclaimers about accuracy, yet the mere existence of the page creates
authority letting it appear it is just as easy to keyboard around the Web
in IE as Opera and that isn't the case (and the correct name of the firm is
Opera Software not Operasoft). As someone once said on the email list
programs can claim Accessibility and yet be very difficult for persons with
disabilities to run.

Before going further it maybe time to define Accessibility. Early on it
seems some vendors led the WG to a narrow meaning of Accessibility that
accepts any equivalent to the main interface as enough. And access could
only be the ability to reach a function with no regard to easy use.
Consulting on line dictionary http://www.onelook.com access and accessible
mostly mean easy to get at, Accessibility is more defined as just access
without specifying ease. While writing this it occured to me to check the
WAI home page http://www.w3.org/WAI Its first sentence says [quote]
"Mission: The W3C's commitment to lead the Web to its full potential
includes promoting a high degree of usability for people with
disabilities." [unquote] Given the place usability occupies in that
sentence Accessibility does mean continent and easy to use! With usability
in mind I urge the WG members themselves to go over whatever wish list they
have themselves because many of the best ideas are on the email list not in
proposed Guildlines. My worry is that your fine work will be obscured
leaving high usability unachieved.

To illustrate what members might do I'll talk about keyboard commands since
I'm most comfortable and experienced with that topic. What a UA does
determines the kind of keyboard commands make it easy to use. Players where
users mostly listen and or watch a media clip have less need for easy one
keystroke commands because once players begin to run the audience is mostly
passive. There should be regular style shortcuts to get embedded links and
it'd a huge help if the 4 keyPad Cursor Arrows did volume and Rewind or
Fast-forward (perhaps that would be vital for folks with sensory

Web pages are what present folks with physical disabilities (like myself, I
work via headwand and keyboard only) huge workloads as pages have an
amazing number of links. Such numbers that the single selector key provided
by AccessKey is overwhelmed, if AccessKey took multiple characters so a
sequence picked an exact URL it could help. But it would still mean
traveling all over the keyboard to type a unique string which is much work.
Simple resting on one key (in the main keyboard area) till a link highlight
goes from the bottom or top of a page is likely the easier way to pick
links. One key commands also work excellently for page Back and Forward,
Frames, Headers, and windows. Opera has those 1 key commands and more
making me and another Opera devotee, Bill McMurray
http://www.buffnet.net/~billmcm who uses a headwand, very efficient on the
Web. NCSA Mosaic also has 1 key commands and I used that browser very
successfully on first coming to the Web in October 1995 making the point 1
keystroke commands are necessary, useful, and not out of the ordinary in

As to IE's keyboard commands it is doubtful eWeek Magazine
http://www.zdnet.com/eweek would of printed the article "IE trips up
unless it is readily evident IE isn't keyboard friendly (I hope that
printer friendly link works well with screen readers). Microsoft
acknowledged the problem in the story, suggesting it is best addressed by
custom keyboards. That is a reasonable solution if the person can't really
use a regular keyboard at all, but special hardware is often extremely
expensive so avoiding it is a real plus. Beside that a regular keyboard has
Cursor Pad keys for page movement (vital on the Web) plus the Function keys
offering tremendous means to customize it.

In the article also Microsoft said it couldn't get people for a focus group
to advise it on keyboard browsing commands. To deal with that difficult I
e-mailed eWeek the following, part of which appeared in eWeek and on this
printable page
[quote] "My thought is to use the folks working on the W3C Web
Accessibility Initiative, especially those in the [UA] Browser Group. With
their knowledge they are a fabulous substitute for focus groups. Consisting
of people with disabilities and Rehabilitation professionals the Browser
Group has full understanding of the issues. Supplemented by some PC press
columnists interested in a keyboard interface it is highly likely a small
group could soon create some key command layouts for browsing. Like the
current Mouse & Sticky key applets Browser keys would only be turned On
when necessary so other folks don't suffer unexpected activity. Every need
can't be met, yet for the folks that can use standard equipment it'd be a
wondrous improvement! Software is the most malleable, vastly powerful human
creation ever seen on this planet. To not fully utilize software in the
Rehabilitation arena is a great loss we mustn't face.
" [unquote]
My feeling has always been that this WG can provide detailed examples
vendors can turn into easy to use options that leave the default interface
alone. Indeed, it might be that many more people will use these
enhancements than some developers expect. A thought expressed by the title
of this article. Accessibility for Everyone: Windows supports a collection
of features that can enhance almost any user's computer life. 16 June 2000

Another thing that occurs to me is the Guildlines should say somewhere some
people with disabilities work at greatly reduced speeds while having full
understanding of the material being presented so to reach as much material
as possible we need commands that are virtually effortless to run (With
decreased speed being the more important point). Now onto another item.

Under Techniques in Guildlines 5 it seems too difficult to justify
interface improvements decreasing the impact of everything else. Checkpoint
5.8 paragraph 11 
[quote] "Maintain consistency in the user interface between versions of the
software. Consistency is less important than improved general accessibility
and usability, but developers should make changes conservatively to the
layout of user interface controls, the behavior of existing
functionalities, and the default keyboard configuration." [unquote] 
Basically the paragraph says be extremely careful with interface changes
which could make always conservative developers reluctant to do much. It is
a very good idea to say the interface mustn't change with version of the
program so Accessibility isn't the place for continuos interface experiment
[grin] To strike a balance between consistency and the need to be
imaginative to create easy Accessibility is the goal. Phrasing like this
should do it [quote] "For the most part maintain consistency in the user
interface between versions of the software. Consistency is less important
than improved general accessibility and usability. Established OS
conventions should be left as is to co-exist with less expected approaches
that create easy Accessibility." [unquote] Established items, say in
Windows, include Alt-F4 to Exit programs and Control-C to Copy. Care must
be taken because in a document like this because it difficult to predict
what phrases will later be taken to be most significant.

Moving to the Guildline itself 2 items could provide more information.
Guildline 1 paragraph 2 sentence 2 is [quote] "Keyboard operation of all
functionalities offered through the user interface is one of the most
important aspects of user agent accessibility on almost every platform."
[unquote] To begin ensuring ease of use this should be added to the
sentence, (using as few keystrokes as is possible) . Sentence 2 in the
paragraph becomes [quote] "Keyboard operation (using as few keystrokes as
is possible) of all functionalities offered through the user interface is
one of the most important aspects of user agent accessibility on almost
every platform." [unquote] Without enough details developers simply wont be
able to produce satisfactory results! In the PC Magazine of 17 Oct 2000
Bill Machrone, Vice President (Technology) for Ziff-Davis Publishing
Company, had some pertinent thoughts on how new interface designers
approach the keyboard: [quote] "They know enough to ensure that users can
drive their interfaces from the keyboard, but they don't spend a minute
thinking about whether the keystrokes make sense from a user perspective."
[unquote] (the whole column is on this printable page
http://www.zdnet.com/filters/printerfriendly/0,6061,2629056-50,00.html )
Once the WG explains the needs via the Guildlines some of these bright
newcomers will prove highly skilled in creating easy access for all. If
they have enough information to guide them.

With more examples developers should be able to write easy to run UAs that
have full Accessibility. That is necessary as the Web is now a vital source
of information on all topics so easy access is a must to allow full
participation in the new global society. I'm not on the UA list regularly
so e-mail me directly on any of this and I'll join in as needed.

Bryan Campbell

--> "Just because we call it the Web does not mean it is supposed to tangle
people up!"
Received on Sunday, 12 November 2000 18:00:05 UTC

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