FOWA07b: Robin Christopherson

The art of attractive, yet usable (accessible) sites
Many sites that are very pretty but as soon as you do anything different, things go to pieces. Attractiveness shouldn’t be fragile, needs to be robust and be sure that site is nice under a wide range of conditions.

What has accessibility got to offer usability. The DTA is a law that talks about accessibility, and over 90% of sites do not comply. Sites that meet DTA standards are also easier to use for able-bodied people, not just disabled people.

Legal and General re-launch, spent £200k on accessibility, and found a huge upsurge in mainstream users as well, 30k hits extra in first use, just about increased platform compatibility. People wanted the site to work on their platform, regardless.

Speciality browser called HomePage Reader, free, renders the page in a text-only view. Has a screen reader that reads the text. Goes to Amazon, reader reads out all the text, which turns out to be all the text for the images. No skip to content, so is forced to listen to the [image …] tags, because none of the images are labelled.

Google Mail, Ajax application, but unless you are using the screen reader you won’t know that there’s some hidden text at the top of the page that suggest that screen reader users use the basic HTML version. Heavy use of javascript in a web app can be got round by providing a basic version too. Google felt they wanted to go that extra mile to provide a completely JS-free version, which you don’t have to do, but have to make sure that your JS doesn’t mess with screen readers.

Google Maps. There is a text-only version which isn’t sign-posted, the URL isn’t publicised, but it can do everything that Google Maps can do, so can look up florists in Melbourne, or whatever, all that functionality is there. Have implemented this parallel alternative, but there are so many platforms that could benefit from this text-only version.

Google Accounts, if you want to set up a new account, uses a ‘captcha’ image, which obviously doesn’t have an alt-tag. If you are trying to sub to Yahoo, forget it. But Google has two things – an audio link, but that’s really hard to hear, has not been able to understand the string, which is a bit self-defeating. Or there’s a link to contact Google and they will contact you personally by email to help you set up your account. Requires manpower to provide that service, but they obviously take accessibility extremely importantly, and it shows that they are going to be a force to be reckoned with – little things like this make it the default choice for people with a disability.

if you’ve got someone who tests your site who has a disability, if the site is optimised for them, it makes it much easier for mainstream users.

Everyone knows about captioning, and multimedia more important in Web 2.0, but with YouTube you can’t caption, you have to ‘hard burn’ them into the video. Go home tonight and watch TV with your eyes closed – you can’t follow the action. Audio description actually tells you what the action is in a video, and it makes video followable for the vision impaired.

The vision impaired are the hardest category to cater for. Window magnifier which makes the web page much much bigger, e.g. x5. Demos inconsistent navigation, pop-ups, etc. which all make it hard for magnification user to find their way around. Pictures of words get hard to read – get pixelated. Another reason for providing a basic text version.

General Motors website looks lovely. Might want to increase the text size, which is often hard-coded which means people can’t make it bigger so that they can read it. Have to reset the browser prefs to ignore the text size, which many people don’t know you can do, but it breaks the navigation with overlapping links, etc.

Vodafone did a better job, marked up all the headings and navigation, but whilst they have allowed people to change the text size, it corrupts the page, with text showing over other text. Colour is the same problem. If someone asks their browser to ignore specified text colours, content can totally disappear.

This isn’t just about websites, but also applications on the desktop. Shows a mystery meat navigation that requires hovering over images to get up a button a few pixels wide. Not available to people who can’t use a mouse, as no keyboard shortcuts.

Google Search. When you search, you get next page links, 1 2 3 4 5 … and that makes it possible for people with co-ordination issues or problems with using a mouse to click the links.

Vatican website with circular navigation, and tabbing from link to link, with default IE dotted line highlight, and the tabbing order is the most bizarre in the word. Need to make sure that sites work and are usable from the keyboard.

Flash breaks the whole screen reader experience.

Voice recognition is there out of the box in Vista, but Flash totally ‘de-supports’ voice recognition, so it can’t read the screen and you can’t use the voice recognition to choose a link and click it.

Hearing impairment and cognitive difficulties, e.g. dyslexia, learning disabilities, language difficulties (.e.g second language). With UGC there’s a lot of lack of awareness out there regarding the content they create. Shows a home page on MySpace and will see some prime examples of pages that are totally overloaded with graphics and totally inaccessible. Falls on the heads of the MySpace and Facebooks of the world to flag those requirements well, in registration process or the toolkit for creating the pages.

Finally, there was a problem with the Olympic logo promo video that caused epileptic fits. There are tools that assess how likely a video is going to cause problems.

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