Accessible Usable Design
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April 29, 2003
Proper use of headings, (such as h1, h2, h3, etc.), can be an essential part of creating
valid, logical markup. They're so important, yet are often ignored or misused. Headings
contain key points, such as the title or topic of a page. While their default appearance
can be quite bland,
Christopher Schmitt demonstrates
50+ ways to use
CSS to visually style headings. You can
view the page source to see how he did it.
Keep in mind that headings can be helpful for disabled users, even ones who can't see
the great CSS effects. For example, some
popular screen readers can read the headings on a Web page, giving the users a glimpse
of what content the page will contain and allowing them to get to the specific information they
April 28, 2003
An article focusing on Scotland's political parties points out a problem prevalent
everywhere, even in the United States—
political parties' Web sites discriminate against the disabled. I'm not aware of even one U.S. Senator or member of Congress whose site openly
complies with Web accessibility guidelines. If their sites are usable
by people with assistive technology, it's more likely a "happy accident" than it is
intentional. If you're aware of any such sites that are accessible, please email me:
<anitra at anitrapavka dot com>. I'd love to see some
examples of accessible, political Web sites.
April 23, 2003
Acccessify.com has a new tool,
Acrobot, that generates markup for abbreviations and acronyms. It draws upon a (currently small) database of terms and
generates the XHTML. It would be
great to see this tool grow.
While using <acronym> or <abbr> is a great idea, user agent support of these
tags has always been a concern of mine. For example, my copy of IBM HomePage Reader
doesn't appear to support either tag. I'm
not sure if other major screen readers or speech browsers support these tags, either.
Internet Explorer versions 5.5 and higher appear to support <acronym>, but
not <abbr>. I'm not sure
if a screen reader using Internet Explorer as its browser will support <acronym>, as well.
Of course, the lack of support for the <abbr> tag bothers me since abbreviations include
more than just acronyms. (Acronyms are a type of abbreviation.) The
little information I found about screen reader support seems to hint that neither Windows-Eyes nor
Jaws (the two most popular screen readers) support these tags. If anyone has more conclusive
proof, please email me:
<anitra at anitrapavka dot com>.
April 22, 2003
News has been slow recently, but I found
another bit of usability wisdom
from the venerable
Ok, calling it wisdom is a bit of a stretch, but I thought it was funny. Inappropriate, but
still funny. Plus, it does make a point or two.
On a more serious note, Jakob recently wrote a good
AlertBox column advocating
"Low-End Media for User Empowerment".
April 17, 2003
Pew Internet Project
compiled the results of a survey conducted (mostly) in 2002 that reveals interesting information
about internet usage. You may read a
summary of their findings or read the entire report, entitled
"The Ever-Shifting Internet Population".
Of particular interest were the numbers they compiled on disabled Internet users. The following is an excerpt from their summary of findings:
The disabled have among the lowest levels of Internet access in America. They face
unique hurdles going online. Disabled non-users are less likely than other non-users to believe
that they will ever use the Internet and less likely than others to live physically and socially
close to the Internet. Disabled Americans are less likely to have friends or family who go online.
- 38% of disabled Americans go online, compared to 58% of all Americans. Of the disabled who do go online, a fifth say their disability makes using the Internet difficult.
- 28% of disabled non-users say their disability makes it difficult or impossible for them to go online.
The cost of technological and software solutions to various disabilities is expensive -- $3,000 for a Braille computer interface, for example. The high cost of Internet-adaptive technologies, combined with the relatively smaller incomes of the disabled, make Internet use prohibitively expensive for many.
April 15, 2003
Jakob Nielsen prognosticates about the future of accessible Web design. Unfortunately,
designing and maintaining separate sites for each major type of disability isn't feasible for
most people. However, his overview of the fundamental differences in how disabled users approach
sites makes for an interesting read. The growing usage of small, wireless devices might
push adoption of design strategies like this earlier than otherwise expected.
April 14, 2003
While I support intellectual property rights and copyright protection, I don't think
Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the way to
do it. Joe Clark's
"Accessibility implications of digital rights management"
goes into detail about how DRM limits our legal rights and may restrict access and fair use
of media by people with (and without) disabilities.
April 13, 2003
Unfortunately, too few state level government entities have focused on usability,
much less accessibility. The state of
Virginia created a common template
to control the look and feel of state Web sites. While some agencies balked at the
cookie-cutter look and approach, this should (overall) improve the usability and accessibility
of state sites. The
template isn't available yet for download, but when it is, I'll check it out. If it's everything it
promises to be, I'll post a link to it. I really hope it'll be available for public download.
It could act as a solid framework that other organizations may adopt and adapt.
April 9, 2003
Peter-Paul Koch wrote a lengthy
how certain technology, such as speech browsers and mobile phones, will
handle specific scripts. Yet, he doesn't mention screen readers. I find that odd.
(Perhaps he's mistaken about the difference between screen readers and speech browsers?) Screen
readers, (which are more common than stand alone speech browsers), allow visually impaired
users to interface a Web browser, usually Internet Explorer. I've never head of a
browser detection script capable of telling if the user is using a screen reader to interface
the browser. Detection scripts identify the browser as if it was a standard copy of the
However, device-dependent scripts may still pose a problem.
Also, as detailed in a tutorial on
Accessify.com, there are ways to
handle pop-up windows in a more accessible manner.
One important thing that's commonly overlooked is to warn users a link will open a new window.
Screen reader or speech browser users may become confused if the focus changes to a
different window without warning since they might still think they're
in the other window. To warn users of popups, I tend to use a little icon, for example
, with alt text
that explains that the following link will open in a new window. I place this icon
immediately before each link that will open a new window.
April 7, 2003
According to an internal report from the
Office of e-Envoy,
more than 78% of British government sites need an accessibility overhaul. Those are rather ugly numbers
and, as the article indicates, the costs may take a substantial chunk out of their budgets.
I hope they can afford the redesigns and testing. I wish they would release more details about
what they analyzed and how they conducted the reviews.
Watchfire released Bobby 5.0.
They say they've improved the thing I complain about the most—their generated reports.
I'm especially impressed by the claim that the new version can "spider through secure and
password-protected sites". They're offering a special price on it until May 7, 2003.
However, I'd kill for a demo version of it to see the improvements for myself. If I can
get my hands on a copy, I'll definitely post a review.
April 6, 2003
As I researched search engine optimization techniques, (how to get your site to rank higher
in search results), I found yet another reason to add an alt attribute to images
that convey meaning. Several major search engines
(AltaVista, Google, and Teoma)
index the text in alt attributes.
That means it makes good business sense to use descriptive alt text because it can improve
page placement in search engine results, as well as make pages more accessible.
April 3, 2003
U.S. Section 508 site recently posted an interesting set of
Market Research Guidelines for Section 508 compliant products.
This is essential if you work for or are a contractor of U.S.
government entities. It should also be of interest to businesses that wish to buy accessible
technology products or want to put themselves in the best position to sell such products.
April 1, 2003
Disability Rights Commission
investigate 1,000 public and private sector Web sites
to determine their level of basic accessibility. British Web sites should already be
in compliance with the
Disability Rights Commission Act of 1999, but it's unknown how many are.
The group intends to compile the investigation's results by the end of the year. I hope
they'll use their findings to inform Web developers of the most common Web accessibility mistakes
and demonstrate how to avoid them.