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Joe Clark's Answers -- In Valid XHTML 489

We sent 10 of your questions to usability guy Joe Clark, and he took it upon himself to go a bit beyond simply answering them. In his reply he said, "Answers attached in a valid XHTML file. I would suggest at least retaining the id attributes. I copy-edited all the questions, but the words are all the same; they are now merely spelled and capitalized correctly. I think all the links work." Whatever. We left Joe's formatting intact. It's a little different from our usual style, but variety is the spice of Slashdot.
Ask the Expert: Accessibility

1) How far should it go?

by newsdee

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 multimedia feature into its accessible equivalent? Is it even feasible other than providing a text-only equivalent?

There seems to be a stereotyped understanding of Flash content at work here. Flashturbation is not the only usage of that authoring tool.

I believe the question really intends to ask Are artistic uses of Flash, like Josh Daviss Praystation, really amenable to accessibility? The answer is a qualified yes, and I say that because Praystation-like Flash experimentation is essentially a form of cinema that merely uses the Web as a delivery mechanism. Cinematic experiments of this sort are indisputably a different species from other forms of Flash development.

In that example, the solution is to treat the Flash objects as a movie and apply standard movie accessibility features, namely captioning and audio description. Im not one of those people who believes that abstract, experimental, or non-narrative cinema cannot be captioned and described lots of music videos fall into that category, and theyve been captioned for nearly 15 years. (Description of experimental audiovisual artworks has not really been attempted to my knowledge, but description of abstract art in museums and of non-narrative plays and dance performances in theatres have all been going on for years. Its perfectly possible.)

The challenges, then, are two: Infrastructure and interface. There isnt really a very good way of including captions or descriptions in a Flash file as yet (an infrastructure problem). Macromedia knows all about this (Ive discussed it with them at length, and also written about it), and it will eventually be fixed. (Even finding an example of Flash with captioning is difficult today. Youd think Id have a complete list at the tip of my fingers, but I dont. The Macromedia Contribute feature tour is one case.) I dont know of any Flash animation that was ever described.

The interface problem is: How does the viewer turn captions and descriptions on and off? This isnt like a TV set, where you can manipulate onscreen menus (and how do you manage that if youre blind?) to turn captions and/or descriptions on and off. Browsers are not smart enough to automatically turn access features on and off, though I think a future upgrade of one file format that shall remain nameless will be the first to include such a capacity. At any rate, this may be one of the rare cases where an overt visual change must be made to accommodate accessibility actual selectable buttons to turn CC and DX on and off. (The buttons themselves have to be accessible, i.e., part of the tabbing order and with alternate texts and so forth.)

Now, lets consider other examples of Flash.

Banner ads the really big skyscraper ads that bug your arse on so many sites
The usual Flash accessibility features can be used, and you can be smart and include the Flash object inside, say, an iframe element, which provides vast options for accessibility. (You can add a long description to the iframe, though thats questionably useful, and include alternate content in case the main content cannot be loaded, which could be an ordinary animated GIF or still image with alt and title.)
Flash-based comics can be relatively straightforward to make accessible (Apocamon doesnt seem too tricky its essentially a panel-based comic strip with a wee bit of animation) or could require full-on cinematic techniques, as with Broken Saints.
User interfaces
Flash can be and is used as a tidier means of providing a user interface, as at or in the Neuros audio-player demo. The temptation, as in that last example, is also to use motion graphics and audio, which may require the same CC and DX as before, but many user interface can be made adequately accessible with todays Flash accessibility tools (text equivalents, making objects visible or invisible in the document structure, etc.).
Manipulable objects
Games (including the Royal National Institute for the Blinds ill-advised consciousness-raising game, no longer online) and even some interfaces (like History of Health Care) may include objects youre intended to grab and manipulate with the mouse. The current Flash accessibility tools are not really up to the challenge of adding keyboard equivalents for such manipulable objects. You could hack it together yourself, but there are no built-in commands or primitives you could use in a standards-compliant way.
Skippable intros are just as awful today as the day they were invented. Unfortunately, we cant make value judgements about which information should and should not be made accessible. Even skippable intros have to be made accessible, either by treating them as cinema or simply giving them a few text equivalents. The skip-intro link has to be selectable by keyboard, of course.
These interfaces let you do something. One I like a lot, if only because I am a typography queen, is Jeremy Tankards font viewer, though it is admittedly overkill because other font-viewing miniprograms do not require Flash. It may be possible to make the inputs to such tools accessible (you can place the cursor in the right place, operate controls, and so forth), but the results might be intrinsically inaccessible. (Note that artists portfolio sites, font and clip-art vendors, stock-photo houses, and other sites that sell visual imagery using ordinary HTML can be made passably accessible even to a blind person. In the Tankard case, perhaps only the name of the font and the text entered would be rendered to a screen reader or other device.)
Perhaps the most credible Flash instance, E-commerce sites like Ted Baker (see its Footwear store) may include all the features of the other instances Ive listed here. Since E-commerce is a convenient way to shop for many disabled people, I would strongly emphasize the need for accessibility. But it might be stretching the limits of current Flash access tools, since you have to make an interface, product shots and other images, and text all accessible. Thats not difficult in HTML, but I dont have any examples to point to of accessible Flash-based E-commerce sites that we could use as a comparison; I dont know how hard it would be to make such sites accessible. Aside: The most sophisticated Flash site Ive ever seen is (No direct hyperlink; consider this the strongest possible warning of adult content. Be very sure you want to look at it.) The usability could use an update, but in general its astounding. Should we ever be in the same city, Ill take anyone who can update that site for accessibility to dinner at the restaurant of their choice.

I would add a proviso here. Accessibility does not relate solely to blind people. As mentioned above, any quasi-cinematic work with audio requires captioning; deaf people need accessibility, too. There is much more attention being paid now to the Web-accessibility needs of people with learning disabilities (the most famous of which is dyslexia), which well get to later.

Learning-disabled people are by far the hardest to accommodate online, and for many HTML pages, they are probably impossible to accommodate in any really helpful way. Flash animations could be a good solution for that group because you can build in many levels of information, use audio and graphics, and provide really good controls for pacing (because having too much information coming at you all at once is a barrier for many people). Inevitably, accessible Flash in that context would limit itself to custom-engineered animations specifically made for that audience; I doubt that general uses of Flash will be upgraded for that kind of accessibility.

Text-only sites are not the alternative to accessible sites. Text-only is not accessible. Well discuss graphic sophistication later.

Biggest problem

by robbo

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?

Images. Seriously, if youve got an ordinary HTML Web page and you make absolutely all your images accessible including, crucially, adding alt="" to every spacer GIF and every other meaningless graphic youre four-fifths of the way to being an accessible Web site for the group with the greatest single need, the blind and visually-impaired.

I emphasize coding to standards. Unless you have an airtight reason (like youre stuck using an old content-management system you cannot afford to replace), I really dont want to have anything to do with you unless youreproducing valid HTML. Now, tiny invalidities are just that, tiny: <hr> and <hr/> really are the same thing. And Im sure that ultra-purist geeks will now launch a hypocrisy hunt and comb through my entire Web presence to locate pages with non-valid markup. (Knock yourselves out. I make small mistakes, and have not updated scores of very old pages. Im also a vegan with some shoes and accessories made of leather. Complete purity is sometimes unattainable.) In one of the many ironies of Web development, it is indie developers like me who have a higher success rate in achieving valid, accessible sites even though larger commercial operations are the ones where valid HTML and accessibility are more urgently needed.

In any event, if youre producing tag soup, as far as Im concerned youre demonstrably not all that interested in responsible Web development.

The upside? If you do write valid pages, you have to include at least an alt text for every graphic. For no extra effort (you have to do it anyway), you get basic accessibility.

Number two on the list is navigation. Left-hand and top navbars stacked with link after link are a nightmare to wade through if you have a mobility impairment that reduces your ability to use a mouse or keyboard. (Screen-reader users are not so heavily affected; they can skip entire table cells, for example. I suppose all-CSS layouts are harder to skip through. But thats not the page authors problem; its incumbent on the adaptive technology and browser to clean up their act.)

If youre able to use a mouse, you can just avoid the entire navbar. But a mobility-impaired person may be stuck tabbing from one link to another and thats the best-case scenario. Quite possibly, a mobility-impaired visitor may be using software that cycles through a set of input choices for example, the mouse; then the alphabet keys of keyboard; then the number keys; then the function keys. You may have to wait until the keyboard option cycles back again in order to type repeated keystrokes. (You may have a mental image of a sip-and-puff switch or Christopher Reeve using speech-input software. The principles are the same and so is the inconvenience.)

If you, the page designer, stack 20 or even a hundred links in a left-hand navbar and assume that people can simply tab through them, well, (a) tabbing 20 or a hundred times is something youd never expect a nondisabled person to put up with, and (b) some people will have to wait 20 or a hundred cycles of their software in order to do the equivalent of pressing the Tab key.

The solution? Put skip-navigation links on top of every navbar with, say, ten or more links. (Or fewer. Use your judgement. Section 508 regulations technically require a skip link in every navbar, even for a page footer.)

Note that skip-navigation links have to be visible; a lot of people use hyperlinked single-pixel GIFs with alt texts, but those are invisible to mobility-impaired people, most of whom have normal vision. The links dont have to be ugly or intrusive, but they have to be plainly visible and selectable. (If you want to be thorough, you can give them accesskey and tabindex values.)

Do those two things and your site becomes vastly more accessible to two large disability groups right then and there.

Accessible Slashdot?

by ictatha

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?

Mark Pilgrim has fully strip-mined this topic. (He also tech-edited my book and is generally formidable.)

The issue here is random vs. serial access. A nondisabled site visitor can jump around the page. If you can see, its very easy to skim the page, and it is also very easy to zip to what interests you if you can operate a mouse or keyboard well. Nondisabled people have random access to the contents of a page. Many disabled people the blind and the mobility-impaired in specific experience a Web site serially, with one item after another articulated (as in speech or Braille) or selected. The page author can make skipping around easier, and so can relevant software like screen readers, but its still going to be harder to navigate than for a nondisabled person.

Slashdot is dominated by words. The page introducing this interview carried about 6,900 words even with minimal comment expansion. The issue, then, becomes navigation, which I discussed in the previous answer. Adding hyperlinks to skip various navbars would be a good first step.

Slashdot could certainly use better semantic markup. Valid code is a must; I want Slashdot to eat my own dog food. Subject lines of postings could and should be marked up as headings (h1 through h6); font elements could be eliminated; Im not wild about table markup to achieve indention, though making structural hierarchies apparent is not easy at all (perhaps unordered lists with a style declaration of list-style-type: none might suffice). It would then be possible to navigate from heading to heading.

If youre running a more limited Weblog with just a couple of screenfuls of text at a time, then my advice is simple: Write valid code, provide a text equivalent for every image, work on navigation a bit, and youve made a big dent in the problem.

Photoblogs or those containing multimedia are, of course, more complicated, but as long as every photo has an alt text and your multimedia is captioned and described, youre doing well. It is certainly easy to add alt texts to your photos, but captioning and description are hard to do well and are technically difficult to implement. Im mentioning the multimedia case merely for completeness; I dont read any blogs that regularly post video and audio. (I suppose The Ben Brown Show was an example.)


by acehole

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

You have inadvertently stumbled across an extensive issue in disability law the question of providing equivalent or comparable access, or access that is equal in dignity to that afforded a nondisabled person.

You can draw parallels with the physical world. Think of barrier-free entrances to buildings. If the main entrance is at the centre of the buildings face but uses a staircase you cant remove, then providing a barrier-free entrance at the left side of that building would probably be considered comparable or equivalent access. But if you force a mobility-impaired person to walk through an alleyway and take a rear service elevator that is otherwise used for garbage, your accessibility probably is not comparable or equivalent. (Thats in the case of a relatively new building. A historic building or another exceptional case might permit different treatment of that sort.)

If we consider information media, theres a distinction to be drawn between old and new media, or non-electronic and electronic forms. Books are the canonical example: They cannot be made intrinsically accessible to a blind person because a book embodies a single immutable form. You have to provide accessibility elsewhere, as through a large-print edition (its a separate form), a Braille edition (also separate), or a talking book (separate yet again).

Electronic (or audiovisual) media can carry accessibility along with themselves:

  • You can add closed captions and closed descriptions to a television program, DVD, online video segment, or first-run movie. (Im skipping some technical details in the movie example.)
  • You can add closed captions to a videotape.
  • You can add accessibility features to a Web site.

(In the first two cases, you could instead add open captions or descriptions that everyone sees or hears, but thats a very unusual practice, and by doing so you essentially create a separate work, just like publishing a large-print, Braille, or talking-book edition of a printed book.)

In all the examples above, you the viewer can activate the accessibility if you need it or ignore it if you dont. Because Web sites are electronic and can carry hidden access features, the answer to aceholes question is no, it is not reasonable to expect disabled people to go somewhere else to get the same information or enjoy the same experience.

Accordingly, yes, Southwest Airlines reservation Web site should be accessible, and no, it is not OK to expect blind people to call a telephone number when nondisabled people do not have to do so. (Read various other reasons why.)

Thats unequal treatment right there. It is not comparable or equivalent treatment, and, I argue, it impugns the dignity of a visually-impaired person who has already made a commitment to independence by using the Web with adaptive technology.

I also reject, in the strongest possible terms, the offensive and offhand claim that accessibility can be achieved at great expense. I believe the colloquial term for a claim like this is bullshit. Updating or retrofitting a site for accessibility does cost more than designing it properly in the first place, but thats true everywhere: Have you costed out adding barrier-free access to an old building vs. including it in the original designs? Retrofitting may cost more, but I deny that the expense is great. Even very extensive sites with huge swaths of multimedia can be made accessible, and it is doubtful that, given the budgets of such sites, the expense would be great.

In any event, developers always find a justification for what they like to do, whether it be Flashturbation or coding custom JavaScript features or whatever else. Its a bit late in the day, in Web-development terms, to claim that accessibility is not one of the arrows in the quiver of the competent practitioner.

Now, another of the subtexts in this question really, it is a spiders web of half-truths, barely-suppressed resentments, and ignorance suggests that the only way to achieve Web accessibility is by being sued or forced. I have consistently argued that lawsuits are the worst way to achieve accessibility, particularly in the U.S., with its poisonous atmosphere. Lawsuits merely get peoples backs up and sour the defendant on the entire concept. Defendants are forced to belittle and invalidate the concerns of people with disabilities merely in order to provide an adequate defense in the case. This is no way to run a railroad.

But lawsuits (and human-rights complaints and other actions) are still necessary from time to time. Disability law is old and tends not to expressly include the Web. (Sometimes it doesnt even include established accessibility techniques for old media, like audio description on TV.)

Its unrealistic to wait around forever for clueless lawmakers, who can barely use a cellphone let alone surf the Web, to update the legislation. To get some kind of jurisprudence on the books, lawsuits and complaints have to be filed from time to time. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesnt, but the law is a tool that must be available to everyone, including people with disabilities, whose rights have legal standing.

A competent Web developer builds accessible Web sites and does not wait to be asked to do so, let alone sued or forced.

Market for Web developers

by ragnar

Im considering a starting up a Web development firm with a focus on accessibility. I have good relations with the principals of an accessibility testing firm and believe the businesses can complement each other well. Im a part owner of a Web development firm at the moment that isnt 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 accessibility? Aside from the normal perils of launching a new business (which Im fairly acquainted with), can you expound on the market need for firms that endeavor to deliver accessible content?

Deliver[ing] accessible content and starting up a Web development firm with a focus on accessibility are two different things, so lets focus on the latter.

I would say that the market for accessibility-specific Web consultancies is rather small and will have a short lifespan. I can say this with some confidence as I am an authority on accessibility, with a published book to prove it, and I hardly get any business. Even taking other factors into account, I think its the nature of the work. I have various reliable indications that other consultants arent flush with activity, either.


  • Accessibility is neglected. People cant hire you to do what they never knew needed to be done anyway. Nor will they hire you to do what they resent having to do in the first place and will resist doing until their dying breath.
  • Contracts are small. Even very large sites tend to be run by CMSs or templates. Once you clean those up, boom, tens of thousands of pages become accessible. There is often not a lot of billable work involved, as I know myself all too well.
  • Attainable expertise. If, as I contend, accessibility is merely one of the skills a competent developer must have, eventually all the competent developers will gain that expertise. They wont need outside experts. Even if in-house access knowledge is demonstrably worse than outside consultants, there are all sorts of precedents for companies making do with barely-passable accessibility because its cheaper. There is a preference for meeting the letter of any requirements (whether self- or externally-imposed) rather than doing accessibility well.

Now, what may work massively better is, in fact, accessibility testing (and certification). It is extremely difficult and time-consuming to test site accessibility with actual disabled persons using actual adaptive technology. A firm that updates Web sites to accessibility standards, advises on how to write new sites that conform, and tests them to prove it may be a winning combination.

The issue of then certifying a site as being accessible (or meeting certain requirements) becomes a bit trickier, but Id really like to see someone give it a go. Note that any venture like this will require thoroughgoing knowledge of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, the Section 508 regs, adaptive technology, and multimedia accessibility, and that knowledge definitely includes an understanding of exceptions to the rules. I deal with too many people who literally read and literally apply whatever guideline theyve decided is gospel. Accessibility requires human judgement based on knowledge and experience. Dont set up shop without it.

What of dynamic images (charts and graphs)?

by kuwan

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?

The answer is that such information, in certain cases, cannot be made meaningfully accessible to a blind or visually-impaired person, or probably to a learning-disabled person. Other disability groups should be unaffected.

This, of course, leads me to my perennial complaint about the Web Accessibility Initiative and accessibility advocates generally: Theyve got no style. They have no understanding of graphic design and typography, and they project this ignorance onto the rest of the world.

To use one of my maxims, accessibility opponents think accessibility means a text-only Web site and hate the idea, while accessibility advocates also think it means a text-only site and love the idea. Theyre both wrong.

One consequence of this ignorance of visual design? The implicit claim that every illustration can be epitomized in words. You could only make this claim if you were so visually unsophisticated that you couldnt differentiate one kind of illustration from another. Of course, this is hogwash: The reason why we use illustrations is because words (or numbers) are sometimes too hard to understand by themselves.

A graph of stock performance, radar weather maps, ultrasound images any picture that is worth much more than a thousand words presents a quandary. The goal here is accessibility a disabled visitor must have equivalent access to the information conveyed by the graphic. If the underlying data is numeric, in theory you could provide the underlying data (as through the longdesc attribute of the img element just set up an HTML file, or, theoretically, a spreadsheet or a PDF, that could be loaded to describe the illustration at length).

But remember, all that numeric data was so hard to understand for nondisabled people that it was turned into a chart; now youre expecting screen-reader users to wade through those numbers one at a time? Like packing, unpacking, and repacking a suitcase, converting data to graphics and back again tends to leave something behind in the transformation.

You may have provided a text equivalent in such a case, but you have not provided accessibility.

I am not giving a carte-blanche exemption here. Many charts and graphs have one or two key points that could, in fact, be added to something as simple as an alt text: alt="Graph shows 12.2% increase in HIV seroconversion in gay males 18 to 24, 1996 to 2001". Even severely complex illustrations require at least a structural placeholder, like alt="Hubble photograph of Jupiter, its rings, and its satellites".

Its true that genuinely equal access to the information embodied in complex illustrations can be unattainable. These are exceptional cases, but they do come up.

Useful links:

  • National Braille Associations recommended practices for converting illustrations into accessible forms
  • PopChart by Corda attempts to automatically write long descriptions of (numerical) graphs


by gmhowell (26755)

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 TTYs. The various Web boards that have supplanted them dont seem like they would work as well (sorry, havent tried any yet; those Braille TTYs aint cheap).

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

I need help with tech solutions for the deaf-blind. Please contact me via E-mail if you have any experience in this.

Well, deaf-blind people are difficult to accommodate. Theyre also rare: Though adequate population numbers are hard to find, perhaps 11,000 deaf-blind people live in the U.S. But in some contexts, the fact that theyre deaf has no bearing on accessibility. Blindness is the issue.

Screen readers (manufacturer list) not only can turn Web sites and computer software into voice, they can also typically output text to Braille displays. (I wouldnt call them Braille TTYs, since those are used to communicate by telephone.) Braille displays are fascinating, rarefied, and costly devices. Tieman, Freedom Scientific, and ALVA are notable manufacturers. Not all that many people use them, in part because not all that many people read Braille (maybe 10% of blind people), though essentially all deaf-blind people read Braille.

Anyway, for a Web site that does not include multimedia, the fact that youre also deaf has no influence on accessibility if youre already blind. For a deaf-blind person using a screen reader with a Braille display, ordinary Web accessibility becomes the issue, though Id say that navigation help becomes much more important there. Experienced speech-output users run speech at superhuman speeds (300 words a minute is not uncommon), meaning you can burn through a page, albeit in serial fashion, pretty quickly. Given that Braille displays provide one or a couple of lines of Braille at a time, its a more time-consuming procedure.

Now, for sites that do contain multimedia, there is no viable option. An obvious course of action (requested by one activist group) would be to combine caption transcripts and audio-description scripts so that one could essentially read a text rendering of a videoclip, but there is no technology that can actually do that yet. (Yet. I have plans.) Combined script-transcripts of this sort have been attempted manually a couple of times (and I mentioned the idea back in 1999), but I dont know of any research on how well it all worked.

Alternative (non-computer) devices

by superflippy

Increasingly, people are using non-computer devices (cell phones, PDAs) 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)?

Im not really up on that topic. The PAC Mate is one such device; its essentially a screen reader without a screen or free-standing computer.

Accessible site, or accessible browser?

by vofka

I am a partially-sighted person, and I have to admit that I do frequently have difficulty with accessibility 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, Im 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?

Its important and overlooked. It would be nice if we had a browser that actually supported all of HTML; we dont (no, not even Mozilla). Then it would be nice if CSS1 and CSS2 were fully supported admittedly an onerous task what with the myriad interactions and the various ambiguities in the spec.

At that point, yes, the user customizability in CSS and the many options available in HTML would presumably be up to the user to control. I think its ridiculous that the only really effective way to override a page authors CSS is for you, the harried, humble Web-surfer, to write your own CSS declarations (dont forget !important!) and activate the file in your browser, if thats even possible. This is the sort of thing that should be built into browser preferences, available for easy use. The first time you start up a browser, it should explicitly ask you if you have any accessibility requirements; a lot of people dont even know about what few customization features browsers currently offer.

Ill make another of my analogies. Remember the lack of visual sophistication of accessibility advocates? They want designers to work at their level by providing accessibility, but they never seem to understand that the converse is also true accessibility activists must learn to work at designers level by providing good site design. By the same token, if page authors are expected to use every practical accessibility feature, then browser makers must be expected to support all of them and support them well.

In the immortal words of Comedy Central, Weve upped our standards. Up yours!

See also: User Agent Accessibility Guidelines.

Physical vs. cognitive political clout

by Aquitaine

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 13 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, its W3C/WAI compliant across the board, but its 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

To answer your first question: A single interface works for most Web sites. You can simply make the site itself intrinsically accessible to most disability groups.

The only alternative the question seems to envisage is specifically custom-designing an alternative interface for disabled users. In other words, a site would exist in two or more predesigned forms. Thats not the only way.

Some work is being done to permit people and the devices they use to specify formats and capabilities they may possess or require. Have a look at Composite Capabilities/Preferences Profiles. It all boils down to semantic markup again. A single HTML page, if marked up properly, could be visited by a plain-Jane browser and displayed in a way thats familiar to nondisabled users; nothing special would happen.

But if you had a CC/PP-compliant browser or other device, and if the page were coded correctly, and if the server understood CC/PP protocols, then the page would automatically reconfigure itself to your needs without the original page authors having to do anything special. In fact, authors could not predict what kind of transformations would occur, nor would they care.

So a few things could happen. If youre totally blind, your page could be rearranged so the search box and content are at the top, with sidebars, navbars, and anything else uninteresting at the end and no images loaded at all. A low-vision person could ask for larger type on content sections and normal-sized type everywhere else, unless a command were issued to blow up, say, a navbar. (There could be continuous interaction between the user and the server.)

XHTML 2.0 might push this concept along a little, what with its section element, but its all still a pipe dream, really.

Now, as to the second question, putting blind and deaf people together in a group claimed to have an enormous amount of political clout is not really applicable to Web accessibility. Deaf people face very few accessibility barriers in using the Web multimedia is pretty much it. Blind people face very large barriers because the Web is a visual medium. Theres a qualitative difference.

Its true that people with cognitive disabilities have been neglected in Web accessibility. Why? Few people in the wider accessibility field have expertise on the topic. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, when its finished, will contain many more provisions for this group.

The qualitative difference remains. It is arguably difficult or impossible to make Web sites most of which are dominated by text genuinely accessible even to certain specific groups with cognitive disabilities. Remedies proposed in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 drafts would not guarantee access for learning-disabled people. Some of those remedies involve adding illustrations (non-text content) to every single page (yes, the Web Accessibility Initiative may issue that requirement) or rewriting the page according to some kind of half-arsed, doctrinaire editing scheme.

There wouldnt be the same jump in accessibility between a noncompliant site and one that meets those guidelines as you would find with, say, visual impairment. Sites would end up being merely less confusing as opposed to not confusing. You might have met the spec, but you could not be sure you had achieved accessibility.

Certain cognitive disabilities do not even require accommodation online.

Moreover, while accessibility for many other disability groups almost never alters the visual appearance of a page (visible skip-navigation links are a counterexample), it could be argued that a page thats truly accessible to people with learning or cognitive disabilities would have to be custom-created by experts. Thats the stark truth involved in achieving high accessibility for this group. You have to alter content as opposed to metadata or presentation. To accommodate other disabilities, you add information, like alt texts; to accommodate certain learning disabilities, you must remove or alter information.

I am in favour of improved accessibility for cognitively-disabled persons, but Ill only support proposals that can be shown to actually make sites accessible to that group. Im also not willing to destroy the Web as we know it ostensibly in order to save it for a disability group whose needs might not even be met in the process.

Nobody has presented credible evidence that current proposals actually will work, and certainly the evidence supporting the current WCAG 2.0 proposals is weak. In other words, if we want to fix this problem, its going to take a lot more work.

And to answer the final question, Section 508 regulations backhandedly incorporate almost all of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, but go beyond the latter in certain respects. Both guideline sets have all sorts of problems, but complying with either of them will assure reasonable accessibility for large numbers of people.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Joe Clark's Answers -- In Valid XHTML

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  • by redtail1 ( 603986 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:04PM (#4844534)
    From the blurb...
    I copy-edited all the questions, but the words are all the same; they are now merely spelled and capitalized correctly. I think all the links work.
    Very cool. Hire him!
  • And so is his response!

    I propose a new mod of -1:Too many words!

    • And so is his response! I propose a new mod of -1:Too many words!

      reminds me of the royal in the movie "Mozart" : "There are too many notes"

      To which the reply was: "Tell me which ones you want me to take out"

  • Whatever.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mansemat ( 65131 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:07PM (#4844562)

    Let's see, a guy takes some of his precious time and answers questions for your readers (unpaid I assume), and you show your gratitude with a snide comment such as Whatever. because he took a little extra time to format things the way he wanted to.

    Way to go /.! editors...


    • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:10PM (#4844588) Journal
      >> but variety is the spice of Slashdot

      Yeah, sure it is..

      "Hey guys linux look linux linux linux linux ms sucks linux linux OSX i love linux beowulf clusters."

      Any 'variety' opinion wise is modded down into oblivion.
    • Re:Whatever.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wheany ( 460585 ) <> on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:11PM (#4844597) Homepage Journal
      Especially since Slashdot uses almost, but not quite, the exact opposite of valid HTML.

      Besides: Tables for formatting are dead, long live css. If they used css, they wouldn't have to break long strings of characters with spaces, because only the offending comment would be wide, not the whole damn page...
    • Re:Whatever.... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by b0r1s ( 170449 )
      They're clearly upset that he performed simple editorial tasks to correct spelling and capitalization. Obviously those are things editors should do, but the slashdot editors are notorious for being unable to spell even trivial words correctly.

      Yet another reason that this site will not make it past 2003.
      • If you are serious, I will bet you whatever you want that slashdot will make it past 2003.
        • Re:Whatever.... (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          VA Software is trading at about $1.19. They'll be delisted by Q2.

          They lost $4,000,000 in Q1 2003, and $54,000,000 (yes, 54 MILLION) in Q1 2002. They do have quite a large chunk of money in the bank, but losing $16,000,000 a year, they'll run out in three years.

          They're leveling off, but they're certainly not anywhere near profitable. Just check out the chart [].

    • Re:Whatever.... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Malc ( 1751 )
      Damn right! He put far more effort in to it than Billy boy did last week. Shatner left me with a bad (worse?) impression. Thank you Mr. Clark.
    • Re:Whatever.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Flavio ( 12072 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:45PM (#4844832)
      Well said.

      Slashdot "editors" seem to take pride in their shitty spelling and grammar, and someone who actually takes their time to produce readable, correct text is a target for their contempt.

      It all goes back to what we've all been saying for several years (and CmdrTaco has admitted it himself): if not for Slashdot, these guys would be flipping burgers.

      Note that I'm not pressing anyone to act like a square -- I just want them to have a little more class.
    • Re:Whatever.... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by FattMattP ( 86246 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @02:19PM (#4845083) Homepage
      Let's see, a guy takes some of his precious time and answers questions for your readers (unpaid I assume), and you show your gratitude with a snide comment such as Whatever. because he took a little extra time to format things the way he wanted to.
      I hope people remember that before they subscribe to slashdot. They'll be paying to remove the ads, not to have a higher quality web site.
  • by MrFredBloggs ( 529276 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:07PM (#4844565) Homepage
    Yeah, if he spell-checked/corrected it first...
  • Rob Malda, CTO of Slashdot, under the name of "CmdrTaco", decided he would take two hours of his precious time to make slashdot's code compliant to a standard. Any standard. Slashdot's stock price dropped even lower than usually, it is understood that wasting TWO WHOLE HOURS to write compliant code was too big a spoil for the already too low cash reserve of the company. Film at 11.
  • by airrage ( 514164 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:08PM (#4844577) Homepage Journal
    I think one of this guy's answers had as many words as the entire Bill Shatner interview. Nice job.
  • "Whatever" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:10PM (#4844596)
    It's nice to see slashdot's dedication to supporting and implementing standards.
    • Re:"Whatever" (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "Standards are law! Standards are great! Standards should be followed always! Except when they apply to us."

    • Re:"Whatever" (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I think the "Whatever" was a response to "I copy-edited all the questions, but the words are all the same; they are now merely spelled and capitalized correctly. I think all the links work."

      Methinks some of the Slashdot editors have very thin skins to take offense at remarks not even directed at them - unless they Do know about their own sloppy work, and resent it being pointed out, even indirectly?...
  • Wow! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by helstar ( 172465 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:12PM (#4844609) Homepage
    He actually took the time to fix our spelling and grammar and Rob says "Whatever", not even a bit of thanks. Why not work on that extra-special spell check feature so many have been begging for?
  • This is obviously the type of "valid XHTML" that crashes Mac IE (OS 9). Hmmmmm......
  • Exactly! (Score:5, Funny)

    by sootman ( 158191 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:13PM (#4844612) Homepage Journal
    Joe: ...[T]he words are all... spelled and capitalized correctly. I think all the links work.
    Roblimo: Whatever... It's a little different from our usual style...

    Couldn't've said it better myself. :-)
  • 1) I bet a lot of people wish Captain Kirk [] had replied this thoroughly.

    2) I bet there is now, or there will soon be, a huge market for web developers that specialize in accessiblity. This is definitely a few steps further than making sure all the major browsers can view your content.

    3) I wish I had thought of this when the interview was up, but how difficult is it to create websites with text to speech software in mind? Would it be better to have a section that spells all the words phonetically so they are the most understandable to the end user? It seems that it should be possible to automate that process, rather than having to maintain two versions of the site, or having to create audio files that play automatically with an onMouseover.
  • Wired's new look (Score:5, Interesting)

    by joib ( 70841 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:23PM (#4844705)
    Wired [] has introduced a new layout, which is xhtml compliant (and looks quite sophisticated too). See this interview [] for more info.
  • I took a look at the source code for this page to see what he was talking about and I know the guy sent his very own file nicely formatted, but you guys should at least have removed the <html> <head> and <body> tags from his document. It is extremely bad form to insert a whole html document inside another one. I don't think this page renders well in most browsers. Maybe the Slashdot Editors can update the story removing that from the source code?
    • by wsapplegate ( 210233 ) <> on Monday December 09, 2002 @02:14PM (#4845048) Homepage
      > but you guys should at least have removed the [...] tags from his document. It is extremely bad form to insert a whole html document inside another one.

      Huuuuhhh... You're talking about Slashdot, the website for standards-loving geeks and nerds who doesn't even validate [] (and note that they've forbidden entry [] to to hide the fact). In comparison, another site where I dwell, LinuxFR []; not only validates [] but doesn't use old-fashioned table-based layouts, ditched in favor of more modern and user-customisable floating layers. To this day, I'm still ashamed at the sheer number of sites (even Linux/OSS/Free Software ones) that don't even do the minimum to be good netizens : provide an error-free site with a DOCTYPE that triggers standards-compliance mode in browsers. I shouldn't maybe draw conclusions too fast (some of these sites could still use non-standards-compliant middleware like ad banners generators and the like. I believe I remember Wired's Douglas Bowman said this were the major cause hampering efforts towards compliance) but I think the main problem lies with the laziness and the usual if it works with IE, it works nearly everywhere state of mind. And you can throw all the blows and whistles you want into your new shiny standards to attract followers, you cannot overcome laziness... *sigh*
  • by mdemeny ( 35326 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:25PM (#4844717) Homepage
    You may also be interested in his article in The Atlantic [] , The King of Closed Captions []

    Also, the content on his content-related weblog The Nublog [] is pretty interesting.

    He may be abrasive sometimes, but he usually gets it right. Moreso than Jakob Neilsen [].

  • This isn't at all what I expected the principal from Lean On Me to be like!
  • The interviewee talks about companies being forced/sued to be accessible, in the real world and on the web. Does anybody know what laws govern this? What is Section 508, or the WAI?

    I'm not sure that there ought to be laws mandating accessibility to disabled people. I mean, that's really upto the business or individuals concerned.
  • Cover Photo (Score:5, Funny)

    by Transient0 ( 175617 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:25PM (#4844726) Homepage
    Joe Clark has written a book []. Does anyone else notice a striking similarity between the cover photo and a certain infamous image [].

    Sorry, not meaning to troll. I like Joe Clark, I also work in accessiblity. It's just that that image(the book cover) is right on his main page, and I can't go there without having my visual memory of things I would rather not remember activated.
  • Valid? (Score:2, Funny)

    by brunson ( 91995 )
    ...or well-formed?
  • Inconsistent (Score:2, Insightful)

    by new_breed ( 569862 )
    Why is only the first headline numbered '1)' and the rest not?
  • Let's see (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Merovign ( 557032 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:32PM (#4844760)
    (this is only half-joke)

    Convert all web pages to accessible formats, convert all books (ever) to audio books, redesign pedestrian access for the sightless...

    or put money into researching artificial eyes.

    I honestly wonder which would be cheaper?

    There is a real problem with spending all of your time accomodating a problem rather than fixing it.

    I used to work with hearing-impaired people (have forgotten most of my ASL), there was a definite "subculture" atmosphere that really didn't spend any time caring about a cure, some of them (not all) just wanted other people to do the work for them.

    Not to say that there should be no accomodation, there are no guarantees after all. But the problem with ADA and other such "devices" is that, like farm subsidies or AFDC, you can build a culture of entitlement that masks the problem instead of solving it.
    • There have been great strides in artificial eye technology: I think Slashdot even posted a link to a rudimentary artificial eye prototype already: the person with these artificial eyes percieves sight as flashes around the outlines of objects. It's amazing stuff and it's certainly an area of active research.

      The main problem though is interfacing with the brain, and that's not an easy nut to crack. In particular, there is pretty much no hope at all for someone who is blind from birth; such people have a stunted visual cortex so even if they were given eagle eye artificial optics, it would be useless as their brains would be incapable of processing the information, so they wouldn't even understand the _concept_ of vision. I'd link to the story if I could find it, but suffice it to say it'll be quite some time before all forms of blindness can be eradicated.

      And on the topic of vision concept, here's an idle thought: imagine if everything red looked green to you, everything green looked blue and everything blue looked red. How would you know that your perception of a given colour wasn't the same as someone else's? (answer: you can't. Think about it. Maybe this explains why some people have totally screwed up senses of aesthetics. Or in fact you could extend it further; how do you know that other people even 'see' the same way as you do? A few very rare people can see four primary colours. Imagine what THAT would feel like. But I've gone even further off topic now than I was originally...)
    • HTML *used* to be perfectly accessable. It was *beautifully* designed so that anyone could use it. It's with all the new layout-oriented stuff that people start being made miserable -- some browsers can't display some sites properly, blind/deaf people are put at a disadvantage, you need a fair amount of CPU time just to browse web pages.
    • But see, the point is that if you do all your websites to standards, that's a lot of the accessibility work done right there. It's not doing extra work for accesibility, it's doing the job right. And I'd even argue that making your website accessible (in 508 terms) is part of doing the job right - the web is about disseminating information and making it available to everyone.

    • Re:Let's see (Score:3, Informative)

      by pjrc ( 134994 )
      (this is only half-joke)

      But it's fully covered in Joe's answer to the question posted by "acehole".

      Convert all web pages to accessible formats, convert all books (ever) to audio books, redesign pedestrian access for the sightless...

      or put money into researching artificial eyes.

      Joe put it very well. You obviously missed it:

      I also reject, in the strongest possible terms, the offensive and offhand claim that accessibility can be achieved "at great expense." I believe the colloquial term for a claim like this is bullshit. "Updating" or retrofitting a site for accessibility does cost more than designing it properly in the first place, but that's true everywhere: Have you costed out adding barrier-free access to an old building vs. including it in the original designs? Retrofitting may cost more, but I deny that the expense is "great." Even very extensive sites with huge swaths of multimedia can be made accessible, and it is doubtful that, given the budgets of such sites, the expense would be "great."

      I honestly wonder which would be cheaper?

      I honestly wonder if you read the answer to the second question, where Joe says that HTML-based sites can take care of much of the accessibility problem by simply using valid HTML with good ALT tags, and including a "skip nav links" link near the top of the page.

      Even if you went crazy and did all this stuff [], it's all pretty simple and easy things to do. Much of it is just good practice in HTML. Most of the "captioning" (that ordinary IE users never see) is helpful for indexing in google and other search engines, which is pretty good reason to do it anyway.

      The key point is that it's not expensive. Almost every single image on every good website involves quite a bit of work, at least croping and scaling. Many times a thumbnail is created and a link made to the larger image, or a dedicated page with the larger image. Fancy drop shadowing and other effects are commonly added, as are rounded corners. Considerable work goes of course goes into creating the image in the first place, wether that's composing it or taking a photo (posing the subject, lighting, transfering from the digital camera or negative, etc).

      The effort (and expense) of an ALT tag is so very minor compared to the effort/expense that went into the original preparation of the image and its placement within the site.

      Likewise, adding a "skip nav" link into the nav bar is a rather trivial task compared to the design of the nav bar itself. Many sites are built from a template (like mine). All you need to do is add it into the template. Yes, that does take some small amount of work, which is more than doing nothing, but compared to all the work that went into the nav bar, it's really very minor. Sites that don't update from a template STILL go to all the trouble of having navigation links. They're doing it _somehow_, and adding just more more tiny link, that's the same on every page and never even "breaks" because it always points within the same page is really just a very tiny increase.

      It's really not hard. I did it to my site today after reading Joe's responses. I probably spent about 20 minutes on it, mostly updating some test pages before updating the live site. Now, I'll admit that I haven't updated the home page and some special pages yet... but the vast majority of pages that are built from the template were very easily updated. Also, I should admit that I checked a several sites and nearly all are using the approach of a small invisible GIF with "skip navigational links" as the ALT text (contrary to Joe's suggestion)... so I went with the established practice used on lots of other major sites that are targeted at people with disabilities.

      Nearly all my images (about 630 unique files on have ALT text already, as that's just a normal part of good HTML practice.

      It's really very cheap and easy. I can afford it. I spent no money, 20 minutes on the "skip nav" link, and I just type an ALT tag for every image (which is less work than even the simplest image processing). It costs a LOT less than research to develop artificial organs!

  • by wytcld ( 179112 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:37PM (#4844788) Homepage
    Most of the modded-up responses so far are disrespectful. Certainly some sites should try to be accessible to various sorts of people with different assortments of sensory function. We have here some generous advice on how to do that.

    So what's the dissing about? Maybe it has to do with my own reaction to the general notion that all the Web should be accessible to the disabled. Should we ruin the design of a site for 99 visitors just to make it more appealing to 1? Should ski resorts have to provide wheelchair accessible slopes? With the majority of our media currently focused on services for the mentally disabled, how much farther should we go? Is the ideal to produce a world in which everyone is equally crippled - or may as well be?

    Those question aren't at issue here. We should be discussing how to make sites which desire to be accessible work. Right?

  • All very interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sielwolf ( 246764 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:37PM (#4844794) Homepage Journal
    The main problem with enforcing standards on the web is twofold. First, the web is very ad hoc. It isn't like television or telephone which is regulated by the government and maintained by singular utilities. Also it is inherently multimedia which means you can get some far out web designs that, although interesting in an art-installation sort of way, are in no ways easy to use.

    Second is that the web is considered a secondary or tertiary source of information at best. I mean unless you are using it for periodicals or the like, the web is a lot of free-floating crap and ego-stroking []. We all know that web access is a privelige and broadband is outright rare (beyond the geek-centric). Outside of Amazon and a few others, what companies actually do a bulk (or even a significant minority... say 10%) of their business online?

    Of course some other natures of the Web make it perfect for the disabled: it is pull-media and electronic information that can be parsed (unlike say reading a newspaper or getting info at a mall kiosk).

    But until internet access is as common as asphalt roads (which don't exist on probably 50% of inhabited areas) making demands of this fledgling tech is a bit much. Now should demands be made? Definitely. But can you expect reasonable results? Probably not.

    Personally I'd rather see the government spend money on stemming the tide of AIDS and easily curable diseases in the 3rd world instead of worrying if [] is standards compliant.
  • Take a look at the source. There are a few things that intrigue me, and some that seem annoying.

    He uses lots of "title" attributes in his links, which, in my browser (Mozilla 1.1), can only be read if I mouse over each and every link; I can't tab to them and see the meta information. Some of them seem pretty useful context info, unfortunately..

    There's the "abbr" markup, such as: <abbr title="(audio) description">DX</abbr> which gets underlined in Mozilla, which is a neat tag I didn't know about, but also requires mousing over it and waiting a second for the meta info.

    For some reason, punctuation characters are apparently turned into Unicode HTML elements, such as &#8217 for single-quote. I'd love to know why that's good standards.

    • I probably can't actually demonstrate it to you because the Slashcode will filter them out (LAME), but what he's doing is using curly rather than straight quotes.

      There are three single quotes and three double quotes common on most computers. Good old ' and " which are straight, and the much nicer to look at curly or "smart" quotes (see MS Word, or the post above).

      I think &rdquo; would make a right double quote if Slashdot allowed me to enter one.

      Many people edit their HTML text in Word or some other editor which automatically inserts curly quotes. However, you'll often see a problem if the article writer has a Mac and you have a PC, or vice versa. All of the "smart" curly quotes get converted to meaingless codes like this: it?s. This is because the curly quotes aren't in the 7-bit (0..127) ASCII range, rather they're either Microsoft or Apple 8-bit (0..255) extensions, which are different.

      In order to avoid that happening to anyone he's using Unicode escapes which specify the character precisely. Ultimately, it wouldn't really be necessary if people used better tools to edit HTML, or used Unicode aware editors and had their web server mark the pages as Unicode when served.
  • "but variety is the spice of Slashdot"

    that is pretty funny.
  • "..variety is the spice of Slashdot."
    Yeah right!
  • by hardave ( 87702 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:51PM (#4844878)
    This will probablly burn Karma, but oh well.

    Joe Who??

    For the moderators, this isn't a troll, it's just bad Canadian political humour, and I suppose I can understand you getting the two confused. Google for Joe Clark.
  • by tiltowait ( 306189 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @01:59PM (#4844934) Homepage Journal
    I had the same problem with CSS being stripped from a story I submitted []. Yes there can be lameness-filter problems with allowing CSS, but the more Taco tightens his grip...
  • I'd like to know how to overcome Pareto's 80-20 law. It states that 20% of ones time will be spent accomplishing 80% of a goal, and the rest to fill in the remaining 20% If I can cut out 80% of my development time by eliminating unneeded features like accessibility (hear me out) Im going to. I say that accessibility is unneeded, but I mean that there is a good quantity of information available that may be narrated, but would not convey the same information as a visual counterpart. Is there a need to make the Guggenheim museum narrate that that "starry night" is a picture of a nighttime sky and skyline in an impressionist style." What is a disabled user going to take away from that? While I whole heartedly agree that online taxpayer funded services should be accessible, I cant see any need for a photo album to include alt tags, or a movie to be narrated, or a flash animation to include audio cues. For the most part however I think that the money spent on these items would be far better spent on curing blindness. I have no doubt in my mind that that will happen before half the web is accessible.
  • by MichaelCrawford ( 610140 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @02:25PM (#4845131) Homepage Journal
    I couldn't quite fit the title in the space allowed for the subject.

    One of the most important things that you need to do to make a website accessible is to use valid markup. This is also important to allow interoperability with standards-based browsers like Opera and Mozilla.

    You can ensure your site has valid markup by using a validator to check your HTML. You will find that you have an easier time writing valid markup after working with a validator for a few pages, after that you'll find very few mistakes, and they will be easy to fix. Don't let the validator's complaints about your first attempts scare you.

    Maintaining server responsiveness while under heavy user load is important for basic usability for any user. You can test how your application responds to heavy traffic by testing with a load generator.

    Please read:

    Thank you for your attention.

  • Apostrophes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fruit ( 31966 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @02:29PM (#4845158) Homepage

    I notice that Joe Clark consistently uses a single closing quote (') as an apostrophe in his text. Now I know this is common practice in the typesetting business, but aren't those two characters conceptually different symbols?

    Wouldn't it be better--and easier--to use the simple ASCII apostrophe (') instead?

  • by telstar ( 236404 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @02:33PM (#4845192)
    ...until the same story gets posted 3 or 4 times.
  • by lordpixel ( 22352 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @02:43PM (#4845262) Homepage
    OK, so let's look at this XHTML compliant document shall we?

    Do a view source, look at the first coupld of lines, which is the same ordinary "start of page" you're going to find on every page on Slashdot:

    "<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 3.2 Final//EN">
    <html><head><title>Slashdot | Joe Clark's Answers -- In Valid XHTML</title>"

    See how it claims to be HTML 3.2. Not XHTML at all.

    So now we page down 3-4 times.... now we see this:

    <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN"
    " al.dtd">
    <html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en">
    <meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html;
    charset=iso-8859-1" />
    <title>Ask the Expert: Accessibility</title>

    Hilarious. So this guy sent them a complete, well-formatted XHTML document, and they pasted it into a

    tag in the middle of a regular Slashdot page.

    What exactly was that supposed to achieve? How stupid do you have to be?

    At the very least they could have stripped out the and tags, because as it is they now have a document with *nested* html, and body elemements, and 2 head elements. This is illegal in every version of HTML that's ever existed.

    Utterly utterly missing the point!

    Even worse, Slashdot's Plain Old Text mode doesn't even let me paste that HTML in. I have to go through by hand and manually escape each and every < and > into &lt; and &gt; . What's the point of a plain text mode that doesn't know how to escape stuff for me. I can't just type Plain Old Text - instead I have to know all about escape codes and enter them myself?

  • CSS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by decathexis ( 451196 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @02:48PM (#4845303) Homepage
    Many people have complained about the fact that the posted XHTML response looks "ugly". I don't see how you can blame XHTML for this. I thought Slashdot editors would have figured out how to slap 3 lines of CSS on top of Joe Clark's XHTML, which would make it fit with Slashdot style while preserving 100% of accessibility. That's what the separation of content and presentation is all about.

    Instead, they left it anadourned so that it clashes with the rest of the site and provides them with a pathetic excuse for continuing using font and table tags instead of semantic markup. Whatever.

  • by Buran ( 150348 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @02:57PM (#4845403)
    Ok, instead of complaining about the bad HTML in the story, try this:

    In the response to the question of accessibility and the law governing it, the answer includes: "it is not reasonable to expect disabled people to go somewhere else to get the same information or enjoy the same experience."

    If that is the case, then why is it apparently OK for a movie theater to fail to provide subtitled films? I have never once been able to walk into a theater on a given day and say "I'm deaf and I need subtitles on this film." Yet, adding subtitles is trivial especially with more films being produced digitally or even projected digitally. The technology is right there under their noses, and it's commonplace on TV now. It's been required in new TVs since 1990.

    Yet the theaters seem to think it's reasonable to tell me to wait til a film hits DVD so I can turn on captions or subtitles. I'm sorry, but that doesn't cut it. Telling me I have to wait while telling the person with normal hearing next to me that they can see the film Right Now If You Buy A Ticket is inexcusable.

    Oh, and those audio assist headphones you're probably about to tell me about in your reply? They don't work for the completely deaf or those who already wear hearing aids. Like me. Sorry, do not pass Go, try again.

    Wehrenberg, one of the two chains in my area, offers a few open captioned films, but not on any date, not in any theater, and by far not the films I want to see. I want LOTR. I want Insurrection. I want Die Another Day. I want Harry Potter. I've never heard of Truth about Charlie or Red Dragon.

    Please, write in and tell 'em it's inexcusable.

    Wehrenberg Theatres
    1215 Des Peres Road
    St. Louis, MO 63131

    American Multi Cinema
    2049 Century Park East Suite 1020
    Los Angeles, CA 90067
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @03:44PM (#4845792) Homepage
    ... Unless you have an airtight reason (like you're stuck using an old content-management system you cannot afford to replace), I really don't want to have anything to do with you unless you'reproducing valid HTML....

    this is the phrase that needs to be said by EVERY hiring manager for every web design firm on the planet. 90% of all the problems with accessability are because of LAZY webdesigners not adhering to HTML standard and producing VALID html. And no, Microsoft IE specific is NOT valid HTML.... I dont see it mentioned anywhere in the HTML spec.
  • by jpsowin ( 325530 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @03:52PM (#4845866) Homepage
    At Rob's site, he says:

    "I belong to the Online News Association, Internet Press Guild, and Society of Professional Journalists, in case that matters to anyone. I am an excellent copy editor and proofreader, and I could easily edit CmdrTaco's and Hemos's writing into Perfect English, but I like them both just as they are. Indeed, I believe their (as I often call it) "unique approach to the English language" is partially responsible for Slashdot's success. (More on that in my book.)"

  • Thats funny (Score:3, Funny)

    by emkman ( 467368 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @05:07PM (#4846502)
    variety is the spice of Slashdot.

    I never knew variety and repost were synonyms
  • by clink ( 148395 ) on Monday December 09, 2002 @05:19PM (#4846596)
    Section 508 clearly defines...
  • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @04:46AM (#4852496) Homepage Journal
    ``In one of the many ironies of Web development, it is indie developers like me who have a higher success rate in achieving valid, accessible sites even though larger commercial operations are the ones where valid HTML and accessibility are more urgently needed.''
    I think this is largely due to the stubbornness of PHBs. They don't want the relatively new accessibility features, they want what has worked in the past: <font>, <br> and <img>. In part, they are right. If your entire website is in HTML 2.0 with FONT tags all over, changing that to XHTML with CSS is a huge venture. It is well-known that such operations are costly and error-prone. CSS is a compatibility nightmare due to lacking browser support (especially from the folks at Redmond). And the vast majority of viewers are thought to be better served by a flashy but standards-violating site than a standards-compliant site that doesn't look perfect due to their browser not fully supporting those standards.

    Another issue is laziness, uncompetence, or convenience. Many webmasters prefer using specialized authoring tools for creating their websites in a WYSIWYG manner. I don't know any such tool that complies to the latest standards as well as me and my text editor do. WYSIWYG is the wrong paradigm for websites. They are browsed in vastly different environments, by vastly different people, with vastly different needs, and corresponding software. The correct paradigm would be WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean), in line with the ideal of the semantic web. I've seen people use tools that provide buttons for making text bold or underlined, but not for emphasis or strong emphasis. It makes me barf. It can be argued that web authoring tools are less error-prone than typing in a text editor. This would be true, if the code output by said tools would be valid according to current standards. It is said that authoring tools are efficient. This is probably true for some. I am quicker with a good text editor than with any authoring tool I've tried. Menu options? No thanks, I'd rather type tags and run scripts. In some cases, easy to use authoring tools can be a necessity. Suppose that various departments had different sections on the website where they periodically posted updates. The people working in those departments may not have enough expertise to author XHTML. They shouldn't have to. Hiring a qualified webmaster for each department may not be an option. Here, authoring tools help out. If the code they spit out stinks, that's the price you pay for not hiring a qualified webmaster. It's a trade-off.

    One thing that bothers me when writing webpages is the unability to test things. I can check if my webpage is compliant with XHTML 1.1. I can check that my CSS is valid. I can verify that it works well with lynx. I can even have friends check if it works well with MicroSoft Internet Explorer. However, that still doesn't tell me how accessible my page is to people with disabilities. I can't test how it works in OmniCorp's BrailleBrowser, because I don't own a copy, and I can't read braille anyway. I can put in aural CSS if I want, but I have no way to do anything meaningful with it, as I don't have any software that interprets it. I don't know anybody who does use a braille browser, or a screen reader that interprets aural CSS. I don't know where to get software to test these things, and if it requires me to pay up, never mind, it's just a hobby. The best I can do is making sure my pages comply to standards and hope for the best.