Web Accessibility Is For Everyone
July 23, 2015 8:02 AM   Subscribe

For most of us, the internet is functionally a necessity, with much of our lives lived on or enabled by the Web. But for the disabled, the internet is too often an unfriendly, inaccessible place, with many sites and services not being designed to support accessibility. But Web accessibility needs to be for everyone, in our ever more connected world, not only from the standpoint of letting the disabled into an increasingly important public accommodation, but because accessibility is just good design. (SLSlate)
posted by NoxAeternum (33 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd love to hear the output of a voice reader on that glorious web page.
posted by sammyo at 8:19 AM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Twitter/Facebook: When are you going to support alt-text? This is getting ridiculous.
posted by schmod at 8:22 AM on July 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


The most recent high watermark for web accessibility (for blind people) was about 2008, when IE6 was still stopping everyone from innovating, screenreaders and accessibility APIs had caught up with presenting web pages, and CSS/JavaScript were still supplementary to HTML rather than replacing it.

We've had law demanding accessibility for years, but it doesn't help. The 2005 Target case was supposed to usher in a new world of accessible websites.

But for sites it's more important to look nice and modern than work with screenreaders. And for developers it's more important to be cutting-edge and cool than be accessible. These things shouldn't be either/or, but still: where accessibility is optional, it'll always come second.
posted by alasdair at 8:33 AM on July 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


The "single-page-app ALL the things" trend is really not helping this.

There's a growing cohort of developers that sees the browser solely as the cross-platform runtime that won, that would have preferred something that looked a lot like Java, Flash, or Silverlight (even if they're quick to point out the problems with each), and that doesn't understand the web has other advantages that go beyond write-once run-anywhere.

And their idea of progress apparently means moving away from progressively-enhanced accessible semantic markup as the media type for a given URL to returning a custom client that consumes JSON.
posted by weston at 8:41 AM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


From here:

6. The licensee shall provide audio description for all the key elements of Canadian information programs, including news programming. For the purposes of this condition of licence, “audio description” refers to announcers reading aloud the key textual and graphic information that is displayed on the screen during information programs.

So in Canada at least, they're required by law to cater for a blind audience. There's no commercial incentive to do so, it'll take legislation.
posted by adept256 at 8:46 AM on July 23, 2015


But for sites it's more important to look nice and modern than work with screenreaders.

. . . and SEO trumps all.

I have several visually impared friends, and yeah, modern web design is a huge pain.

If we could ask just a couple changes it'd be:
  1. Don't put important text -- like titles and headings -- inside a graphic.
  2. Use the title="  " attribute on image tags to say what the image is.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:47 AM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


3. Use the LABEL element in your forms, it makes it SO MUCH easier to understand what you need to put in each field.
4. Use semantically-meaningful HTML instead of CSS-styled DIVs - so INPUT and BUTTON.

Of course, the really helpful one you can't tell people is "never change your web site: blind users get to know where things are and how to get stuff to work, so long as you don't change it..."
posted by alasdair at 8:58 AM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


The most recent high watermark for web accessibility (for blind people) was about 2008,

In everyday actually using the web terms this isn't really true. The iPhone and iPad with VoiceOver has opened up the web to people who can benefit from screen readers but found keyboard navigation of a PC's graphical interface too difficult or intimidating, leaving aside the expense of acquiring the software for Windows to begin with.

The biggest problem lately seems to be web ads that pop up and take over the whole interface, that were clearly never tested with a screen reader user - e.g., you can't even get to the little close button, if you're lucky you will get to it but it will have a meaningless label like "times" (the time symbol representing the x shape to close the window).

Web designers can continue making nice looking sites as long as they treat text like text and clearly label the navigable elements on a page. Framework creators have a bigger job to do since one mistake can make hundreds or thousands of sites unusable.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:00 AM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


3. For myself, I'd ask that you just get rid of that big graphic at the top of your landing page. You know, the one that takes up half the available real estate. The one with all the happy smiling multi-ethnic models who are neither employees nor customers of your organization.The one where their heads are all different sizes and their shadows go all different directions. We don't care, we came here looking for information. Maybe replace it with links to employee demographics and compensation statistics and customer satisfaction results. Then we'll see just how happy and mutli-ethnic you really are.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:02 AM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


In everyday actually using the web terms this isn't really true. The iPhone and iPad with VoiceOver has opened up the web to people who can benefit from screen readers but found keyboard navigation of a PC's graphical interface too difficult or intimidating, leaving aside the expense of acquiring the software for Windows to begin with.

No, true. Showing my age and tech background (where there is an attitude that the only real screenreader is JAWS on Windows...)
posted by alasdair at 9:04 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


So in Canada at least, they're required by law to cater for a blind audience. There's no commercial incentive to do so, it'll take legislation.

to be fair, the FCC in the United States has similar rules for broadcast television. However, as a friend of mine who works in closed captioning can tell you; because there is no commercial incentive, the world of CC transcripting and accessibility is in a complete race to the bottom.
posted by bl1nk at 9:04 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


The trouble is, as soon as you do something actually useful like mark the actual content within a page as actual content, guess what. The able-bodied and sighted will be all over that in a flash (sorry, not Flash. Flash is even more evil for the visually impaired than for the normals).

One of the constant tensions between access and content providers is that business models demand either restrictions on content that usually boil down to special delivery mechanisms, or covering the whole lot in hard-to-avoid advertising. Neither is a good fit for the sort of general-purpose content delivery approach that allows easy identification and transformation of content in ways that work with a variety of sensory, motor or cognitive differences.

In the absence of strong regulation - ha - this won't change until the business model does. The business model will change, as it stinks for everyone and has resulted in the glorious mess we all swim in today, and I hope that part of the change will be driven by those ten percent of us who obviously need it. But when... I don't know. I've seen many enthusiastic groups get ground down by the difficulties of integrating with the body corporate.
posted by Devonian at 9:08 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, how I remember the days when all of a sudden everyone switched from MS-DOS to Windows 3.1. I remember at least one VI tech guy who lost his job because of it.
posted by Melismata at 9:14 AM on July 23, 2015


Of course, the really helpful one you can't tell people is "never change your web site: blind users get to know where things are and how to get stuff to work, so long as you don't change it..."


Years ago, I was on a bike trip with a friend who has low vision. We stopped at a bank to use the ATM, and he couldn't get it to work. He went in and dragged the bank manager out to show him. The guy read each screen aloud as they came up. Long story short, they'd moved the question, "Do you want a receipt?" in the sequence. My friend hadn't been reading the screens for years, he'd just memorized the sequence. It wasn't a trivial change for him.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:14 AM on July 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


"M can’t consistently tell her left from her right. Neither can 15% of adults, according to some reports. Directions on the web that tell her to go to the top left corner of the screen don’t harm her, they just momentarily make her feel stupid."

This Alphabet of Accessibility Issues really helped me to understand how widely useful accessibility practices are.
posted by oh.ghoulin at 9:30 AM on July 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


So in Canada at least, they're required by law to cater for a blind audience. There's no commercial incentive to do so, it'll take legislation.

And that only applies to a federally-regulated industry (broadcast).

We were recently down in the US, and Americans we were talking to were kind of surprised that Canada has nothing like the ADA (or, in the UK, the DDA) and is in fact way behind on accessibility. In fact, Canada does a shit job of it.

Only Ontario and Manitoba have comparable accessibility legislation at this time.

The difference this makes when Mr. Conspiracy (who's blind) and I are travelling in the US and the UK is noticeable.

Because he does it for a living, we just end up auditing accessibility wherever we go. Hey, local gas station in Republic, WA - you were obviously making an honest effort to make your washroom ADA compliant, but we did note a few deficiencies.

From here:
With these recent actions by the Department of Justice, there is no excuse for any site owner or developer to wait for regulations before undertaking digital accessibility plans. The ADA requires web accessibility. People with disabilities need web accessibility. It’s good coding practice, good usability practice, good for business. And there is a recognized international standard that works. Let’s stop waiting for regulations. Let’s start making the promise of a web for everyone a reality.
Moreover, these standards already exist in the form of WCAG 2.0. If you bill yourself as a web developer and don't understand them, then you're a sad dilettante.

Also...it's possible to create sites that are simultaneously accessible and work well on mobile generally. Win-win.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:31 AM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


One of the constant tensions between access and content providers is that business models demand either restrictions on content that usually boil down to special delivery mechanisms, or covering the whole lot in hard-to-avoid advertising. Neither is a good fit for the sort of general-purpose content delivery approach that allows easy identification and transformation of content in ways that work with a variety of sensory, motor or cognitive differences.

Ehhh adblockers and tools like Readability are widely available but apparently not widely used. I guess maybe increasing accessibility could help guarantee that they would never break a page, which might induce more people to use them, but it seems unlikely.

I feel like the real problem is just a lack of effort. Like, "multi-device" is a big deal right now -- you have to work on desktop, tablet, and mobile screens and interfaces, so why not just add "screen reader", "braille display", "switch interface" or whatever to that list? Although judging by the number of completely broken web pages on my phone, maybe many organizations honestly aren't even capable of it.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:39 AM on July 23, 2015


The app thing is fucking my working life right now. Everyone wants a damn app. You don't need a damn app that is a retread of your website. THAT IS NOT A THING YOU NEED. IT IS NOT.

I recently jumped back into doing Section 508 work. There have been great developments as far as what the web can do in the past few years. However most of it is all about shiny, pretty. And a shit-ton of it is HORRIBLE for people with visual impairments. Your flat design is pretty but your link color choices suck, yo. Parallax, parafuckyou.

Label, alt, title your shit. "Arrow" - jesus christ, at least tell me where it's taking me within the page.

Semantics. So helpful. Unfortunately, a lot of people who learn by viewing source don't think about why an id or class being called, "header", "sitemap", or "footer" might be important and will change those to nonsensical bullshit. And then I gotta do a three hour conference call to explain why "chocolatebar" is wrong and to knock it off.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 9:51 AM on July 23, 2015 [19 favorites]


I feel like the real problem is just a lack of effort. Like, "multi-device" is a big deal right now -- you have to work on desktop, tablet, and mobile screens and interfaces, so why not just add "screen reader", "braille display", "switch interface" or whatever to that list? Although judging by the number of completely broken web pages on my phone, maybe many organizations honestly aren't even capable of it.

The irony is that if more organizations started with "screen reader" then they'd be that much more likely to have pages that worked on any phone with a web browser.

Instead almost everybody starts with the idea of "like a smartphone/tablet app" and you get stuff that inevitably doesn't work in one context or another.

This isn't just small fish without access to/resources for talent. I was trying to use Dropbox's website from an iPhone 4S the other day, and I quite simply couldn't log in. Focus issues with the relevant form fields in one browser (Chrome), in Mobile Safari I got repeated hung submissions with no error message of course, just a spinning circular "loading" graphic.

And this is *Dropbox*. They have a ton of money and they can hire very smart and capable people and it doesn't matter.

I think it just comes down to the fact that our entire culture has a product/framework thinking bias that doesn't really see multi-user-agent paradigm really clearly, and almost doesn't see the full range of the semantic web at all.
posted by weston at 10:11 AM on July 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


And their idea of progress apparently means moving away from progressively-enhanced accessible semantic markup as the media type for a given URL to returning a custom client that consumes JSON.

Semantic, as a piece of bitter irony, is not actually something that most web developers can assign meaning to, other than as a vague label for "thing which is technically somehow or another the right thing". I've by now been given static for using tags with meaningful names and defined semantics in place of an undifferentiated mass of divs and spans more times than I can count.

This often seems to me like it stands in pretty well for a bunch of the other observable facts about the state of modern software development.
posted by brennen at 1:31 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I feel like this is part and parcel with running older developers out of the business. All these battles got fought and won 10 years ago, but the people who've only gotten into the business in the last few years don't realize that because they'd never look at something that was written before they started.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:23 PM on July 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


I work in this area and I feel like the tools and devices have gotten better while the developer skills have withered away. Slap some jQuery on a Bootstrap template and don't worry too much about page structure. Or use JavaScript on the back end to generate div soup 'cos who cares about semantic HTML when it's not a *real* programming language anyway. It's very discouraging.

But then I talk to the people I know who have disabilities. And they remind me, just by telling me about their day, that for them the internet isn't just grabbing a few quick bits of information or chatting with friends. It's a lifeline to independence. So I get all enthused again for fixing up yet another span tag styled like a button, with a tabindex attribute but no scripting support for keyboard.
posted by harriet vane at 2:33 AM on July 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


Is there maybe a browser plug-in that would automatically check pages for basic accessibility compliance? Because I would be glad to complain to business owners or just stop using certain sites when I run into pages that get rotten scores. We're all slowly getting older and slowly losing one ability or another. Cities and buildings and vehicles and the internet should all be designed to deal with that and help us get through the day. Equal access for all.
posted by pracowity at 4:03 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


pracowity, I've seen pa11y recommended by a couple of people who seem to know what they're talking about, but I haven't given it a spin myself so can't vouch for it.
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 6:02 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is there maybe a browser plug-in that would automatically check pages for basic accessibility compliance?

Some stuff here: Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:13 AM on July 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Just a point of interest if people aren't familiar with it...pa11y takes its name for the accessibility hashtag #a11y.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:15 AM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


In everyday actually using the web terms this isn't really true. The iPhone and iPad with VoiceOver has opened up the web to people who can benefit from screen readers but found keyboard navigation of a PC's graphical interface too difficult or intimidating, leaving aside the expense of acquiring the software for Windows to begin with.

Wish I could convince my visually impaired Android-using friend of this.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:05 PM on July 24, 2015


the expense of acquiring the software for Windows to begin with

JAWS for Windows, for example, is almost $900.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:17 PM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


But NVDA is free.
And equivalent, if not better than the commercial competition. Also open source and volunteer supported, for the extra philanthropic warm fuzzies that might provide. There is a hidden expense in the form of a better text-to-speech voice for users that want it. The reader comes with one, but last I checked it was horrific. So a user might pay upwards of $100 for a TTS engine that has a more pleasant and human-sounding voice. Kind of a shitty tax to users, but what are you gonna do? I've been using NVDA exclusively for the last few years and I have much less difficulty navigating the web than I ever did with the mainstream (harhar) alternatives. Its best asset is stripping away all of the interface cruft that sighted folks deal with and allowing a user to navigate logically through the structure of code objects themselves. I'm no coder, so y'all might understand this better than I do, but stripping away that visual interface layer can allay some of the hardships of getting around a page. Point being, I've had a lot of luck with NVDA generally, but I don't have the kind of technical knowhow that would be able to spotlight just why that is. But yes, popover elements on pages fucking suck, a lot. I'm glad I've got partial vision because I don't know how you'd deal with that shit as a totally blind person.

It's not on topic, so I'll let it be, but the sad state of vending of assistive tech and the prices it demands don't help this process any. Most users don't even get real autonomy in choosing the technology they use because the high prices of technology like this means it's often purchased en mass by governments/organizations, rather than individuals. Nevermind the additional problem of peoples' ignorance of services that might provide that access in the first place. Rural area? Impoverished? Well good luck getting on the train to self-sufficiency then. Educators aren't immune to this ignorance either. They do what they think works, rather than what's most efficient. A blind person can be highly competitive today with an iphone, a braille display, a screen reader, and some magnification software on the computing platform of their choice. I'm pretty confident that 90% of visually impaired people could pull this off. And it would cost way less than the outmoded hilariously over priced bullshit that they too often wind up with instead.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 8:12 AM on July 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


So true about the state of assistive tech, Ephelump Jockey. My understanding is that the 2 programmers who are the driving force behind NVDA are visually impaired, so that might be why you find it more useful. They've evidently given the needs of the user a lot of thought. I test with both NVDA and Jaws, and it always reminds me of when Firefox first came out after a long period of Internet Explorer being the only real option. NVDA has its flaws, but it's just more usable in my non-visually-impaired opinion. I give NVDA a donation each year because I think having a free, open-source alternative is wonderful.
posted by harriet vane at 7:11 AM on July 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


mandolin conspiracy , are there any clear best-of-breeds among the list you linked to (for which thanks), or is there maybe a suite that work together particularly well? I'm not too worried about developer-friendliness, because my collaborators are genuinely interested in doing things right, but I get the impression that (a) the majority of the dev tools do automated analysis against rulesets and (b) real-world assistive tech is more pragmatic in ways that the tools may not capture. I'm very happy to be corrected if this impression is wrong, of course!

On my current project we're trying to make accessibility a first-class priority in our design process but we're currently operating without the resources to do real UX testing (i.e. we have No Money), so whatever we can streamline at this stage will be hugely useful when we come to put users in front of our interface...
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 12:03 PM on July 27, 2015


Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels, I'm not a developer, so I'm not really in a position to pronounce credibly on that.

There is the WCAG Report Tool, which lets you generate reports based on WCAG conformance. So I guess if your collaborators are interested in doing things right, they're shooting for a pretty high level (AA or above) of same because then they're working toward a recognized standard.

That all gets beyond just accessibilty for blind users, of course (e.g., presence of audio-only prompts, lack of non-mouse navigation, etc.

But yeah, I've got more opinions on the topic than I do professional cred.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:53 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's cool, mc; thanks for the update. We can add whatever arbitrary metrics to our CI suite but it's much better to get recommendations from people who [have|know people who have] skin in the game. If the WCAG tool is a good first approximation then at least we won't look like complete tyros when we get to user testing. Cheers!
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 3:44 PM on July 27, 2015


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