October 8, 2002 2:41 PM   Subscribe

The MBTA, Boston's transit system, launched a redesigned Web site today. Fairly unremarkable, if you ask me, except that every single page features a prominent "Bobby Approved logo, which is supposed to mean the site is fully accessible to the visually impaired. In fact, it isn't, which you'll find out if you run a Bobby report on the site.
posted by agaffin (32 comments total)
Well, the text-only version is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 Priority 1 accessible. The only problem is that to get to the text only site, you have to click on an image. Neither the full site nor the text-only site are Section 508 approved. Poor job from a organization that, in spirit but not yet by law, has to meet Section 508.
posted by plemeljr at 3:06 PM on October 8, 2002

They should concentrate their efforts on the green line
posted by matteo at 3:09 PM on October 8, 2002

Yeah well, it beats the hell out of the old design and seems better organized at a glance. Also, the Bobby errors aren't too serious: I'm guessing the images without ALT text are probably single-pixel gifs. Unless you want text popping up everywhere you roll the mouse, that's probably for the best (let's forget that the browser popping up text is an incorrect implementation of the W3C spec).

I'm unclear on how labelling the form elements helps anyone but the developers.
posted by yerfatma at 3:10 PM on October 8, 2002

I've always wondered why Charles/MGH is the only Red Line station in downtown Boston that is not handicap accessible. MGH is the Mass. General Hospital!
posted by event at 3:17 PM on October 8, 2002

Most likely someone went through the effort to deliver validating, accessible templates to the agency, who then immediately started filling them up with invalid stuff.

I built out validating XHTML + CSS templates for a magazine site a few weeks ago, and then a few days later, had to go back in to clean out non-validating stuff that had been added post-launch. And that's just getting things to validate, much less pass accessibility guidelines.

To do accessible sites requires knowledge of the issues and high attention to implementation at all times. Even though I've made my home site Bobby-validating, occasionally I'll add a post with something Bobby doesn't like, and catch and fix it later. Now imagine some government staffer who may not even know how to balance tags trying to edit pages to pass 508.

PS: When you label for checkboxes or radios, it allows to you click on the text to activate the form control... without any scripting, in modern browsers. That's how!
posted by teradome at 3:19 PM on October 8, 2002

plemeljr, the "Text Only" image does have an Alt tag, although it only says "Text Only." I guess something a bit more expansive specifically for screen readers might be nice here - or just have a plain text link!
posted by carter at 3:25 PM on October 8, 2002

yerfatma, you can specify alt="" for clear.gifs and you won't get rollover popups.
posted by perplexed at 3:26 PM on October 8, 2002

I'm unclear on how labelling the form elements helps anyone but the developers

IIRC, it allows keystrokes in text browsers to work better, does special stuff with voice browsers to let the user know a form option label was found, as well as makes the area next to a radio button or checkbox clickable.

For the past year or so, all radio buttons and checkboxes on MetaFilter (check the customize page) have used the label tag. Though there is some debate about it, I also have the cursor turn into a hand when mousing over label text, so the user is visually aware it is clickable.
posted by mathowie at 3:28 PM on October 8, 2002

quoth matteo:
They should concentrate their efforts on the green line

Dude, you're killing me! I lived on Comm. Ave. for awhile and lived through two green line floods. I agree whole heartily.
posted by plemeljr at 3:31 PM on October 8, 2002

This new and improved T website is only cosmetic, from what I can see. The bus schedule interface is EXACTLY the same except for the change in template and CSS.

It took me three clicks and lots of page scroll to find the bus schedule for my trip home tonight. They can do better. If you pull down "Bus" from the main page, you get one option. That's ridiculous.

(I love the T anyway. But this guy does not.)
posted by PrinceValium at 3:34 PM on October 8, 2002

And when will they get around to the fabled Worcester-Providence line? Huh? Huh?! Stupid 3 and a half hour commute each way getting up five in the morning and I goddam there oughta be a law those sumbitches in the Capitol porkbarrel fooey Kennedy fraggin' Moxie-drinking UMASS jocks...
posted by cortex at 3:37 PM on October 8, 2002

yerfatma: check out DiveIntoMark's "30 Days to a More Accessible Weblog" project. Very cool. Very informative.
posted by silusGROK at 4:04 PM on October 8, 2002

Cortex: do you have any links for that fabled line? Any proposed routes?
posted by silusGROK at 4:10 PM on October 8, 2002

All I can say is... where's the Kingston Trio when you need them?

Just change the song a bit... Charley's a little bit older now, has more money but is blind.... will he ever return?
posted by namespan at 4:38 PM on October 8, 2002

The RNIB suggest using * as ALT text for spacer images so blind people, being an untrusting bunch, can distinguish between programmers that put ALT="" because it's a spacer and those that put ALT="" because of editor defaults or programmers that couldn't be bothered.

It seemed kinda strange to me enforcing the ALT attribute for HTML compliance. Now software just puts ALT="" by default to work around the issue, not help accessibility, and to be compliant.
posted by holloway at 4:43 PM on October 8, 2002

Hmm, they tried this a few months ago and it was quickly taken down. I wonder how long the new Web site will last.

Shallow information architecture is still shallow information architecture, even when prettied up. This is a perfect example of an organization desperately in need of an information architect.
posted by docjohn at 4:56 PM on October 8, 2002

Enforcing the attribute isn't strange; ALT="" positively states the image has no meaningful text alternative, whereas omitting the attribute says nothing.

Suggesting ALT="*" for spacers is counter-productively meddling with the attribute. Bad developers will still screw things up and users/software will get bombarded with needless asterisks. Better to focus on educating developers and ensuring people have access to good screen readers.
posted by malevolent at 5:08 PM on October 8, 2002

Vis10n: not much luck, after 20 minutes of Googling. Relevant tidbit: The PMT site has, on what appears to be an unofficial-ish brainstorming page, mention of such a proposed line. However, on the official-ish looking PDF doc containing a "Screened list of system expansion projects for further analysis", no such proposal is mentioned.

More bad news: this lengthy report (PDF) on the apparently dire state of MBTA's funding situation only briefly mentions the idea of a Worcester-Providence line, as one of several projects not "currently under development. (pg 48)" (The report does discuss the ongoing expansion of both the Worcester and the Providence lines).

It appears that a "proposed Worcester-Providence expansion" has never been anything more than that. Which is funny, since it seemed like local incumbent politicians mentioned it a LOT while I was living in MA. Right around election time.

Tangential: there does seem to be some crezzy activism going on w/r/t trail-building. See for example this.

Also: Transit nuts.

And: a history of trade in Rhode Island -- there have certainly been routes of SOME sort between Providence and Worcester for a good long time.

I now wonder how much freight-line politics has affected the potential of the fabled commuter line, too.

posted by cortex at 6:09 PM on October 8, 2002

cortex -- you wanna talk transit nuts... check out my college roommate's site about roads and rails in Massachusetts and New Hampshire
posted by dmd at 6:15 PM on October 8, 2002

Maine, too...
posted by dmd at 6:17 PM on October 8, 2002

posted by carter at 6:22 PM on October 8, 2002

Leaving the alt attribute out entirely should be functionally equivalent to specifying it as null. They both mean there is no meaningful text equivalent. Just because some people leave out the alt attribute all the time due to inexperience, uncaring, or laziness does not mean there needs to be a false distinction between leaving it out and specifying it as null. As mentioned already, most editors specify it as null by default anyway, so any distinction between the two lacks even the benefit of separating the intentional stating of "no textual equivalent" from carelessness.
posted by Nothing at 6:35 PM on October 8, 2002

I too am puzzled as to why the alt tag is mandatory. In my experience most of the time the post appropriate value for alt is "".

There's a good essay on when to put text in an alt tag here.
posted by Foaf at 6:53 PM on October 8, 2002

Event: The Charles/MGH station is on the verge of a complete redesign and reconstruction to make it fully wheelchair-accessible; my only questions are "How?", "When?", and "Will it involve the closure of the Charles rotary?", directly followed by "HAHAHAHAHAHA!"
posted by dayan at 7:06 PM on October 8, 2002

namespan: There's an updated version of it called "Skinhead on the MTBA." An .mp3 of it is available as a free download at Epitaph Records.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 7:07 PM on October 8, 2002

Never mind that link. The live version's lyrics are a bit muddled.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 7:13 PM on October 8, 2002

Bobby? What's that? Hell, I used to WORK at Watchfire and even I've never heard of it.
posted by Succa at 7:13 PM on October 8, 2002

Hey, thanks Cortex!
posted by silusGROK at 8:13 PM on October 8, 2002

Enforcing the attribute isn't strange; ALT="" positively states the image has no meaningful text alternative
How does that account for it being autogenerated, or if HTMLTidy put it there, eh? eh? You calling my pint a poof? eh?

On individual sites with trusted web programmers I'd agree with you, but for those not willing to research the skill of each programmer they come across there is no rule to apply to sites across the web because there is no trust.

I have two awful analogies:
  1. IT guy interviews staff to put results into answers database. IT guy can't determine whether they are good answers, only whether interviewees have followed the process of answering with something... anything. Mandating ALT="something" follows the process but has nothing necessarily to do with useful information.
  2. Badly designed questionnaires in print ask you to tick or leave empty boxes throughout a form. But 'leave empty' might be someone skipping a question. So if there's no trust in the submitter's ability to follow the instructions (or program webpages) then you can't infer intent from an unticked box. Properly designed questionnaires now have checkboxes with 3 states of ticked, crossed, and empty. Had the w3c allowed the absense of ALT it would have allowed autogenerators an opt-out, while stil being compliant. As is, autogenerators achieve compliance, and it helps no one.
In time ALT="*" might be soiled by program defaults like ALT="" was, but for now it seems a safe enough choice to express decoration and spacer graphics.


I can't find any requirement of Bobby compliance for using the Bobby logo or anything like that on the Bobby site Bobby bobby. Anyone else?
posted by holloway at 8:28 PM on October 8, 2002

let's increase the 'whining about the T' part of this thread and overtake the programming bits! ;P forget about Green Line v. Red Line or the farce of accessibility for anyone who's not a strapping college student, let's think about the fact that the MBTA simultaneously installed a "rapid bus lane" (an oxymoron if i ever heard one) to service the entire southwestern quadrant of the city (read: the non-white parts), allegedly because they don't have the money to reinstall an elevated light rail line and who cares if the buses give everyone asthma...while today's Globe revealed the Commuter Rail lines from the suburbs are not staffed with enough conductors 85% of the time and thus most people don't even pay the fare! the MBTA has way way bigger problems than their website...
posted by serafinapekkala at 9:03 PM on October 8, 2002

holloway: if it's a spacer graphic is supposed to be invisible no? So why make it visible by putting * in the alt text? What good is the decoration on a page to a blind person?
posted by Foaf at 3:44 PM on October 9, 2002

Foaf: Well, the reasoning goes that blind people, when reading any particular page, can't take the HTML at face value. A large portion of the web is only coincidentally accessible to blind people, and so the blind know that they are missing out on valuable context that they have to guess at to understand pages. They've learnt that reading words around a click here link will help understand where a link might go, and that a graphic with an alt text of "" might be a decoration/spacer image or it might well be an important part of the page with alt="". For the later, how do they tell the difference? The answer lies in whether they trust or can assess the skill of the person who wrote the page. Without this trust, there's no way of knowing what was meant.

Now, I doubt that it can be expected for blind people to research the programmer of the pages they read. It would disrupt relaxed browsing. So as it can't be assessed on a per-page basis an individual page's correct use of alt="" does not help the untrusting blind user who guesses at what's in it. alt="*" on the other hand is relatively unobtrusive, and clears up the ambiguity. It can reassure the blind user that a decision was made on the alt text, and that it wasn't just empty by default. alt="*" indicates a choice by a human.

That's the reasoning as I understand it, anyway.
posted by holloway at 5:29 PM on October 10, 2002

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