The Web Standards Project » Usability Working together for standards Fri, 01 Mar 2013 18:30:30 +0000 en hourly 1 “Just ask: Integrating accessibility throughout design” available in English, Japanese and Spanish Mon, 08 Dec 2008 19:13:50 +0000 hswan Fancy giving your site a hardcore usability test? Then why not involve people with disabilities in your testing. Not sure where to start? Then check out Just Ask: integrating accessibility throughout design.

This free online book, written by Shawn Lawton Henry from W3C in her spare time, looks at all you need to know about user testing with people with disabilities. In it she covers theory rather than code focusing on accessibility in the user-centered design process, how to recruit people with disabilities, user groups and persona’s, evaluation and much more.

This is not a book about accessibility techniques, be that HTML, CSS or scripting advice. And despite working for the W3C, Shawn has not created another W3C-style document. This book will find most use, I think, with people who already do testing of some nature but to whom accessibility is still a black art. It will also appeal to people running small business – perhaps developers who know their HTML/CSS trade inside and out but want to be able to expand their horizons and go beyond simply saying “we create accessible web sites” and really mean it – and I would also recommend that some of the accessibility gurus take a leaf through this and not assume that they know it already.

Read the full review on Accessify.

What’s really good about Just Ask is that not only is it a free online book it’s also available in Japanese and Spanish. Alternatively, for a small donation, you can get a hard copy of the English version.

Getting books and articles published in languages other than English is one of the main goals of ILG. If interested in helping out you could always approach authors directly or contact us at ILG Co-leads.

If you’re looking for some other good books about web standards, accessibility and usability check out our recommended books page.

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Call-to-action: Save the UT Accessibility Institute Fri, 29 Aug 2008 21:27:43 +0000 jcraig The University of Texas is closing its Accessibility Institute today. Non-profit Knowbility has started a petition to save it.

Though you may not have heard of the Accessibility Institute, you have been influenced by its work. Its late founder, Dr. John Slatin, was the former co-chair of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG2), and was an influential mentor to many of the web standards evangelists, including myself and current WaSP group manager, Glenda Sims. If you’ve ever attended SXSW, you know Austin has one of the most vibrant web accessibility communities in the world, thanks to the hard work of Knowbility and the University of Texas Accessibility Institute. The knowledge shared by these groups has influenced web and software developers worldwide, resulting in a more accessible web used and enjoyed by all of us, disabled or not.

The importance of accessibility research and development was echoed this week by retailer Target’s decision to settle its web accessibility discrimination lawsuit by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The story was covered in many US and international news outlets, and the the outcome of the case is a timely wake up call to the business world that good design is accessible, universal design.

The Accessibility Institute’s influence for the greater good cannot be overstated. The decision to close it on the eve of the universal design revolution is a poor choice by the UT Administration. If you agree, please sign the petition to keep accessibility research and development alive and well.

Update: This post has been translated into Polish.

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Detecting when good fonts change size Tue, 12 Sep 2006 13:13:06 +0000 agustafson In the new issue of A List Apart, Yahoo! developers Lawrence Carvalho and Christian Heilmann (who is also a DSTF member) walk us through a new script allowing you to trigger events when the font size is increased or decreased in a browser.

This was by no means the first time it has been done, but it is an incredibly solid implementation and a great tool to have in your utility belt alongside CSS Drop Columns and Browser Size-Dependant Layouts. Lawrence & Christian offer a few suggestions for how to use it, including

But I’m sure you can come up with more.

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Flash, JavaScript, UX, standards, apologia, apologies, and one man’s opinions Fri, 18 Aug 2006 23:33:21 +0000 bhenick My last two posts here have engendered a lot of anger from some Flash developers, and even led to direct questioning of my professional skill. Put bluntly, I believe the attacks say at least as much about the professionalism of their authors as they do about my own.

An apology

Regardless of that criticism, I offer an unqualified apology to Geoff Stearns for denigrating his work on SWFObject. It’s one thing for me to say that I don’t like it from a standards support perspective, but I framed my dislike in a tone that could counterproductively poison the attitudes of potential users of his work.

I took far too long to concede that my detractors were pushing back for very good reasons, and I’ve remained a moving target. They talk about user experience, I change the subject to Flash abuse. They talk about progressive enhancement, I change the subject to markup. They talk about the grating attitude of web standards advocates, and I (uncharacteristically) change the subject again.

If for no other reason that I was brought up to better rhetorical skills than I’ve displayed lately, I’m writing here in an effort to set things straight.

Web browsers have unforgivably broken and poorly documented plug-in implementations

There seems to be an agreement in principle amongst the participants in this discussion that W3C was a bad actor on this, because they insisted on sanctioning an element for plug-in inclusion that ran counter to the most common contemporary implementation. What we’re looking at, then, is an artifact of the Browser Wars.

To make the mess worse, no single software vendor has stepped up and implemented <object> in a manner worthy of emulation. To hazard a guess I pose that this is because browser vendors don’t really care for Flash, and each browser vendor wants to undercut the others’ related media player titles.

If my guess is anywhere near the truth, then the obvious result is that the expressed attitudes of the responsible companies are unconscionable, and need to change without delay.

There is a time and place for any given tool

If we can agree that content can be anything that will travel across the network, then the nearer layers of the web technology stack have their own particular uses, as well: markup for structure, styling for presentation, scripting for behavior (on the client side) and logic (on the server side). Likewise, there is no good reason I can think of to publish content in Flash or PDF when XHTML+CSS will do just as well. I also see no reason to avoid using Flash when presented with any of the objectives it can accomplish with low overhead.

Tool abuse is unprofessional and inexcusable, particularly when it leads to the implementation of sites in ways that the web was never meant to handle

The web was and still is intended as a means to obtain and create content that poses minimal requirements for accessibility and usability. Yet over here we see Microsoft pushing its own unique implementation for web applications, and over there you see Adobe marketing its own substitutes for just about everything the W3C can sanction. Developers then buy in and insist on using the tools they’ve paid for to create everything they can think up, without regard for suitability to project requirements or the strengths of the web. The resulting fragmentation makes everyone a loser:

  • Developers are forced to specialize in order to maintain salable skillsets, which makes them vulnerable to shifts in market demand.
  • Users are forced into a wilderness of software in order to use the web effectively, which is confusing, time consuming, and expensive.
  • Project sponsors are forced to spend more money on software licenses and the professional services needed to stitch together all of their preferred technologies.
  • Software vendors are forced into onerous release schedules, which reduces the reliability of their products and consequently their customers’ trust.
  • Network infrastructure is forced to account for more volume and protocol support than would otherwise be the case. This raises everyone’s overhead.

One of the most important definitions of a web standard is that rights to its use are completely and permanently unencumbered

This single fact accounts for most of my personal hostility toward the SWF format. The ubiquity of Flash creates the potential for future rights abuse such as that committed by Unisys in the case of the Graphics Interchange Format, and Eolas over its submarine multimedia patents. How many times do we have to go through experiences such as those before we learn to rely on the tools that are protected from such outcomes?

The desktop publishing metaphor does not and never will apply to the web, and developers need to do everything they can to get that point across to project sponsors

The insistence on pixel-perfect layout that results from reliance on the desktop publishing metaphor eats up time and money to an extent that places effective sites beyond the reach of many potential customers for web development services. It also constrains meaningful use of the web to the personal computer platform, and sometimes printed documents. While there are those who say that mobile platforms can also be used for visiting sites, there are so many caveats on that assertion as to make it empty. (Universal support for the handheld CSS media type would be nice to have any day now.)

Web standards support should be given priority over exacting user experience requirements, if a choice must be made between the two

This is probably the most controversial of my positions, but it’s owed to my belief in the web as a universal publishing platform. In the case of broken plug-in behavior, why not put plain links to bare media files inside their calling elements and let the visitor’s default media player take care of the rest? Creating a fallback that results in a positive user experience for that case isn’t impossible.

The balance of this attitude is engendered by the fact that given thoughtful implementation and valid markup, the resulting work product can be adapted to an extraordinarily broad range of contexts. This may not seem like much to the folks who are stuck on the desktop publishing metaphor, but information published for the express purpose of being viewed anywhere, anytime, on any capable and connected platform – which is what web standards are meant to provide – appears more valuable to me than something that looks and behaves exactly as specified when viewed by a remote user in Internet Explorer on a 1024×768 LCD or plasma display.

Using JavaScript to do an end run around the need for valid markup (and the content inside it) is at best a cop-out, and at worst an ingredient of future disaster

For starters, users who disable JavaScript will arguably never see the content you originally intended. Given the number of security issues for which disabling JavaScript is the recommended remedy, this use case cannot be ignored.

Another objection I have to this practice is that it increases the scope of production. Rather than just repairing one component of a site implementation when it’s time to redesign, you run the risk of needing to fiddle with other components as well (in this case, JavaScript in addtiion to markup).

Finally, you’re forcing another support assumption on the user. While sites designed around a desktop publishing metaphor and viewed on a personal computer may not suffer as a result, every other potential use case will.

Forward compatible implementation is more valuable than you think

So much of what I fight back against is inertia: people who use Internet Explorer because they’ve always used Internet Explorer, sponsors who insist that the work product have its layout nailed down to the pixel because that’s always the way it’s been done, producing far too many templates for lack of good wireframes because the graphic designers have never needed to work from wireframes, and so on.

However, the growth in popularity of Atom and bona fide microformats suggests the web’s not going to be monopolized by static HTML forever. When the evolution to XML gathers momentum, properly implemented XHTML+CSS infosystems will be the easiest and earliest such systems to utilize the full potential of XML. Do you really want your work to be left in the dust?

If not, then you need to learn how to do that kind of work, the sooner the better.

When standards advocates are unreasonable, it’s because they’re frustrated by the willful ignorance and sloth they see in the opposing camp

In practice, standards advocates demonstrate practices that require a different mindset than was typical for several years. In effect, we’re in the uncomfortable position of telling a lot of folks that everything they know is wrong. Here are some of the results:

  • Back when Zeldman instituted the Browser Upgrade campaign, its message was immediately co-opted by several high-volume sites designed by teams who were too damned lazy to institute progressive enhancement.
  • Rather than just admit that they are contstrained in their jobs by legacy content management systems that they cannot replace, some developers claim that they deserve the same credit given to colleagues who build fully standards compliant sites.
  • Every time accessibility flaws in all-Flash sites are publicly skylined, Flash developers howl in protest… but rarely endeavor to make their sites accessible.
  • Developers who have been in the business long enough to know better bitch and moan about the shift in perspective required to learn CSS, and refuse to learn it.
  • Other so-called professionals abuse their IDE’s and bill hours even though (as I once put it) “they wouldn’t know emphasis from italics if the difference bit them on the ass.”

All of these people continue to make noise and abuse the good will of their sponsors with a degree of persistence akin to that of Netscape 4’s erstwhile market share, and you bet we’re not happy about that… especially when they attack us ad hominem in the face of the fact that the truth hurts. That happens all the time.

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Inspired by Accessibility. Thu, 31 Mar 2005 21:34:13 +0000 hmkoltz Accessibility and usability inspires innovation. Embracing and using standards and recommendations allows for more innovation. It’s time to quit thinking that embracing accessibility stifles growth or causes limitations.

Many years ago, I was inspired by accessibility and innovations. I began my work and advocacy of web standards and accessibility items well before they became a public focus. Many contemporaries and others tried to diminish the message and importance. My background is the arts and also a variety of sciences. Our first computer was the direct result of our daughter who has several challenges needing assistive technology for communication and learning. She can see and hear, but motor and some cognitive items prevented her from using a text only Web and standard ways to access a computer or information. Enter rich multimedia and assistive technologies. These items existed well before the popularity of web, and these items also drive innovation for emerging technologies. We had a specialized keyboard for the computer, the keyboard can be customized with theme overlays, images, and or keywords and universal icons instead of the standard keyboard of letters and characters (the touch board could be set up in standard ways also). We had a special 15 inch screen that could be placed over a monitor. The screen allowed the user to access links or interact with items via touch and worked with many websites or applications. And then there is word prediction and recognition in communication devices, as well as rich multimedia sound and animation which offered up audible content, examples, and clues for those that could not read. All because of innovation in technology. Several people may find or feel that rich media items are entertainment only, but rich media is very important to a wide variety of challenged users or learners.

I often felt that as emerging technologies expanded, so would a renewed look or enthusiasm for accessibility interest grow. Many items for accessibility work very well for new technology. Think about how great offering a link to skip large groups of links works for mobile or handheld devices that have limited screen display. Think about how voice browsing or listening might work well for hands-free interaction with web content (car computers, some automated phone systems, etc). Think about how touch screens work well with kiosks in stores (photo stations, pharmacy, gift, registry, and ordering kiosks, etc). Some of these kiosks also break language and cognitive barriers as well when sound, images, or animated examples are involved. Think about how great it is to be able to take a single source of content and be able to deliver or transform it in a variety of ways. Core standards, guidelines, recommendations and open technologies enable this, while also providing an avenue for innovation and more emerging technologies. So… While we awe and wow at new items or older items making a comeback for emergent technology, we also need to take a closer look at how these newer technologies reach users. We need to find and work with the limitations and help to provide alternatives or information where needed. We need to know that usability and accessibility are often the forerunners of innovation.

Wendy Chisholm is the author of a new and important article at Digital Web Magazine, today. Innovative Design Inspired by Accessibility. She writes:

The Web provides unprecedented access to information for people with disabilities. People who are blind no longer wait for 25 pounds of braille to be printed and delivered or for a volunteer to read. People who have difficulty moving in physical space can easily attend classes. Those who find it hard to read the labels on products or have trouble getting oriented in grocery stores (whose layouts change frequently) can shop using Web sites with images and search features.

Wendy writes about the challenges and also rewards surrounding accessibility and innovation. She offers up a great table, Questions to inspire innovation which takes a look at limitations (vision, motor, hearing, cognitive), needs, and exercises or questions to help inspire innovation. These are some of items we need to look at when looking at popular and emerging technologies.

Another example of accessibility inspiring innovation is Pellegrino Turri who built the first typewriter to help a blind friend with the ability to write. There are more examples of Assistive Technology inspiring innovation at: A History of Technology Advances Inspired by Disability

While we (designers, programmers, developers, instructors, advocates, business owners, and corporations) broaden our awareness on accessibility and look at how it works in many ways for more and more users, challenged or not, we need to embrace, advocate, and use standards, guidelines, and recommendations to build a solid foundation for more innovation and for the future. It seems this might be the intelligent way to work. My own inspiration and work with web and digital technology is a direct result of accessibility and assistive technology.

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How We See Web Pages Thu, 09 Sep 2004 15:45:49 +0000 chrisk The Poynter Institute has posted their EyeTrack III study, a fascinating look at how people view web pages facilitated by a technology that allowed researchers to track participants’ eye movements as they surfed.

Hat-tips: Dan Gillmor and Steve Reubel via Robert Scoble

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The Value of Samaritanism Wed, 28 Jul 2004 13:21:47 +0000 chrisk Inspired by the Odeon debacle, former WaSP extraordinaire Jeffrey Zeldman holds forth on the value of good samaritans who build accessible, standards-compliant versions of popular web sites for free.

Zeldman also gives an excellent analysis of the accessibility and usability problems with Odeon’s official site and how samaritan Matthew Somerville addressed them.

I find Herr Zeldman’s explanation of Odeon’s stance somewhat less persuasive, however. The thrust of his argument is that it wasn’t that the ‘business dweebs’ were ‘clueless’, but that the powers-that-be at Odeon had no contract with Mr. Somerville, and therefore no assurance as to the real quality of the work, who actually owned the code and other issues that cause hair loss amongst the pinstripes-and-wingtips set. It’s all an exercise in CYA, in other words.

Well, duh. Of course that’s part of the problem. But don’t you suppose Odeon could have set their legal beagles to drafting a contract covering those points for Mr. Somerville to autograph, rather than having them fire off a boilerplate cease-and-desist? And if the problem is, as Jeffrey says, that the marketroids responsible for the site are unable to evaluate the quality of Mr. Somerville’s work, then isn’t that a case of, uh, ‘clueless business dweebs’? Is looking at the traffic numbers and the feedback emails really so much to ask?

More likely, the idea that a single individual could do better a the firm they paid six figures just set up too much cognitive dissonance for Odeon’s management to handle. Besides, they’re trying to sell the company. How good a buy is it if management is spending six figures for tasks that could be accomplished by one guy in his spare time?

This is where we come right back to ‘clueless business dweebs.’ The thing is, what Mr. Somerville did was, in many ways, the easy part. Making that nice, accessible front end work smoothly with all the back-end voodoo required of an ecommerce site like Odeon’s is far more challenging than it might seem at first (you’ll note that Mr. Somerville’s version didn’t allow ticket sales directly, so he hadn’t done all the integration work). Ditto the creative work in conceiving and executing a design that supports Odeon’s brand (though in this case, one might argue that they didn’t get their money’s worth there, either). And then one must make the back-end of the web site talk to Odeon’s legacy systems.

The reality is that there’s a reason for hiring those expensive firms: they have the in-house expertise to do far more than just make an accessible front end. And that expertise is expensive. The problem is that, like as not, the ‘suits’ know nothing of all that complexity. All they know is what they see on their PC, and what they see is the front end. To them, it probably did seem that Somerville was making their decision to hire the firm they did look far more foolish than it really was. Nobody likes to look foolish. Highly-paid executives least of all. And admitting they, with their six- or seven-figure salaries, had overlooked flaws that some maths major could both identify and fix in his spare time would have made them look exactly that.

I’m not privvy to the discussions that go on in Odeon’s executive suite, so I have no way of knowing the real reason for their change of heart regarding Mr. Somerville’s effort. Nonetheless, if I were to speculate, I would say it’s a case of corporate denial. Their organizational knowledge regading the web was all wrong, and wrong in ways that aren’t expensive or difficult to correct. But rather than admit that and cut their losses, they’d rather hire another six-figure-fee firm to tell them what they (now) already know. That way, they can pretend that they didn’t overlook the obvious, but were instead a victim of arcane forces knowable only to highly-paid experts. ‘DeNial’ isn’t just a river in Egypt.

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What’s the point… an over-emphasis on technique? Tue, 23 Mar 2004 14:32:55 +0000 bhenick Jason Fried of 37Signals suggests gingerly that too much attention is being paid to the minute details of Web site implementation, and in doing so he rang an alarm bell loudly enough to distract me from severe personal distress. He explained, as part of a SXSW Interactive recap:

“I’d like to think I introduced new and different ways to approach common UI quandaries with my presentation, but I left the conference looking for more. And not necessarily more presentations, but more conversation in the hallways. All I could hear was CSS CSS CSS.”

[Emphasis mine — BMH]

As some of the most visible cheerleaders for Cascading Style Sheets and related standards, the Web Standards Project, its individual members, and its supporters all need to account for this alleged trend, in this author’s opinion.

I am reminded of the way things were in 1995, when <TABLE>s were the latest and greatest design tool on the web, and anybody who had pretensions to securing a web design job needed to learn how to implement them.

Things have come full circle with the advent of CSS, except that this time things are being done the way they were meant to be done in the first place.

When CSS is used properly, you can change the presentation of a site without changing the arrangement of the information it provides to the visitor, and vice versa… but between browser incompatibilities and the fact that CSS itself was designed to be terse rather than verbose, tricks need to be learned before the conscientous web designer can utilize its full potential.

I believe that a transitional focus on technique is something to be expected.

Stating that things make perfectly good sense as a matter of course does not, however, address Jason’s complaint: that seemingly, preoccupation with CSS (and other technical skills) is causing designers to forget the audience.

Since I’m not a researcher and I wasn’t at the conference, I don’t have enough knowledge to attempt an argument for or against that assertion.

However, I can suggest a way out of the trap that assertion describes:

Keep it simple.

That’s accomplished when a web designer answers a single question:

Does this { page | element | stylesheet rule | copy | image | feature } help the visitor to satisfy their reasons for visiting the site in the first place?

If the answer is “yes”, then follow your intent.

If the answer is “no”, then leave it out and come up with an idea that will give you a clear opportunity to develop whatever skill you were hoping to address.

If you don’t know the answer to the preceding question, then you’re in trouble, because you’ve forgotten the audience.

To build a genuinely good site might require standards compliance, but standards compliance by itself is no guarantee that you’ll build a good site.

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A Guide to Small-Screen Web-Dev Fri, 12 Mar 2004 17:16:39 +0000 hmkoltz Read it, read it again.
Save it. Print it.
Highlight key points. (there are many)

The End-All Guide to Small-Screen Web-Dev
by Heidi Pollock (webmonkey, 5 Mar 2004)

It takes one gigantabig tutorial to teach you how to build sites for all those itty, bitty devices.

One of the better pieces (I have encountered) that covers the challenges and issues when authoring for small devices. Font items, images, layout tips, screen sizes, proxy filtering (how work may get changed on the way to display), protocol, page size, XHTML, HTML, CSS, WML, etc … usability concerns … and a list of handy resources.

Heidi has done a great job of putting together this tutorial.

Webmonkey will be missed, and it would be a good idea to read, print, and or save the Small-Screen article. The webmonkey site and its archives, at some point, may become unavailable.

If you are attending the South by Southwest [sxsw] festival this week, be sure to go visit the Long Live Webmonkey! event, Monday night (March 15th).

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Code As I Say, Not As I Do Fri, 12 Mar 2004 06:00:32 +0000 emarcotte The World Wide Web Conference is entering its thirteenth year, preparing for yet another round of action-packed W3-related developer events and presentations.

Funny thing, though: their site’s woefully invalid, inaccessible, and well nigh unusable. Littered with alt-bereft images and deprecated HTML, one wonders just how such a self-described prestigious series can effectively act as a public forum for the…W3C while failing to meet basic requirements for a valid, accessible site.

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