Just the other night I attended a class on accessibility that was presented by knowbility as part of the 2008 AIR Austin event. I’m a novice at accessibility standards and have become intrigued by it, so participating in AIR this year seemed like a good way to learn event.
Going into the class, I knew there had to be much, much more to accessibility standards than <alt> tags, which was my basic knowledge. Last night’s class most certainly affirmed that, as I knew it would. It presented to me a whole world of web design principles that I’d been naïve about. For example, visual disabilities are not the only kind of disabilities that should be taken into account when designing an accessible site. Auditory, cognitive, and motor/physical disabilities can also make it extremely difficult to search the Web. It is so important to make things like video accessible, too, and to make your Web sites accessible to individuals who are not using a mouse. Videos can be made accessible simply by captioning them, yet it is something that I’ve personally not run across often enough.
Another really interesting takeaway from the evening was that assistive technologies/screen readers, such as JAWS, can read in many languages. So it is important to specify, in your code, the language that a site should be read in. Also, I learned that assistive technologies read the heading elements of a page, as a means of navigating. So, it is wise to think more about the structure of heading elements. In regards to images, it is a good practice to name the image file something that makes sense and not simply 12345.gif. And, use alternative text to give a good description of the graphic, yet do not simply repeat what is said in the file name – because that only causes the screen reader to say the same thing twice.
This class was just a beginning for me, in my newfound study of accessibility. However, it provided a great start and I recommend checking out knowbility and the work they do, if you have an interest in learning more about accessibility.
In light of Misty McLaughlin's post Presidential Hopefuls Scorecard, and with AIR Austin creeping up on the horizon, I thought I would take a few minutes to briefly review the accessibility of the sites of Barack Obama and John McCain. (This will be based as much as it can be unbiasedly on accessibility - wish me luck!)
I wanted to give you an even list of pros and cons on both sites, but the drama wasn't there, gang. Kudos to Barack Obama's team for taking them time to include accessibility (and web) best practices into the website. McCain clearly has a lot to learn about the web as a medium and about the millions of people in America and around the world who have disabilities that impair the way that they use the access information on the internet.
This is a big pass to Barack Obama with flying colors, making the score 1-0.
PS - Side note - Convio is proud to announce that we will have TWO teams competing in the AIR Austin competition in October. Good luck teams - we'll be sure to post the results as they come in! Learn more about AIR Austin by checking out the Knowbility website.
This week Apple, Inc. announced that they are releasing a new version of the iPhone. The release of this news included such delicious tidbits as new features (like GPS), greater speed (on 3G networks it'll run twice as fast as the old iPhone), and the best part, which is it'll cost half the price. The only thing for me, better than all of this news, is that my contract with T-Mobile ends the VERY SAME DAY as the new iPhone comes out. Sorry T-Mobile, but all those dropped calls and mixed up bills will be coming back to you in spades.
Really though, I think the fact that Apple will introduce a much more accessible and widely distributed iPhone (and spurn a number of other cell phone manufacturers to imitate the) means good things for those of us focused on online engagement.
The iPhone has made one of the greatest leaps in technology in years (and I'm surprised this doesn't get more coverage) by letting web surfers use the full featured Safari browser. Plus you can touch the screen to click and scroll, very much like the mouse or touch pad you use today. Check out the Safari demo on this page.
Now, some of you will point out that only about that there are only a few million iPhones in use AND that most sites aren't optimized for the Safari browser. But what I'm saying is that as these numbers go up, so too will the need, desire, and incentive for those of us who market our causes online to develop for them.
I love mobile messaging and will keep browsing with my old skool smartphone. But, I'm telling you, keep an eye out for the iPhone, its imitators, and the opportunities that such a rich phone-based browsing experience present to us all.
Also, if you get excited about "rich phone-based browsing experiences" like I do, you need to get out more.
One of the joys of working with the nonprofit sector is the wonderful people you meet. Because of our relationship with Easter Seals, I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to meet Beth Finke and her seeing eye dog, Hanni. Beth's work and the work of Easter Seals around accessibility is fantastic.
While there is not enough room to tell you all the reasons Beth is such a great person - her sense of humor, passion, concern for others, jump right out - the description on her Web site captures part of it:
"NPR commentator Beth Finke is an award-winning author, teacher and journalist. She also happens to be blind....Her heartfelt, funny, and thoughtful talks leave audiences smiling and knowing a lot more about adaptability and resourcefulness."
Suffice it to say the world is better because Beth is in it.
When you get an email from Beth your drop everything and open it, because it's going to be good.Her last email exclaimed: MY CHILDREN'S BOOK JUST WON A BIG AWARD!!!
It’s the Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award, and it’s given out every year by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
"Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound," is Beth's award-winning book about the love and trust between guide dogs and people who are blind.
Beth and Hanni are dancing with joy. Beth, we're dancing with you! Congratulations.
Recently, as you may or may not know, John Slatin, highly-regarded Web accessibility expert and advocate, passed away. John's involvement in the accessibility community included serving as Co-Chair of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Working Group in 2005 and 2006, as well as founding Director of the Accessibility Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. He also authored several publications regarding accessibility, including co-authoring Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone.
In his memory, Knowbility.org has started the John Slatin Fund Accessibility Project. For a minimum donation of $300, your organization will be paired up with a volunteer accessibility expert who will perform a short accessibility review of your site. If you've ever wondered about your site's accessibility, this is a perfect and affordable opportunity to get a review of your site.
Site owners can expect to learn whether users with different disabilities might encounter barriers on their site, and how any barriers identified impact the user’s ability to have a successful experience. This review is intended to provide a short overview of the accessibility of the site, and is not a comprehensive accessibility audit.
If you are looking for an accessibility review, please consider this great opporunity, and if you consider yourself an expert and have some time that you can donate, contact the project to offer your services.
To read more about John and his experiences with blindness, leukemia, and life, visit The Leukemia Letters.
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