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Friday, February 16, 2007

How Accessible is "Accessible"?

A number of weeks back, I wrote an entry called, “Radio Radio,” in which I mentioned that I would start doing broadcast radio reporting for WMNF 88.5 here in the Tampa Bay area.  I attend training classes every Saturday morning and, yesterday, got approval to do my first full fledged piece for actual radio play.

My first real story will discuss the accessibility problems with many important Tampa Bay area informational web sites.  While I have found web accessibility interesting and important for a long time, I had rarely looked at local, Tampa Bay based web pages.  As part of our news training, we must take a local news quiz every week as WMNF is, after all, a community based station and their editorial group feels that their reporters should follow the goings on in the community.  For obvious reasons, I can’t read the local papers in print form so I ventured out to read the “Metro” sections on the St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune web sites.

Here, the fun, or lack thereof, begins.  Using JAWS and FBSA as my screen readers, I set out to do my assignment and read about our local city and county governments and happenings in the Tampa Bay area.  What I found when I looked disappointed greatly.  The Tampa Tribune web site is better organized than the St. Pete Times but the first three links at the top of each page have no labels.  The St. Petersburg Times, the local paper of record, has so many accessibility problems that, although it can, with great patience, be read with a screen reader, it is an efficiency nightmare.  I simply do not have the time on my hands to wade through stacks of unlabeled gibberish to find the stories I might be interested in reading.  Unlike sites that don’t change too often, using JAWS’ Virtual Find feature doesn’t help as I don’t know what to search for as, if I did, I’d already have read the story and wouldn’t need to find it anyway.

As a bone tossed to the accessibility cause, the St. Pete Times provides a “text only” alternative to its busy and marginally accessible regular site.  As I’ve written before, text only pages are not an adequate solution to accessibility problems.  I frankly don’t care what Raman says, separate but equal isn’t.  Well crafted web sites can provide 100% compliance with accessibility standards and guidelines without losing an iota of visual appeal.  The people who still use text-only browsers in a text console environment have the source code and can make their little browsers comply with the user agent guidelines if they would simply stop whining that it’s no longer 1985 and that graphical environments are here to stay.  Any blink who pushes for a text-only ghetto solution is doing the entire community a disservice and should shut up and go home.  It’s the 21st century, get over it.

Some of my friends who use Windows based screen readers, however, argue that even marginal accessibility is better than what we had twenty-five years ago so we should not yell too loudly about sites that do not comply fully with the various guidelines and standards for accessibility.  This puts us back at the glass being half full or half empty discussion that I’ve written about in the past.  Twenty-five years ago, I could see very well so I frankly cannot identify with my friends who were blind then and now enjoy access to a lot of things the Internet has to offer that they didn’t have back in 1980.  At the same time, people with no disability didn’t have much of an Internet back in 1982 and, today, have profoundly greater access to the myriad online wonders than we blinks do.  Sure, some web sites read visually are poorly designed and visually cluttered but a sighted reader doesn’t have to hear the noisy crap babbled by a screen reader on an unlabeled link and, in some cases, have to decipher the noise as that link is the only way from one page to another.

So, I ask my readers, how compliant does a web site need to be to be considered accessible?

Does everything need to be labeled or is having an pile of unlabeled links as well as links with worthwhile text accessible in spite all of the noise a screen reader user needs to endure?  Does the text on labeled links need to be useful or is having four or five consecutive “click here” links adequate?  Does the site need to include headings and other tags useful for efficient navigation in order to be called accessible?  What is the threshold of compliance that makes a site “accessible” to a screen reader user?

My personal opinion is that we blinks need to try to force 100% compliance as, with anything less, we’re going to get crap.  If we push for 100% compliance, we’ll be lucky to get 75% so accepting anything less gives a free pass to web developers as regards the discrimination, intentional or otherwise, caused by the lack of compliance.  What do you think?

Afterward

I need a few audio quotes for my radio piece.  If you are a web accessibility expert, please contact me if you are interested in adding a sound bite.

5 Comments:

Blogger Chairman Mal said...

Howdy Comrades!
One hundred percent compliance must be the goal if blind people have any hope of inclusion in the e-commerce of the third millennium. Say what you will about NFB, but we are in the vanguard, forcing the issue of web access in the United States by suing Target and now Oracle. I blundered last week when I tried to post a comment to my blog and thought I had to switch to New Blogger in order to do so. It’s been a nightmare ever since. JAWS keeps encountering buttons with no labels, and I can’t get it to consistently tell me when I’m in the correct edit field. Consequently, my tech trainer must post for me. We spent at least four hours last week just attempting to get Google’s Blogger for Word to work like it once did. Good luck, BC, with your radio debut. The best resource for a standard is to check with NFB or the RNIB. Brittan seems to be doing much better shaming web designers into doing the right thing. In our country, it looks like they have no shame and will only respond in a court of law. Regards, Chairman Mal: Power to the peeps!
Howdy Comrades!
One hundred percent compliance must be the goal if blind people have any hope of inclusion in the e-commerce of the third millennium. Say what you will about NFB, but we are in the vanguard, forcing the issue of web access in the United States by suing Target and now Oracle. I blundered last week when I tried to post a comment to my blog and thought I had to switch to New Blogger in order to do so. It’s been a nightmare ever since. JAWS keeps encountering buttons with no labels, and I can’t get it to consistently tell me when I’m in the correct edit field. Consequently, my tech trainer must post for me. We spent at least four hours last week just attempting to get Google’s Blogger for Word to work like it once did. Good luck, BC, with your radio debut. The best resource for a standard is to check with NFB or the RNIB. Brittan seems to be doing much better shaming web designers into doing the right thing. In our country, it looks like they have no shame and will only respond in a court of law. Regards, Chairman Mal: Power to the peeps!

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Jake said...

I too think web access for all is crucial. I seem to recall ACB having something called Cynthia Says, which was some sort of web standard test. They might still have it, but I haven't been to their website for some time now. I have done some consulting with a couple website designers, most notably www.independentfutures.com . This is the website of a nonprofit organization here in Illinois, which works in community settings to find living options for people with disabilities. The organization is still rather young, and not too long ago their former development director contacted me and asked if I would mind giving them a few tips on making their website more accessible. So she came over to my apartment and I worked with her. I took her to several websites, some that were screen reader friendly and some that were screen reader unfriendly. I am happy to report that www.independentfutures.com is now a lot more accessible than it was. I think a bit more work could be done, but the staff has been bogged down with other things. I also like Surf's Up, formerly the HTML Challenge, on Freedom Scientific's website. This was one of the places I took her.

10:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI, it's Patrick at http://www.pacmategear.com I feel that a web developer and site designer should strive for 100 percent accessibility. In reality, no site is going to be 100 percent accessible. Even www.pacmategear.com, which I have tried to maintain with accessibility in mind is surely not 100 percent accessible. As far as html/xml coding goes. If the code validates at the w3c, the site is already on its way to usable accessible compliance. I feel that if a web developer takes the time to validate their pages, ensures their links and graphics have textual lables and that the colrs and contrast are reasy on the eyes. Then that level of accessibility is acceptiable. It probably won't be close to 100 percent but it should be useable by most peple.

8:03 PM  
Anonymous Drew L Spitz said...

Howdy Comrades!
I regret to inform readers of Blind Confidential that our beloved leader, Chairman Mal, has relapsed and is once again recuperating at The Last Resort Center for Character Development. His physician informs me that Chairman Mal suffers from a severe case of Echolalia brought on by the stress of converting to the New Blogger. Members of the ATC of the Blind Panther Party regret any inconvenience our leader may have caused local motorists when Chairman mal hurled his computer and several empty vodka bottles beneath the wheels of an oncoming Capital Metro bus traveling south on guadelupe Street earlier this week. Drew L Spitz, Director of Public Affairs, ATC/BPP: Power to the Peeps!

1:22 AM  
Blogger seahorse said...

It's like they throw people with disabilities a nod in what they think is the right direction then forget all about it. Go for it and good luck!

6:44 PM  

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