Accessibility for Everyone - Possible? Practical?

I guess a follow-on question to this thread is, if catering to one disability negatively affects someone with another disability, how do you reconcile that?

Is the holy grail of accessibility for everyone actually possible and, even if it is, is it always practical?

[ EDIT: This thread is a branch off of the If you wrote code for only 1 disability, which one would it be? thread - Mittineague ]

This is always the paradox, there are many occasions where simplifying it for one subset of users may directly implicate people who suffer another condition. Which is partly why I keep telling people that trying to cater for specific illnesses is the wrong way to deal with problems. If you go to the doctor you tell them your symptoms and they form an idea of what you’re suffering thereby treating the cause of the problem rather than the symptoms. Conditions like blindness and deafness are (in fact) on the web just passive terms to refer to people who suffer specific conditions of varying severity, making your website accessible to a blind person doesn’t make your website work for someone with color-blindness. If you however look at the condition of vision loss and then target the lack of visual input you can better deal with the problem by treating it as a condition with varying levels of chronic description or severity (thereby pro-actively treating the issue, not the condition). My biggest criticism with the likes of WCAG are they act as best practices for a small number of specific issues and totally ignore the wider aspect of accessibility. :slight_smile:

It’s neither practical or possible to make something accessible for every last person on earth simply because we don’t know every illness everyone suffers (like doctors, new discoveries relating to medical conditions are made all the time), that and as developers and designers we have a very restrictive amount of control over how our visitors consume what we offer. I like to believe that we can pro-actively enhance our websites to be better aided for people with disabilities (like having hand rails or wheelchair ramps) but we can’t account for the hardware at the client side and thus this limited control restricts how accessible we can make content.

I agree that accessibility is part the charge of the user and the developer (in equal amounts), we can do as much as we can to make things easier for them (like for example not using PX text measurements) and by taking the time to make things a bit more flexible we thereby hand it over to the users who can adapt their method of browsing to successfully access what we provide. After all, we can’t replicate the power and durability of a screen reader on the page!

As I said earlier, we cannot be held responsible for what we have no control over, we can in-fact make a website reasonably accessible but our power is limited. Accessibility is much more than what the website actually can do, as web professionals we work in co-ordination with the browser makers (who provide the medium of browsing), accessibility tool producers (who provide the tools that we ensure our stuff works within) and even to a bigger extent the hardware makers of PC’s who deal with issues like speed of access, it’s a pretty big undertaking but so far we do pretty well. :slight_smile:

Some of WCAG AAA is contradictory (even in 2.0), I don’t think total AAA compliance is technically possible in 90% of cases (Joe Clarke would probably agree with me on that) however I’ve never been much of a fan of WCAG as it’s far too discriminatory in itself as to what comprises reasonable accessibility (due to it’s focus on solutions rather than the issues itself). My own website is WCAG AA compliant and that’s good enough for me.

Automated testing is not a solution, it’s just a tool (and a very poor one at that considering how little those products can test against).

RIA’s fall under the ideal of progressive enhancement, of course there will be some features which cannot be made accessible but if the base level of compatibility allows for everyone to make use of the medium (even if it’s more restricted) then you can in-fact make any complex web application accessible. I hate when people refer to the law as justification for abandoning accessibility on the basis that they deem it impossible to work along with. The laws as they stand are VERY acceptable and flexible enough that only the worse offenders need be followed up and sued… in fact I’m a real believer that accessibility law is the barrier for entry our industry has been looking for to help get rid of poor practitioners, which is why I’m in favour of the EU putting more centralised laws to help boost the armoury.

The laws as they stand don’t apply to personal sites but commercial entities or those providing a non-personal public service, the nature that accessibility is such a reasonable expectation means that using this law I believe we can do a lot to clean up the web and weed out the crooks / people who can’t do their job properly. Disabled people don’t expect or want to be able to have the exact same level of experience, they have come to understand that being totally blind doesn’t mean that another implementation can give their sight back, but what they do expect is for an effort to be made to allow them to at least use it without being pushed off a cliff. Disabled people are a lot more reasonable than most people seem to assume, treating them like an annoyance isn’t good.

RIA’s aren’t generally governed by WCAG (apart from the design element of course), you’re thinking the ARIA specification which covers web apps. :slight_smile:

My definition matches yours except in place of target-audience I prefer to use the term needs-based audience purely because the scope of target audience is too broad a definition. Where a need exists to resolve a serious conflict is where I believe that a resolution is required. Targeting your audience based on specific factors tends to reduce into questionable definitions of what accessibility is and a lot of stereotyping. :slight_smile:

Actually the iPhone is a perfect example, it doesn’t support Flash and that presents a serious accessibility issue for those who cannot get onto a desktop computer - thus it has a very high penetration if there’s no alternatives available.

Actually, web based applications tend to be a lot more accessibility friendly than desktop ones because in our industry we have standards and protocols and expectations to consider these types of people, with software makers accessibility is a little thought-of expectation, in fact when I started in software development, it wasn’t even a consideration. I think decentralisation of software to the web will have a serious implicit enhancement for the future of people with disabilities as we can resolve the problems on the fly with little fear that the end user will suffer issues requiring an additional layer of tweaking for needs based users.

I wouldn’t be so critical of vector based formats, SVG for example is a LOT more accessibility friendly than an image (alike PNG) as you can contain alternative information directly into the file which accessibility agents can read and contextually work with. :slight_smile:

I use a medical model of design based on my experiences working in the health and social care sector, every condition is unique and every person suffers a varying level of problems. We should be acting a lot more like doctors and investigatory scientists than “rule following minions”. Even process driven designs has it’s failings where as I believe a more scientific approach to accessibility not only better equips you (as your required to pro-actively seek out these issues and learn about how people are affected) but it also resolves the issue of shoe-horning and stereotyping your audience.

Which is a good thing, humans rights are valuable, especially on the Internet which houses a great deal of the worlds collective knowledge. :slight_smile:

I guess what I meant by “define necessity” is that what’s considered a necessity changes. It’s a necessity to have indoor plumbing and electricity in our houses, but that wasn’t always the case. Then it became a necessity to have washing machines instead of going to the wasserette. Now people are considering dishwashers and home computers as necessities (these certainly weren’t when I was growing up). What is called necessity regarding the internets is changing even faster than the earlier things I mentioned. Tomorrow, image editing online may well become a necessity. At least, that’s what those making dummy-terminal OSes are pushing. There would be no GIMP on a machine that itself can just barely connect to the innernets and not much more… all this talk of “cloud computing”…

Fine, you write your image manipulation software in Flash. I’ll stick with the GIMP if you don’t mind.

No, it doesn’t make it any less valid. But ol’ Ludwig became deaf when he was in his late twenties, having already acquired a profound understanding of sound and music. I’m not sure this method would be as useful for someone who has been deaf since birth.

The idea of having dedicated clients might work well for something like an iPhone, where users download apps for specific purposes, but I can’t see it gaining anywhere near the same level of take-up or engagement with people using ordinary computers. On a desktop PC, a well-designed Flash application website is so easy to use for most people that there is no need to replace it by anything different.

Forcing websites to come down to the lowest common denominator by taking out any rich interactive applications and making them run in a separate context is adding an unnecessary layer of complication for both authors and users; it will put up considerable barriers and drastically reduce what people are able achieve compared with the status quo. Where there are usability or accessibility issues, these won’t be solved by externalising the application - a good web author will take appropriate steps to provide an alternative mechanism anyway, and a bad one won’t suddenly start taking those steps.

People like the simplicity of being able to access websites and applications through their browser. I’m sorry to say it, but your insistence that they should not be able to is sounding more and more like a political agenda fuelled by dogma rather than consideration of what will best serve people ‘out there’.

<looks up>
<realises who he is talking to>
<runs and hides>

Well, and the reason Flash does work is because it’s something a user has to download onto their machine and it’s basically a little virtual machine. This virtual machine then gets around both browser limitations and browser quirks, because it’s a snail who carries his own little environment with him.

This means a version needs to be made for each Operating System. Which it is, except Adobe only likes to build for Windows, so if you’re not using their chosen operating system, you get delayed upgrades and you’re limited in which browsers you can choose to run the software on. Which is actually why I don’t have any Flash at all on my Linux box— I would have been happy to have it for Chrome, my prostitute-browser who lets everything in, but Flash doesn’t work like that on Linux. It needs to be installed for Firefox before other browsers may use it : ( Firefox is the browser who’s never getting Flash on this machine, which means I get no Flash at all.

With the Iron Ruby/Python stuff coming out, it really would make a lot of sense to have some downloadable VM for users to have to interact with all web apps out there. Developers could write for one VM instead of multiple browsers packed with a lot of JS.

sticking tongue in cheek
That’s a fantastic idea! I’ll make a thick client that you have to download for my inaccessible stuff. It will be vector-based so the graphics download lightning fast, and I’ll implement excellent animation capabilities, and make it look rockin’ cool. I’ll call it… Flash, yeah. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do! :wink: Seriously though, I don’t think that’s an argument either one of us are comfortable with.

I agree with Stomme poes on this, I think there’s a disconnect between “content-based” and “browser-based”. A web browser is a particular technology and thick clients are an excellent way to extend the functionality of a web browser. They do however, have the serious drawback of how you obtain one. Sometimes via CD installation, but usually by downloading it on the net, so you are already assuming that the bulk of your audience is using a web browser. If you don’t need that extra machinery, then I don’t think you would. Especially with a number of the accessibility techniques that the new Sitepoint book on jQuery covers, there’s a lot more you can manageably, practically do with progressive enhancement to build a basic site with fundamental “reasonable” functionality and layer additional features on top of that. Castledine even demonstrates how you can actually take jQuery and pretty easily rip out the entire “basic” interface and build a new advanced interface from scratch. That does involve building the interface twice, but you can do that if you want to do more than simply augment the functionality of the basic interface. And either way you’re covered; if you have JS enabled, jQuery will build all the extra functionality, if you don’t you just have the basic interface that’s defined in the HTML. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m now reevaluating the kinds of design work I do in browser-based application development. The power and the potential are there, so I don’t think it’s inappropriate to make use of it.

As long as we’re in agreement that, just like you said, you do everything reasonable to support the maximum functionality that each user can use. That’s why I exploring jQuery right now, because it’s such a great way to build in that extra functionality without trading off the accessibility of your application.

Absolutely! This kind of thing is really common where we under/overestimate / misunderstand our users. While I like user testing because it brings out real world issues you didn’t think of, this is why I generally prefer Process Driven Design to User Centered Design. I think UCD encourages unhelpful practices like stereotyping, generating user profiles, and trying to get inside someone else’s head. You should keep the user in mind, but I find streamlining and fine tuning the process helps keep you focused on the things that actually improve the experience for users. Quite simply because I’m sure Flickr never gave a moment’s thought to how the blind would use their website. But they made it work so simply, that guess what… it works for them too.

PS I agree that composing and listening aren’t a good match, though I wasn’t as off base as you might think. Beethoven listened to music too. He would lay his head on the piano and “feel” the music as he played. It’s a very different experience of music than listening, but I don’t think that makes it any less valid. I’m sure no one ever designed the piano for a deaf man. But it still worked. I like the idea that web applications would be built in a similar manner; maybe they won’t be used in anything like the way we anticipated, but if we can maximize the value of what we do and put that love and care into it that characterize good workmanship in any field, I think we’ll see all kinds of wonderful results that we probably never even imagined.

OK, I’ll take a step back from what I said before - sorry if I misinterpreted it.

If people want to use their browser to edit photos and create graphics over a slow internet connection, I won’t stand in their way. Personally I prefer to use the GIMP, but YMMV.

I couldn’t agree with you more there - anything that involves significant data transfer or processor time is usually better run locally if it can be, and there’s no reason why an application for photo editing should be done over the internet. That wasn’t the kind of application that I had in mind - I was thinking more about things that are pretty much of necessity done over the web, and where a Flash-based interface can provide a much better user experience than plain ol’ HTML.

I was thinking more about things that are pretty much of necessity done over the web,

Define “necessity”. And then tell my why that’s not going to include photo editing or making movies tomorrow.

In my very personal opinion, accessibility is about making a reasonable effort to make web sites usable and accessible for the target audience. The problem is that sometimes we underestimate the scope of the target audience … like excluding blind users from photography sites.

++ excellent.

I have two reactions to this. One, I’d just like to clarify that I agree with this, especially in the sense that we all know and have run across websites that are completely inaccessible and did not need to be; these are sites where there is explicitly something wrong because they are wholly inaccessible either because the website is rendered in bad JS / AJAX, Flash only site, etc.

My second reaction, which people have now started talking about, is how does this play into the much more complicated world of RIAs. What about when we’re no longer talking about content and information, but tools and functionality. Should all video editing programs be ruled illegal because all current video editors (that I know of) require you to see in order to use them? Does it matter if they’re online vs. desktop applications? Does each program have to be accessible to ALL disabled users, or as long as there are viable alternatives in the marketplace, is that acceptable? What if there aren’t viable alternatives? Should government step in to do something? Do we need action because no one sees a market for a particular niche software with a particular group with disabilities?

e.g. Beethoven stayed musically active as a composer even after losing his hearing, so does that mean someone should be sued, the government should direct funding towards, etc. because there is no version of iTunes for the deaf?

I think these are going to be much tougher questions to answer, than the world of A, AA, and AAA accessibility that we currently talk about. Some of those guidelines extend nicely to RIAs, but there are definitely major gaps.

I wouldn’t describe the whole map, I would ask them questions to find out which bits were relevant and describe enough of those to convey the essential information. eg, if the person wanted to get from Canterbury to Maidstone, I would describe the possible routes. I certainly wouldn’t even begin to try to describe the whole network.

I would say that anything that uses the internet “of necessity” is something that needs to download or upload data from/to a website or other internet connection. Photo editing is most likely to use photos that you have loaded from your camera onto your computer, where you can run a local application. There’s no need to get the internet involved.

As you say, there’s no reason why you can’t do that over the internet now (except, as Tommy says, that the connection speed makes it a pretty horrible experience compared to running GIMP), but there’s no reason why you would have to.

I run everything through Cynthia for the most part.

We do have a visually impaired women who tests our sites with Jaws.

Plus working at a University you have to be accessible to a wider audience.

I think you are reading way too much into what I said there. I’m not saying you shouldn’t develop things that people want. I’m questioning whether it’s the best way to go about it, but if lots of people think so they are more than welcome to do it that way as far as I’m concerned.

The only thing I said was that I, personally, don’t consider it to be a web site if it doesn’t work in ‘any’ web browser (without plug-ins). I’m not even saying that’s a universal truth, only that I happen to think so.

If people want to use their browser to edit photos and create graphics over a slow internet connection, I won’t stand in their way. Personally I prefer to use the GIMP, but YMMV.

My spontaneous thought is: does this sort of thing really belong in a web browser? Wouldn’t it perhaps be better to write dedicated clients for this sort of thing (even if the web is used as a transport layer)?

To a man with only a hammer, the world is full of nails. People who can only code for web browsers tend to want to do everything that way. That doesn’t mean it’s the best way.

No, no more than driving should be outlawed because people with some types of disabilities are unable to do it. But perhaps video editing software could be improved so that some accomplished people with visual impairments could use it? I don’t know.

Composing music is quite different from listening to music, so the comparison doesn’t work very well. Personally, I would think it’s unlikely that a deaf person would have any interest in using Itunes or similar services. But that might be just a preconceived notion on my part. There’s a Flickr group for blind photographers, for instance, which might surprise quite a few people (especially when they see the often stunning images).

In my very personal opinion, accessibility is about making a reasonable effort to make web sites usable and accessible for the target audience. The problem is that sometimes we underestimate the scope of the target audience … like excluding blind users from photography sites.

No, and that is not what I said. I said that if something requires plug-ins in order to function at all, then I, personally, don’t consider it a web site. If it doesn’t work with just a browser, I think something is wrong.

As long as all the relevant information is available for a user agent that supports HTTP and HTML, then you’re welcome to add as much visual bling and Flash cr@p as you like.

It would be hard to write, and probably even harder to understand for the user. But ‘hard to understand’ is still better than ‘not available at all’.

How would you explain the network map to a friend over a telephone line? (Let’s pretend that you had to, for some reason.)
That’s how you’d provide the text equivalent for the network map.

I know from my brief and shallow encounter with Technical Report Writing that even describing something “simple” can become extremely verbose very quickly.

I don’t know how a map would “ask” questions. But it seems that at least some attempt could be made. eg.

“A 20 square mile map showing the main routes from Canterbury to Maidstone, including ____, _____, _____, and _____”

Enough so the user could at least know what it was they were missing and get a bit of info that they might be able to use.

But to accurately describe all the orientations, proximities, junctions, divergencies, landmarks, etc. would require a book and still end up being information overload and not very useful - not practical.

I’m not one to go for glitz and glamour over grit and grunt, and I abhor effects for the sake of effects. But that doesn’t mean that a website that uses Flash or Ajax to good effect isn’t a website any more!

For example, a train operator in the UK has, as part of their website, a Flash-based interactive map showing their network. I think it’s a really nifty page, and does the job well. I think it’s a shame that the fallback is a PDF of a different map, so let’s pretend that instead, they have given a static PNG of the same map as the fallback.

First, are you saying that because there is one interactive page that it is no longer a website?

Second, how would you describe a network map in textual terms - even if you have a static image there, so people without Flash can see it? I don’t know that you can, not in a way that captures the full sense of the information. And if you can’t provide it in textual terms, how can you claim a triple-A rating?

But if something requires support for anything beyond HTTP and HTML, then I don’t consider it to be a proper web site.

FIFY… instead, it’s become web media or a web application.