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April 2003
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April Weblog

April 29, 2003

Proper use of headings, (such as h1, h2, h3, etc.), can be an essential part of creating valid, logical markup. They're so important, yet are often ignored or misused. Headings contain key points, such as the title or topic of a page. While their default appearance can be quite bland, Christopher Schmitt demonstrates 50+ ways to use CSS to visually style headings. You can view the page source to see how he did it. Keep in mind that headings can be helpful for disabled users, even ones who can't see the great CSS effects. For example, some popular screen readers can read the headings on a Web page, giving the users a glimpse of what content the page will contain and allowing them to get to the specific information they want faster.

April 28, 2003

An article focusing on Scotland's political parties points out a problem prevalent everywhere, even in the United States— political parties' Web sites discriminate against the disabled. I'm not aware of even one U.S. Senator or member of Congress whose site openly complies with Web accessibility guidelines. If their sites are usable by people with assistive technology, it's more likely a "happy accident" than it is intentional. If you're aware of any such sites that are accessible, please email me: <anitra at anitrapavka dot com>. I'd love to see some examples of accessible, political Web sites.

April 23, 2003 has a new tool, Acrobot, that generates markup for abbreviations and acronyms. It draws upon a (currently small) database of terms and generates the XHTML. It would be great to see this tool grow.

While using <acronym> or <abbr> is a great idea, user agent support of these tags has always been a concern of mine. For example, my copy of IBM HomePage Reader doesn't appear to support either tag. I'm not sure if other major screen readers or speech browsers support these tags, either. Internet Explorer versions 5.5 and higher appear to support <acronym>, but not <abbr>. I'm not sure if a screen reader using Internet Explorer as its browser will support <acronym>, as well. Of course, the lack of support for the <abbr> tag bothers me since abbreviations include more than just acronyms. (Acronyms are a type of abbreviation.) The little information I found about screen reader support seems to hint that neither Windows-Eyes nor Jaws (the two most popular screen readers) support these tags. If anyone has more conclusive proof, please email me: <anitra at anitrapavka dot com>.

April 22, 2003

News has been slow recently, but I found another bit of usability wisdom from the venerable "usable Jakob" (Jakob Nielsen). Ok, calling it wisdom is a bit of a stretch, but I thought it was funny. Inappropriate, but still funny. Plus, it does make a point or two.

On a more serious note, Jakob recently wrote a good AlertBox column advocating "Low-End Media for User Empowerment".

April 17, 2003

The Pew Internet Project compiled the results of a survey conducted (mostly) in 2002 that reveals interesting information about internet usage. You may read a summary of their findings or read the entire report, entitled "The Ever-Shifting Internet Population".

Of particular interest were the numbers they compiled on disabled Internet users. The following is an excerpt from their summary of findings:

The disabled have among the lowest levels of Internet access in America. They face unique hurdles going online. Disabled non-users are less likely than other non-users to believe that they will ever use the Internet and less likely than others to live physically and socially close to the Internet. Disabled Americans are less likely to have friends or family who go online.

The cost of technological and software solutions to various disabilities is expensive -- $3,000 for a Braille computer interface, for example. The high cost of Internet-adaptive technologies, combined with the relatively smaller incomes of the disabled, make Internet use prohibitively expensive for many.

April 15, 2003

Jakob Nielsen prognosticates about the future of accessible Web design. Unfortunately, designing and maintaining separate sites for each major type of disability isn't feasible for most people. However, his overview of the fundamental differences in how disabled users approach sites makes for an interesting read. The growing usage of small, wireless devices might push adoption of design strategies like this earlier than otherwise expected.

April 14, 2003

While I support intellectual property rights and copyright protection, I don't think Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the way to do it. Joe Clark's article "Accessibility implications of digital rights management" goes into detail about how DRM limits our legal rights and may restrict access and fair use of media by people with (and without) disabilities.

April 13, 2003

Unfortunately, too few state level government entities have focused on usability, much less accessibility. The state of Virginia created a common template to control the look and feel of state Web sites. While some agencies balked at the cookie-cutter look and approach, this should (overall) improve the usability and accessibility of state sites. The template isn't available yet for download, but when it is, I'll check it out. If it's everything it promises to be, I'll post a link to it. I really hope it'll be available for public download. It could act as a solid framework that other organizations may adopt and adapt.

April 9, 2003

Peter-Paul Koch wrote a lengthy overview about JavaScript and accessibility. The JavaScript information provided is good, but I want to clarify a few things. He mentions how certain technology, such as speech browsers and mobile phones, will handle specific scripts. Yet, he doesn't mention screen readers. I find that odd. (Perhaps he's mistaken about the difference between screen readers and speech browsers?) Screen readers, (which are more common than stand alone speech browsers), allow visually impaired users to interface a Web browser, usually Internet Explorer. I've never head of a browser detection script capable of telling if the user is using a screen reader to interface the browser. Detection scripts identify the browser as if it was a standard copy of the browser. Fortunately for JavaScript aficionados, if JavaScript is enabled by default (as it is in most modern browsers), the screen reader will attempt to handle JavaScript. However, device-dependent scripts may still pose a problem.

Also, as detailed in a tutorial on, there are ways to handle pop-up windows in a more accessible manner. One important thing that's commonly overlooked is to warn users a link will open a new window. Screen reader or speech browser users may become confused if the focus changes to a different window without warning since they might still think they're in the other window. To warn users of popups, I tend to use a little icon, for example Sample icon that indicates a link will open a new or popup window, with alt text that explains that the following link will open in a new window. I place this icon immediately before each link that will open a new window.

April 7, 2003

According to an internal report from the Office of e-Envoy, more than 78% of British government sites need an accessibility overhaul. Those are rather ugly numbers and, as the article indicates, the costs may take a substantial chunk out of their budgets. I hope they can afford the redesigns and testing. I wish they would release more details about what they analyzed and how they conducted the reviews.

Today, Watchfire released Bobby 5.0. They say they've improved the thing I complain about the most—their generated reports. I'm especially impressed by the claim that the new version can "spider through secure and password-protected sites". They're offering a special price on it until May 7, 2003. However, I'd kill for a demo version of it to see the improvements for myself. If I can get my hands on a copy, I'll definitely post a review.

April 6, 2003

As I researched search engine optimization techniques, (how to get your site to rank higher in search results), I found yet another reason to add an alt attribute to images that convey meaning. Several major search engines (AltaVista, Google, and Teoma) index the text in alt attributes. That means it makes good business sense to use descriptive alt text because it can improve page placement in search engine results, as well as make pages more accessible.

April 3, 2003

The U.S. Section 508 site recently posted an interesting set of Market Research Guidelines for Section 508 compliant products. This is essential if you work for or are a contractor of U.S. government entities. It should also be of interest to businesses that wish to buy accessible technology products or want to put themselves in the best position to sell such products.

April 1, 2003

The British Disability Rights Commission will investigate 1,000 public and private sector Web sites to determine their level of basic accessibility. British Web sites should already be in compliance with the Disability Rights Commission Act of 1999, but it's unknown how many are. The group intends to compile the investigation's results by the end of the year. I hope they'll use their findings to inform Web developers of the most common Web accessibility mistakes and demonstrate how to avoid them.