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November 2003
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November Weblog

November 26, 2003

AbilityNet, a UK charity that advocates making technology accessible to people with disabilities, conducted another State of the eNation report. They used automated and manual methods to analyze the accessibility of UK newspapers' Web sites. The results were disheartening. All of the sites rated poorly, at best. You can read their entire eight page report (in PDF format) for more details.

For those of you who celebrate it, have a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!

November 24, 2003

In the A List Apart article, How to Save Web Accessibility from Itself, accessibility afficionado, Joe Clark, makes some highly critical but valid points about flaws and deficiencies in the W3C WAI's latest WCAG 2.0 draft. My favorite sections of the interview are when Joe discusses guidelines that he deems to be "Next to Impossible" or "Not our Problem". Some of these guidelines (or their implications) are quite alarming. If you can make the time, please join and contribute to either the WAI Interest Group email list or the WAI Guidelines email list, and help sort out the problems before the WCAG 2.0 becomes a finalized document.

November 21, 2003

The W3C published a draft of the document Inaccessibility of Visually-Oriented Anti-Robot Tests: Problems and Alternatives. The document describes the problem created when using an image to verify if a user attempting to access an online service is a human or a machine program. (It's a Turing test.) Sites such as Ticketmaster and Slashdot use this technique. There don't seem to be many viable alternative methods to validate if the user is a human; at least, not if you need an immediate response. Heuristic checks help, but may not be reliable. Having a 24-hour phone operator on hand is a slower and possibly expensive solution, but that might not be a problem if the desired result isn't time-sensitive and the Web site's owner can afford it. This topic definitely needs more research and some better alternatives.

ZDNet has an article that further summarizes the document and mentions examples of other sites that implement Turing (anti-robot) tests.

November 14, 2003

The US Justice Department claims they will soon release the 2003 Section 508 survey to Federal agencies, despite the fact that they haven't yet released previous years' survey results to the public. I'd be interested to find out how information for the survey is gathered. If claims of Section 508 compliance are self-reported by the agencies, I would take that data with a whole shaker full of salt. However, if compliance is assessed by an independent group that uses automated and non-automated methods of validation, then the results would be invaluable. The manner in which sites are evaluated is the most important factor in such a survey. Automated methods are fast and can effectively check some things, but they tend to provide incomplete or inconclusive results. Too many aspects of a site must be checked manually to ensure true accessibility. The accessibility of anything but the simplest sites cannot be ensured by performing automated checks alone. I'm aware of a few agencies that make great efforts to ensure accessibility of their sites, but I sometimes wonder how many in government are honestly interested in offering real accessibility on the Web. Too many seem to merely want to perform a few yearly, automated checks and wash their hands of the issue.

November 07, 2003

It used to be that you could run only one version of Internet Explorer on a single copy of Windows. However, Joe Maddalone recently found a way to run Internet Explorer versions 6.0, 5.5, and 5.01 simultaneously on a single installation of Windows! He explains how he figured out how to do it, and how you can do it, too.

For your convenience, Ryan Parman posted pre-made stand-alone versions of Internet Explorer versions 5.01 and 5.5 you can download. Fortunately, there are many mirror sites and more keep getting added! The downloads should work under Windows versions XP, 2000, Server 2003, 98, ME, and possibly 95 or NT. I can personally confirm that the downloads work using a Virtual PC version 5 installation of Windows XP Home. They're a bit unstable. Running them in an emulated version of Windows might be part of the problem. Accessing the "Favorites" list can crash them, but since I'm only using them for testing, it's an acceptable trade-off; I don't need to use the bookmark capabilities. His site also warns about other bugs you might encounter. For example, the browser version might display as Internet Explorer 6.0 on the "About Internet Explorer" page (under the "Help" menu), but that's not accurate. The browsers definitely render Web pages like the old versions do—CSS bugs and all!

It's kind of sad that I'm so ecstatic about something you can do using any other brand of browser. I have several versions of Opera and Netscape installed and use them all to test Web sites on which I work. I didn't have that luxury with Internet Explorer until now. Being able to run multiple versions of it on the same copy of Windows is a huge boon to Web designers and developers. It makes it infinitely easier to test sites. In the past, to test sites using different versions of Internet Explorer I had to have access to several computers that ran Windows, set up different installations of Windows on either separate hard drives or drive partitions, or set up multiple emulations within Virtual PC on a Macintosh. It was very inconvenient. I understand why it wasn't an option for some people. Finally, there's an alternative to that madness!

Thank you to all who posted news about this and worked on it!

November 06, 2003

Nigel Peck interviewed Julie Howell of the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB). Julie answers questions about the UK Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). She also provides a nice ten point sales pitch you can use to sell Web accessibility to corporate management. Some of the points are specific to the UK, so you may need to research statistics or legal requirements for your own country if you want to make all of her points relevant to your location.

Craig Saila interviewed Joe Clark for Digital Web Magazine. Joe, the ever-opinionated, never-imitated accessibility afficionado, gives his definition of accessibility, voices his opinion on how to handle "skip-navigation" links, and discusses his favorite topic—captions. My favorite comment from Joe appeared at the end of the interview:

"If you make a valid site, you get most of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Priority 1 requirements for free."

November 03, 2003

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department, which includes the folks who brought you, recently released 187 Web design guidelines. This free 128 page guidelines book is based on the results of usability and accessibility tests and research. It offers invaluable information, and it's free! How can you beat that?