Is your blog including everyone you thought it was?

You want to include everyone by making your information accessible. You want to create a level playing field. You even know web accessibility is good for search engine optimization (SEO).

But you are overwhelmed. You are too busy. You don’t know where to start. I get that.

If you want to know exactly what changes you need to implement on your site to include everyone within your niche – regardless of disability – I can show you.

Find Out How

Surf a GB with Glenda’s Thumb

Young Glenda sitting on thhe grass, surrounded by Collie puppies

The internet has opened the world to me in truly countless ways. However, that isn’t to say I don’t face numerous obstacles along the way. To understand the obstacles I face while using the web, a snapshot of my disability might be beneficial.

When I was born, I did not breathe for six minutes. As a result I sustained a brain injury and was eventually diagnosed with “cerebral palsy athetoid quadriplegia”. My physical movements are jerky and involuntary; one body part or another is in constant motion. My left hand has some function and I type with only my left thumb. Most of the time my right hand is in a tightly clenched fist. I am not able to walk without support, my head control is tenuous, and swallowing takes conscious effort. My speech is also significantly impaired.

However, this does not prevent me from accomplishing wickedly awesome things, thanks to a large part to computer technology (and to my parents who raised me without the word “can’t” in my vocabulary). To further understand how I surf the web and what obstacles I face, I would like to show you how I access my computer. For this reason, please let me take you on a quick tour of my home office.

Glenda's corner office

With windows facing south and west, light floods in on sunny days. On gray, rainy days, the lime green walls keep the space alive and cheery.

Glenda's desk

In addition to my 6-core processor with 4G of RAM –- a surprise gift from my geek of a husband – I use the following hardware:

  1. A sturdy Traxsys joystick makes controlling the cursor easier than by using a mouse, considering my jerky hand movements. An added bonus? Using the joystick doesn’t cause the same hand pain as a mouse.
  2. A spill-proof silicone keyboard is a must for this workaholic who eats at her desk. No more gummed up keys! Also notice my keyboard does not have extra function keys or any buttons across the top – that’s where I glide my hand when I am typing. Sadly for me, keyboards without the extra row of keys are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
  3. My wrist pad is placed on the topside of my keyboard (rather than the bottom), to support my hand when I slide along it while typing with my left thumb. Because it places my hand in a slightly different position than it would be without a pad, it reduces strain and, therefore, pain.

Here are some of my favourite pieces of software:

  • Sticky Keys: This feature in Microsoft Windows’ Ease of Use Center enables me to perform multiple-key commands – like SHIFT + M – one key at a time. On a PC, hitting the Shift key five times enables Sticky Keys; a similar feature is also available on the Mac.
  • WordQ: For word prediction and completion, it saves me keystrokes. As I type, a floating box dynamically suggests numbered words from which to choose. To complete a word, I type the corresponding number as the word appears. WordQ has replaced my beloved E Z Keys software, which was sadly rendered ineffective by an undeterminable new web technology that interfered with it. Sometimes assistive technology does not keep up with changes in web technology.
  • TextAloud: I use this text-to-speech tool and the voice of Kate to create audio files for presentations, to give interviews, and to narrate videos.
  • FreeMind: The open-source mind-mapping tool is completely keyboard operable. I use it for keeping track of everything I have on the go and everything I need to do.
  • SnagIt: I use this handy screen capture and graphics program almost daily.
  • DisplayLink: The most recent app I’ve added to my toolbox. It allows me to use my iPad as a second computer screen. I like to drag my word prediction box over to the iPad screen and place the device on my lap, keeping it within the same sightline as my keyboard. Some professionals might say this is ergonomically compromising; but, hey, apparently so is the way I type with my left thumb and I have been doing for forty years with minimal ill effects. I can also drag the document I am working on over to the iPad, which allows me to view everything at once and saves me from having to look up toward my computer screen at all.

Technology is good, but it is how we are able to adapt the technologies specifically toward our unique needs that really counts.

These and various other technologies, mashed together in a variety of combinations, further levels the playing field and increases my capabilities. Here’s a great example: A few years ago, I would have never envisioned myself hosting a realtime, fast-paced text chat.

Glenda's coomputer screen while hosting a tweetchat

Thanks to the mashing of the social media tool SocialOomph, with my preferred Twitter application Hootsuite, and my word prediction software WordQ, I am easily able to host a tweetchat – another checkmark in my “I can do” list.

As the number of possible mash ups is nearly endless, so are my expanded capabilities, thanks to technology. However, all of this technology and capability does not eliminate the obstacles I encounter when I am working online, which is a majority of my work day.

My top 7 countdown of common obstacles I struggle with or try to avoid:

#7: Homepages with endless links

Homepages with a mess of links and information are frustrating and overwhelming. For example, when I land on the Americans with Disabilities Act homepage, my eyes glaze over. Immediately I am overwhelmed by the number of links on the page that is 10 screens long. I don’t know where to even place my joystick to get started. Or, if my hand is functioning poorly in that moment, navigating the 203 links with my keyboard is energy draining, time consuming and mind numbing.

I am more likely to google the information than to go directly to the site to rummage through the links to find what I need.

The number of ways the ADA site fails on web accessibility is beyond ironic.

#6: Too-small-to-see skip links

Skip links that jump over or bypass blocks of repetitive content not only assist individuals who use screen readers, they also benefit those of us who mainly or only use the keyboard.

Tiny skip links on the ADA site

However, when the skip links are too small even to read – like those on the ADA Homepage – they are useless to me unless I drastically increase the page’s text size to see them. This added step disrupts my workflow and is annoyingly unnecessary.

One suggestion I have to remedy this is implementing small link text that increases upon receiving focus, like when I tab to it. This would go unnoticed by most users, therefore not interfering with the aesthetics of the site but would be sweet for people such as myself who use the tab function to navigate.

#5: Auto-start audio or video

I have to say, sites with video or audio that starts automatically cause me to jump right out of my skin. I’m not joking!

Unless I absolutely need the information on the site, I don’t hang around unless the stop button is front and center and I can quickly get to it.

Please allow your site visitors to control any multimedia features. The more control they have, the more accessible your site is.

#4: Tiny clickable areas

Are you kidding me?

Allow me to be candid. My fine motor control is tenuous. Sometimes it isn’t too bad; other times, forget it! And lots of people have age-related motor skills issues too — remember, boomers are aging — don’t wait till you age and lose some mobility to enjoy this lightbulb moment!

Here’s an example: it is tricky for me to accurately hit the tiny hash tag (#) character in order to Edit Comments in WordPress.

Tiny clickable area in WordPress

Besides, I can never remember that the number sign means “View post”. How is that even intuitive?

A text link “View post” would be much easier for me and many others to hit and none of us would have to remember this totally obscure reference.

I want to add that I find tapping on the tiny areas on my iPad even more dicey. I have accidentally deleted email that I was attempting to reply to, and I have unintentionally friended someone on Facebook.

Tiny tappable areas on the iPad

I’m hoping any future mis-taps won’t be more serious than this.

#3: Incorrectly coded forms

When form controls are poorly coded, it forces me to specifically click in the tiny check boxes or radio buttons to make my selections. Again, this can be difficult for me at times.

Incorectly coded checkbox

There exists a simple fix for this on the programming side: when the label element is associated with the input element, the target area becomes larger.

In this example of selecting pizza toppings, I can click the check box or anywhere along the text label “Mushrooms” to make my selection.

Correctly coded checkbox

With this simple adjustment, my hitting a target becomes so much easier.

#2: Dynamic elements

Elements that fly out, pop out or slide out are tricky for me to navigate before they vanish. Slide out menus are my enemies. I often click a link I didn’t intend to pursue, which causes me to backtrack before I proceed. This is frustrating!

flyout-menus

Similarly, in my preferred Twitter application Hootsuite, when I am aiming for the “Refresh Stream” button, I frequently overshoot it with a jerky hand movement and the damn side panel flies out. I need to change course with my joystick for the unwanted part to disappear before I can proceed.

#1: CAPTCHAs. OMG! Rant alert!

In 2012, are CAPTCHAs truly the best we can do to differentiate humans from computers? Take this one example:

Google CAPTCHA

Are you kidding me?

With my once perfect vision which has only become impaired by my ripe old age of forty-five, I can no longer make out most of these garbled letters, even after I have tilted my head in a variety of directions.

Let’s recount an actual task I recently performed: setting up a Google group for a client.

I started by staring at the presented CAPTCHA for a few moments and, still having no clue what some of the characters were, I clicked on the wheelchair icon. What the wheelchair has to do with audio I know not, but I decided to give the audio CAPTCHA a shot. From previous experience I know audio versions are equally garbled, but I figured it couldn’t be more undecipherable than this image of garbled letters – or what I assumed were letters.

Much to my surprise, I was presented with:

A message below the Google CAPTCHA: “Sorry, we are unable to handle your request at this time, please try again later.”

What? Unable to handle my request at this time? What does that mean? All I requested was the audio CAPTCHA. I don’t want to try again later. I want to finish this task now. How is coming back later equal access?

I entered my best guess and was immediately presented with a second, equally distorted set of characters:

Google CAPTCHA

Again my middle-aged eyes could not decipher the letters. Again the audio CAPTCHA was not available. Again I submitted a guess. Again I was wrong.

Had this frustration been required for submitting a blog comment, submitting an information request or ordering a purchase, I would have muttered “Forget it!”, closed the browser tab and not returned. Ever!

But, this was legitimate work for a long-term client. I had to complete this task.

I tried again. Again I was presented with a garbled mess.

Google CAPTCHA

The third time I hit the jackpot. The group was verified, finally.

This process should not be more challenging than winning in Vegas!

These damn things might be stopping most bots from proceeding, but how many humans are also blocked? There has to be another way to treat humans humanely while keeping out spammy bots!

And yes, reCAPTCHA have been offered as a “more accessible” solution.

But have you ever tried deciphering one of their audio CAPTCHAs? Have a listen to this one (audio without a transcript).

Did you get that?

But seriously, if a frivolous photo app garners $1 billion, imagine what a non-irritating solution for distinguishing humans from computers would fetch. That is my challenge to you. In the meanwhile, consider CAPTCHAs and the necessity of them heavily. They may well be lowering participation and use of your websites.

By sharing my seven most frustrating obstacles I encounter online, I hope I have demonstrated that web accessibility is about more than screen readers, and far more in the developer’s hands than not.

Accessible websites benefit more than only individuals who are blind or have a visual impairment. Accessible sites also benefit people such as myself – those of us with mobility impairments and fine motor skill difficulties, as well as people with hearing impairments, cognitive impairments or who have seizures. And, yes, those who are aging and losing their 20/20 vision.

Testing for Mobility Accessibility

When testing the accessibility of your websites, be sure to test beyond screen readers. For example, when testing for mobility accessibility, consider these three tests:

  1. Unplug your mouse. Navigate your site. Can you operate every feature using only your keyboard?
  2. Look at your site. Can you easily determine where you are and what has focus? Are links identified visually?
  3. Simulate the act of clicking on a small link with a mobility impairment by using your non-dominant hand to hit your target with your mouse. Try a pull down menu or a check box. How difficult is this action?

Surf a GB with Glenda’s Thumb at Open Web Camp IV

"Featuring talks by some of the brightest names working today, Open Web Camp IV is a one-day event held in the heart of Silicon Valley. Topics range from HTML5 and CSS3 to accessible web development and delivering for the mobile web. Learn from industry pros how the open web will rock your world.” Organized by…

Seeing Your Blog How Others May See It

People with some types of sight impairments or cognitive impairments benefiting from using the High Contrast Mode on their computers. Viewing your blog in high contrast can be done for free using tools available in PC and Mac operating systems. As an example, to turn on the High Contrast Mode in Windows 7, Select the…

Take the Accessibility Challenge: Make Your Next Blog Post Accessible in 75 Seconds

“I want to do the right thing and make my blog accessible to people with disabilities, but I have so much to do. I just don’t have the time.” Nonsense! Start with the area you have the most control over: the piece that you write regularly – the post. Consider the ingredients of a basic…

The POUR Principles: The Starting Point for Creating Accessible Blogs

“What is an accessible website or blog? I want to do the right thing but where do I even start? Is there a framework or something to gain an overall understanding?” Yes, there is! The foundation of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 lies upon four guiding principles or characteristics of accessible websites and blogs….

Who Says Accessible Web Design is Boring? Announcing New Windows with Trendy Style

Recently I explained why opening links in new windows is an accessibility issue and I offered one technique that announced in the link text that a new window opens as in this example:

Check out the Accessibility Checklist for Blog Posts (opens new window).

The code snippet reads:

<p>Check out the <a href=""http://blogaccessibility.com/accessibility-checklist-for-blog-posts.html" target="_blank">accessibility checklist (opens new window)</a>.</p>

However, I was not thrilled with that technique because adding “(opens new window)” (or a similar variation) to links felt clumsy, clunky, unsophisticated. And, if the Web Accessibility Consultant isn’t thrilled with the technique, what are the chances that others will buy in and comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 requirement:

3.2.1 On Focus: When any component receives focus, it does not initiate a change of context. (Level A)

Using the link title: A slight improvement

An example of a link title pop upA client then used the link title – the tooltip that pops up when hovering a mouse over a text link – to announce the new window. A creative solution – actually, a technique offered by the WCAG – but it still has accessibility issues, including but not limited to:

  • Individuals using screen readers often turn off titles to reduce the amount of auditory information through which to navigate;
  • Individuals using only the keyboard do not have access to the link titles;
  • Individuals needing larger text cannot resize the tooltip text within the browser alone.

Take this text link as an example:

Check out the Accessibility Checklist for Blog Posts.

which includes title="Opens in a new window".

Try accessing the title via your keyboard or increasing the font size of the tooltip from within your browser. Go ahead and try; I’ll wait.

The CSS warning: Even better

Again, not overly thrilled with using the title as the solution, I did what any good consultant would do. I went searching for a better solution, which led me to the WCAG 2.0 Technique G201: Giving users advanced warning when opening a new window. The second example "Using CSS to provide a warning before opening a new window" looked promising.

By using cascading style sheets (CSS), the text “Opens a new window” is hidden off screen until the link receives focus, at which point the message becomes visible with a brightly coloured background.

wai-css-weindow-warning

This solution is an improvement over using the title attribute because:

  • the message is accessible to individuals using screen readers,
  • the message appears when individuals use the TAB to navigate to the link (try the working example), and
  • the font size can be increased from within the browser (no need for additional magnification software for individuals requiring only larger type).

The trendy CSS warning: Stylish and accessible

I was intrigued, but wanted another opinion. I tweeted, of course. Both Steve Buell and Marco Battilana (@crazybat) responded, and concurred the CSS technique was more accessible but that the code could be clearer and even better.

Several tweets and a few tweaks later, Marco of Crazy Bat Design created the ultimate solution:

A link opening in a new window is indicated by a pop up message and a small icon

By enhancing the CSS concept in the previous technique:

  • the font size increases from within the browser;
  • the external link icon provides a visual cue;
  • the message is accessible to individuals using screen readers and the keyboard;
  • the background completely blocks out any surrounding text to ensure readability; and
  • the drop shadow further emphasizes the message. 

Causing a link to open in a new window should be done in only select circumstances, however announcing that this is about to happen can be done with grace and trendy style.

Who says accessible web design needs to be boring?

Writing for Everyone

Various experts will tell you that you must write to your audience. They will also say that if you try to please everyone, you will fail. But when you blog, you don’t always know exactly who your audience is. And even if you think you know who they are (for example, travelers or technical writers),…

Leaving Blog Comments: The Rodent versus The TAB

Have you ever encountered a website that didn’t behave as expected?

i have; take earlier this week as an example. I attempted to leave a comment about another accessibility issue on the aWeber Blog. I entered my name, hit the TAB key, entered my email, hit TAB, entered my website address, hit TAB, and landed on the Submit Comment button…

Wait, did I miss something?

With my joystick I moved my cursor back to the website field and tried to again, in case I hit TAB twice accidentally the first time around. Again, I skipped over the comment box.

aWeber blog comment form

Doing what I do as a Web Accessibility Consultant, I then checked the source code. My suspicion was confirmed. Here’s what I found:

  • The Name field was set to tabindex="1"
  • Email: tabindex="2"
  • Website: tabindex="3"
  • Submit Comment: tabindex="5"

Wait a minute, what happened to tabindex="4"?

No wonder the comment box was skipped right over. There was no associated tabindex, which determines the order in which elements are tabbed to. By the comment field not having a tabindex specified, there is no way to get to this field using only the keyboard.

I am not alone in using the TAB key when submitting blog posts. According to the unscientific twtpoll (as of 10:47am pacific time on June 9, 2011), out of 11  people:

  • Piechart showing poll results 1 person (9%) prefer using their mouse (or equivalent),
  • 6 people (55%) prefer using their TAB key, and
  • 4 people (36%) don’t have a preference; whichever is easiest at the time.

More than half over the people prefer using the TAB key over the rodent when leaving blog comments. This means the process needs to be completely keyboard operable.

Defining the tab order is only necessary when the default tab order is not ideal; otherwise, the tabindex should be avoided. (See Keyboard Accessibility: Altering the Default Tab Order Using tabindex for more information.)

3 Questions to Determine Whether Your Blog Theme Designer Gives a Rip about Accessibility

Congratulations! Your blog is a hit; even making money. Now you are itching to upgrade from a free blog theme to a beautifully designed custom theme.

But wait!

You have worked hard to ensure each blog post is as accessible as possible. Theme designers also impact the accessibility of your blog. However, not all theme designers are created equal. Not all have a clue about accessibility.

Here are three questions to ask when searching for a theme designer with knowledge and experience with web accessibility:

1. Which accessible guidelines or standards do you strive to meet in your work?

Possible responses include:

2. How do you test the accessibility of your designs?

Possible responses include:

  • Ask people with various disabilities to try the blog and provide feedback
  • Use a variety of accessibility checker applications, such as A-Checker, WAVE, Contrast Analyzer, HTML and CSS validators. (One application alone is not adequate!)
  • Checking web page code manually, against a specified set of guidelines or policy

3. Which themes have you recently created that meet accessibility guidelines?

Caution: Because they may have not built an accessible theme does not necessarily mean they don’t know how.

What other questions would you add to this list when searching for a theme designer knowledgeable about accessibility?

Technorati Tags:

Does Stripping Your Blog of Colour Leave It Readable?

Digging into my Web Accessibility Toolbox, the grayscale conversion accessibility tool GrayBit converts a webpage into grayscale to ensure there is sufficient visual contrast between elements. Sufficient colour contrast is essential for improving readability.

Typing my blog URL into the GrayBit Input Form, a grayscale version of my homepage is rendered:

Blog Accessible site viewed in gray scale

From this version, two things immediately jump out at me:

  1. The post credits – the date, author and category right below the post title – needs greater colour contrast to improve readability.
  2. Underlined hyperlinks is what makes the links visible. The different font colour is not noticeable in grayscale.

Try entering your blog URL into GrayBit. How does it fare? Are any elements difficult to see or to read? Are any changes needed?

Technorati Tags: ,,