A muddled mind

Last week we did a podcast on the WAI accessibility guidelines and, after my blunder, I thought it might be worth having a go at persuading you that actually I am right and the WAI guidelines are wrong!

Last week we did a podcast on the WAI accessibility guidelines where I made a fairly major blunder on one of the checkpoints. Unsurprisingly this has led to a lot of entirely justifiable joking at my expense. However, now that I am suitably humiliated I thought it might be worth having a go at persuading you that actually I am right and the WAI guidelines are wrong (well not wrong as such just slightly lacking)!

Panicking in a podcast

Producing a podcast is a strange experience and very different from blogging. When you write a blog you can consider every word you use and make sure you are 100% happy with it before posting. Podcasting isn’t like that. Sure, you can script out what you are going to cover and can even edit it to some extent in post production. However, at the end of the day you have to think on your feet and keep things moving. Most of the time I can pull it off, but every now and then I drop a clanger and last weeks show was a perfect example.

The blunder

In the show we were working through the various WAI checkpoints when we reach checkpoint 3.2 which says:

Create documents that validate to published formal grammars.

Now much to everybody’s amusement I went off on one talking in great depth about how it was important that the content on our sites are grammatically correct in order to help those with cognitive disabilities. Poorly written content, I argued, is hard to follow when you have a cognitive disability like dyslexia.

Of course this is not what the guideline is about at all. Rather it refers to ensuring your code validates and that you do things like declare a doctype.

The reason

So why was I so horribly confused? Well obviously this was largely due to my own stupidity however I was also thrown by the fact that earlier in the day I had been reading some fascinating material from Mencap.

So I was right after all *cough*

Mencap is one of the UK’s leading charities dealing with learning disabilities and they have produced some excellent material relating to cognitive disabilities and the web. If you have time I highly recommend downloading the following two PDF documents:

Am I making myself clear (1.3mb)

Guide to making your website more accessible (82kb)

Both of these documents are, unsurprisingly, well written and very easy to read. The advice they provide (including some vague references to good grammar!) helps not only those with disabilities but anybody reading the copy on your site.

An overlooked art

Well written content is an overlooked art and one that we as web designers generally ignore. After all, it is the client’s job to write the content and so it is not really our concern.

The trouble is few places teach you how to write good copy for the web and fewer still help you cater for cognitive disabilities. The WAI guidelines only make passing reference to it and web designers often fail to advise their clients on best practice. The result is that clients are left floundering not really knowing where to begin.

These two documents are an excellent starting point for anybody writing content for their website. In fact they are so good they complete distracted me on my last podcast.

Well, that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it!

  • http://www.decisiveflow.com/blog/ Natalie Ferguson

    Got to love those times you muck up and know there’s no way to avoid having it plastered all over the internet ;)
    I know what you mean about well written content, although, in my experience, as soon as you mention it you get called all sorts of horrible names like ‘grammar nazi’ then proceed to have everything you’ve written pulled apart and examined in close detail for mistakes… I’m too frightened to pipe up now :)
    Thanks for the articles, I will go and read them now.

  • http://www.boagworld.com Paul Boag

    Well I am the last person that should talk about good grammar. This blog is terrible!

  • http://lloydi.com/blog/ Ian Lloyd

    The last person who should talk about grammar, Paul. You are a person, not an object. Sorry, I couldn’t resist!! :-D

  • http://www.boagworld.com Paul Boag

    Oh boo sucks to the lot of you! I dont know why I bother ;)

  • http://roberthanson.blogspot.com Robert Hanson

    “In fact they are so good they complete distracted me”
    Paul, I thought you said that with blogging that “you can consider every word”. Apparently that isn’t complete true. :)
    Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Grammatical errors in an entry about grammar are just too good to let go.
    Thanks for the links.

  • Ed

    Doesn’t this all go to show that the usability guidelines should be made more usable? ;)

  • http://www.richardquickdesign.com Richard Quick

    I think you’ve just proved WCAG is guilty of failing it’s own checkpoint:
    14.1 Use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for a site’s content.
    Surely checkpoint 3.2 would be easier to understand if it read (something like):
    3.2 Create HTML or XHTML documents that validate.
    Rather than:
    3.2 Create documents that validate to published formal grammars.
    The fact that Paul, easily within the target-audience for the page, got confused kind of proves that it’s badly written.
    I was also interested to see that page 2 of the Mencap PDF broke its own guidelines:
    Avoid reverse type (white out of a colour).
    Tut tut

    ;o)

    Seriously though, thanks for letting us know about the Mencap PDFs (wouldn’t HTML have been better?). Generally they’re interesting, although there’s one point I’m not sure I’m comfortable with:
    Use simple punctuation
    Avoid semicolons(;), colons (:), hyphens (-) or
    sentences broken up with too many commas.
    Other than the point about commas, that’s basically asking you to use incorrect English grammar. Hyphens, for example, are MEANT to be used in certain circumstances.
    Writing for people with learning difficulties is an interesting aspect of accessibility, because it goes against the belief that, generally, you don’t need to have a different site for disabled people.
    A quality newspaper website, like The Times for example, uses content from the printed paper. They’ve got certain style rules that they’re meant to use. For example, numbers under 11 are meant to be written as words (three not 3) and they’re meant to use “such as” not “like”. Also, a business story that said “Google’s share price went down a lot yesterday” wouldn’t be as informative as one that read “Google’s share price went down 72 per cent yesterday.”
    For them to follow the Mencap guidelines would mean they had to rewrite stories.
    I’d be interested to know about any case studies of people who’d tried to make their site accessible to people with learning difficulties.

  • Ed

    “Surely checkpoint 3.2 would be easier to understand if it read (something like):
    3.2 Create HTML or XHTML documents that validate.
    Rather than:
    3.2 Create documents that validate to published formal grammars.”
    Yes, it probably would be easier to understand…….at the moment – but what if HTML and XTHML go out the window for some reason, and another “grammar” comes in to replace it? Then you have to rewrite the guide, just to fit in with the latest technology. I certainly agree that the guide isn’t too clear right now, if someone like Paul can semi-misinterpret it – but adding in specific technology names probably isn’t the answer.

  • http://www.richardquickdesign.com Richard Quick

    “Yes, it probably would be easier to understand…….at the moment – but what if HTML and XTHML go out the window for some reason, and another “grammar” comes in to replace it?”
    Fair point, but that’s why I said “something like”. I realize my phrase wasn’t all-encompassing (note the use of the hyphen) but I didn’t want to spend half-an-hour thinking up the perfect phrase.
    If fact there’s already a lot in there that’s technology-specific. For example, having to put someting other than whitespace between links is down to imperfect screenreaders – it’s not fundamental.
    Also, by the time HTML and XHTML become obsolete WCAG 1.0 will probably be obsolete (and so will WCAG 2.0 no doubt).

  • Morgan

    Muddled or unmuddled – you know word is getting out about your podcast when they’re promoting it in the states:
    https://www.goodstorm.com/stores/afunpov?from=9
    Your wives may laugh aloud at:
    “I listen to Paul & Marcus. Do you?”
    I particularly got a chuckle out of
    “Your dog’s called Nigel.”
    Good job, gentlemen.
    With & without blunders – keep up the good work.

  • Ed

    “I realize my phrase wasn’t all-encompassing…. I didn’t want to spend half-an-hour thinking up the perfect phrase.”
    fair enough too. :)
    Sorry for being too picky!

  • http://www.m-perfect.de Christian

    Hey Ed, it is ok, not picky. ;-)

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