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Paul Boag Posted by: Paul Boag On Monday, 10th April, 2006

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!

Working in web:
The estimated time to read this article is 3 minutes

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!

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