Podcast 28: Understanding accessibility guidelines

Following a short break, boagworld.com is back in business with the 28th episode of its “web design podcast”. In this weeks show we get “down and dirty” with web accessibility, including a step-by-step tutorial into the WAI guidelines.

Download this show.

This week’s podcast works through each and every checkpoint explaining what it means and how to go about complying with it.

A big thank you

Marcus and I would like to say a big thank you to all of you who took the time to email us and moan about the absence of boagworld.com. It made us feel loved and appreciated, as well as a bit guilty! Unfortunately, paid client work has to come first but hopefully we make up for it with this episode of boagworld.com that aims to get you up and running with those pesky accessibility checkpoints.

What does accessibility mean in practice?

Whether you are a website owner or a web designer you have probably heard of the Web Accessibility Initiative, but do you really know what their guidelines mean in practice?

Many website owners specify WAI compliancy in the invitations to tender they send out. However, few know what compliance will mean in real terms for their site. Equally many web designers are forced to bluff their way in web accessibility without ever having a firm grasp of the subject.

Inaccessible, accessibility guidelines!

The problem is that the WAI guidelines on web accessibility are far from accessible! The list of guidelines is intimidating and incredibly confusing in parts.

This week’s podcast works through each and every checkpoint explaining what it means and how to go about complying with it.

Okay, we admit this isn’t the most riveting subject in the world and that this episode goes on a bit, but you will thank us next time you want to create a compliant site!

The show is based around the guidelines listed by priority found on the W3C site. We found this priority orientated approach much friendly than the default checkpoint list. Open up the priority checklist, sit back, relax and let us make all things clear… well nearly.

Automated checkers

Although we talk about the limitations of automated accessibility checkers on the show we do recommend that you take a few minutes to check out Bobby. If you haven’t heard of Bobby before it is an excellent place to start checking the accessibility of your site. Bobby cannot check everything but it will guide you through the process of assessing your site.

Your opinion

One thing that became apparent from doing this episode is that many of the accessibility checkpoints are subjective. If you disagree with our interpretation of the guidelines or are still confused over some of the checkpoints, post your thoughts here and we will do our best to respond.

  • Seriously, though. Except us geeks who obsessively hand-code html, php, and everything, who cares? I bet 95% of the Internet users out there don’t even know what “accessibility” or “accessible website” means.

  • Perhaps we deal with different clients Peter but the vast majority of invitations to tender we receive request accessibility as a key feature.

  • I noticed a lot of smaller companies I work with don’t have the slightest clue what accessibility is, but I feel obligated to clue them in.
    It is hard at times to convince them why it is important, the old “My target audience doesn’t have blind people” often comes up… but at least they are aware of it in the end if they absolutely refuse to pay for an accessibile site.

  • I’ve never used server-side image maps either, in over 10 years of experience. Check out this article from WebAIM about captioning. Also, I agree that pixels are NOT scalable. Thanks for taking the time to go over the whole checklist!
    Also, check out this podcast exclusively about web accessibility.

  • Yeah I guess it does depend on your client base. I am very fortunate to work with large public sector organisations who have to take their accessibility responsibilities very seriously. My job is explaing the consequences of web accessibility of their site rather than the need to have it in the first place.

  • It’s been a long wait for this one…
    I’m glad thier back!

  • Thanks Lowell. Its good to be back.

  • Not to nit-pick, but you missed the boat on the following point:
    “Create documents that validate to published formal grammars.”
    This has nothing to do with spoken grammars that you learn in elementary school, but rather “computer” grammars–or the “rules” defining a specific data format. In other words, they’re talking about using validators to validate your HTML & CSS code, etc.

  • You are completely correct Richard. I realised shortly after I had completed the show. I am a dumb ass, I admit it!

  • Sorry for the comment spam ;-) but just thought I’d enlighten you about the guideline
    “Associate labels explicitly with their controls.”
    The following HTML creates a label for an input box and links the two so that clicking the label puts the cursor in the input box.
    First Name:
    (This is very useful for allowing users to click labels to check/uncheck checkboxes and radio buttons, etc.)

  • I appreciate your enthusiasm but that is what I said in the Podcast!

  • I always interpreted the rule, “If a table is used for layout, do not use any structural markup for the purpose of visual formatting.” to mean don’t use tbody, tfoot, th etc. for structural tables.
    Perhaps someone could enlighten us?

  • hah…i really love how you two go on and on about the grammar issue… :)

  • shana

    Welcome back, and thanks for this show. While incredibly boring, it’s incredibly helpful. I’m going to have to listen again.

  • Boo sucks to you Patrick ;) Its hard to think on your feet on these things and sometimes you get it wrong! I feel a real prat over that one. If I had only clicked through I would have been told exactly what it is. Despite that I do still think proper written grammar is important :)

  • Another quality Podcast guys :) Like to hear your views on PAS 78 and whether you’d recommend it to clients.

  • Thanks very much Andy. I am reading the PAS 78 as we speak. No doubt I will post on it soon.

  • Here is my response to the PAS 78 Andy: http://headscape.co.uk/view_article/5/187/bsi_release_accessibility_guidance.html
    Admittedly my response was toned down because it is on our corporate site. I was hoping for something more friendly to your average company executive.

  • Looks like someone beat me to the “grammar” segment of the podcast :)
    As for “selling” standards, I think you need to sell “accessibility”. …And accessibility in my mind is is not primarily about blind people, or deaf, or other physical imparments.
    To me accessibility is about making is accessible to everyday people. Everyday people like the guy on his cell (errr.. mobile) phone (or pda), like the lady behind a corporate firewall that strips JavaScript, and like the poor guy in nowhere USA with his slow dial-up connection and images turned off.
    Accessibility is about making your site accessible to all of those people that want to visit your site, that you don’t even know about, because they don’t show up in your logs. If your web logs show a Netscape 4.x audience of 1%, it is likely that there is another 2% that don’t even bother visiting.
    ** end rant **

  • Paul, the guideline which addresses server side image maps is usually interpreted as “anything that sends coordinates back to the server for further processing”. So it isn’t necessarily limited to old-skool 1995-era imagemap.cgi Perl scripts, but includes stuff like Google Maps as well.

  • John

    The sound quality is getting so good that at about 58 minutes in I’m pretty sure I could hear your kids playing in the background. Perhaps all parents just have this noise hard wired into their head…

  • Damn Thomas, I thought I had gotten away with that. Yes my three year old son James felt a need to express himself part way through the podcast!

  • Hey Paul, you noted in the ‘cast that “TARGET” is now deprecated HTML. If that’s the case, how do you launch something in a new window? Javascript is not the answer obviously, as that’s even less accesible. But if I’m presenting, say, a list of suppliers for a product site, and I want to allow people to check them out without losing their place in my page, what’s the recommended method these days?
    Good to hear you back on the air with Marcus again!

  • Hi Drew,
    In the example you gave I do use Javascript. You will notice all of the external links on this site open in a new window and this is achieved with javascript. Opening links in a new window is an issue surrounded by a lot of debate but I feel Javascript is the right way to go. Check out: http://www.boagworld.com/archives/2006/01/external_links_and_new_windows.html for more information on my approach.

  • (from a totally different Drew)
    Thanks for this podcast. It was great to have a blow-by-blow reminder of all the checkpoints. Really valuable, and refreshed my own memory on a few things.
    Minor correction: be careful with the use of ‘tag’ when you mean ‘attribute’. Two examples I can recall from this podcast were ‘ALT tag’ and ‘TARGET tag’. Both of those are attribute names. Only small, but it could send someone hunting through the spec for things that don’t exist! Plus it’s good to be accurate.

  • lol Drew. If you wanted accuracy you are listening to the wrong podcast! I will try and watch my language in future :)

  • Nice pragmatic explanation — thanks, Paul & Marcus, I’m going to recommend it to my students for their revision :-)

  • Damn I so nearly went to Kingston University James. If I had known you set such cool revision I might have made a different choice lol.

  • Great episode! This is exactly what I was looking for, and I knew you 2 would be the ones to provide it. Again, great episode fellows!

  • laura herald

    seriously guys please test your nats site on safari
    every single rollover causes all the text to flicker

  • Thats strange Laura. I know for a fact that the site was tested on Safari and all problems corrected. Would you be kind enough to email me the version number of Safari you are using so I can pass it on to the project team that worked on NATS. Thanks.

  • Posted a few notes on the podcast to accessify.com

  • To understand the full extent of my shame relating to the grammar checkpoint read my post: the muddled mind

  • Laura F.

    I, too, listened because it was good for me, not vecessarily because I really wanted to. One topic I am confused about – if I use a validator to validate my pages, that doesn’t mean that it is accessible, right? How do I know it’s as accessible as I need it to be? Please tell me there’s an automated way to do this.

  • That’s the whole point about accessibility, there is no way to measure how accessible a site is, it’s a judgement that we as web designers have to make. There are certain automated checkers, but they can only measure things like alt tags, and are near useless. An example of this is Bobby

  • Alison

    One note: you mention in this podcast (which was very helpful, thanks!) during the discussion of language appropriate to the audience, that if you’re writing a site for quantum physicists that you can disregard the need for easy-to-read prose, since a quantum physicist would be unlikely to be dyslexic or have another cognitive disability if they’d made it that far in science. Actually, that turns out to be incorrect! I’ve actually just been involved in a study (results not yet published) that shows that actually the rate of learning disabilities (dyslexia foremost) is actually HIGHER in scientists (with PhD’s) than in the general population. We have some theories that might account for this but I just had to write in when I heard that example.

  • Well thats interesting Alison. My bad… sigh yet another apology :)

  • its funny i thought instantly of all the architects who are dyslexic (a higher than the natural population proportion) and the fact it takes three university degrees to become one ….
    moving on ;)

  • Alison

    Architects are another famous case, indeed… seems that if you have trouble verbally you may have an equal-and-opposite skill spatially.
    Anyway, hope you didn’t take this as a criticism of the podcast, Paul! Really less an error than an interesting factoid I happen to have come across.

  • Not at all.

  • colin breakey

    hi Paul
    I’m currently studying for my CIW course and i was looking at your headscape web site and wondering what you look for in a web designer. I’m trying to put together a cv at the moment ,what skills do you look for in a web designer i.e design,language (javascript,php,coldfusion etc.).
    love the show, i’ve just started tuning in
    gives me a good view of the real world of being a web designer rather than reading it out a book.