Category Archives: accessibility

Things that come around

Several years ago, I tried proposing to Google that they should incorporate accessibility analysis into their search rankings. Their (eventual) reply was, not interested.

I’ve just heard the BBC’s In Touch program, which deals with issues affecting blind and partially-sighted people. Today we had a lengthy interview, with a blind Indian engineer working at Google on exactly that problem. He explained that the accessibility-enhanced search will as first priority select the best/most relevant pages by google’s standard closely-guarded-secret algorithms, but then order those results to ensure that the highest-placed results are accessible.

He even gave some technical details of how the accessibility assessment works. The perennial subject of alt attributes was mentioned (without details on how they assess them), but more interestingly, he referred to well-structured pages, and clearly uses HTML heading markup as a criterion.

It’s all happening very quietly, but it’s gratifying to those of us who have been banging on about this for years. Of course, it would’ve been far better if they’d used Site Valet (customised as necessary to integrate with their systems) for this analysis.

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Web sites that suck: UK Gov carbon calculator

I just tried the UK govt’s “carbon calculator” (as reported here). In brief, it’s horribly broken, at the taxpayer’s expense. So I found the feedback link to email them a little rant.

I have three comments on this site. First, about the calculation itself, and secondly about the presentation.

The calculation makes no sense to me. First, it asks questions about the house, including energy bills, and tells me:

Your CO2 Result for your home is 0.42 tonnes per year.

It then proceeds to ask about appliances, and tells me:

Your CO2 Result for your appliances is 0.82 tonnes per year.

(Minor comment at this point: it completely excludes the effects of my shopping or working habits).

Now, my usage of all those appliances is *included* in the electricity bills, which were *already* part of the first calculation. Since the appliances in question are clearly domestic (e.g. fridge, cooker, telly, computers), it makes no sense at all to separate them from the total gas and electricity consumption figures.

This leads to my second point: your “FAQ” is hard to read. Firstly, it lacks an index or quick overview. Secondly, its author has failed utterly to grasp the basic principles of HTML markup, and consequently has produced text that is a strain to read – at least for my middle-aged eyes (though I expect it looks good on the author’s own PC).

In support of the above assertion, and before moving to my third point, I should perhaps briefly present my credentials to criticise the site at a technical level. I am widely acknowledged as an expert in a range of web technologies. I am a published author, developer of the “Site Valet” suite of QA and Accessibility evaluation tools, and for several years served as Invited Expert with the Worldwide Web Consortium in their Quality Assurance and Accessibility activities.

Having thus introduced myself, let me introduce the first principle of developing a website: follow the basic standards!

Analogy: If the electrician who wired my house had installed a system that would work with a Hoover but not with an Electrolux appliance, I would be rightly aggrieved. But of course, the electrician follows basic interoperability standards, so there’s no question of that kind of incompatibility.

Developing a website is exactly the same. But your calculator fails so badly as to make it completely unusable in at least two of my browsers, including my first choice (Konqueror; also known as Safari in Apple’s own-badge packaging). Even in Firefox it is extremely rude, messing about with my browser window.

This level of brokenness does not happen merely due to time and budgetary limitations. It takes an order of magnitude more effort to mess it up so badly than to produce a simple, working site (the calculator itself is very simple). Furthermore, there is a *separate* flash 8 version for those who might prefer to treat it as entertainment. The so-called HTML version I used is supposedly the simple fallback.

In brief, please get a competent web developer for a day, and stop pouring taxpayers money into some entertainment-industry wannabe’s self-indulgence.

Encouraging News

El Reg today has a couple of encouraging stories.

First, it reports what looks like a groundbreaking ruling by a tribunal on accessibility. A blind candidate for a professional qualification was unreasonably denied use of the assistive software she uses in her regular job (among other things). There was an issue of jurisdiction: the qualifications body in question is based outside the UK, so the tribunal had to rule that the fact that it’s providing the service in question within the UK was sufficient.

Second, there’s a different take on something not a million miles from my recent Alice story.

No longer W3C

As of today I’m formally no longer an Invited Expert with the Worldwide Web Consortium. Specifically the WAI/ER team, though my (ex-) position with QA-DEV is rather similar.

This is a little sad, but inevitable: it’s about a year since I made any contribution to merit the status. I was finding the committment a chore, doing less and less (== nothing at all of late). I had gone through a round of talking about resigning, being persuaded not to, but then still not taking an active part.

I’m not going out in a blaze of glory as Björn Höhrmann did, though I do agree with much of his criticism of the W3C. The teams I’ve worked with there are good people, and I wish them the best of luck in their efforts (as, to be fair, did Björn). If I have anything more to contribute to their work, I shall do so from the outside, but there’s no current prospect of that.

Thanks Shadi and the other WAI folks for my time there, and sorry I haven’t kept it up.

Bottom line: good to have served, good to be out.