Chris Ashton

fortnight11y issue 56

Your fortnightly frequent11y newsletter, brought to you by @ChrisBAshton:

We start with a “resources special”, covering tools, training and libraries that have landed in my inbox recently!

Web Accessibility by Google

This is a free Udacity course, aimed at giving “advanced” skills to developers over a span of approximately 2 weeks. It covers developing for screen readers, semantic markup, and managing focus, with material by industry heavyweights such as Rob Dodson.

This course relates to an optional (paid) “Nanodegree program” that gives you a certification in being a “Front End Web Developer”.

Usability Testing with People with Disabilities

Knowbility.org – a nonprofit org based in Texas, serving globally – has an “AccessWorks database” of hundreds of people with disabilities including blindness, deafness, mobility impairments and cognitive disabilities.

You can hire these volunteers to help with usability testing your website. Knowbility works as the go-between, negotiating the quote with the business, educational institution, government agency, or nonprofit.

I have no experience of working with them, so can’t vouch for how well it works, but I like the idea; anything that makes recruiting real users easier seems like a good thing. It looks like the users get paid at least $75 per test.

Designing accessible services

This guidance by the UK Home Office covers best design practices for supporting users with a variety of disabilities, including anxiety, autism, deafness, dyslexia, low vision, mobility disabilities and blindness.

Each category is summarised in just a handful of key points, so it doesn’t take long to read them all.

The main thing I’d like to highlight are the PDF posters (1.2Mb), which cover the same information but in bright, clear visuals. These are well worth printing off and putting up around the office.

Highcharts for accessibility

Highcharts JS is a library for creating beautiful interactive charts. (Ex colleagues in BBC Visual Journalism, take note – I think you’ll like this!)

This accessibility focussed page showcases how a well-built Highcharts chart can be accessible. The first demo shows how you can dig out every piece of information using keyboard tabbing (not just mouse hovering).

The second demo shows screen reader support. If you just want a quick demonstration, there’s even a video showing how it works with screen readers (though the embed doesn’t seem to be working at time of writing, so I had to dig the YouTube URL out using developer tools).

I love the showcase of low-vision features, where things like bar charts have patterns on them rather than just colours, making charts accessible to colour-blind users.

There are even options for “sonification” – playing the chart back as sound which can be “highly effective for conveying trends” – as well as “tactile export” (which can be printed for low-vision users, using specialist hardware).

Age-positive image library launched to tackle negative stereotypes of later life

“The Centre for Ageing Better has launched a free library of positive and realistic images of people aged 50 and over.”

“The images, which depict older people in non-stereotypical ways, are available for download and free to use.”

The library is available here: https://ageingbetter.resourcespace.com/pages/home.php

This library launch follows a recent report “An old age problem?” which looked at depictions of later life across society. It found that stock image libraries often use unrealistically positive or negative depictions of people in later life, and recommended that in both words and pictures, the media should attempt to communicate a more diverse representation of what it means to be older without resorting to stereotype and caricature.

Another resource that may be useful is this suite of age-positive icons, also created by The Centre for Ageing Better.

Now onto the rest of the newsletter…

Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued the above guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). This has prompted a number of articles, I’ve covered a couple of them here.

Justice Department Breaks its Silence Regarding Website Accessibility” describes how the guidance explains at a high level how state/local governments (Title II), and “places of public accommodation” (Title III), can make their websites accessible. It “confirms the DOJ’s view that the websites of places of public accommodation must be accessible”, but does not make clear whether the ADA applies to the websites of online-only businesses.

In “Why we should be disappointed by DOJ’s web accessibility guidance“, Ken Nakata provides some useful history. Ken worked at DOJ, writing “the Department’s last technical assistance piece for web accessibility” in 2003, and leaving in 2004, mistakenly thinking DOJ would continue to make digital accessibility a priority.

DOJ “announced plans for developing new regulations” back in 2010, but scrapped that in 2017 after a few false starts. The inaction left opportunities wide open for plaintiffs to litigate against inaccessible sites, and “2021 was another record-breaking year in web accessibility litigation”.

Ken’s issue with the latest guidance is that it makes “exactly the same recommendations that DOJ made 19 years earlier”. The requirements are too “abstract”. The guidance provides links to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), but does not specify which version should be conformed to, if any. Ken wants the guidance to be clearer, and suggests that they require that sites conform to WCAG 2.1 A/AA. Ken cites governments and universities around the world that use this as a basis.

I’m not US-based, so have only skimmed through the guidance. It links out to several court cases regarding digital accessibility, covering both Title II and Title III, which looks like a useful reference to bookmark. More interesting is the accessibility resources section; particularly the 18F Accessibility Guide and Accessibility at digital.gov, which links to the U.S. Web Design System.

a11yphant: “Learning web accessibility made easy”

I haven’t tried this, so can’t vouch for how good it is, but have come across it in a few a11y newsletters of late. Worth checking out:

a11yphant teaches web accessibility, one step at a time, broken down into manageable pieces. We call these challenges. You won’t need to read large amounts of text to complete those. Instead, you will learn by applying the concepts in code. Get started with your first web accessibility challenge and improve your skills.

There are currently only four ‘challenges’ (valid HTML document, headings, content elements and page regions). The current ones are all classed as ‘easy’; there are no ‘medium’ or ‘hard’ challenges yet. Hopefully more will be released soon.

WCAG, but in language I can understand

Designer/developer Martin Underhill has written “a single article summing up each success criterion (SC) in WCAG 2.1 in as close to a single paragraph as [he] can manage”, because the guidelines themselves are not the easiest read. He leads with a disclaimer that this is not aimed at any audience other than himself, and obviously for brevity a lot of SC exceptions are missing.

It’s a really useful overview – here are some examples:

  • 1.1.1 Non-text Content
    • Images should have descriptive (alt) text.
  • 1.3.2 Meaningful Sequence
    • The visual presentation of the content matches what’s read out by a screen reader.
  • 2.1.2 No Keyboard Trap
    • There shouldn’t be a situation where you enter a modal with the keyboard and can’t get back to where you were.

Alongside digitala11y.com, which does a similar thing but breaking each SC down into its own short article, there are now plenty of ‘simplified explanations’ of WCAG to refer to.


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