week11y issue 142

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

Twitter is getting rid of its free API tier. That’s a nightmare for accessibility activists.

Twitter has announced that, starting February 9, they will no longer support free access to the Twitter API (both v1.1 and v2). This move has not been popular, including with myself – basic things like the automatic tweeting of my dai11y article will probably just stop working. Only time will tell!

This Mashable article details some of the accessibility bots that may no longer be viable. There are bots that highlight a lack of alt text in newsroom and government tweets, which I covered in dai11y 21/10/2022. There’s also @A11yAwareness, a bot with over 17k followers, which shares tips and articles about accessibility. The owner of the bot will now have to sift through findings and manually schedule all of the account’s tweets to keep it running.

Then there are the various ‘utility’ bots that serve as accessibility tools for users with various disabilities. These include the Thread Reader app (or ‘unroll’), which makes it easier for users to read long Twitter threads. Or an Alt Text Reader app that visually surfaces any manually added alt text, which can otherwise be hard to find. Then there are third party clients like Tweetbot and Twitterific, which no longer work – some of these clients were aimed at providing better accessibility than native Twitter.

This comes on top of Twitter’s accessibility team being let go last November, resulting in no updates to Twitter’s accessibility page since October.

Chris’s look at ChatGPT

I’ve had a few ChatGPT related accessibility articles in my inbox of late – I’ve read them and summarised them so you don’t have to!

In “How ChatGPT can help your code be accessible“, Ashley Smith describes how you can use ChatGPT to give you some markup as a base to build upon. For example, you can ask it to write the code for a green “Read More” button, in React, that is “completely 508 compliant“, and it will give you a snippet of code.

I strongly caution against this. What ChatGPT generates might make rough sense to you, the reader, it has no proper understanding of what it’s talking about. In other words, it’s a bull**** generator. For example, in the code example ChatGPT returned for the above request, we have a completely unnecessary aria-label on our button. It is dangerous to just copy and paste ChatGPT’s output and assume everything is fine: a code snippet isn’t necessarily accessible just because you asked ChatGPT to make it so.

Scott O’Hara covers exactly this example in “Setting expectations for asking ChatGPT web accessibility questions“. He expands on why an aria-label on a button can actually be actively harmful, such as if you’re using a ‘translation widget’ to translate a page into another language. These widgets often neglect the values of aria-label attributes, concentrating only on visible text. There are other parts of the answer ChatGPT gave to Scott, which he picks apart (such as the unnecessary recommendation to give the button a tabindex and to use JavaScript to listen for ‘Enter’ or ‘Spacebar’ key presses).

Finally, in “Will ChatGPT threaten the future of the digital accessibility field?“, Denis Boudreau actually has a Q&A style interview with ChatGPT on where it sees itself (insofar as it can) in the realm of a11y. It’s actually given some very self-aware answers that I wouldn’t argue with! I’ve pulled out some snippets below:

As a large language model, my primary purpose is to assist users in generating human-like text based on the input provided to me. I do not have the ability to impact the future of the field of digital accessibility or any other field.

The future of the field of digital accessibility will be shaped by a variety of factors, including advances in technology, changes in laws and regulations, and shifts in societal attitudes towards accessibility. It is important for professionals in this field to stay current with developments in these areas and to continue to work towards creating more inclusive and accessible digital products and services. However, the success or failure of a particular natural language processing model is unlikely to be a major determining factor.

Digital accessibility is a multifaceted field that encompasses a wide range of technologies, design principles, and best practices. While natural language processing models can certainly play a role in making digital products more accessible to people with disabilities, they are just one part of the larger ecosystem of tools and strategies used to achieve this goal.

It is important to recognize that [ChatGPT is] not a substitute for expert knowledge and understanding in the field of accessibility. Natural language processing models are limited by the data they are trained on and the algorithms they use, and they may not always produce accurate or reliable information.

Natural language processing models are trained on large data sets, but the quality and relevance of that data can vary. Some models… may be trained on data sets that are more limited in scope or that contain biases or errors. As with any source of information, it is important for aspiring accessibility professionals to critically evaluate the quality and accuracy of the information they are using, regardless of whether it comes from a natural language processing model or any other source.

The article concludes with some suggestions for how ChatGPT can best be used as a tool in the field of accessibility. These suggestions, again, are provided by ChatGPT, but look very sensible!

Progressive enhancement poem in the style of Shakespeare

In more a11y ChatGPT news, my colleague Derren Wilson asked ChatGPT to “explain progressive enhancement in the style of shakespeare”, and I’m absolutely gobsmacked at the results. Enjoy.

Hark! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the concept of Progressive Enhancement,
That doth illuminate the web with its grace.

Forsooth, Progressive Enhancement is a noble goal,
To build a website with layers that unfold,
To ensure that all may access its content whole,
Be they on a phone or a screen vast and bold.

At first, the website is built with simple means,
With plain HTML and CSS, so it seems,
But as the layers add on, like a rising sun,
The website grows in beauty and function.

With each layer, new features are revealed,
And yet, the website’s core remains unpeeled,
Accessible to all, no matter their device,
No user left behind, no matter the price.

Thus, Progressive Enhancement is a shining star,
A beacon of hope, in a web world that’s marred,
A way to build websites that all may share,
And make the web a place that’s just and fair.

Meet the first-ever accessibility engineer at The Washington Post

The Washington Post hired Holden Foreman in January. Holden is keen to stress that whilst he is the first person at the newspaper with the ‘Accessibility Engineer’ title, accessibility is not a new concept there and the lack of formal roles at smaller news organisations does not mean that those places don’t care about accessibility.

Holden started working at the Post in 2020. Interestingly, he was key in pushing for the creation of an Accessibility Engineer role:

I started an informal working group at the company with biweekly meetings for skill shares, news, internal updates, shoutouts and other discussions related to accessibility. With the help of Julie Bacon Arsenault, one of the Post’s engineering directors, I delivered a pitch last year for an accessibility engineer job title. Arturo Silva, an engineering manager who oversees the Washington Post Design System among other things, was willing to make a home for the role on his team.

He sees his role as exploring new opportunities in research and feature development, as well as educating others at the company and being a resource for support. He also hopes to create a stronger dialogue with users, to learn how people actually use the Post’s tools.

Holden adds that accessibility isn’t just about coding, or even about disability:

It’s essential to think about accessibility not just in the context of disability but also in the context of other inequities affecting news coverage and access to news. For instance, writing in plain language for users with cognitive disabilities can also benefit users with lower reading literacy.

[The Post published a plain language version of Foreman’s introductory blog post]

The interview more or less concludes with Holden’s thoughts on the role:

It’s definitely stressful to be the first in this new role. I feel deep down like I need to justify its creation with every step that I take. My managers and colleagues have been fully supportive, and it is thanks to them that the role exists, so I would say that the pressure feels self-enforced. Thankfully, there is a lot of collaboration in the accessibility world, and I have already been in contact with some folks from outside of The Post regarding how we can support each other.

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