Chris Ashton

week11y issue 62

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

I’ve seen a lot of social media hype around the improved accessibility of the new White House website. So I read a couple of articles to find out more:

Under Trump, was a disaster. Biden’s team revamped it in 6 weeks

  • This article looks at some of the new features of There’s a high contrast dark mode, and a toggle for increasing the global font size. The team behind it have also worked hard to make the site load fast, [and were even responsive to feedback from our own Matt Hobbs]. Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft, reviewed the site for accessibility and found no issues, though more can always be done, such as adding sign language to videos.

What does the Biden Presidency mean for accessibility?

  • Karl Groves does some navel-gazing at what the Biden Presidency might mean for accessibility more widely. Currently, 20 to 40 ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) lawsuits are filed in US Federal Courts every day for accessibility violations on websites and mobile apps. Many, Karl argues, are opportunistic in nature.
  • What muddies the waters further is that there’s no official standard for ADA compliance. In practice, settlements or judgements mostly measure against WCAG 2.0/2.1 at AA level, but Karl expects Biden’s administration to clarify the technical requirements for ADA (after – he says – the Obama administration deferred it). He also expects further momentum around Project Civic Access.

And now back to our regularly scheduled newsletter-ing:

Writing Alt Text for Data Visualization

  • Amy Cesal guides us through the W3C guidelines for alt text for complex images. I actually learned a lot from this article:
  • There’s a longdesc attribute for images, which can refer to other areas of the page. E.g. <img alt="Short description" longdesc="#desc" /><div id="desc">Long description goes here</div>.
  • Screen readers read alt text linearly, meaning they can’t go back a word if they missed something – so keep it short.
  • Supplement with a link to the raw data, so curious readers can access the data in their preferred program. But don’t put the link in the alt text – it needs to be clickable.
  • Alt text for charts should generally follow the pattern [CHART TYPE] of [TYPE OF DATA] where [REASON FOR CHART]. For example, “Line graph of number of bananas sold per day in the last year where the winter months have more banana sales”.
  • Finally, Amy describes how to add alt text on popular platforms such as Twitter, Medium, Microsoft Office and Instagram (which I didn’t know supported alt!).

How to Communicate with People Who are Blind or Vision Impaired

  • An article by World Eye Cancer Hope, from October 2020, which I’ve been meaning to read for a while. It contains lots of handy do’s and don’t’s:
  • Do ask if they want assistance, and how they’d like it (e.g. “Would you like to take my arm?”). Do describe your surroundings, e.g. “We’re about to go up some steps”, or “Attendees of this event are standing in small clusters near the buffet table”.
  • Don’t fill glasses or mugs to the brim. Don’t seat them at a table when everybody else is standing. Don’t limit the options you give because you think explaining all the options will take too long. Don’t manhandle, and don’t distract Guide Dogs.

Nike’s latest FlyEase shoe slips on without zippers, laces or straps

  • The Go FlyEase trainers require no hands to put on, thanks to their hinged kickstand design. You simply press down the heel of one foot with the other, and step out of the shoe (see gif). You can read more details on how the mechanism works, or watch the video about its design.
  • The shoe will retail at $120, and is available from 15th Feb on an invite-only basis for Nike members. It will be made available to the public later this year.
  • It was inspired by Matthew Walzer, who wrote a letter to Nike in 2012, at the age of 16. Matthew, who has cerebral palsy, has limited flexibility in one of his hands and found it impossible to tie his shoelaces, so appealed to Nike to help.
  • Matthew is happy with the result, noting that it embodies the concept of “universal design”. Anyone can wear the shoes: they’re not just marketed as an accessibility feature. Everyone can benefit.
  • This story was shared by subscriber Nick Levinson – thanks Nick!


  • I’ve just heard about this product by AccessibleApps, which fills in CAPTCHA forms for you. For the uninitiated, CAPTCHAs are those anti-bot questions which try to make you prove you’re human by, for example, showing you a garbled image and making you type out the letter and number sequence contained within it.
  • CAPTCHA Be Gone is an extension for Chrome, Firefox and IE, aimed at visually impaired and deafblind users who find it difficult or impossible to complete any form which has a CAPTCHA.
  • Listen to a demo of it working: it’s slow (taking around 15 seconds), but seems to work. It’s not free though, costing $3.50 per month. There’s a seemingly impartial review which is positive about its price and effectiveness.
  • It’s great that this is a solution to a real problem faced by users. But it raises two points from me:
    1. If a browser extension can solve a CAPTCHA, what’s the point of having a CAPTCHA in the first place?
    2. Having a disability already comes with a price tag; it’s unfair that these users need to pay for workarounds just for basic website access.
  • Hopefully the web can move on from frustrating CAPTCHAs in favour of more accessible alternatives.

I’d like to end with a shout-out to Jack McElaney’s excellent newsletter, Accessibility in the News, which is packed with content every week. It’s heavily skewed towards American news, but there’s an international section too, and I look forward to receiving it every Friday.

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