Rebuilding The Web

Articles, advocacy, discussion and debate about the many problems of the Web and the challenges of rebuilding it.

Do we need a new game plan to make the Web accessible?

Are we, the stakeholders in Web technology, doing the right things to move Web accessibility forward? Shouldn't we perhaps re-evaluate our strategy, to confirm what we are doing is right, or to find out if we need to develop new strategies?

The problem

The problem is that the Web has not become significantly more accessible in the last 5 years. Will it become significantly more accessible 5 years from now? 10 years from now? 15 years from now? Is our current strategy to make the Web accessible working? Are there any signs on the horizon that things are going to improve, or are we treading water? Is most of our energy being used not to fight for new accessibility features but to stop the erosion of existing ones? Do we need a new game plan?

The challenge

Our challenge is to come up with a strategy that will significantly improve Web accessibility over the next decade. We need to think out of the box and be creative. And we need for now to suspend practical considerations such as where the money will come from to fund ideas, or how they will be implemented. Imagine instead that we have unbridled power to change things in the HTML spec, to convince a browser/tool vendor to implement certain features, or to influence lawmakers - whatever we need. The first and most important step is to come up with the right idea - the "what" to do. The "how" can come later.

My idea

I would try to make Web accessibility a positive side effect of another action. I would do this by finding a convergence between an assistive technology (such as screen readers) and another technology that would benefit all Web users, disabled or not. Then I would promote the hell out of the "general benefit" technology and push hard to get it into the mainstream. One such technology is hands-free Web use, where users speak to their computer through voice recognition technology using hands-free devices such as in-dash car computers or Walkman-like products.

Promoting the widely popular benefits of hands-free Web technologies will definitely, inevitably, and quickly give many more Web site creators what they clearly feel they are lacking right now - a damn good reason to create accessible Web sites.

Public comments

1. Posted by Web Axe
on Wednesday 2010-04-28 at 09:53:33 PST

I'm confident that the industry is now moving in the right direction. It took some time for web standards to catch on, and I think the same will happen with web accessibility (for the most part, at least). The technology is coming along fine, it's just a matter of people being aware and choosing to implement it correctly. Flash is a prime example: Adobe has made huge steps to make it accessible, but it's hardly ever implemented that way.

2. Posted by Sarah Bourne
on Wednesday 2010-04-28 at 13:44:31 PST

There are days when I get discouraged by how little ground has been gained, especially when I find things that suggest ground has been lost.

But I am an inveterate optimist.

Developing for "general benefit" is definitely a viable tactic. The Dragon speech recognition software is a great example.

I am heartened, too, by signs that the US federal government is moving towards explicitly including computer and communication accessibility in the ADA for businesses.

Many thought that government requirements would drive the market to build in accessibility. But my experience is that government is not a big enough part of the market. Also, it is not a monolithic entity: it's made up of different levels and thousands of agencies and programs, all doing procurements on their own, with various levels of commitment. There's not a lot of leverage in that model.

Expanding the ADA will also expand the market for accessible products. The first to benefit will be comapnies that have compliant products. The ones who find ways to make it elegant and desirable for all users will be the biggest winners. Well, not counting all the folks who need it, that is!

3. Posted by Vlad Alexander
on Wednesday 2010-04-28 at 14:29:29 PST

Web Axe wrote: "The technology is coming along fine, it's just a matter of people being aware and choosing to implement it correctly."

So what should the plan/strategy be to make people aware of Web accessibility and to choose to implement it?

Sarah Bourne wrote: "There are days when I get discouraged by how little ground has been gained, especially when I find things that suggest ground has been lost."

Me too.

Sarah Bourne wrote: "The Dragon speech recognition software is a great example."

It doesn't even have to be so elaborate in my opinion. Perhaps something that recognizes 20 or 30 navigation commands. Some cell phones already implement similar technology when they recognize verbal commands like "Call Mom".

4. Posted by Jared Smith
on Wednesday 2010-04-28 at 20:48:25 PST

I, gladly, do not share your pessimism. I think web accessibility has increased in recent years. Screen reader users generally agree - Awareness of web accessibility and standards is *significantly* higher than it was five years ago. Sure there is much that needs to be done and we need to increase the adoption of accessibility, but I see the future as being bright. I don't think anything is fundamentally broken with the web accessibility movement, though we certainly can do it better.

I see great hope in accessibility in the mobile space. HTML5 will provide significant improvements and will greatly increase developer awareness. ARIA is providing some wonderful solutions to significant accessibility issues today. The open source space (e.g., NVDA) and innovations like VoiceOver on the Mac and iPhone will help push accessibility to the next level. The NPII project ( presents a very good method of providing useful technology to the users that need it.

I think the most significant barrier lies in the poor assistive technology we are currently stuck with. Many developers hardly bother with web accessibility, particularly of complex content, because the likelihood of assistive technology providing a good experience is marginal at best. AT is, in my opinion, the most limiting factor in our ability to quickly and significantly make the web a much better place for people with disabilities. Viva la NVDA.

5. Posted by Vlad Alexander
on Wednesday 2010-04-28 at 22:32:55 PST

Jared Smith wrote: "I think web accessibility has increased in recent years. Screen reader users generally agree -"

I might be reading that graph wrong. 53.7% of respondents think that Web content has not become more accessible over the previous year. And there is no indication by how much the other 46.3% of respondents think Web content has become more accessible.

Jared Smith wrote: "Awareness of web accessibility and standards is *significantly* higher than it was five years ago."

I agree with that.

Jared Smith wrote: "Sure there is much that needs to be done and we need to increase the adoption of accessibility."

How should we do that?

Jared Smith wrote: "HTML5 will provide significant improvements and will greatly increase developer awareness."

I would love for someone to make a list of how HTML5 will improve accessibility. When I look at HTML5, I see feature after feature that will make the Web less accessible:

  • optional alt attribute
  • inaccessible features like canvas
  • drag & drop
  • using HTML elements as user interface
  • heading (h1 to h6) that nobody uses correctly and made more confusing in HTML5
  • ability to hyperlink large blocks of content
  • the concept of placeholders where elements are incomplete and are filled out via JavaScript (i.e: a without href)
  • encouraging more JavaScript on the Web which in turn will significantly increase development costs of assistive technologies

Jared Smith wrote: "AT is, in my opinion, the most limiting factor in our ability to quickly and significantly make the web a much better place for people with disabilities."

A few years ago I interviewed Doug Geoffray, co-owner of GW Micro that makes Window-Eyes screen reader. He said "it is not, however, within the AT's scope to interpret and parse information in order to make the inaccessible more accessible". I think the lack of caring and action on the part of Web site creators is the limiting factor in making the Web accessible.

6. Posted by Jared Smith
on Wednesday 2010-04-28 at 23:10:56 PST

You made the statement that web accessibility has not improved in the last 5 years. Our survey shows that 46.3% of screen reader users (those arguably most affected most by inaccessibility of advances in web technologies) disagree and indicate that accessibility has increased in the last year. Still, 25% think it got worse. Statistics aside, I think that discounting the progress that has been made is unproductive. I'd have a tough time doing this every day if I didn't feel like my efforts were making a difference. I choose optimism - with an understanding that progress is too slow.

How do we increase the adoption of accessibility?

I think web accessibility advocates should keep doing what they are doing. There are brilliant, positive, and passionate people in this field. Accessibility is being addressed in amazing and influential ways. I'm more excited about accessibility now than I have been in the 10 years I've been in this field. If we keep seeing iPhones and iPads and jQuery's and's, etc. that are addressing accessibility in meaningful ways, others will come on board. The future is bright, people are listening to us, and accessibility is increasing slowly, but increasing steadily.

While awareness has increased, we need to do a better job of teaching HOW to make things accessible.

While you are correct that it is not the screen reader's role to make the inaccessible magically accessible, the fact is that these tools don't adequately support standards-based accessibility to begin with. Hell, most don't even know what emphasized text is yet - how can we assume they'll know how to handle advanced HTML5 semantics?

I've spent this week training smart developers and numerous times said, "... but JAWS doesn't support this yet" and "... but there's a bug in Window Eyes here" and "... I'm not sure why the screen reader is doing (or not doing) this" and "... unfortunately this only works in Windows (or IE or NVDA)" and so forth.

When developers implement standards-based accessibility and then test in a screen reader and find that none of it actually results in a truly accessible experience, why should they bother? The difficulty of much accessibility is not the complexity of how to do it, but the complexity of understanding the areas where it will fail in various assistive technologies. This must change!

You bring up good points about HTML5. Luckily we can still affect HTML5 to fix these issues. There's much good in there too. Keep an eye on the WebAIM blog in the coming weeks for our thoughts about the new HTML5 accessibility features and issues.

7. Posted by Jared Smith
on Wednesday 2010-04-28 at 23:15:02 PST

By the way, if it's not clear, I'm not disagreeing with you. The problems, challenges, and ideas you propose are spot on. I have the same questions and thoughts. At the same time, I also don't think that things are so broken that we need to entirely change our approach.

I'm loving the dialog! Thanks, Vlad, for bringing up this very thought provoking topic.

8. Posted by Gary Miller
on Thursday 2010-04-29 at 02:36:54 PST

Well, if Sarah is an optimist then I'm her opposite.

Living, as I do, in a rural part of Scotland, I'm forever beating my head against a brick wall. Why? Because the owners of small sites don't 'get it'. I'm particularly referring to the likes of: Bed and Breakfast establishments; small to medium Guest Houses; Public Houses and Inns, etc.

The owner's all say roughly the same thing: "My site doesn't need to be accessible because...":

"Blind people don't stay in Guest Houses"; "I'm not selling anything over the web - I'm just advertising my business"; "We can't take disabled people"; "That only applies to big companies" and so on, ad nauseum.

As individuals, we can spend our time 24/7 firing off e-mails to organisations whose sites have accessibility issues but, at the end of the day, what does it actually achieve? A hurried, bolt-on fix-it to tick the accessibility box.

Ok, so in the past few years there have been several instances - the Sydney Olympics for example - of organisations being taken to task legally but it really isn't sending out the right message is it?

Until a lot more organisations, small to medium to large, are dragged before the courts, the message just isn't going to get to the grass-roots level that I - and many other designers/developers - are dealing with.

Hell, I even get into arguments with local so-called 'web experts' who churn out CMS sites for £50 for the local youth group!

I guess that what I'm saying is that it's fine for the 'accessibility big voices' to have conferences and to have their voices heard at an international level, but what about the other end of the scale?

I hasten to add that I am in no way being disparaging when I use the term 'accessibility big voices' - there are many people that I place in that group who I admire tremendously for the truly remarkable work they do.

I'm aware that I'm rambling, but passion and strong pain killers don't go well together.

My take-home message? "Don't forget the individuals who may not be in the spotlight, but still do valuable work."

9. Posted by Everett Zufelt
on Thursday 2010-04-29 at 03:56:25 PST

I had the opportunity to ask a related question to Tim O'Reilly after his keynote last week at Drupalcon San Francisco. I asked if he could envision a time when accessibility wouldn't be playing catch-up with innovations in technology.

His response, which was thoughtful and in no way a blowoff, was that it will take evidence of beneficial return on investment to see this happen. He added that we have no idea of what innovations in technology may appear, which will decrease the gap between accessible technology and the rest of the industry.

I would wholeheartedly agree with Tim's answer. As we can develop strategies for accessibility to benefit more people, including those without disabilities, and as we promote this concept to technology vendors, and content producers, more people will come on board. I don't think this will be easy, and I'm not sure how we will do it.


I think that regulations like ADA, s. 508, the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act), and others, do at the very least promote the concept of accessibility. I think that the downside of regulating accessibility is that we move the target away from being accessible, to complying with accessibility regulations. We need both regulation and solid strategies, supported by emperical data, to keep the ball moving forward.

Accessibility isn't easy

As someone who is rather conversant about accessibility, particularly as it applies to the web, I think that I often forget that making technology and content accessible is, in reality, not a simple task. Barriers exist at every level of the technology stack (user, assistive technology, user agent, content, enhanced web technologies like JS and Flash). To make a simple business card web-site accessible is not an overwhelmingly difficult chore. To implement accessibility into a content management system, with many modules, features, and a diverse set of users contributing a variety of forms of content is a great challenge. Surely we don't expect every web developer, web designer, and content contributor to be fluent in accessibility. But, since each of these groups of individuals can create accessibility barriers they do need to either be familiar with accessibility, or to use tools that are at the very least able to identify potential problems. Since accessibility cannot be automated, these groups must have access not only to appropriate tools, but also to a proper understanding of how to use the tools, and an appreciation of why it is important to spend any extra time and energy using the tools.


Has the accessibility of the web improved over the past five years? I'm the wrong person to say, as I've only been aware of the issue of accessibility for five years. I became aware when my sight diminished to the point that I needed to start using assistive technology. I can say that two of the projects to which I contribute, Fluid ( ) and Drupal ( ), are seriously committed to accessibility. We don't always get things right, but we are building the tools used to build the web, and I think that's a good sign.

10. Posted by Karen
on Thursday 2010-04-29 at 04:36:56 PST

Excellent discussion.

My personal plan is to follow the starfish method. (See for details.) One step at a time. I am not a developer or an inventor, but I am happy to be an evangelist, a teacher, or a mentor with my base in the technical communication camp.

While accessibility superstars are tackling the big jobs, I'll be out back with Gary Miller catching the stragglers. When a technical communicator says let's change all our printed documents to videos, I remind them (always) about captioning and audio description. When I encounter a PDF that is inaccessible, I tell the author how the message will never reach some members of the audience until it is made accessible.

Yes, this can be tedious and frustrating. I botched a major accessibility project this year due to fatigue and some frustrations. However, I used that "failure" to re-think some ideas so the project can be strengthened and improved.

There are hordes out there who are evangelizing accessibility and inclusion. We need to focus on visibility to pool resources and provide lots of sympathetic shoulders for when it gets to be too much. None of us can do this on our own. At one level, we are talking about changing a mind set and that is a pretty big job! One section of Oliver Sacks' "Seeing Voices" discusses the birth of the Deaf identity. A couple of decades have passed, which shows that this takes time; thanks to some very patient and persistent people (and various historical/technological developments), society is more aware of hearing issues today than it was 30 years ago.

There is not one game plan or strategy, and we don't all have the same skill sets. My humble contribution is to raise awareness about those starfish at each and every opportunity I encounter. If I meet anyone who says they don't have skills for developing or engineering solutions, I will point out that they, too, can just talk to people and raise awareness. That is a small, but very important step.

11. Posted by Vlad Alexander
on Thursday 2010-04-29 at 09:43:32 PST

Everett Zufelt wrote: "Barriers exist at every level of the technology stack (user, assistive technology, user agent, content, enhanced web technologies like JS and Flash)."

So true.

Karen wrote: "My personal plan is to follow the starfish method."

It's a beautiful metaphor. Does this plan imply that the Web will never become accessible?

Karen wrote: "While accessibility superstars are tackling the big jobs..."

Are they tackling projects that will make the Web significantly more accessible or are they just throwing back into the ocean bigger starfish?

Gary Miller wrote: "I guess that what I'm saying is that it's fine for the 'accessibility big voices' to have conferences and to have their voices heard at an international level, but what about the other end of the scale?"

This is as good a time as any for everyone to express their ideas about how to make the Web more accessible. We need ideas regardless of where they come from.

12. Posted by Sy
on Thursday 2010-04-29 at 15:18:35 PST

"We need to think out of the box and be creative. " Oh the irony! Moving on.... :)
I agree with you though and it's refreshing this has been brought up because accessibility has become second place once more.. We've kind of given up!! I am hoping html5 will revitalise accessibilty support due to it's additional more informative nature but who knows. Accessibility will only really occur when the code we write will naturally be more semantic which was what XHTML was supposed to deliver but it just didn't get there and as for XSLT... Well I can't develop websites in XML and xslt and make a profit :)
I am hoping html5 and the revitalisation of SVG will kick off accessibility again but I won't hold my breath just yet... Great article!

13. Posted by joel k
on Thursday 2010-04-29 at 17:23:52 PST

Great article!
your idea is good but very raw,"Then I would promote the hell out of the "general benefit" technology and push hard to get it into the mainstream."

I'd call it a strategy, not an idea
we need some brilliant minds and a hell of a lot of luck but we will succeed if we think out of the box is doing amazing work in the art field , we need some good developers.

14. Posted by Mike
on Thursday 2010-04-29 at 18:16:12 PST


* Advertise. Learn from the environmental movement, anti-smoking movement, animal rights movement, find the cure for X movements, etc.

* Suspend engagement with HTML5 group until they fix accessibility problems in HTML.

* Form an advocacy group like WaSP used to be. Charge membership fees. Use money for various projects.

* Instead of lawsuits, use shame against worst accessibility offenders. This can be done politely liek create a version of their home page that is accessible and talk about it.

* Find a way to measure level of accessibility of the WEb. Track it with an accessibility meter or chart or something like that.

* Create a project called 'logos for accessibility'. Graphic artists would donate their time to redesign logos for small businesses in exchange these companies take steps to make their websites accessible.

* Forward accessibility stories/news to mainstream news media liek,,etc.

* Ask companies for grants to do various accessibility projects.

15. Posted by Richard
on Friday 2010-04-30 at 03:50:12 PST

In spite of being an optimist I don't think that accessibility has improved much over the last few years. Stats may prove otherwise but my take on it is that in all the web accessibility testing that I have done over the last three years (against WCAG1.0 and WCAG2.0) I have yet to see a webpage that passes all the priority 1 and 2 criteria (never mind priority 3), and what is depressing about that is that this is all from projects where accessibility has part of the design and development from the beginning.
I seems to me that there are plenty of web developers out there who are happy to say they can develop sites that are accessible in accordance with WCAG, but they just a) don't understand what that means, b) don't care and c) don't do any preliminary testing. It isn't just the case that there are a few problems with marginal colour contrast, or the odd misttyped alt attribute, it is fundamental problems like not including text alternatives, not considering audio transcription, not having even a basic visual idea of what colour contrast works and what doesn't, and not bothering to label form fields.
It is a bit like a major car manufacturer who outsources their crash testing but hasn't remembered to put the seatbelts in until after testing. It is that fundamental.

16. Posted by Karen
on Friday 2010-04-30 at 04:29:06 PST

@Vlad - Glad you like the starfish metaphor. And no, I don't think that means the job will never get done. This is not a case of Xeno's paradox. The entire issue is dynamic. For example, the Deaf had to pay megabucks for equipment to call others. I thought video in mobile phones was a waste of bandwidth (i.e. expensive for me.) Then I almost tripped one day when I saw another pedestrian walking along and signing on their mobile phone with video. I almost shouted Doh! Now there is cheap tech to doing what everyone does - call people. I do not know details about that field, but I'm sure that was a game changer.

In other words, someone works on solution X. In the meantime, users adapt other procedures or tech and reach solution X first. We all have different skills and are, fortunately, not the same. Some developers are simply unaware of the need for accessibility in their products. It takes a Jared W. Smith & his WebAim team or a Gez Lemon to build something that developers can easily add to their normal workflow, but now have an accessible solution at the other end. Jared and Gez' work can help more starfish at one go. They are "tackling projects that will make the Web significantly more accessible". My skills are different, but still valuable. I can handle only 1 starfish at a time, but it is still important. We all have to do what we are good at. We also reach different audiences. Gary needs to convince just one rural Scottish B&B to change. That change should also affect that site's SEO. There are many sites that monitor the accessibility of places on behalf of people with disabilities. That B&B sould get noticed... It's a "long tail" issue, but it's what we have to slog through. We need data (about the benefits) to convince those who doubt the value of accessibility, and we only get data if someone takes the time to build it and collect it. For that, we need many people to get involved both to DO things and to support those doing things so that no one gives up or loses heart.

17. Posted by mattur
on Friday 2010-04-30 at 04:59:59 PST

Enforce existing disability discrimination laws. Sue people.

18. Posted by Susan Gerhart
on Friday 2010-04-30 at 08:30:32 PST

Hello, and thanks for this discussion. suggestions from a former software educator and assistive tech user for 4 years (hurray, NVDA!).

1. How about an InterNational "Clean up your website day"? or week/month/... Provide tutorials on a few features, say ALT or headings.

2. Mate NVDA and WAVE into an automated talking testing environment. speak several page signatures like lists of graphics, headings, or links. Announce or
beep errors like WAVE displays. well, also, why not include instructions or scolding. Read "ode to click Here' as appropriate or other rhymes or entertainment. Yell "evil" at CAPTCHA graphics. with good enough synthetic voices, here's an affordable, unavoidable testing tool that simulates experience of visually impaired users. Summary: offer an interactive testing, validation, and educational phase of web design, optimized and automated for accessibility.

19. Posted by Vlad Alexander
on Friday 2010-04-30 at 09:20:19 PST

Thanks for the clarification Karen.

mattur wrote: "Enforce existing disability discrimination laws. Sue people."

I notice more energy in the accessibility movement whenever there is a lawsuit in progress.

Mike wrote: "Forward accessibility stories/news to mainstream news media liek,,etc."

We should all do that for news such as legislation change, lawsuits, if large companies introduce major accessibility features, accessibility research grants, etc.

Mike wrote: "Suspend engagement with HTML5 group until they fix accessibility problems in HTML."

I'd support that :-)

Susan Gerhart wrote: "How about an InterNational 'Clean up your website day'?"

I think this might be fun and do some good. Maybe have it as one time event?

20. Posted by trevor
on Friday 2010-04-30 at 11:28:47 PST

>Don't forget the individuals who may not be in the spotlight, but still do valuable work.
@Gary Miller, there are probably good ideas that can be extracted from the acts you and others taken. It is not bragging nor self-promotion, but _educational_ for others if you talk about the small acts of accessibility that people do.

21. Posted by Lowvisionary
on Saturday 2010-05-01 at 15:23:12 PST

Great discussion. As someone who has worked on national web standards, human rights as well as accessibility I think we should use all the tools at our command. What does concern me is the emphasis on tick-box compliance and the lack of a user or customer focus. I'd support using the business case alongside everything else to promote accessibility. I do think that accessibility is a state of mind, a way of thinking about the world and designing for universal design. I have worked in the disability world for many years, but I think that accessibility should not be siloed (dreadful word) as a disability issue, any more than blindness is the only disability that has accessibility implications.

One tool that no one has mentioned so far is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. While the USA has not ratified, over 80 states have, and the CRPD includes quite specific direction on information accessibility.
Sorry about the rave on what is for me a passion as well as my work.

One last point - hands-free technology may not suit everyone either. we need a multi faceted approach.

22. Posted by Geof Collis
on Saturday 2010-05-01 at 15:53:44 PST

What I am finding in this field are too many people who claim to be Accessibility Experts but aren't, see an article I wrote at We have pending legislation here in Ontario Canada on Information and Communications, web accessibility being part of it.

So many people have popped out of the woodwork claiming to be able to create accessible websites and all they do is muddy the waters, without a real accreditation system in place they are setting the web accessibility movement backwards.

23. Posted by Jim Tobias
on Saturday 2010-05-01 at 16:14:38 PST

I like all the comments here that are strategic rather than tactical, motivational rather than technological.

Think of accessibility on 2 levels, like medical care and public health. We have done a lot in terms of accessibility tools for immediate local remediation, and we have momentum to continue that effort. But we continue to show weakness at the mass level, and inaccessibility continues to re-infect when new web technologies emerge, and even when sites are routinely updated "under new management". Tiny fractions of sites are exemplary, and tiny percentages of users have and can use advanced AT.

We need what the field of public health had to fight for: tools to examine and prescribe for the big picture, massive surveys and research into the environment so we can understand why certain barriers are hard to eradicate. And we need boatloads of carrots and sticks.

24. Posted by Jane Vincent
on Saturday 2010-05-01 at 16:15:59 PST

Vlad: I concur, and an opportunity for this has occurred (and been missed) because of the iPad; see

25. Posted by John Foliot
on Saturday 2010-05-01 at 16:54:39 PST

As some-one who has been fighting this same battle for over a decade now, I'm not discouraged - on the contrary I've never been more excited. Here's some reasons why:

1) Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend SXSW (South by South-West), one of the largest annual gatherings of web creatives in North America. Thousands of mainstream web developers of all stripes and opinions descended on Austin Texas for 5 days of seminars, discussions and 'interaction' - all with a goal of pushing the envelope, of sharing ideas & progress and of making the web a better place for all users (not just those with disabilities). One thing that struck me as I attended sessions through-out that week was how aware these leading-edge netizens were of the need for accessibility. These weren't 'accessibility experts', these were just web experts and professional web developers. While these people still have some questions, and some serious learning to do, time and time again I heard that they *WANTED* to learn, to understand, to do better. Yes, there is still a fair way to go, but the point is, we're pointed in the right direction. Witness Drupal - as Everett Zufelt noted earlier, work on this highly popular content Management System (which is in use today by organizations as large as Warner Music and the Whitehouse) has incorporated a serious commitment to accessibility (and if you see Everett, thank him for his tireless efforts there) - in fact a number of open accessibility issues are "blocking" issues for the release of the next version of Drupal - a commitment from the highest levels of the Drupal Open-source organization to the importance of accessibility. This would have been unheard of even 2 years ago!

2) While some large organizations are still trailing far behind, many other companies (especially those directly associated to the web industry) are now taking pro-active steps to move that ball forward. Companies as diverse as the Mozilla Foundationa and Adobe have made significant financial contributions to efforts such as the Open-Source NVDA Screen Reader - and the developers of NVDA are quick to address any serious issue brought to their attention (to the point that the leading screen reader, JAWs, is now starting to seriously look over their shoulder in concern - while at the same time working to improve their application.

AOL recently stepped up to the plate to help fund work to improve jQuery UI (the largest Open-Source JavaScript library in use today) - to go back and ensure that ARIA (Accessible Rich Interactive Application) attributes are added to UI widgets in that library - an effort that will have huge ripple effects throughout our industry.

IBM did the same for the Dojo JavaScript Library, as well as working tirelessly with Accessibility Evaluation vendors to improve the reports they generate - to enable better integration with authoring tools and systems, and to provide time and financial resources to the W3C's HTML5 Accessibility Task Fource (of which I am also a member) - IBM's Senior Engineer for Accessibility (Richard Schwartzfeger) is the chair of the Canvas Task-Force (to ensure that the new Canvas element can be made accessible): their efforts are currently working thier way through the Standards process and are being adopted and worked upon by all of the major browser vendors.

And let's not forget Yahoo! - from re-working YUI3 (another JS library) from the ground up to meet accessibility requirements, to the almost weekly announcements from our friend Victor Tsaran on yet another accessibility enhancement to one of Yahoo!'s myriad of web properties. (Did you know that all new hires at Yahoo! must go through a 1-day Accessibility boot-camp before they can produce any code for the company? - that engineering teams throughout that organization work regularly with Victor to test and improve their products, ensuring accessibility? Yahoo! stays quiet, but they are to be highly commended to integrating accessibility within their corporate culture!)


26. Posted by John Foliot
on Saturday 2010-05-01 at 16:56:46 PST

3) HTML5 - yes, HTML5! There is no secret that HTML5 got off to a bit of a rocky start accessibility-wise, however since Novemeber of 2009 a bi-partisan Accessibility Task-Force, operating within the W3C - have been working at known issues at a steady rate, and those efforts are now starting to pay off as proposals and amendments to the HTML5 Specification and are being rolled into that spec. But even before that, much of HTML5's re-working of semantic structure has direct and positive implications for accessibility - from the new landmark elements (which closely mirror ARIA's landmark attributes) that authors can use today, to new semantic elements that will improve the accuracy of markup by not pushing this critical *meaning* of the marked-up content to attribute values (that may or may not get added): case in point - a new <details> element instead of the oh-so-common <div id="details"> which is meaningless to Adaptive Technology today. While the Draft Specification has contentious issues still, the W3C's involvement here is working to ensure that "we" get it right (and the browser vendors are listening and reacting favorably, so progress is being made). So @Mike - disengaging from this effort is exactly the wrong thing to be doing: work on HTML5 will continue with or without the benefit of accessibility guidance, so better to be working with them, then standing on the sidelines waving our fingers Tsk-Tsking. The W3C and work on HTML5 is open to any who wish to volunteer - it is not some Mount Olympus effort done by distant removed 'people' - it's folks like you and me: if you don't offer to help, you lose the right to complain afterwards.

4) Legislation - it's getting better... slowly. Around the globe countries are adopting (and more importantly enforcing) accessibility legislation, as well as re-examining existing legislation and standards to see if they can be made better. Yes, here too there is a ton of work to do, and much progress still to be made, but in just the last 3 weeks multiple US sub-committees began re-examining thier legislation with an eye to further entrenching web accessibility as a basic human right protected by law; as well the UK Standards Body (BSI) just released their Draft Web accessibility - Code of practice (BS 8878) - see

At the same time lawyers such as Lainy Feingold ( have been working quietly behind the scenes to raise the bar: recent Structured Settlements with organizations such as Major League Baseball and Bank of America will have long-term benefits and provide a model that other businesses can adopt.

Sure, all of the above could be seen as "about time" or "are we still only here?" but I see that as defeatist - it doesn't acknowledge the progress that has been made. so what can we do, those that have adopted this cause and march under the banner of web accessibility? Keep doing what you are doing - teaching, guiding, pointing out problems and making a rucus - but, and this is the big but, be prepared to also do more than just complain. If there is one thing I am in total agreement with here - this is something that "we" all need to do, this is not something that "they" need to do, because we *ARE* they.

Fight the good fight, keep your chin up and your powder dry, but mostly continue to be patient, while never relenting - a difficult balancing act to be sure, but we can do it.


27. Posted by Vlad Alexander
on Saturday 2010-05-01 at 18:38:17 PST

John, thank you for the examples of how different people/organizations are working to improve Web accessibility. I think their effort is wonderful. However, from what I observe, the rate of inaccessible Web is growing faster than the rate of accessible Web. So we need to re-think how we approach Web accessibility.

John Foliot wrote: "So @Mike - disengaging from this effort is exactly the wrong thing to be doing: work on HTML5 will continue with or without the benefit of accessibility guidance, so better to be working with them, then standing on the sidelines waving our fingers Tsk-Tsking."

What I hear Mike say is go on strike until you get an equitable voice at the table. The HTML5 team needs accessibility advocates to participate in the process in order to give the process credibility. Are most accessibility advocates giving credibility to the process and getting little or nothing in return?

John Foliot wrote: "since Novemeber of 2009 a bi-partisan Accessibility Task-Force, operating within the W3C - have been working at known issues at a steady rate"

Here is an example from April 2010, which illustrates that decisions are still made by one man who is too eager to please the browser vendors.

John Foliot wrote: "The W3C and work on HTML5 is open to any who wish to volunteer..."

W3C is not writing HTML5. In any case, why should anyone volunteer for a group that will not give them equitable voice to other group members?

John Foliot wrote: "Fight the good fight, keep your chin up and your powder dry, but mostly continue to be patient..."

I am not interested in putting on a good show; I want tangible results and I want them as soon as possible. "be patient"? If you believe that accessibility is a human right, then let me repeat the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: "a right delayed is a right denied".

28. Posted by John Foliot
on Saturday 2010-05-01 at 20:07:21 PST


If you truly believe that the strategy that has produced ARIA, that has improved accessibility support from all of the current browsers, that has encouraged the US DoJ to re-open the ADA to include digital inclusion, that has seen the US Access Bord re-visit Section 508, that has seen WCAG 2 adopted by most governments around the world as the foundation of their own laws, that has encouraged Open Source projects such as Drupal, jQuery to embrace and improve on their acdessibility efforts has truly failed us, then what do you propose instead? Vague ideas such as coming up with "the right idea" sound great on paper, but what actual work effort can be applied to that suggestion? I agree that any and all ideas should be considered, but to ignore the huge strides we've made over the past few years is disingenuous - it's all complaining and no concrete action.

"Going on Strike" against HTML5? HTML5 is an *emergent* spec that hasn't even reached Last Call yet, never mind Finalization. If some developers today don't want to use HTML5 then that's fine and well - don't - no harm, no foul. But I would suggest that those who are truly interested in ensuring HTML5 is accessible *when it becomes a Standard* should start trying it out now - large chunks of the spec are being supported in various browsers today, and using it, testing it, finding flaws and bugs will only ensure that it becomes better. As I noted before, this is not some Holy Document that is emerging from Mount Olympus, it is being worked on by individuals and companies that want to improve the web - to create a " that would benefit all Web users, disabled or not."

Vlad, you pointed to one one bug (#9098 - a number alone that should suggest to all that there are a *lot* of bugs being tracked right now) with the current (but NOT FINAL) response from the editor. I should also point out that this very same bug also notes: "Assigned To: This bug has no owner yet - up for the taking"

If you truly feel that this one bug is a huge show-stopper *today* then join the Working Group and take ownership of the bug. I'd also like to point out however that the HTML5 Accessibility Task force is actually working on the ALT text issue at a higher level within the HTML5 Spec: ISSUE-31: missing-alt - What to do when a reasonable text equivalent is unknown/unavailable? [] which is currently under active development; and once again remind you and other readers that the timeline for HTML5 getting to Last Call is by 2012. That's 2 years from now, not tomorrow. Think about what the web looked like 2 years ago and then ask yourself what you think the web of 2 years from now will look like.

Regarding the "writing of HTML5" I think you are somewhat mistaken. While the WHAT WG is indeed working on the specification in tandem with the W3C, the final STANDARD (when it becomes a Standard) will be released as a W3C Standard - it is that Standards Body that governments, academia and most (non-web) industy turns to - you know, the banking sector, the medical sector, energy and manufacturing. WHAT WG is a collective of engineers who are hamering out a technical specification - sometimes quickly (or maybe some days even too quickly), but it is the W3C that is ensuring that the Technical Specification is and will be the bullet-proof Standard that the rest of the world will be able to rely upon. This is an important distinction that many seem to overlook.


29. Posted by John Foliot
on Saturday 2010-05-01 at 20:09:53 PST

You asked: "Are most accessibility advocates giving credibility to the process and getting little or nothing in return?"

The W3C HTML5 Accessibility Task Force is large collective of credible Accessibility Specialists from companies such as IBM (Richard Schwerdtfeger), Adobe (Matt May - formally of W3C-WAI), Microsoft (Paul Cotton, Cynthia Shelly, Kelly Ford - himself a blind user), Apple (David Singer, Eric Carlson), Opera (Charles McCathieNevile, Bruce Lawson, Philip Jägenstedt) Mozila (David Bolter, Silvia Pfieffer). As well, many members of Academia are involved (Jon Gunderson - University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, Wendy Chisholm - University of Washington [formally of W3C-WAI], Markku Häkkinen - University of Jyväskylä/Finland, Laura Carlson - University of Minnesota Duluth and myself - Stanford University) as well as Non-Government and Private Industy participants (Sally Cain - RNIB, Steven Faulkner & Gez Lemon - TPG, Tantek Çelik [microformats], Geoff Freed - NCAM/WGBH, Kenny Johar - Daisy Consortium). Are you suggesting that all of these people and more are shills, being duped by one person? Really? Do you honestly think that all of these busy and experienced people would continue to work within the W3C towards ensuring accessibility in HTML5 if we all felt that it was a dead-end effort? C'mon Vlad - reality check.

You also ask: "...why should anyone volunteer for a group that will not give them equitable voice to other group members?" Since my involvement in the W3C I have never heard any voice actively ignored or dismissed - yes there are times when differences of *opinion* have surfaced where a few minority voices have been 'over-ruled' by the majority, but the honest reality is that the W3C is a consensus driven organization - it strives to reflect all points of view - but it also has an open, equitable and fair process to avoid lack of consensus becoming filibuster - namely we vote. The bad thing about about democracy is that somebody loses, but it's the best system we have compared to all the others.

This is not some "show" and to suggest otherwise is offensive - you think I'm in this for 'showmanship'? Making Standards is hard work, and it takes time and effort. Improving Web Accessibility is hard work too, and it takes time and lots of effort as well. There is no magic panacea that will transform 15 years of poor practice and lack of education into the Utopian dream of perfection. People like those mentioned above are working hard within the Standards process to improve what we have today; others such as Evertt Zuefelt, Mike Gifford and others (working inside of or Dennis Lembree (Accessible Twitter) are leading by example and teaching others that this can be done - today; others like Jared W. Smith and his team at WebAIM tour the continent giving seminars, performing accessibility evaluations and teaching those who have yet to learn how to make accessible content accessible - today. All this takes time, to be sure, but the success they are achieving today are noticeable and tangible, they are improving the accessibility of the web, one person, one site, one page at a time. It might seem some days that progress is slow - it it - but progress it still remains. There is no such thing as a cheap and easy win.

30. Posted by Vlad Alexander
on Saturday 2010-05-01 at 21:08:13 PST

John Foliot wrote: "While the WHAT WG is indeed working on the specification in tandem with the W3C, the final STANDARD (when it becomes a Standard) will be released as a W3C Standard"

So W3C will rubber stamp the work WHAT WG created? After all, the W3C HTML WG in the past has just documented the functionality that was already shipped by browser vendors.

John Foliot wrote: "Are you suggesting that all of these people and more are shills, being duped by one person? Really? Do you honestly think that all of these busy and experienced people would continue to work within the W3C towards ensuring accessibility in HTML5 if we all felt that it was a dead-end effort? C'mon Vlad - reality check."

That's not what I said. Let me elaborate on what I said. How much time, effort and energy had been spent by accessibility advocates, including you, engaged with HTML5 team trying to make HTML5 more accessible? What do you have to show for this? The headers attribute was not removed - wow - you managed to achieve status quo. The alt attribute has been made optional. Headings have not been fixed. Really, what new accessibility features have been added to HTML5 as a result of your engagement with the HTML5 team over the last 3 years?

John Foliot wrote: "Since my involvement in the W3C..."

Why do you keep on talking about W3C? This gives the impression that HTML5 is written by W3C when in reality HTML5 is written by WHAT WG.

John Foliot wrote: "...they are improving the accessibility of the web, one person, one site, one page at a time"

Finally, I think this statement describes the strategy you believe we should persue in order to make the Web accessible. I want us all to discuss and critique this strategy in order to determine if this is the best way forward.

31. Posted by John Foliot
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 00:39:59 PST

Vlad, you are so far out here I can hardly bother to respond. I do however suggest that you go back and learn your HTML history, and discover how HTML3.2 came to be, and why.

You completely ignore the fact that the some engineers within the WHATWG (and the companies that pay them to do that work) are also *directly* involved in the W3C Accessibility Task Force, and that they are working together - collaboratively - to ensure that the tools that they are creating will meet accessibility requirements - simply because they recognize the very real business need to do so. But be very clear here - nobody - NOBODY - can force any one browser vendor to do anything that they as a business do not want to do: we can only apply legislation and market forces so much, but in a free society any company can do as they choose, and 'we' can't stop them. That said, a significant amount of progress has been made collaboratively since November of 2009 (5 months ago) that is extremely encouraging and positive.

Since November 2009 a Joint Task force that includes members of the W3C and the WHATWG have established an agreed-to *PROCESS* whereby known and existing accessibility issues are being addressed - together - to improve the Spec that is STILL BEING WRITTEN - a spec that will hopefully enter Candidate Recommendation in 2 years. 2 YEARS!

The Canvas accessibility proposals are already working their way through the system; work on ensuring the new video element can include native captioning is progressing now - I know, I'm directly involved - and the ALT text issue (and others) remains very much Open and unresolved, despite what fear-mongering you may chose to spread. *You* think there is a problem with Headings, but I've not heard any credible evidence to support that claim, and when you really understand the new scheme for ensuring Headings will actually convey hierarchal structure it will become quite evident that it *will* improve accessibility, as the structure will make sense to A.T.

You continually dismiss the W3C as not being involved in the writing of HTML5, even when the WHATWG themselves state:

"HTML5 is the main focus of the WHATWG community and also that of the W3C HTML Working Group."

How much clearer does it need to be?

The W3C Editor's Draft of HTML5 also states:

"This specification defines the 5th major revision of the core language of the World Wide Web: the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)." well as:

"Implementors should be aware that this specification is not stable. [I'm going to repeat that for emphasis - THIS SPECIFICATION IS NOT STABLE.] Implementors who are not taking part in the discussions are likely to find the specification changing out from under them in incompatible ways. Vendors interested in implementing this specification before it eventually reaches the Candidate Recommendation stage should join the aforementioned mailing lists and take part in the discussions.

The publication of this document by the W3C as a W3C Working Draft does not imply that all of the participants in the W3C HTML working group endorse the contents of the specification. Indeed, for any section of the specification, one can usually find many members of the working group or of the W3C as a whole who object strongly to the current text, the existence of the section at all, or the idea that the working group should even spend time discussing the concept of that section.

The latest stable version of the editor's draft of this specification is always available on the W3C CVS server and in the WHATWG Subversion repository."

Failing to acknowledge realities simply undermines any other real claim you seek to make - you are dealing with preconceptions in your own mind that have no bearing to reality *today*. As an interested Vendor, why are you not participating in this work? Is it perhaps easier to sit on the side-lines and take pot-shots?

I'm done - good luck.

32. Posted by Laura
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 04:34:36 PST

Hi Vlad,

In reference to Bug 9098 [1] that I filed with your definition for the img element, Ian has indeed stamped it WONTFIX. The W3C Accessibility Task Force [2] has not considered it.

The task force was first alerted of the bug on February 20, 2010. [3] I brought their attention to it twice in March and April [4] [5] in my weekly bug reports [6] to the group.

I hope that the accessibility task force decides to take it up as a work item. I strongly recommended [4] to them that the "A11ytf" keyword be applied to bug 9098 so that the task force could officially work on it. The rationale that Ian provided in rejecting the bug seems to be the impetus for most all of the of text alternative loopholes, which caused ISSUE-31 missing-alt and three years of HTML working group conflict.

The task force currently has 29 bugs [7] that have no decision whether they will be accepted as official work items or not. Hopefully the task force will decide on criteria [8] for accepting bugs at some point.

To update you with regard to the HTML5 missing alt issue [9], I drafted a HTML 5 Change Proposal to replace img guidance for conformance checkers [10]. What are your thoughts on it, Vlad? Your input would be most valuable. The Task Force has voted on the proposal. The results are publicly viewable. [11] The next step is for the task force to issue a recommendation to the main HTML Working Group.

The main HTML Working Group will decide the matter between Ian's Null Change Proposal [12] and my Change Proposal [10].



33. Posted by chaals
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 05:21:34 PST

I think John is pretty much on the money here in regards to participating HTML5. Some further comments and thoughts...

The spec is *written* by Ian Hickson, who takes information wherever he finds it. It appears that his preferred source is WHAT-WG, and I personally find it frustrating sometimes arguing with him over accessibility (which is not actually an area where he has nice theories but not a lot of real practical expertise). However, he gets directed by the Working Group to put things in or take them out, and however happily or reluctantly he actually does that. SO not engaging in the Working Group means forgoing the opportunity to convince them now that something is important. Hixie won't care if we all "go on strike", it just means he can ignore us more easily if he doesn't like what we say. And if all the people who get accessibility walk away from HTML5, it won't stop it moving forward, it will just make it poorer.

As for the original idea of looking for supplementary benefit, I think that is something that is second nature to most accessibility people. It is indeed important, but as noted it's a strategy, and we need to figure out how to apply it in specific cases. It is also only one part of what we need to do. In a follow-up comment I will give a specific example of making an improvement to the accessibility of canvas, and explain how it takes this approach as one part of improving accessibility (and why we need to stay involved in the HTML WG)

There is a lot of work to get the accessibility community to apply all its brainpower to checking a proposed solution, and finding the one that gives the widest benefit. And then there is the time to go from there to explaining it to others (although one thing that makes an idea good is that when it's properly laid out it explains itself), making demonstrations, testing it in browsers once they have implemented the necessary code, and figuring out how people are going to generate this code in the first place (a critical part of the puzzle - if your CMS can't do it, then you're unlikely to ever use this feature which makes it useless in practice).

And so we get to Gary Miller's point, which I think is a critical one. We have to actually teach this stuff to every kid who is making 50 somethings knocking together a 2-page website in half an hour for a friend of her uncle's who suddenly wants a website. We have to get them to understand and do what it takes to make content accessible - by making tools like their CMS guide them through the process and motivate them to get it right. We need to make sure the example code they copy from their cousin's friend is actually good - so we need to reach their cousin's friend and improve their code too. It's a long process, and it involves reaching a lot of people, and importantly changing and improving the tools they are actually using, whether that is copying code examples from a book or using a piece of software or just asking some group of people they think can help them.

They are the crucial market, I think. By and large, serious professionals want to know how to do it, as John noted, and they are looking and learning from a huge range of people who teach this stuff in classes, through books or competitions or just pub chat and napkin demonstrations. But we need to make it clear to the vast masses that accessibility matters. As you note, every time we can make accessibility the easy way to do something generally important, we make the task easier. But if people only do the easy bits, we lose. Because it is not always possible to make accessibility the simplest approach - sometimes it takes extra work because it needs things like descriptions which don't automatically exist, and those require work, and we need to explain why that work is worth doing.

We really have to change opinions and attitudes on a global scale. And that often takes decades to achieve more or less completely. Until people regard accessibility as a basic part of getting something finished, it will lag behind - more or less, depending on how much we succeed in making it easy and how good the technology we develop is, but it will still lag. Advertising, "evangelising", naming and shaming and suing and helping people improve and showing how to do it are *all* important parts of a very very big puzzle.

34. Posted by chaals
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 05:27:06 PST

Let me take an example to illustrate some of the points discussed above. As As you have noted canvas doesn't have a very good accessibility story. Essentially, it just lets you paint things in a region of the screen.

There's no alt, no long description. However, you can use ARIA to provide those (good enough for alt, not yet good enough to replace everything longdesc offers), so that brings it the same functionality available to img.

Canvas is more than an image though - because it is dynamic and interactive. And it is used, generally, to provide dynamic interactive content - in much the same way as flash or SVG (both of which have a better accessibility story despite what Mr Hickson claims). SO you need some way of making that interaction available beyond just listening for mouseclicks and figuring out what the visual target was (which is how canvas applications work today, along with having keyboard listeners for things like game controls). And you need some way to tell the non-visual user what is actually happening.

Enter the WHAT-WG: clever guys, who do care about accessibility (I know these people - a number of them are my employees) even if IMHO they generally don't get it right. They note the problem, and suggest that if you can navigate what is inside the canvas tags, then you can build content that provides information to the non-visual user - javascript links that can be "somehow tagged with ARIA" to allow understanding of what is happening visually.

This might seem complicated, but for a canvas programmer it's actually close to what they are doing. They are already building a virtual model of whatever their application is, just to make it work. They are already tracking all the relevant parts of the canvas in order to issue the drawing commands that make it appear. So they just have to add to drawing commands which change something "important" an update to the elements inside the canvas tag, so everyone can follow.

Enter the HTML Accessibility group. Rich Schwerdtfeger (now CTO of IBM - not bad for an accessibility guy) suggests that you should be able to state whether the elements inside the canvas are navigable or not. Because there are two use cases for them - one is where the canvas is rendered, but the user needs additional information. The other is where the canvas is not rendered at all, and instead you get what is inside.

This could be helpful. But Hixie argues (correctly IMHO) that it is not really necessary - if you are going to go to the trouble of making both types of content, and you are programming an application in javascript, then it is trivial to have the "not rendered option" there by default, and use the same javascript which makes the "rendered option with enhancement" to put the right content there in the first place. So he's not in a hurry to take up this option.

Meanwhile, *inside the accessibility sub-group* we don't agree either. Lachlan Hunt (pretty closely identified with the WHAT-WG) proposes in the WHAT-WG that we just use image maps, and I take that idea to the accessibility group. The benefits, as I see them:

+ Web developers mostly know how image maps work. They have fallen out of favour, but they're in every book about HTML. There's much less to explain than if we start from "make some content and use ARIA to tag it all".
+ They have built-in accessibility features - you can navigate them, they have alt attributes, you can even have inactive regions whose function is just information (i.e. alt but no interaction).
+ They're already implemented. Steven Faulkner's test case - - works in most browsers today (although there are bugs to sort out, it's not like we have to wait before we can make stuff work).
+ You can use them outside the canvas element if you want them to be more general - and the HTML4.01 image maps (what is implemented - what HTML5 suggests is nice in theory but useless in today's browsers) is actually a nice, simple but powerful and flexible tool for marking up the important bits of an interface. So they're not just enabling accessibility, but simplifying the process of making a canvas application in general. (Yay, I finally got to the reason for this example :) )

And right now, that's where we are at. I should be writing up the case for image maps inside the accessibility task force, not commenting on this blog (but at least I can copy from my comment to the formal proposal ;) ). We don't have agreement there on what we want, so in any case the HTML WG hasn't got a clear proposal to work from - which means it is a little unreasonable to expect the spec to be perfect already.

So, time for me to go work on pieces of the puzzle that I am holding back...

35. Posted by Shelley
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 05:37:36 PST

Vlad has acknowledged the reality of the W3C/WhatWG effort, John, which is why I quit the HTML WG this last week.

I also think he, and others, have brought up interesting ideas, and some solid points in the post and the comment thread.

Vlad, your statement:

"I would try to make Web accessibility a positive side effect of another action. I would do this by finding a convergence between an assistive technology (such as screen readers) and another technology that would benefit all Web users, disabled or not. Then I would promote the hell out of the "general benefit" technology and push hard to get it into the mainstream. One such technology is hands-free Web use, where users speak to their computer through voice recognition technology using hands-free devices such as in-dash car computers or Walkman-like products."

I'm not an "accessibility person" as John likes to keep reminding me, but I want to bring up another concept that has not received widespread support until relatively recently: semantic annotation, primarily with RDFa and RDF.

RDF has been around for over a decade, but it was only recently, when it was adapted to being used in XHTML (and HTML), via RDFa, that we started to see some real growth. When the Drupal folks picked it up for Drupal 7, and Google for Rich Snippets, then we started to see a great deal more interest. Now Facebook is incorporating its use, Rotten Tomatoes, and other prominent sites.

But this expanded use wasn't the result of some sudden move, or "ah ha!" movement--it was the work of a very persistent group of people who just would not let the idea of a truly semantic web die.

I think ARIA has real potential, but it's going to take the same dedication, focus, and persistence, the RDF/RDFa folks have had. Sometimes I see this in the accessibility community, sometimes I don't.

I do know that NVDA and ARIA has been the thing to really make me, as a web developer, pay attention. We never had techniques that worked in the past, nor the tools in order to test that the techniques work. Now we have both, but we need to know that the accessibility community isn't suddenly going to change its mind, decide ARIA is not the way forward, and forcing us to start over.

There's an old, but apt cliche: hammer a stake in the ground, and stick with it.

ARIA is semantics, and semantics is big now. I think if you're looking for synergy, that's a place to start.

But, I am not an "accessibility" person, just a web developer.

36. Posted by Geof Collis
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 06:53:34 PST

While all of this tech talk is making my head swim, I'm sure it is doing some good but here in the trenches most people dont know the difference between html 5 and the jackson 5 and couldn't care less, they dont have the slightest idea of how to make a site accessible yet they are the ones creating the thousands and thousands of inaccessible local Municipal and business sites that haven't even adopted WCAG 1.0 much less 2.0.

I haven't seen much change in the last 5 years and even though we'll have legislation soon it will be yearsbefore web accessibility becomes the norm and I'll bet there will be many lawsuits along the way.

When Municipalities add Browse Aloud to there inaccessible website and claim it is now accessible the job of education becomes even more difficult.

When Governments and Companies are pumping out inaccessible pdfs day after day it becomes frustrating.

I've been building one accessible site after another for the last 8 years along with education and quite frankly I am disallusioned with the progress, do we need a new strategy? From my perspective we do. Do I have an answer beside suing the heck out of everyone? I wish.

Things might be looking rosy up in the Clouds but down here it isn't that pretty.

37. Posted by Vlad Alexander
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 07:54:51 PST

chaals wrote: "Hixie won't care if we all 'go on strike'..."

So what does that say about the HTML5 development process? To me it says that the voices of hundreds of accessibility experts don't really matter. If you saw accessibility as a human rights issue, you would not participate in this process.

chaals wrote: "There is a lot of work to get the accessibility community to apply all its brainpower to checking a proposed solution"

This is backwards - a feature is proposed by HTML5 team, quickly implemented by browser vendors and then accessibility experts are forced to invent ways to add-on accessibility. Accessibility must be built-in at the design stage. Accessibility experts have better things to do than to clean up after other people's design mistakes.

Geof Collis wrote: "Things might be looking rosy up in the Clouds but down here it isn't that pretty."

I believe this is because people designing Web technology feel that accessibility is a technology problem that can be solved by a future spec such as ARIA or something else. There will always be a technology that is just around the corner that will offer more hope, and that is why many of these technology designers are living in perpetual hope.

38. Posted by susanne mistric
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 08:06:03 PST

So much of the problem, in my humble opinion, stems from the fact that most Web Design and Web Technology programs are not teaching or are inadequately teaching accessible web design and Universal Design concepts.I have tutored web design in a college level computer learning center, and was appalled to find brand new web students learning to design a page with tables in the year 2010. Is it the need for instant gratification in a WYSIWYG interface, or is it that instructors aren't up with current standards? The answer at our level is probably a bit of both.

As an accessibility trainer in a community college environment, I find that making instructors aware of web accessibility best practices isn't enough. Many content creation tools that claim to be accessible really are not, and the LMS's (like Blackboard) throw one more barriers into the mix. I'd really like to see an "accessibility seal of approval" akin to the good housekeeping seal for software. A confidence seal verifying that the software meets certain criteria would provide an extremely beneficial indicator/standard. The voluntary template is easy to misinterpret developers can pass it off as meaning more than it actually indicates.

What I took from the 2010 W4A conference was an even greater commitment to "do something". I'm going to start an accessibility resource blog for our community college system. I'm going to encourage every instructor I work with to demand accessible textbooks and accessible course content plug-ins for the LMS. Often that merely requires learning they need to ask the question, and just the fact that they are asking will make a publisher take notice. I'm going to volunteer to present a "hands-on" lesson on web accessibility to our web design students...they are really the key to an accessible web for all in the future...AND I'm going to continue spending time every day seeking the wisdom within forums such as these, and share what I learn with anyone who will listen.

Accessibility is the law (in our state and in our environment), it is a civil right, and absolutely it is the right thing to do. More than that, accessibility is one of the CORE VALUES of the Web. We've got to teach web accessibility as being THAT IMPORTANT from day one... in the classroom, and by example. We can't let it be perceived as an afterthought. (I think that is often the case currently) Proper education at the student designer/developer basic level and proper education geared to the educator learning to create learning content for the web would make tremendous strides (at least in one realm) towards an accessible web for all.

So much wonderful accessibility and universal design materials have generously been shared in the spirit of collaboration. Those of us who benefit on a daily basis from that generosity must commit to sharing knowledge so that all of the progress discussed in this thread can trickle down and spread through the masses. In conclusion, I would like to thank each of you for sharing your insight and expertise in this open environment. We are listening, and we are learning.

39. Posted by John Foliot
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 10:02:00 PST

@Laura, @Vlad In Bug #9098 the conclusion is stated as: "Without both a src and a text alternative the img element is incomplete."

OK, everybody agrees - I've been saying that myself for years []. Now what?

Seriously, now that you've won that point, what are we going to do with that win? Arrest and jail content authors who fail to add ALT values? Have the 'authorities' remove the offending web page from the Internet until they fix it? The problem with this Bug report is not that it isn't valid, it's that there is no proposal to fix the problem - it's like saying that water is wet, and cat's don't like to get wet, so we need to "un-wet" water for cats. It's significantly more serious than that of course, but the problem statement is essentially the same, and winning the point that IMG without ALT is as broken as IMG without SRC does not solve the problem, it simply reconfirms something that most already agree to. As Chaals pointed out, to make things accessible sometimes requires extra work, and this is a case in point. So to fix the problem, we need to continue our efforts in educating people as to *why* they need to supply ALT values, not stand around wringing our hands and stating the obvious, with no solution on the table.

As Laura herself notes however, the Task Force is working on a Change Proposal (one that she herself authored) which will guide tool-makers and their clientèle to Authoring Guidance (teach!) as part of the authoring and Quality Assurance process of content creation. Because as Jared and Chaals and Susanne and Karen and countless others have all written, the real answer is continuing to increase awareness and teaching how to do better. Is that a hard and slow process - yes it is. Does it make that process and solution any less valuable? I leave that for you to consider.

Vlad wrote: "If you saw accessibility as a human rights issue, you would not participate in this process."

OK Vlad, then what do you propose to do? If we are not to participate in the process of working within the W3C to improve HTML5, what alternative do you suggest? I've not heard from anyone an alternative to working with the W3C and browser vendors to make HTML5 better, but I'm open to considering options. Give us an alternate option.

Shelley wrote: "There's an old, but apt cliche: hammer a stake in the ground, and stick with it."

A "stake in the ground" serves different purposes for different people. Like a surveyer however, for me a stake in the ground only signifies how far I've come - it serves as a point of reference as I continue moving forward, and not as a final destination. ~200 years ago in North America the end of the rail line was often that stake in the ground: people rode the rails to the end, and when they got there they built towns and cities and there was significant growth. But others continued to expand the railways - continued to push forward and explore and expand on what they had already achieved, laid new track and created yet newer towns and cities. Others arrived at the end of the railway line and loaded wagons and horses and continued forward with nothing more than the knowledge that there was a 'stake' behind them, and uncharted territory in front of them. Shelley, feel free to build a city where the current stake sits - there is value there. But remember that there also remains uncharted territory beyond that stake, and untold potential might also lie ahead.

40. Posted by Shelley
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 10:54:10 PST

John, if you want web developers and authors to incorporate accessibility, you need to define an approach, give us consistent direction, ensure the technology, such as browsers, support the direction, and provide tools for testing.

If you change the game, or stop in the middle of a plan, or redefine the rules, and continue to provide inconsistent direction, don't be surprised if 15 years from now, you're still in the same place, still bemoaning the lack of accessible web sites.

Define a course. Follow it. Promote it. And learn from those who fought some of the same battles, and are succeeding.

41. Posted by Vlad Alexander
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 11:58:02 PST

Laura wrote: "What are your thoughts on it, Vlad? Your input would be most valuable."

I sincerely thank you for the opportunity to participate. Personally, I have boycotted the HTML5 process. Withholding my participation from the process and advocating for change from the street is for me the only way to change the process itself.

John Foliot wrote: "Seriously, now that you've won that point, what are we going to do with that win? Arrest and jail content authors who fail to add ALT values?"

How can you say that's a win when the bug is marked WONTFIX? Bug #9098 is about influencing future tool vendors, future educators and ultimately future Web site creators, so that HTML can be improved over time.

John Foliot wrote: "OK Vlad, then what do you propose to do? If we are not to participate in the process of working within the W3C to improve HTML5, what alternative do you suggest? I've not heard from anyone an alternative to working with the W3C and browser vendors to make HTML5 better, but I'm open to considering options. Give us an alternate option."

What I propose is that we change the process!

First, define a new process that gives an equitable voice to all the stakeholders in Web technology. This is not just about giving a greater voice to accessibility issues, it's about security issues, authoring tools, application developers, search engine developers, Web page builders/content authors, Web browsers, general users of the Web, etc.

Then boycott the current HTML5 process (within W3C, WHAT WG, etc.) until an organization adopts the new process that we've defined.

Then develop future Web technology within whichever organization has adopted the new process - be it W3C, WHAT WG, etc.

Credibility is your currency; use it to buy a seat at the table.

42. Posted by John Foliot
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 13:03:55 PST


I look forward to your newly defined process - I mean you *are* the one who suggests that a consensus driven process such as the one at the W3C is flawed, so please, do elaborate on the better process. Don't just complain about the 'problem', actually do something constructive about it. Please.

And that "organization" - who, what, where, when? For while you feel that standing on the outside of the W3C is productive (your conscious choice), the majority of governments, industry and academia are all apparently satisfied with the less than perfect but well managed W3C process - one need only look at the list of organizations that fund the non-profit work of the W3C [] - companies and organizations that represent interests as diverse as "accessibility issues, security issues, authoring tools, application developers, search engine developers, Web page builders/content authors, Web browsers, general users of the Web, etc."

Meanwhile, I urge you to follow through with your boycott - don't author to any W3C standard, or stay put with HTML 4/XHTML1 - they both work fine most of the time today (just don't try to innovate with them). And since those nasty browser vendors are seemingly dictating all the terms here, stop using those browsers - vote with your feet, there are other choices besides those using the WebKit, Gecko, Trident and Opera rendering engines and associated JavaScript engines (although, I can't really put my hands on one that is still in active development, but I'll keep looking...) But don't expect those afore-mentioned companies to stop innovating on their software because you are boycotting them - I suspect that this won't really affect their larger business plans any.

In fact, go ahead and make up your own mark-up language as well as the required browser software to parse, render and interact with that mark-up, and the authoring tools to write that mark-up. Take on the enormous task of translating that new language to all the spoken and read languages of the world, so that developers in Russia, Japan, South America, and Europe can all participate equally and effectively. Maybe start with China - they already have a physical and digital Great Wall, and a totalitarian regime where the "top" dictates to the masses what they can and can't do; maybe China will pass a decree that omitting ALT text is punishable by 6 months in prison. That would be one way of ensuring all images have ALT values...

It's a noble goal, and I wish you luck and success. Just, please, do something besides telling everybody else that we need to do something.

43. Posted by John Foliot
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 13:39:19 PST

One last question Vlad - if Bug #9098 were re-opened tomorrow, how do you propose we fix the problem. If everyone agrees that IMG without ALT is broken just like IMG without SRC is broken, how and what do we do next? That's a serious question.

As a member of the Working Group and Accessibility Task Force, I will go back and re-open the Bug if there is some constructive feedback and progress to be added. But unless/until a concrete proposal is put forth on how to fix this bug there is very little anyone else can do. You win on the first point (it is broken) but fail on the larger issue (how to fix it).

If the Change Proposal that the Accessibility Task Force is advocating makes it through the process (and there is a very likely chance that it will do so), then images (when authored) that lack appropriate ALT values will trigger an error in Validator software, and that software will point to WAI guidance on how to re-mediate the problem. Now we can't *force* Validators to do this, but we can lend a fair bit of weight in encouraging them to do so, and consumers of this type of software will likely also want that software to contain W3C based guidance (given that they are often being mandate to author to the related W3C Success Criteria).

So, if we get this Change Proposal in, then it will indirectly address the Bug; thus whatever the current editor has to say about this particular bug today is irrelevant - the larger Issue Resolution makes the Bug moot.

That's the Process today.

44. Posted by Denis Boudreau
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 15:45:48 PST

While the conversation has strongly deviated from the initial topic (do we need a new game plan?), I tend to agree with what has been said about recent improvements and I believe that overall, we are going in the right direction. Personnally, I've never been so motivated and optimistic about our chances to make the web a more inclusive environment for everyone.

It's easy to diss on HTML5, especially from an outsider's perspective, but as a member of the HTML-a11y task force, I see a lot of work and effort being put daily into making sure that HTML5 "gets it right" with accessibility. It's a never-ending battle, one that most people only partially get. And as with anything standards-related, it's those that will still be sitting at the table at the end that will ultimately win their point. We've come a long way, but the battle is far from being over.

I believe that the members of the a11y taskforce understand that and while everyone else progressively moves on to other more-trendy topics, we will keep watching the spec's evolution in order to ensure that in the end, HTML5 helps improve access to information for everyone regardless of their limitations or disabilities. Not believing this would mean giving up. I don't think the accessibility community intends on giving up.

We know we are fighting the good fight. We are doing this for real people. This gives meaning to what we do. Personally, if it weren't for accessibility and it's constant ground gains, I would've given up on web development a long time ago.

When I look back 5 years ago and compare with where we are now, I see tremendous gains. Here in Quebec, 5 years ago, accessibility and standards weren't taught up in colleges and universities. Now they are. More and more kids are coming out of academic training with basic knowledge about accessibility and standards-based develpment. 5 years ago, they didn't even know what the W3C was. This, for one, is an awesome gain.

5 years ago, our government - just like most public adminstrations just about anywhere else in the world - didn't bother with accessibility. Not that they didn't care - they simply didn't get it at the time. Now, 5 years later, we have a mandatory standards based on WCAG 2 on the verge of being adopted in Quebec. Canada also has their own accesiblity standard based on the W3C. Real efforts are being made on a government level and this pulls our practice towards the top.

A mandatory a11y standard is not to be taken lightly: What this means is that every web agency is Quebec is on a race to gain accessibility expertise in order to be able to keep their government accounts (or get the accounts of other agencies who would'nt know what these new requirements are). Just about every agency who knows their markets nowadays in Quebec is looking at accessibility as a means to stand out from other suppliers, as something they need to be able to implement in their projects. 5 years ago? I was preaching about accessibility in half-empty rooms, mostly to friends and relatives. 5 years later, the same rooms are ful and most of them are new to accessibility.

When I see this, I don't think we need a new game plan. When I see this, I know our game plan is finally giving results.

I don't care why people get into accessibility. All I care about is that they get on with it.

I don't need them to believe they're doing this for the better good, and I couldn't care less if their only motive is financially-driven. Every little gain counts and every hurdle that is brought down is one less problem encountered by the users.

So to sum an already too long message up, I don't think we need a new game plan. We've had a great game plan all along and we've improved it over time by adding arguments to it. Now that it's finally getting results, it's not the time to change it: now's the time to cash in on the efforts of the past 10 years.

45. Posted by Jared Smith
on Sunday 2010-05-02 at 21:08:13 PST

Wonderful dialog!

The need for standards education has been referenced several times. I'd just like to point folks toward two wonderful standards education resources, the Opera Web Standards Curriculum and the Web Standards Project InterAct Curriculum. If you want to learn or teach web standards, this is a wonderful place to start (though note that web accessibility is but one component of these resources).

46. Posted by Martyn Cooper
on Monday 2010-05-03 at 02:29:13 PST

Alternative approaches to increasing access to those bits of the web that are accessible are possible. I am currently working on a Social Software Approach to Accessibility and will soon blog about it at:

Basically a end-user has a profile that includes their access requirements. When they visit a site they vote on its level of accessibility for them. Then other users can discover sites accessible for them by the search engine comparing the votes for people with similar profiles.

The web will never be perfectly accessible but we can now make it much easier for people to discover resources that are accessible to them. Like Jared I am reasonably optimistic that things will continue to improved in terms of web accessibility generally.


Martyn Cooper
Open University, UK

47. Posted by Tim Harshbarger
on Monday 2010-05-03 at 05:22:40 PST

I wonder if some of the disagreement here is due to perspective. It seems to me that there are 2 parts to the problems around accessibility: technological and socio-economic.
I think quite a a few people have cited how we are doing a great job of addressing the technological aspect of accessibility. I am truly excited by ARIA, HTML5, and other technologies. I can see some great opportunities to create truly accessible and usable user interfaces.
However, I am not so certain we really have a sufficient response for the socio-economic part. For one thing, note Tim O'Reilly's comment on return on investment. What's our response to that?
There is also the fact that web developers, like anyone else, will tend to do work that they see as beneficial, important, or essential. I think most of them just don't think accessibility is any of those things. I suspect that attitude is tied to their perspectives about disability.

48. Posted by Parker Owens, EKU
on Monday 2010-05-03 at 06:19:32 PST

We need to focus on the basics of usability at this point. I work for an institution using online learning software that is claiming it is completely accessible. They may be able to verify checkbox accessibility, but they have completely forgotten about usability. My students using screen readers are unable to use the program due to many clicks and it just takes too long to take a simple quiz. The interface may be technically accessible, but it is unusable.

49. Posted by Denis Boudreau
on Monday 2010-05-03 at 08:07:41 PST

(part 1 of 2)

@Tim Harshbarger:
[quote]However, I am not so certain we really have a sufficient response for the socio-economic part. For one thing, note Tim O'Reilly's comment on return on investment. What's our response to that?[/quote]

Do we really need to have a response? Attempts in the past to present the social benefits of accessibility have been quite easy to come up with: striving towards a more inclusive society, attending to real people's needs, making sure we keep everyone in the technology loop, etc.). This is an easy win, as soon as you are talking to someone whose business model is in services, rather than sales.

Economics benefits are way different: in order to do so, we've had to "twist" our message around, and come up with financial incentives to make the web more accessible: how accessibility supports SEO, how the disabled market is larger than one thinks, how making an accessible website can actually make you save money, etc. Clearly, this is a much harder sell and unless the person in front of us is naturally inclined, they will not give in easily either.

My understanding (and I may be flawed) is that people who run their organizations as accountants woin't see any real interests in accessibility and will only see a small, negligeable market share until they are actually forced to comply (laws, or other mechanisms). After all, people with disabilities are expected to have a lower than average income therefore, can't afford to buy the products being sold on the web. While such managers might understand the obligation forced upon them and they might even see a competitive advantage in going that route, they rarely see the real benefits until our friend ROI actually starts showing up.

And again, the returns on investments are rarely accessibility related per se... in fact, ROI are usually related to the fact that the website was built according to a more standards-compliant methodology, not the accessibility portion in itself (but sssshhhh, let's keep that our secret, it's already hard enough to make the sale as it is).

On the other hand, people that run their organizations like a public admnistration will naturally see the benefits of reaching to a broader audience because they actually don't have anything to sell. They are providing a service and that service needs to be available for everybody, regardless of their condition. In this case, accessibility is a natural thing and most people I talk to about that naturally get on board, because it sounds like the right thing to do. This is exactly what happens with the government when they jump in with accessibility. While managers complain about the extra resources needed (money, people, time, etc.), the organization as a whole makes a stand towards a more inclusive environment/society.

So really, in my experience, it's either one or the other. Your sale is either really easy to do because no one can be against virtue or it's really hard to do because accessibility is not something you can profit from within the next three months following the investment.

So coming back to your question, I do not think we need to come up with an answer to what Tim O'Reilly was asking. What we need is to focus on the right targets.

50. Posted by Denis Boudreau
on Monday 2010-05-03 at 08:08:18 PST

(part 2 of 2)
Coming back to what I was saying earlier in this thread (see comment #44), it has proved much easier for my organization to push accessibility on a government level than it has been through even the smallest of organizations. Why? Not because I have awesome contacts, but because the gov. people were actually convinced from the start this was what had to be done. Getting them to be convinced is another story, but once it was done, everything went pretty smoothly from there (as long as "smoothly" can apply to a government process of course).

Whatever the case, it was the only viable option for an organization that needed to reach EVERYONE.

Here in Quebec, just about every major player in the web industry is either on a race to get the expertise, or thinking about ways to get it because they understand it's become a governmental requirement. Some take the easy route and just pretend, but most are actually working really hard to understand what this beast is. Those that don't are in jeopardy: not only because they won't be eligible for those government contracts, but because accessibility is a diving board to improvement, just like CSS has been around 2002 for most of us.

Those that don't go the accessibility route are not opening up to the new reality of the web, and if they can't tend to the needs of people with disabilities, they will not be able to tend to the needs of aging people either. And above and beyond the blind, in our aging society, the elderly are going to become a reality no web content creator will be able to overlook really soon.

We know it, accessibility solves that problem right form the start. People using new mobile technologies also benefit, just like those that have access to low-speed internet connections, those that don't speak the language, those that have old hardware/software, etc. It's a very large heterogeneous group.

Web agencies don't go towards accessibility because they grow a social conscience overnight: they're doing this because there's a need to level their practice. After all if they want to keep working for the government agencies, they have to be able to make accessible websites. So I say, let's not try to "pervert" why we do accessibility by trying to squeeze in financial incentives that may not really belong. Let's focus on sending the right message to the right people.

Because the collateral benefits of convincing the right people is that THEY, in return, have the power to make the ones we can't convince ourselves do the right thing. Again, I never could have convinced my industry with the means that we had. But all I had to do, was convince someone that had a much larger influence than I did, and bingo, everything else starts falling in place naturally.

Nobody is inherently evil in this: it's not to THEM to be convinced about the necessity of accessibility, it's to US to find ways to make them want to do it. Web agencies are there to make money, period. It's on us to come up with strategies to ensure they find in accessibility enough incentives to comply.

And so far, getting the government to make a stand and make accessibility mandatory has been by far the greatest achievement for accessibility where I live. It's done a zillion times more than all those conferences, those blog posts, those consulting hours and those training sessions.

All the crap in the world about how much accessibility can make you save money can't compete with the simple fact that from now on, it's either you decide to do it, or you decide to stop working for us. Our government is sending a message loud and clear that agencies will either create websites that are accessible for them or they will not create websites. It's a simple fact. You either do it, or we'll ask someone else.

Fosussing on the right people top convince is the key. That, my friend, is a much stronger incentive than anything else our creative minds can come up with for ROI! ;p

51. Posted by Jim Tobias
on Monday 2010-05-03 at 10:59:22 PST

Until we know where, what, and how bad the problem is, we can't possibly fix it. Right now we know almost nothing about inaccessibility as a "public health" issue:

- who the disadvantaged/excluded users are (statistics, demographics, etc.)
- how many people are non-users because of real or perceived barriers
- which technological barriers pose the greatest threats to inclusion (again, statistically)
- which policies and practices work best to motivate and manage for accessibility (effectiveness research)


We understand the technology chains pretty well. We know where accessibility breaks along that chain, so we work on standards, evaluation and reporting tools, wise development tools.

But we don't understand the mass effects: millions of user, and tens of millions of discouraged non-users, encounter barriers. Until we understand their experiences, we have only a clinical, episodic appreciation of the problem, and only a disaggregated program for solving it.

This takes social science research, not guesswork. Accessibility is a social movement, not just a techie passion. As Mike and a few others here have noted, we can learn from successful social movements how to strategize our efforts at influence. If we could put 10% of the effort at that kind of research that we do on the technology, we'd be ahead of the game.

52. Posted by NJohnson
on Tuesday 2010-05-04 at 08:40:20 PST

I didn't have time to read all of the comments so I hope I am not repeating.

I would focus on Education
Education in the classroom: Ideally, it would be nice if accessibility were integrated into every aspect of prospective web developers' and software developers' training.

Education of users and owners. Although large companies are at least knowledgeable about accessibility, small companies, mom and pop websites are not.

For those with some knowledge, 508 becomes an intellectual exercise only, often complained about.

Many folks in government believe that if their site passes their automated web accessibility checker, then it is accessible.

53. Posted by John Foliot
on Tuesday 2010-05-04 at 12:22:23 PST

I would like to take this opportunity to both make a clarification and offer an apology.

Earlier in this discussion, I mentioned that New Hires at Yahoo! went through an accessibility Boot Camp before they could produce code for Yahoo!

Regrettably, I have overstated the case somewhat, as this is not factually accurate - at Yahoo!'s main campus in Sunnyvale, CA New Hires are introduced to Victor Tsaran & Alan Brightman and a discussion on web accessibility and how that goal is important to Yahoo!'s culture is part of the in-take process. Victor's availability and that of the Y! Accessibility lab are promoted to New Hires as a resource that they should take advantage of. However, while Victor also does offer instructional guidance and accessibility evaluation in their lab as required, there is no actual "Boot Camp".

I apologize to any reader who was misinformed by my statement, as well as to Victor and Alan and the entire Yahoo! organization for over-stating the case. I none-the-less salute Yahoo! for the huge initiatives they have made in incorporating web accessibility into their corporate culture, and their real commitment of time and resources towards improving web accessibility both inside and outside of Yahoo!s corporate campus. In short, I am a huge fan of how they have approached web accessibility institutionally, and here my excitement got away from me, for which I am truly sorry.


54. Posted by Andrea S.
on Tuesday 2010-05-04 at 19:32:25 PST

It is fine and good to provide better instruction and training to web developers and software folks and other tech-oriented people.

But if you really want to mainstream accessibility throughout the Web then the people promoting accessibility need to understand that many websites are NOT DEVELOPED BY TECH PEOPLE AT ALL.

Blog sites is one huge example. Most blog authors aren't tech people. They don't understand how the web works. They're really just writers who have discovered that there is this easy platform that allows them to share their voice with the world without having to learn much tech stuff.

There are also many small businesses and organizations that set up some kind of user-friendly CMS system and then delegate ALL, I mean ALL responsibility for maintaining and expanding the website to someone inside the organization who has strong writing skills but rudimentary tech skills at best. Or if the organization is slightly larger then maybe the text content will be delegated to a writer and visual stuff will be delegated to a graphic arts designer.

If you really want web accessibility to hit the mainstream, you need several things:

1. User-friendly platforms designed to allow non-tech people to maintain websites need to be designed so that all default settings will be pretty much automatically accessible, to the best extent possible.

2. If accessibility requires the conscious cooperation of the person developing the website, then the means for introducing these features needs to be easy, obvious, quick, and intuitive for the non-tech person. For example, in WordPress, at least as far as I know, if you want to use alt tags to describe a picture you basically need to go into the raw html and edit it. Many bloggers are too intimidated by html to even consider doing this. What WordPress needs is a button that the blogger could hit to add a description for each picture or graphic. Or better: every time you download a picture or graphic to the site, the interface should automatically prompt you, "Please describe this picture" -- then if you don't know what that means, you could click to get a longer explanation which would go on to explain that descriptions are used by many people, including people with vision impairments, people with equipment that can't download pictures and thus access the web only via text, etc. and that describing the picture makes their site easier to use for a wider audience. It could also explain what kind of description is most helpful (for example, don't editorialize about the picture, just be factual. Be attentive to any important information or content communicated by the picture. etc.)

3. Manuals, guidelines, recommendations, etc. that try to instruct people about how to make their site accessible seem to be written on the assumption that all the people responsible for developing websites are tech people. WRONG. I have tried to read some of these guidelines on-line (in search for advice how to make my blog more accessible) and found them utterly incomprehensible for someone like me with only a minimal level of tech awareness. It's fine to have something tech heavy for the tech specialists working in really large organizations that can afford an entire department devoted to tech stuff. But if you really want to reach many of the rank and file workers developing a lot of the actual web content, then you need something written for people who are so tech clue less they don't even understand what "html" means.

4. You also need to design the guides so that you shouldn't have to read the entire thing if you really only wanted to quickly look up how to make alt tags. A “FAQ” structure would probably be nice. (Plus, guides should explain how to make alt tags, not just say that they need to be used. And the explanation needs to be very basic and intuitive and without any jargon whatsoever.) Many people developing web contents only do this as a sideline (maybe 5 hours a week) in addition to their actual, core job, which may be something completely unrelated to web development. I should know. I’ve been there.

5. Don't only write manuals for the people writing big sites for big organizations. Write accessibility guidelines for bloggers, YouTube folks and other social media folks -- people who want to make their site accessible but who cannot control all the aspects of their website (because much of it is actually controlled by or whatever platform they're using). Plus, those people who never thought they would be working on the web at all until one day their boss comes to them and says, "We need someone to add an occasional blurb to the website. You're a good writer. Here, go to this one hour really basic workshop on how to use our CMS system and get started."

55. Posted by Graham Armfield
on Tuesday 2010-05-04 at 23:36:39 PST

Wow, there's a lot to read here!

My take on the original question though is that while there have been improvements in accessibility over the years the pace of improvement is not enough. I believe that a main issue is that many people who commission websites still don't get what all the fuss is about. They may have heard of accessibility but everyone's view is so different.

The problem is then compounded when the sites are built by developers and companies that don't know about accessibility, or who just don't really care. I agree with previous comments that many web development books and courses barely cover accessibility, or put it in as an afterthought. We know (don't we?) that you need to think about it from the start.

I build websites for people but when I mention accessibility I often get blank looks, or people who say "This site's not suitable for blind people anyway". Some designers really don't like the concept of accessibility techniques 'messing up' their page designs.

In the UK there is quiet negotiation with companies who are challenged about their website accessibility. Nothing ever gets publicised, and so other companies don't take it seriously enough. I normally favour a 'we can work it out' attitude, but after many years I do feel that some high profile legal action is what is needed to really focus people's minds. Then we'd see some movement...

56. Posted by chaals
on Wednesday 2010-05-05 at 02:54:50 PST

chaals wrote: "Hixie won't care if we all 'go on strike'..."

So what does that say about the HTML5 development process? To me it says that the voices of hundreds of accessibility experts don't really matter. If you saw accessibility as a human rights issue, you would not participate in this process.

You know, I don't care as much about process as I do about results.

I'm not sure what it says, except "not engaging is unhelpful". So to get results, however unpleasant the process is (and I acknowledge that it is sub-optimal....), engagement seem to be the one useful alternative to "get left out of the discussion".

People will keep developing. Ignoring them strikes me as counter-productive. Your milege my, of course, vary. (I'd love to see how. I would be happy not to be in the WG, but I am waiting for a credible alternative.)

chaals wrote: "There is a lot of work to get the accessibility community to apply all its brainpower to checking a proposed solution"

This is backwards - a feature is proposed by HTML5 team, quickly implemented by browser vendors and then accessibility experts are forced to invent ways to add-on accessibility. Accessibility must be built-in at the design stage. Accessibility experts have better things to do than to clean up after other people's design mistakes.

I don't think this is backwards. It is a recognition that these are complex problems, and people who want to get a good solution need to think hard and work hard. Life is like that.

57. Posted by Vlad Alexander
on Wednesday 2010-05-05 at 07:54:27 PST

chaals wrote: "You know, I don't care as much about process as I do about results."

I don't believe a flawed process can produce good results but I can understand your point of view. Can we review the results to date? What new accessibility features have been added to HTML5 as a result of engagement with the HTML5 team over the last 3 years?

And, under what conditions would you be prepared to stop engagement with the HTML5 team? Would you give them another 3 years to show results?

chaals wrote: "I would be happy not to be in the WG, but I am waiting for a credible alternative."

Nothing will happen if we all wait. Change starts with one person who stands alone against a collective mindset.

58. Posted by Pam Griffith
on Thursday 2010-05-06 at 14:13:29 PST

I would say a major hurdle is not that people don't want to build accessible websites, but that accessibility evangelists have done a terrible job addressing the practical issues in doing it. I think there are a lot of web developers who are totally onboard with the notion of accessibility, but are stumped when it comes to actually implementing it.

When you develop for a web browser, there are all sorts of tools to help you get your site working. There are overlays that show you the differences between browsers. There are statistics about who uses what browser to determine what to support and what to prioritize. There are tables upon tables of what browser supports what feature. If someone were asked to make something cross browser compatible, handed some standards, and they didn't have all of that background information it would be a lot harder to do. Where is that info for screen readers and other accessibility tools?

This is really basic information that's missing, too, like what are the most popular screen readers and versions and what is the percentage of people that use each, in general? How different are they from each other--are they pretty standardized, do they all support things like aural css, which ones ignore basic things like "display:none" and do they still do it if there's an appropriate media stylesheet and are there other gotchas like that?

Some of that you can find with a good bit of searching, but often even what information there is is old and perhaps unreliable (is getting information about how to support screen readers from a screen reader vendor like getting information about css or javascript from MSDN?) I think web accessibility evangelists could do a much, much better job of producing this information where it's absent and promoting it to the web development community.

59. Posted by chaals
on Wednesday 2010-05-12 at 07:55:28 PST

A flawed process doesn't generate results that are as good as the ones from a good process. But we don't have the luxury of waiting for a process. You said earlier that I had the problem backwards, tying to solve accessibility problems in things people are actually adding to browsers rather than insisting on having accessibility in the design phase.

I agree that it *should* be in the design phase - but stepping out of the argument because we don't like the room where it takes place doesn't stop people from moving forwards.

I work to promote understanding of accessibility at various different levels, from including it in things that are presented to students of all levels, to telling people it should be an absolute requirement in purchasing (and as part of the base price, not a separable component). I'm not prepared to stop that work, much as I find the current setups unpleasant, because that would just mean letting reality and the chance of a better world pass by while I am insisting on my right to a perfect one.

I do think it is important to push the process to work. I have a specific preference for working with W3C instead of WHAT-WG when it comes to accessibility, because there is a (relatively) clear process for requiring a good explanation of how to make things accessible.

At the same time, after working in the area since before many WHAT-WG contributors (including most of the ones who work for me) were born, I have learned that it isn't always simple, and that well-informed, intelligent and wise people of goodwill can disagree on important points about accessibility as much as anything else.

Figuring out how to improve W3C's process would be useful - but the process of changing the process is not trivial (largely for good reasons, IMHO). Imagining that making yet another WHAT-WG where work should be done instead of W3C simply seems misguided to me, since I don't see how it can bring the right people to the table.

Spending time on dealing with existing issues, from the fact that people don't include accessibility at the design phase of new parts of HTML to the fact that companies don't understand why they should make it a requirement, let alone how to test that it was done, are all important things to do too.

60. Posted by Sarah Bourne
on Wednesday 2010-05-12 at 12:34:41 PST

Brian Kelly, Sarah Lewthwaite and David Sloan recently received the John M Slatin award for the Best Communications Paper at the W4A 2010 conference for "Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World". Brian Kelly says, 'The paper begins by summarising the limitations of the WAI model for enhancing the accessibility of Web resources, which was first described in our paper on "Forcing standardization or accommodating diversity? A framework for applying the WCAG in the real world"' This is from the summary he has published at

Vlad, you are not the only one thinking that the "game plan" needs more depth!

61. Posted by Gail Bradbrook
on Thursday 2010-05-27 at 01:30:39 PST

I have an idea!
I'm not an expert in e-accessibility (I work more widely on e-inclusion) and I have some funding to work on it too (more info from the website / please email me).
I'm copying in some stuff from a paper I'm writing:

The Fix the Web concept was borne of asking the question:
“How can network effects / social media help address the issue of e-accessibility?”
There appear to be two answers:
1. Through the mass usage of “web fixing tools” such as Web Visum or IBM’s Web Accessibility Tool, which can create fixes on top of a website for anyone using the tool.
2. Through mass reporting of website issues to website owners, with guidance to help solve issues in the short and longer term.
Initially I had thought answer 1 was the “cake” of this project with 2 being the icing, but my conversations with about 40 stakeholders suggest answer 2 is the cake!
This paper will therefore map the ideas, issues and possible way forwards, in more detail for answer 2- mass reporting of website problems. Web fixing tools are still of interest and we can carry on considering them; a brief discussion on this is given towards the end of this paper.
This paper poses a number of solutions, questions and requests for help. I welcome feedback on any aspect. Are stakeholders sufficiently inspired to work together to make this happen and if so how best shall we do that? I can begin with a conference call and can people let me know if they think a day workshop / hack day / is a good focus for the future? This is all entirely possible, I am convince the timing is right and we could make a huge dent on this entrenched issue- let’s do it!

A key issue then is that for disabled people the process of complaining about web accessibility would be a completely draining and time consuming activity. Therefore disabled people are generally not bothering to complain.
I am also asking disabled people if the process of complaining about a website took less than a minute and someone else handled the process would they be willing to make complaints? and the answer is yes!

I see the following benefits of establishing a process that makes use of volunteers:
1. Complaining could happen on a much bigger scale
2. Volunteers can offer support to make the web a better place, in their own time and online
3. It’s an easier process for disabled people
4. The volunteers enhance their own knowledge and skills
5. Website owners get feedback they can work with or use to justify changes to budget holders
6. Web accessibility experts get more business
7. Disabled people don’t have to keep fighting their own corner

Proposed goals
To create a web enabled mechanism in which disabled people can report an e-accessibility issue with a website in under one minute of their time. The issue is then taken up by a volunteer who manages the process of working with the web owner.

We should aim for:
-10,000 UK based volunteers within two years of launch
-Each volunteer offering to do an average of 4 reports per month including any follow up (and accepting they manage just over 2) so 250,000 website issues reported per year
-400 disabled people reporting an average of 12 problems per week each (quarter of a million reports)
And in the longer term (5 years?) 1.5 million volunteers online from across the globe (150 countries an average of 10,000 in each). 3 million reports of web access issue per year from 5000 disabled people
These goals are outputs and they are only valuable if they help drive an improvement in web accessibility as an outcome. This could happen in two main ways. Firstly through the fixing of the web issues that get reported and secondly by hugely raising awareness of web accessibility (for both web owners and volunteer techies) therefore further sites created by these folks should bear accessibility in mind.

Comments are closed for this article.

Main menu