aaron cannon archives

Old Tech

This past weekend, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its semi-annual general conference. I had a scheduling conflict with the Saturday morning session, but I still wanted to listen live. The engagement was such that I would be sitting and waiting for most of the time, and so I could listen with very few interuptions. Unfortunately, I was going to be in a place without internet access.

The Church’s General Conference is broadcast over the internet, via C-Band sattelite, and by some local television stations (unfortunately none in my area). It is also shown in chapels around the world, and to Dish Network and Direct TV subscribers. Unfortunately, none of these options would meet my needs.

I of course considered streaming the conference to my Nokia phone, but it only supports RealPlayer, and the AT&T data connection speed around here is too slow and somewhat unreliable. Then it occured to me that if I can’t use my phone as an internet streaming audio device, perhaps I should just use it as a phone.

My final solution was to connect the line-in of my sound card to my Dish Network receiver, and write a brief Python script which caused Skype to call me and play the audio from the conference at the appropriate time. It also called me back if I got disconnected.

The solution was simple, and best of all, it worked flawlessly. The only unfortunate part was that it took me so long to think of it. I’m so used to thinking in terms of internet only solutions that I often forget about the older and sometimes more practicle options like the telephone.

Delivering content via phone is (on a per-user basis) probably never going to be cheaper than doing so via the net, but on the other hand, it is not as expensive as it used to be, nor is it as expensive as most people probably believe. This ironically is due in large part to the internet and Voice over IP, as well as increased competition and free and highly customizable PBX software like Asterisk.

So why am I telling you this? It’s not to sell you on the idea of using the telephone as a content delivery platform, though if it works for your application, go for it. Rather I just wanted to remind us all that as we rush head-long into the future, that we be sure to take full advantage of new technologies when appropriate, but that we also don’t forget the old boring tech that can often complement or even work better than the new. Just because we have AJAX and Flash doesn’t mean that plain HTML and CSS isn’t the better choice for many projects. Even though we can add autocompletion to forms and create flyout menus that look really sweet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should.

posted by cannona on Wednesday, Apr 08, 2009 · 4 comments

WebAIM recently released the results of their screen reader survey, and their are a few surprises. I have no doubt that many people, including my self, will be carefully reavaluating their accessibility doctrines. However, while the results do provide valuable insites, I think we have to be careful and recall that sometimes users don’t necessarily want what they think they want.

posted by cannona on Monday, Feb 09, 2009 · 1 comment

Here’s a great recap of the accessibility advancements made in 2008 written by a high-level IBM engineer.

posted by cannona on Monday, Dec 29, 2008 · 0 comments

I love it when web technologies get used in unexpected ways. A great example of this can be found in this article about how the CDC is experimenting with using Google search trends to track the flu.

posted by cannona on Wednesday, Nov 12, 2008 · 0 comments

posted by cannona on Monday, Nov 10, 2008 · 0 comments

Sometimes when I work, I like to play a little music in the background. Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Jonathan Coulton. However, other times, when I want something a little more relaxing, I put on Solo Piano Radio. What internet stream or artist do you enjoy while working

posted by cannona on Tuesday, Oct 28, 2008 · 8 comments

case study

JavaScript and screen readers

In recent months, many web designers have been asking the question, “How can I make my dynamic site accessible?” Unfortunately, good answers have been slow in coming from the accessibility community. While some articles have touched on the problem, not many have gone into details. Here is our first attempt at rectifying this situation.

posted by cannona on Tuesday, Oct 07, 2008 · 18 comments

“In order to better understand [the elderly’s] experience I have bought a pair of ski gloves and some reading glasses (I don’t need reading glasses). Every now and again, I surf the site I am designing wearing both the glasses and gloves. The glasses make the screen hard to read while the gloves hamper my use of the mouse and the keyboard. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to select something from a drop down menu
wearing ski gloves!”
From Paul Boag in Boagworld podcast episode 130,
and originally found on Web Axe.

posted by cannona on Tuesday, Oct 07, 2008 · 3 comments

The Target Lawsuit and Settlement

If you follow tech news at all, then you have undoubtedly heard that the National Federation of the Blind filed a class action lawsuit against Target Stores over the inaccessibility of their site. And you have also probably heard that that suit was recently settled. As a result of the agreement, Target will have to pay $6,000,000, legal fees, plus the cost of fixing and maintaining the accessibility of target.com

More important to some, this case failed to answer the question, if a business’s site is not accessible, is it breaking the law? I know many accessibility advocates were hoping for a clear legal precedent, which we did not get. If we had gotten one, my job probably would have gotten a lot easier, but in spite of that, I’m generally pleased with the outcome.

Unfortunately, I believe that this case has been misunderstood by many. Anytime new laws are proposed or legal actions commenced which may have any chance of effecting the internet, the outcry is immediate and often drastic. Along with that outcry, there inevitably come many rumors and incorrect assumptions. It is those false assumptions I would like to address and hopefully put to rest.

Of course, it is not my intention to discourage anyone from making their site accessible. Just because you are not legally required to consider your disabled users, doesn’t mean that there aren’t many good reasons to do so.

Before I go much further, I should mention in the interest of full disclosure that I am an active member of the National Federation of the Blind. Nevertheless, my opinions are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of the NFB. Also, I am certainly not a lawyer, nor do I claim to be an expert on the ADA, so take my analysis with a very large helping of salt.

Now that that’s out of the way, it is my understanding that the NFB, in its lawsuit was not demanding that all web sites should be made accessible. Rather they were contending that business web sites should be made accessible. In addition, they were suing under a California statute, and under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Before we assume that, were the ADA to be applied to the internet, that it would mean expensive site redesigns and big lawsuits for every site someone considered inaccessible, we would do well to review what the law actually says. Keep in mind that we have to try to apply the statute to a digital domain, even though that’s probably not what the creators of the law were contemplating when they wrote it:

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in places of public accommodation and commercial facilities. Places of public accommodation include over 6 million privately owned business establishments of all sizes such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, convention centers, doctors offices, retail stores, museums, libraries, private schools, health spas, and day care centers. Commercial facilities are businesses whose operations affect commerce, such as office buildings, factories, and warehouses. Public accommodations must: provide goods and services in an integrated setting, unless separate or different measures are necessary to ensure equal opportunity; eliminate unnecessary eligibility standards or rules that deny individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy the goods and services of a place of public accommodation; and make reasonable modifications in policies, practices and procedures that deny equal access to individuals with disabilities, unless a fundamental alteration would result in the nature of the goods and services provided. They must also ensure effective communication through the use of auxiliary aids and services when necessary, unless an undue burden or fundamental alteration would result. They must remove architectural and structural communication barriers in existing facilities where readily achievable, and provide goods and services through alternative measures when removal of barriers is not readily achievable. When public accommodations or commercial facilities design and construct new facilities, or alter existing facilities, they must do so in accordance with the Standards for Accessible Design. Title III is enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.

If you own or operate a business that serves the public you must remove physical barriers when “readily achievable,” which means easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense. The “readily achievable” requirement is based on the size and resources of the business. So larger businesses with more resources are expected to take a more active role in removing barriers than small businesses. The ADA also recognizes that economic conditions vary. When a business has resources to remove barriers, it is expected to do so; but when profits are low, barrier removal may be reduced or delayed. Barrier removal is an ongoing obligation—you are expected to remove barriers in the future as resources become available.

(From Introduction to the ADA)

I wish to draw your attention to a couple key phrases from the above quote: “The ‘readily achievable’ requirement is based on the size and resources of the business.” That would seem to mean that if your company makes a lot of money, then it might be held to a higher standard than if it doesn’t. Also, it would appear that personal blogs, sites run as a hobby or just because and the like would not be covered by this. In short, the vast majority of web pages on the internet probably have nothing to worry about.

Second: “ Public accommodations must: provide goods and services in an integrated setting, unless separate or different measures are necessary to ensure equal opportunity; eliminate unnecessary eligibility standards or rules that deny individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy the goods and services of a place of public accommodation; and make reasonable modifications in policies, practices and procedures that deny equal access to individuals with disabilities, unless a fundamental alteration would result in the nature of the goods and services provided.” (Emphasis added.)

If I am understanding this correctly, then if your site can’t be made accessible to a particular group, (something by the way which is much less common than you might imagine) then you are probably off the hook, at least as far as access to that group is concerned. However, you would still be responsible for making your site accessible to the rest of the disabled community. Also, for something important like this, you don’t just want to assume that a site feature can’t be made accessible, simply because you can’t think of how it might be done.

Finally, a lot of people have simply wanted to know, “What’s the big deal? Why does it matter if you can’t shop at Target? Just shop somewhere else and be done with it.” However, I dare say that the same people who ask this question would be outraged if Target would not allow them to shop there due to their race, religion, or other personal characteristic.

Most disabled people, in my experience, do not wish to place an undue burden on society, but they also do not wish to be second-class citizens. It may appear that this is all just about convenience, seeing how much money we can get from Target, or just plain stubbornness, but for us it is about the right to full participation in the world.

Is it really too much to ask that a major corporation with billions of dollars of income spend a few thousand on accessibility?

The issue with Target wasn’t that they did it wrong, or that it wasn’t perfectly accessible (something which is virtually impossible to achieve). Target’s problem was that they didn’t even try, and they ignored pleas to change. This is witnessed by the fact that their site lacked alt attributes until after the lawsuit was filed. Of course the missing alt attributes was only one of many accessibility problems with their site.

So, that’s my take on the whole situation. It would be interesting to hear a more official opinion on the legal situation from an attorney. In the meantime, we’ll probably have to wait for the next big lawsuit to find out whether the ADA covers web sites or not.

posted by cannona on Monday, Sep 01, 2008 · 5 comments

WebAIM has a great new article called Web Accessibility Gone Wild. It gives an overview of frequent accessibility mistakes and how to avoid them.

posted by cannona on Monday, Sep 01, 2008 · 0 comments

Kiva now has teams. How about a North Temple team?

posted by cannona on Friday, Aug 29, 2008 · 0 comments

A group of researchers have devised a method which allows people to communicate over a 2G cell phone network using Sign Language. This is a pretty big step for deaf folks, because text messaging is a poor substitute for the expressiveness of Sign Language, and for many who have been deaf since childhood, English is truly a foreign language.

Read more about the project here.

posted by cannona on Monday, Aug 25, 2008 · 1 comment

SEO the right way

There appear to be more scammers in the “business” of search engine optimization than in any other area of web production. I have no idea why that is, but as this fact has become better known, it seems to have discouraged people from paying as much attention to SEO as they used to. This, I feel, is quite unfortunate, as I’m convinced many sites could benefit from a little attention in this area.

I’m certainly no expert on the topic, but in my experience, if you want to help your search rankings, you’ve got to stop asking, “How can I drive more traffic to my site?” and instead ask, “How can I help interested people find my content?” This can be a difficult shift, especially when your site offers little unique information. Nevertheless, I believe that adding fresh and relevant content is unquestionably one of the best things you can do for your site. If you want to improve your search rankings, give the search engine something to find.

Other factors which can effect your ranking to a lesser extent seem to include how many sites link to you (quality is as important as quantity, so no free-for-all link pages), your page title, and of course how well the words in the text of your page match the words that were searched for.

However, like I said, I am no expert on the topic, and I would like to hear from others. What recommendations do you have for search engine optimization? I’m not interested in ways to game the system, just suggestions on how to bring our content to those who are looking for it.

posted by cannona on Thursday, Aug 21, 2008 · 10 comments

I know image rip-offs are a big concern for many, and now there is a search engine that purports to enable you to scan the web for other copies of an image you provide. It can supposedly recognize the image, even if it has been modified to some extent. The TinEye search engine’s index is not too big, but they say that that will change.

posted by cannona on Tuesday, Aug 19, 2008 · 1 comment

Cameron Moll sent me an article from A List Apart on Deafness and the User Experience. I found the explanation of the difference between Deaf and deaf quite interesting. However, I think the most valuable piece of advice the author gave is to write clearly.

Font style and size, page layout, graphic choice and placement, and all the other elements which are traditionally the meat of design are useless if your page isn’t written clearly. Good writing all too often is given much too low a priority in the design process. Yet I submit that it is just as important as any other aspect of design, and perhaps even more important.

posted by cannona on Friday, Aug 15, 2008 · 0 comments

I recently created a couple videos on accessibility. One on specifying the human language of an HTML document, and another on the importance of headings. Please excuse the lack of real video. My purpose was simply to create something that would get the message across.

posted by cannona on Monday, Aug 11, 2008 · 0 comments

Ars Technica has an article today titled Report: Mobile Internet use has reached “critical mass”. “Using the Internet from mobile devices is a lot more popular than some of us realize, and even more surprising is the fact that the US leads the pack when it comes to mobile Internet usage… It should be noted, however, that while the US may lead in mobile Internet use, other countries lead in terms of mobile being the primary way that their population gets online. In Russia, Brazil, and India, mobile lines far outnumber landlines, and as those countries continue to flourish, they will become a greater driving force in mobile Internet use.” The article also talks about which devices are most commonly used to browse the web, and the top device is probably not what you’d guess.

posted by cannona on Wednesday, Jul 09, 2008

Could web accessibility become law? Many folks are trying. It will be interesting to see if this effort succeeds, and if so, which sites are covered.

posted by cannona on Wednesday, Jul 09, 2008

Alt Attributes: Image Description or Idea Description?

It is common knowledge that alt attributes should contain image descriptions. Unfortunately this is somewhat of an over simplification when it comes to icons or other images used as pictograms, especially when the icon is only loosely related to the action being represented. This problem can more easily be illustrated by an example:

If your web site contains a delete button represented by a trash can, you might write your alt attribute as alt=”trash can”, and under the simplified “alt = description of image” doctrine, you would be entirely justified. However, I encourage you to give this some careful thought. What is more important, that a visitor know what icon you chose to represent the delete action, or that they know what button to press to delete something? Unless you’re in the business of offering icons, I would assume the latter, and encourage you to use something like alt=”delete” instead.

What’s worse, someone who has been blind for a substantial portion of their life may not have sufficient experience with pictograms to understand what they mean based on their description. For instance, many blind users may have no idea what to make of alt=”a red circle with a line through it”. The user could guess, but do you really want to make the user guess about your interface?

I recently came upon a table which was used to show the status of various tasks. The column titles were something like “pending”, “completed” and “failed”, and the rows had labels like “registered in database”, “confirmed”, “synchronized”, ETC. To determine the status of a particular task, you would find the row for the task you were interested in and then look across the table to see which column had the dot. If The dot was in the “pending” column, it was a blue dot, green for the “completed” column, and red for the “failed” column. The alt attributes were alt=”blue-light”, alt=”green-light”, and alt=”red-light” respectively.

This is of course probably quite simple for most screen reader users to figure out, but it would be simpler still if alt=”pending”, alt=”completed” and alt=”failed” were used instead. Simpler because “looking” at a table is a little more work for a screenreader user. But more importantly, it gets back to the question, what’s more important, the icon or what it represents?

So in short, just remember that alt attributes are primarily not intended for helping the user to “see” the image, but rather for helping them get the information the image conveys.

posted by cannona on Monday, Jul 07, 2008 · 0 comments

A study on captchas is being conducted. It only takes a few minutes, and they are looking for anyone to take it (sighted or not). I recognize the styles of many of the audio captchas from various sites including Google, Yahoo and Craigslist.

The results of this study should be quite interesting.

(Update: the link now works. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

posted by cannona on Thursday, Jun 19, 2008