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A cautious welcome as Europe looks to lock-in web accessibility

A provisional agreement to make public sector websites and mobile apps across Europe more accessible has been reached, creating mixed reactions from the accessibility community.

The deal between the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission was made earlier this month, and relates to the existing ‘Directive on Web Accessibility for Public Sector Websites’, which has been the subject of debate since its introduction in 2012 (See e-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage at the following link: http://eab.li/b ).

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Conquering the website accessibility divide

By Donna Jodhan.

There is the digital divide and then there is the technology divide. Now I’d like to add the website accessibility divide to this list.

The ‘website accessibility divide’ refers to those of us who are unable to access websites due to navigable and usability reasons, versus those who do not have any difficulty accessing websites.

The former group often describes those of us who are visually impaired, and for me, as one who falls into this category, I can tell you that it makes a huge difference in my personal life whenever I am unable to do things such as: access information independently and in privacy; complete forms on my own; request information without having to ask for sighted help; download and read documents without having to ask for sighted assistance; read content on a website on my own.

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Governments warned not to “exclude millions” by legalising digital barriers

A letter from 20 NGOs has warned European ministers of the severe impact on disabled citizens’ lives that proposed changes to a web accessibility directive would have.

If exemptions to the EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites are adopted, then electronic communication with public organisations, downloading documents and accessing intranets at work will all be affected, and in some cases made impossible for disabled citizens throughout Europe, say the NGOs.

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Special report: How accessible is WordPress?

By Graham Armfield

WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system (CMS). It now powers over 20% of the world’s websites, and that figure is steadily rising. People choose WordPress for its flexibility as a web platform, and because it can be used to create a stylish website extremely quickly, using freely available themes (or templates) and plugins. But how accessible are the websites produced with WordPress and the admin screens used to manage those sites?

WordPress is a true open source project. It has been created and amended over ten years by literally hundreds of developers. Sadly, many of these developers had little or no knowledge or experience of accessibility, meaning that many inaccessible practices were baked into WordPress themes, plugins and admin screens.

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Bristol accessibility group ‘could be national model’

A cross-sector group of technology developers, academics and public sector workers, formed in the UK city of Bristol to exchange knowledge about digital accessibility, could be a model for similar initiatives across the country, one of the group’s founders has told E-Access Bulletin.

Léonie Watson, an accessibility consultant who advises the Government Digital Service, said the idea for Accessible Bristol was first sown about three years ago when she was working at digital agency Nomensa. Alongside colleagues from her work, Watson joined forces with developers from Bristol City Council and University of Bristol.

“We realised there was a thriving tech scene in Bristol, and quite a concentration of accessibility and usability companies and accessibility and usability departments within bigger companies such as Nokia and Orange”, Watson said. “So we thought – why don’t we create something to bring people together?”

After a year of activity, the group petered out in 2013 as some of its core people moved away or changed jobs, she said. Then a few months ago, a conversation on Twitter started by someone looking for accessibility experts in Bristol led to Watson pointing out the group was still there, but dormant. “We had an overwhelming response.” The group has now been restarted with monthly speaker sessions followed by open discussion and networking. January speaker was Steve Faulkner, technical director for web accessibility at the Paciello Group and co-editor of the HTML5 specification. Its February speaker is set to be Ian Pouncey, senior accessibility specialist at the BBC.

The idea behind the events is to give developers and designers in the city, the chance to hear some excellent speakers and to get to know each other in the hope they can share information and solutions, Watson said. “There are umpteen developers in different teams across the city all going through the same problems, so there is a good chance someone, somewhere has found a solution.” The group can also start bringing practitioners together with people with disabilities, allowing developers to talk to people using a range of different devices or assistive technologies, she said.

Watson said she is not aware of such a diverse accessibility practitioner group meeting elsewhere in the UK, though the model should translate well to other areas. “If it works, it would be brilliant if other places took it up.”

Web accessibility: embedding inclusion

Most organizations are either oblivious to, or terrified about, web accessibility.

They are probably aware that up to 20% of their customers – people with disabilities – could be clicking away from their websites, or leaving their mobile apps every day without having bought anything or found the information or service they wished to find.

They may have even heard from one of this 20%, complaining about problems they can’t reproduce, talking about ‘assistive technologies’ they don’t understand, and asking for what seem like impossible fixes.

They know there is the possibility of being sued if they don’t do the right thing, but they don’t know how far they need to go to prevent that. So if they do make something ‘accessible’, it’s usually only for one product, or one version of a product.

If this sounds anything like the place where you work, I have some comforting news: you are not alone.

I learned directly where I believe most organizations want to be from the heads of diversity and inclusion of the top blue-chip corporations in Europe at a meeting of the Vanguard Network in 2011. Here, the event’s chairwoman spent a whole hour asking each of the delegates what one thing would really make a difference to their organization’s inclusion practices, if they could achieve it. When delegates were asked to vote for which contribution they felt was the most important, the following was the unanimous choice: “What I want is to strategically embed inclusion into my organization’s culture and business-as-usual processes, rather than just doing another inclusion project.

I spent much of my time subsequently conveying the following to the people in the room:

That they could implement a strategy that would allow them to attract and keep that 20% of their audience who are disabled, while not detracting from the user experience of those who aren’t.

That there was a way they could sleep soundly, knowing that they’d done enough to cover their ‘accessibility risk’, but without costing the earth.

That, through following a simple, strategic business-aligned framework, they could embed the best practice necessary to consistently achieve these aims throughout their organization.

And that all of this work could also benefit their organization in their bottom line, as benchmarked analytics show how disabled people’s increased use of their sites increases their turnover and profits.

What did I have that could take them from their position of pain to the place they all wanted to be? The answer is British Standard BS 8878:2010, Web Accessibility – Code of Practice.

It’s not the catchiest title in the world, but BS 8878 opens up in detail the strategies, policies and processes that award-winning, best-of-breed organizations like the BBC, IBM, Vodafone, Opera, BT and Lloyds Banking Group have used to become ‘accessibility competent and confident’, so that they can be used by any organization, no matter how big or small.

It does this at a time when the legal imperatives behind accessibility are being strengthened internationally, and when tablet and smartphone vendors are racing to promote accessibility as a key selling point of their handsets. It also does this as we start to enter the massive demographic change that will result in the number of people who need accessibility rocketing up, and the ‘missing 20%’ become 50%.

There has never been a better time to get into web accessibility, and people who have implemented BS 8878 are increasingly telling me that incorporating its user-centred inclusive design thinking into their production processes has resulted in not only more accessible websites and apps for disabled people, but better websites and apps for everyone.

NOTE: Professor Jonathan Hassell has more than 14 years’ experience of embedding accessibility within digital production teams in leading companies worldwide, and he wrote the British Standard BS 8878. This article is based on an edited extract of his new book “Including your missing 20% by embedding web and mobile accessibility”, reproduced with permission from BSI.

More information on the book and to access free accompanying case-study videos.

British Standards can be obtained in PDF or hard copy formats from: www.bsigroup.com/Shop or by contacting BSI Customer Services on 020 8996 9001 or email: cservices@bsigroup.com

Lack of skills and awareness fuel web inaccessibility, survey finds

Lack of skills or knowledge and lack of awareness of web accessibility are responsible for the great majority of website accessibility problems, according to a US survey of web accessibility practitioners.

Almost four in 10 respondents (36.6%) rated lack of skills and knowledge as the primary reason behind web site accessibility; and only slightly fewer (36.2%) lack of awareness. Other factors cited were Fear that accessibility will hinder the look, feel, or functionality of a website (13.2%); and lack of budget or resources to make it accessible (13.9%).

The research was conducted by WebAIM, a non-profit accessibility research, software and services body based at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. The body surveyed 900 web accessibility practitioners from North and Central America (58%); Europe (28%) and worldwide, working in all sectors.

Most of the web accessibility practitioners responding only work in their roles part-time, the research found. While 51.3% indicate that web accessibility is their official role or a significant part of their job assignment, only 29.3% spend more than 30 hours per week in this area. Meanwhile just under a third of respondents (31%) said accessibility work represents “a small part of my work or assignments”; and nearly one in five (17.7%) carry out accessibility work on their own initiative, or as a volunteer.

Asked which was the main factor behind their organisation’s motivation for implementing accessibility, just under a third (31.4%) said Compliance with guidelines and/or best practices. About one quarter (25.7%) said Moral motivation (it’s the right thing to do); a similar number (25.6%) said Legal, contractual, or structured negotiation requirements; other factors included Fear of a lawsuit or complaint (10.9%).

Within an organisation, management support was cited as the most critical factor to ensuring a successful web accessibility effort (36.7%); followed by Staff that are proficient in accessibility (24.8%); A clearly defined policy and/or guidelines (22.3%); Sufficient budget or time support (13.9%); and Legal mandates and requirements (8.7%).

The survey also found that people working in the web accessibility field are generally older, better paid, and better educated than their peers in the wider field of web development, and that the accessibility field has a larger proportion of women and people with disabilities than other technology fields.

However, a significant pay disparity exists for people with disabilities, who earn an average of at least $12,400 less than those without disabilities despite having very similar education level and years of experience, it found.

Equality analysis vital for council websites, conference hears

Local authorities planning to redesign their websites or make any major changes to them must carry out equality analysis from day one of the project, delegates heard at this month’s ‘Building Perfect Council Websites’ conference in Birmingham.

And suppliers or contractors designing a council’s website or taking on responsibility for uploading web content to the site must be instructed to do so to the same standard local authority staff would be expected to perform, Clive Lever, diversity and equality officer at Kent County Council, told a conference discussion group.

“Make them aware of our Public Sector Equality Duty [introduced by the Equality Act 2010]”, Lever said. “When commissioning others to work on your websites, do not settle for promises of accessibility – get evidence of how they will do it or have done in the past.”

When offering website users content in accessible alternative formats, use content that is appropriate for your target audience, he said. “So ’Keeping safe’ advice specifically for people with learning difficulties needs ‘Easyread’ versions as a matter of course. But minutes of cabinet meetings may not, so you would only provide them in Easyread if asked to do so. This approach means that you may only need to show clearly how people can get alternative formats if they need them. Do this in the files and on the pages which hold them.”

When running usability tests on a website, it is vital to bring in a wide cross-section of members of the public including disabled people; people of all ages; people with low literacy skills; and both experienced computer users and novices, Lever said.

“Remember that a person who cannot reach the information they need may think they are failing. In reality they are being failed by the website. Make sure at the start of the session that testers are clear that we are not testing them. They are testing us.”

While he said it was understandable that local authorities are currently looking to save as much money as possible, he said they should still offer a small payment to members of the public who are asked to test the website. “Travelling to our sites to do test tasks costs them time and money, and the experience of carrying out the user tests may be frustrating and stressful to them.”

Another key accessibility practice is to always use everyday language and terms online, he said.

“Remember that people rarely come to our site to have a look around and find out what we do. They come because there is something specific they want to do. So, our search box could say: ‘What do you want to do?’ instead of ‘Search’”.

The conference was co-hosted by E-Access Bulletin publisher Headstar with the local public sector IT management body Socitm.

Election access at heart of Canadian disability law campaign

The removal of barriers to voting and elections is among key principles of a new Canadians With Disabilities Act which a group of Canadian disability rights advocates is urging all the country’s main political parties to pledge to pass, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The campaign is spearheaded by a group of five leading disability campaigners led by Donna Jodhan, who in 2012 won a six-year legal battle to force the Canadian government to make its websites more accessible (see E-Access Bulletin September 2013). Other members of the “Barrier-free Canada steering committee” are Steven Christianson, advocacy manager at baby health charity March of Dimes; David Lepofsky, a law professor at University of Toronto; Jutta Treviranus, director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at Ontario College of Art & Design; and Marc Workman of the Canadian national blindness charity CNIB.

The group is urging all parties to support the principles behind passing a new law ahead of national elections set for October next year. “We believe more work is needed to ensure the rights of Canadians with disabilities remain intact”, Jodhan told E-Access Bulletin this week. “Web accessibility is just one component of our landscape and if we hope to become an equal partner in society then other rights need to be respected and preserved. We need to have equity with the mainstream world.”

The group has drawn up a list of 14 principles for the new law, which would echo the US Americans with Disabilities Act.

These include that it “should require providers… to ensure that their goods, services and facilities are fully usable by persons with disabilities”; that the government of Canada should lead other sectors in achieving the aims of the new law; and that it should provide for a “prompt, independent and effective process for enforcement”.

The law should also require the government to review all current and future federal legislation and regulations to identify possible accessibility barriers that they may impose or permit, pass new legislation to address these barriers, the principles state. “As an immediate priority under these activities, the Government of Canada should get input from voters with disabilities on accessibility barriers in election campaigns and the voting process, and should develop reforms to remove and prevent such barriers.”

The final principle says: “The Canadians with Disabilities Act must be more than mere window dressing… It must have real force, effect and teeth.”

Community Service: Q&A with Ken Saunders, AccessFirefox.org

Ken Saunders is co-owner and founder of AccessFirefox.org, a web portal of accessibility tools and resources for users of the free Firefox web browser. Here, the US-based volunteer answers questions on his work, motivations and passions.

Q: What accessibility tools do you use to facilitate your own work?

A: I am legally blind due to a congenital condition known as ocular albinism with nystagmus. My visual acuity is documented at 20/200 right eye, 20/400 left which means I do have trouble seeing objects both near and far. However my visual acuity can’t ever be accurately determined because of nystagmus, which is an involuntary eye movement that causes my eyes to move rapidly in a horizontal direction: side-to-side.

In terms of the tools I use, I get a lot done using many of the Firefox add-ons I helped develop like Big Buttons, Page Zoom and Font & Theme Size Changer (more on these later). Firefox itself is great because it is so customisable, meaning I can make it fit my needs so it is as comfortable for me to work with as possible.

There are a lot of free accessibility tools and default accessibility options I rely on like text-to-speech and magnifier applications. There are other more advanced tools out there but when you start to look beyond default accessibility features and free software, your options start to get very costly. I’ve never really understood why and I would love to see more affordable or free tools out there.

Q: When and how did you start coding?

A: I started coding in 2004. I know the basics of HTML, CSS, and some XUL (XML User Interface Language, Mozilla’s XML-based language for building user interfaces of applications like Firefox). I’d like to learn JavaScript and I’ve started to do so, but the visual impairments can get in the way. Most of what I know, I’ve learned slowly, through teaching myself, experimenting and editing other’s work.

Q: When did you get involved in helping to make Firefox more accessible?

A: Back in 2005, I downloaded Firefox and clicked on the “Get Involved” button, which was included as a default bookmark within the browser at the time. I soon started volunteering for Spread Firefox (a former website where enthusiasts helped promote Firefox) and eventually became an administrator on that site. Since 2011 when we retired that website, I’ve become involved in testing as part of Mozilla’s quality assurance community, where I’ve handled testing for Firefox across all platforms – Windows, Mac, Linux and Android).

I’ve tried to help out wherever I can by testing and providing feedback for new projects too. One example is the early beginnings of the Mozilla WebMaker project (known as ‘Mozilla Drumbeat’ at the time). Webmaker is a fresh approach to teaching technology and digital literacy, the goal being to create a new generation of digital creators and webmakers.

I also spent some time as an Accessibility Steward, which saw me taking on the role of guiding and directing new and potential volunteers interested in contributing to Mozilla’s accessibility goals. I’ll be picking this responsibility up again soon as I start to help test Firefox OS devices and provide feedback from the perspective of a person with visual impairments.

Q: What is it that you like about Mozilla and Firefox?

A: I like that Mozilla fights for the rights of Internet users, especially the right to privacy on the web and user sovereignty; the idea that any data relating to an individual belongs to the individual.

What amazed me and really hit home when I first started volunteering was the sheer volume of like-minded people from all over the world who were coming together to work towards Mozilla’s mission and goals; to keep the Web open and accessible to all. The community is very diverse; anyone can contribute, regardless of ability, income, education or background.

Q: How did Access Firefox come into being?

A: I co-founded AccessFirefox.org with Otto de Voogd when we were new to Firefox and the various accessibility options that came with it. At the time, the majority of information about these tools and features was spread across several websites, so we wanted to bring them under one roof. So we set about creating the project and the specific accessibility add-ons that come with it.

Over the years there have been several different contributors to Access Firefox from the Mozilla community. Some have written or contributed to the site’s coding, some have created accessibility related add-ons, and many others have supported the site through advocacy.

Q: What are your favourite Firefox Accessibility add-ons?

A: Access Firefox accessibility add-ons are slightly different to standard Firefox add-ons. I briefly mentioned my favourites earlier, and I’m proud to have contributed to the development of all three of these: Theme Font & Size Changer, Page Zoom Button and Big Buttons.

Theme Font & Size Changer is a simple browser tool that lets people change the font size and type in Firefox. It is an especially valuable tool for visually impaired people and wide-screen users. It is different from add-ons that enlarge and reduce font size and type on web pages because it does so in all windows, menus and toolbars within Firefox itself. All font size and font family changes are instantly applied, saved permanently and maintained through sessions.

Page Zoom Button gives users control of all three page-zoom functions in Firefox from a single button. Users can click on or roll the mouse wheel over the button to zoom in, zoom out and reset a web page back to its default view. Users can also zoom in and out of local offline files such as photos, graphics, and various documents.

Big Buttons provides large and extra-large Firefox navigation toolbar buttons.

Q: How would you recommend accessibility users get started with Firefox?

A: I would recommend starting by taking a look at the features that Firefox offers its users and then download the browser. However, for more detailed information on accessibility add-ons we recommend you take a look at Access Firefox’s beginners’ guide. Then take your time getting familiar with what’s possible. Once you’ve done that, invest some time in customising Firefox so that it is as comfortable to use as you need it to be.

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