What’s My (Accessibility) Line?

Thursday, December 14, 2006 19:38 | Filed in Accessibility, Public Sector, Standards, The Pickards

I came across Ian Lloyd asking “What’s your story?” earlier on today. He was talking about web accessibility. In other words, how did I end up being involved with, and passionate about web accessibility?

I could argue that I don’t know any disabled people, but that’s perhaps not true now. It would be more accurate to note that I didn’t know any disabled people before I got into web accessibility and blogging — through these interests, I’ve got to know a great many more people, some of whom have a disability. But this wasn’t a factor at the beginning.

As a web designer, it dates back to around 2002. As an employee of a Local Authority which is switched on about these matters, there was a general awareness that people with disabilities were surfing the web, even if many of us back then automatically assumed this meant “blind people” only and had at best only a vague inkling of how they went about it.

What we really needed was some kind of nit-picking perfectionist with a firm belief in equality who would go through this WCAG thing that we were hearing about and work out exactly what it meant for us. Fortunately, I am precisely that person and went through the guidelines working out what we needed to do, which generated a number of further questions — which, looking back, illustrates just how far we (and I) have come. These were questions like:

  • Okay, so I need to validate to a DOCTYPE. So what’s a DOCTYPE then?
  • How the blinking flip am I expected to lay anything out if I’m not meant to use tables? (Bearing in mind we’d originally been trained in using “layers” instead)
  • CSS? What’s that, then?
  • Can’t we just tell them to switch javascript back on?
  • But how do I make sure my pages are Bobby compliant?
  • But surely everyone is using Internet Explorer 5.0!

So we improved our standards, pretty much complying with the Priority 1 checkpoints, improved our internal documentation and learned more.

Okay, we weren’t perfect, and I wasn’t perfect, but not many people were back then. Then in 2003 I attended a seminar in Leeds on “e-Accessibility” where Bill Fine and Julie Howell spoke (and probably some others too, but these two were brilliant). I remember Bill showing a selection of pieces of adaptive technology that could be used — one-handed keyboards and suchlike — and speaking with such a zeal and a passion that you couldn’t really think of him as being anything other than an accessibility evangelist.

I’ve always had a passion for equality: whether that’s in terms of gender, sexual preference, ethnic background, culture, religion (or lack of it) and religious expression, disability or favourite amphibian (mine is the axolotl, incidentally). This therefore struck me as a way in which I could active help achieve equality — by simply levelling out the playing field in terms of whether or not someone was able to use the websites I produced.

This is something that I therefore was always likely to feel passionate about, and it’s therefore not surprising that when I came across a thread on Public Sector Forums revealing their decision to stop publishing the SiteMorse League Tables (membership required) (also see Isofarro’s comment on PSF dropping the SiteMorse tables) I’d obviously want to read further. From these discussions and threads I came across a site called AccessifyForum. Just imagine that! A forum dedicated to accessibility! What a fantastic resource.

So I joined up, listened in for a while, and then once I thought I wasn’t going to look like too much of an idiot, started mouthing off with my opinions. Not everyone agreed with me all the time — I’ve had some fairly public spats with Isofarro, amongst others — but even then we’re all capable of accepting that we’re all trying to arrive at the same destination, even if there’s some disagreement over the route, so while it’s not been a smooth journey, it hasn’t been an uncomfortable one.

After showing myself to be passionate about accessibility (however you define it) — as well as being an argumentative bugger quite capable of fighting his own corner — I heard about a new group that was being launched called Accessites which was intended as a showcase for nice looking accessible websites to combat the stereotypes that accessible sites look ugly. The Accessites founder, Mike Cherim, welcomed me on board and set me to work grading websites. I also got to know a number of the other team members better that way, and lovely people they are too (hello everyone!).

As well as grading a few sites, I also got to contribute a few articles, including a piece on the in-development accessibility standards WCAG 2.0. And then, towards the middle of 2006, it got very busy:

After hanging round AccessifyForum for some time chipping in, I was made one of the moderators in August 2006, which basically means that along with the other moderators my main task appears to be battling the spammers who seek to clog up the forum.

Also in August, I spoke on WCAG 2.0 at a Public Sector Forums event in Nottingham, which was great fun and I seemed to be quite well received. It also meant that I spoke alongside my old blogging and accessibility mate Dan Champion, and also with Julie Howell who was one of the people who inspired me to get involved in the whole accessibility shebang in the first place.

In September, I had my comedy-cum-web standards article A Standardista’s Alphabet published in the excellent A List Apart magazine, and that felt great as the quality of writing in there (up until then, obviously) had always been excellent.

And here I still am. Still blogging in general. Still passionate about equality — of which the web accessibility/disability bit is the bit I probably know most about — still plugging away there, trying to improve my knowledge, trying to help others and trying to make things better.

The other point Ian made on his Accessify post (you know, that thing I was talking about at the start of the article) was that he sometimes feels he’s the guy in the bottom of the pit ranting on about something no-one else is interested in, and he wondered whether anyone else ever felt the same way.

Yes, Ian, sometimes.

I know it’s not the most trendy of things, I know that to a lot of people it’s just another little niche, but to me it’s important. But here on my blog I feel perfectly entitled to rant about anything that I feel is important — actually, whether I feel it’s important or not .

A number of people will glance at my site and ignore the posts that relate to accessibility. That’s fine by me. A number of people will glance at my sites and ignore the posts that don’t relate to accessibility. That’s fine by me also. As long as there’s someone out there who finds a post worth reading, I’ll be satisfied.

At work, it’s a slightly different matter, though. I’m known to some extent (oh, all right then, to some considerable extent) as the accessibility guy. Which again is fine. I’m happy to offer my thoughts and opinions — when asked — on whether something would be likely to pass or fail a checkpoint. I’ll also offer advice and guidance as to whether I believe it will impact on users with disabilities — sometimes conflicting with the checkpoint-based advice.

But because I don’t want to be seen as the “you-can’t-do-that guy”, I don’t go around poking my nose into other people’s work. I’ll work on our internal standards, and I’ll offer advice when asked, but I do try to avoid poking my nose into other people’s business too much. As it happens, I think we’ve got pretty good internal standards and people are pretty switched on about what needs to be done, so I think we’re doing pretty well.

It’s also important to remember what is relevant. For the people I work with, WCAG 1.0 is relevant. Cabinet Office guidelines are relevant. The Disability Discrimination Act is relevant. The development of WCAG 2.0 — until such time as we’re expected to comply with it — isn’t.

That’s not to say that I can’t be an accessibility bore at times but that I do try to keep it to a minimum at work…

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3 Comments to What’s My (Accessibility) Line?

  1. Steve says:

    December 14th, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    Great post.
    What did it for me was meeting Leonie and the other accessibility gurus at Nomensa. Until then I’d been a lonely evangelist of accessibility but they gave me the confidence to go back to work and kick ass.

  2. David law says:

    August 8th, 2007 at 8:12 am

    I got one of the women that used the software to demonstrate it for me. We talked about other assistive technologies that were out there, and I tried to learn as much about them as I could.

  3. Cheap Nfl Jerseys says:

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    nd I tried to learn as much about them as I could.

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