SCoPE Seminar: Accessibility of eLearning: December 4 - 17, 2006

Do and Don't Do

Do and Don't Do

by Christie Mason -
Number of replies: 8
I'm a big believer in simplier is better and it seems that simpler is also more accessabible and less of a barrier to many types of disabilities.

There are hints of what methods do/don't work in many of the threads and I thought it might be useful to create a top level topic to consolidate that info.

We can begin by summarizing some points based on  U.N. Gives Failing Accessibility Grades to the Planet's Top Web Sites
United Nations study finding only three leading Web sites around the world—out of 100 studied—meeting the needs of "persons with disabilities"
  • Fail to provide adequate text descriptions for graphics - 93% 
  • Rely on JavaScript or Flash for important functions and navigation - 73%
  • Use pop-ups, which cause problems for those using screen magnification software - 87%
  • Do not allow people to alter or resize fonts and/or images - 97%
  • Use colors with poor contrast - 78%
  • Offers poor page navigation -89% (I can't find out how they defined "poor navigation" perhaps navigation is like art - I know it when I see it)
Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Enable content to wrap

by Paul Beaufait -
If you'll pardon me for not introducing myself earlier (Paul, from Japan, with text enlargement on), to Christie's list, summarizing points from the UN study, I'd like to add failure to enable text wrapping to fit users' browsers windows. Not even the eWeek article she cites does that (unless you go to printable view: scroll to bottom, plus another click...). When content doesn't wrap to fit browser windows, users who are reading enlarged text are stuck panning back and forth to read/view each page.

Following Jakob Nielson's usability guidelines also might promote accessibility:

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030825.html
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9605.html
In reply to Paul Beaufait

Re: Enable content to wrap

by Christie Mason -
That is my number one pet peeve. Static sizing of content.  Why should I have a bigger monitor if most of the page is white space?  The web/CSS standardistas insist on doing it that way with the rationalization that browsers don't handle positioning correctly, or even consistently.  The other justification is that *some* people have larger monitors which allow lines of text to be too wide for comfortable reading.  Instead they embed nested divs, browser specific hacks and use these static sizing approaches. 

http://www.csszengarden.com/ is the site most referenced by the standardistas.  I find most of the designs to lack even basic usability because they focus on the designer's need to show "look at what I can do" instead of focusing on supporting their user's needs.  It's the control issues of the paper/print world replicated online.

As I user, I will resize my browser window if the text stretches too wide for my comfort.  Control of the presentation should rest in the hands of the user.  The designer controls the content and creates a framework that support the user's access to the content.

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Enable content to wrap

by WL Wong -
Hi Christie,

Are you saying that pages from csszengarden do not resize to fill your browser window? I do notice that some designers don't but Dave Shea himself, the creator of the site, does for his first page in csszengarden. The web designers who submit to csszengarden do strive to meet S508, etc but csszengarden is also about showing how better design can be achieved by moving away from using tables for design which was causing problems of accessibility in the first place. It is a showcase to encourage web designers who may not know about accessibility issues or want to move away from using tables for design layout.

A user can still control the page he or she views by choosing to ignore the stylesheet created by the designer, use deafult browser styles or use a stylesheet of their own preference - currently this is far from ideal - many users can't create their own stylesheet but this may change in the near future.

As for the line-length, some strongly believe that this is a problem when you have content spread out all across a wide browser which makes it difficult to read. Have a look at the BBC's web site - they have not changed that width for a while...

OK the web page content does not fill our 19" monitor screens but at least we can get to the content. Sometimes we have to deal with issues of accessibility for a wide range of users with/out different assistive technologies - some of these users can't even get to the content and that is the challenge for us.

Designing with web standards - it is far from perfect - but it has provided us a pathway to talk about creating accessible web pages, accessible rich media content, etc and implementing them.

Cheers
Wai-Leng
In reply to WL Wong

Re: Enable content to wrap

by Christie Mason -
CSS is supposedly used to increase accessability but every time I mention that CSS Zen Garden has many poor examples of usability and accessability,  I get the same reply "It's about what can be done, not about what should be done."  People learn by looking at reference sites and if what they see is static div sizes, multiple nested divs, poorly contrasted link/text to backgrounds, header images that take up 1/3 of the "above the fold" space, funky navigation schemes, then that's what they're going to emulate.

Which is more intuitive for the typical internet user?  Resizing their own browser window, or disabling CSS, or finding an extension to their browser that allows them to edit the CSS and then editing the CSS for each div on each page that is setting static div widths?  Why bother using CSS at all?

Just because "others" have a "belief" that long text lines are bad for me, that doesn't make it true.  A web designer has no idea how a user is using their browser window.  I may have toolbars open vertically or horizontally, I may have multiple windows open and arranged side by side.  I may be sitting close to my monitor, I may be several feet away.  I may be using a Blackberry. 

Every site design that strives for usability and accessibility is a compromise. A compromise between the needs of the many vs the needs of a few.  Many of those compromises are based on assumptions.  The text line width issue is one of those untested assumptions.

I have found Reading Text Online but note that when that study was done there weren't very many large monitors in use.  Also note how the preferences change when scrolling is factored in.

The last time this site, Good Documents,  was edited was 1998-99  but I've found that following it's recommendations continue to be very useful.

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Enable content to wrap

by WL Wong -
Christie,

I think csszengarden is about web designers who are aware of accessibility issues and pushing towards what can/should be done.... All the pages are S508 compliant. There are still designers out there who are not aware or even working towards improving accessibility of their web sites.

I have read the reference you've mentioned - Reading Text Online which supports that most users do not prefer long text lines:
"It will take a larger body of research before we can state these guidelines with research certainty. In the meantime, I suggest that so far the results tell us to use a medium line length for adults and a narrower line length for children"... is what is suggested in the conclusion.  (Source: http://www.humanfactors.com/downloads/feb03.asp#susan).

Using CSS is also about providing different versions to meet different devices: it is possible to have alternate stylesheets to meet narrow/wide preferences and also provide a stylesheet for mobile devices. Web designers are starting to design for mobile devices including such devices that will have accessibility features (see Patent for Accessible Blackberry).

Cheers
Wai-Leng


In reply to WL Wong

Re: Enable content to wrap

by Christie Mason -
I find it odd that the same people who would recoil in horror at using static, px, font sizes have no hesitation in recommending static, px, sizes for screen/div widths. As long as *some* have different preferences and needs, then the best idea is to not assume something as *all*.  Less is better.  Less format control means more people will be able to access and use the content.

I really hesitated to post the link to the line width article because
  1. It's old - 2002 is old in eTime.
  2. It's stating CPL which is a print unit of measurement.(So is em but at least em is used as an online measurement and it resizes well).
  3. It doesn't say what monitor sizes were used at what resolution.
  4. It doesn't say what colors where used or even if it was white text on black background or black on white (many people "assume" that dark text is best but several informal tests by web designers have shown that preferences are almost evenly split.  Does anyone remember using a CRT? They were all light text on dark backgrounds. DOS/Command Prompt still presents white text on a black background)
  5. It doesn't say what font was used
  6. It doesn't say what font size is being used
  7. It doesn't say how many characters were in a paragraph - short or  bulleted is best online, not long wordy paragraphs
  8. It doesn't say what line spacing was used
  9. It doesn't say what level of language is being used (did they use the same text for young and old? 18 - 61 is too wide of a range to determine *all* preferences.  Different decades have different exposure rates to different media.)
  10. It doesn't say if the study used people who read text on monitors often, or never before. (*I* have never liked print materials with 1 - 1.5" white space on each side but that's been a common format that most generations of people have learned to EXPECT in printed material.  Expectations create preferences.  I have an impression those types of margins were originally set to make it easy to bind pages together and allow wear from page turning to occur outside the text area.  Those aren't issues with online presentations.)
Compare the readability of Device Independent Authoring Language (DIAL) vs Patent for Accessible Blackberry (which uses NO CSS and only has an embedded body background color) I admit that to even scan the patent article I reduced my browser width because of the presentation's density and lack of visual clues.  Online, people scan - they don't read unless the content or need is compelling.

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Do and Don't Do

by Larry Hull -

Christie said, "I can't find out how they defined "poor navigation" perhaps navigation is like art - I know it when I see it"

I can't find out either but I suspect it may be the lack of a hidden (for screen reader users) or visible (supporting users of screen magnifiers, voice recognition and other technologies) jump to page content appearing at the top of the page to avoid wading through the site navigation link by link.

Of course there is a lot of poor site navigation as well starting with images used as links that have no alt text through "click here" links that say nothing about the destination.

In reply to Larry Hull

Re: Do and Don't Do

by Christie Mason -
Another of my pet peeves is the cascading, JavaScript dependent menus where if you mouseover the exact right spot a submenu opens and then you have to very carefully move the mouse again and click on the link you want to use.  Oops, if you move the mouse too much, the submenu disappears and you have to start all over again.

Christie Mason