Thursday, May 31, 2007

My Brain is a Big Mesh

Just got back from Mesh. However, I've been so preoccupied with the website relaunch (yes I'm sorry to still be harping about this - at least the end is in site - June 18 is the go live date) that I haven't been able to sleep. So it's been hard dragging my extremely tired ass, attached to my stressed-out mind to this conference.

But I'm glad I did. Maybe it was the free Red Bull they were giving out, but despite my relaunch-withdrawal-induced insomnia, I had a great time, learned a few things, and talked to a lot of interesting people.

Mesh also had the unexpected benefit of having me home before 9pm so that I had time to blog and tag.

Spending the last couple days hearing and discussing all the cool things people are doing on the web, made me realize what a relaunch bubble I have been in lately. Not only has my dear blog languished, but I haven't tagged anything to in almost a month. I may love my bookmarks even more than you dear blog, so when I tagged Interaction Camp today (which I'm hoping my kaput ass can make it to this Saturday morning) I felt like I was reconnecting with a long-forgotten friend (a feeling not dissimilar to a friend request from someone barely remembered from highschool).

Okay, so back to Mesh.

First, I loved the setting: MaRS. Great mix of a heritage and new building.

Second, the attendees at this seemed way more friendly than any other conference or seminar I have ever been to. And they were very interesting and knowledgeable - I finally feel like I have found others in the know (I've been questing for a group of Internet professionals in Toronto and have been disappointed as some are too badly organized, some are full of amateurs and others are really only for marketing-types). So it was exciting to meet people with a similar background and passion for the Internet. Wish it wasn't just for two days though.

The keynotes, panels and workshops were good - particularly since the organizers had gathered impressive speakers both well-known and lesser-known experts.

I think the most useful things for me was the 15 Minutes of Fame that allowed innovative companies to introduce their wares. I'll be trying out at least a couple things from this and will be blogging about this later.

Mesh was a happy interlude - reaffirming my love of the Internet and love of talking about the Internet. Now back to the grind...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Website Accessibility Full of Barriers

I’m trying to make the relaunched website I’m working on more accessible to people with disabilities.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) publishes standards for accessibility. The W3C have done a good job of organizing this information and I applaud this initiative. However, there are problems with their standards:

Some are no-brainers
Who’s using blinking text anymore? I haven’t seen it on any site – even cheesy ones – for 5 years or more. Although Facebook should take note of this for allowing those recent annoying flickering ads that were seizure-inducing to anyone. Does the blink tag even work any more?

Some can’t practically be done
For example, marking up quotations as such – while the {blockquote} tag is ideal for block quotes (we’re not using it for indenting anymore) and it is well supported by most browsers, but for in-line quotations the {q} tag should be used. That's fine except that Internet Explorer doesn’t support it and that represents most of our site’s traffic.

Some items are very time-consuming to do and of limited value
For example identifying the target of a link. Normally, this should be apparent from the context of the text, and if it isn’t then that’s bad writing. There are a few items that are of dubious value, and in checking out a Canadian website trumpeting website accessibility even they are not doing some of these items.

Some items require programming effort
There are some items I would like to do but require a programmer. For example,specifying tab order through forms and providing server redirects rather than meta redirects. The work that can be done simply, has the best chance of actually getting done.

It’s practically impossible to have a fully accessible site, but with some effort I think we can do some things that will help, specifically:
  1. Using alt text in images. I was doing this already, though some others working on our site haven’t been. I’m going to get everyone to commit to doing a better job of alt text, particularly with graphs
  2. We already used the header tags (eg. {h1}, {h2}) so we’ll continue doing that and we also use lists correctly too.
  3. Not using tables for layout at all
  4. Not using {blockquote} for indenting
  5. Got rid of all that blinking text that we used to have so much of
  6. Allowing users to increase the text size
  7. Not using colours that are problematic for the colour blind
  8. Recoding our tabular data into accessible tables.

Regarding the last point, I’m having a lot of trouble finding the best way to do an accessible table. Here’s what a colleague and I have come up with. Please help me out with any suggestions on how to do a table.

Accessible table???
{table class="xxx" summary="This table shows how the age of Mary and Betty makes a difference in their admission cost to movie tickets.}
{th} {/th}
{th}Mary {/th}
{tr class="XX"}
{tr class="XX"}
{th}Admission cost{/th}

Please let me know if there’s anything we should be doing different.