Posts Tagged “a11y”

Valve and Deaf Gamers

Published on August 13, 2009

Gabe Newell, from Valve software, recently conducted a focus group session with deaf gamers. Three videos are available of this event: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. Note that the audio quality is, ironically, pretty bad in each video.

One of the most interesting tidbits from these videos involves Valve’s desire to introduce a deaf character into a future game (possibly in the Half Life universe). An idea is floated where Alyx has taught Dog sign language, based on a past crush she had with a deaf individual. In essence, it would be an excuse for Valve to develop the necessary technology for characters to sign. Pretty cool.

I think it’s great that Valve is doing this. In the accessibility world, blind people get nearly all of the focus. For a gaming company to branch out into this realm is really quite remarkable. I’m looking forward to see how Valve implements this new technology, and I’m excited to see where the Half Life story goes with this (assuming, of course, that Half Life is the intended universe for this work).

Reading With Franz

Published on March 17, 2009

My dad stumbled upon an incredibly well produced video entitled “Reading With Franz.” In it, we learn how Franz, a puppet representing a person with a disability, is able to read books with a simple switch device and Tar Heel Reader. For those who may not know, Tar Heel Reader is a website my dad started a while back with an emphasis on providing books for beginning readers. There are over 3000 books on the website as of this writing, with more being added every day. Over 2200 visitors surf the site every week, with nearly 300,000 weekly page views. This map of readers shows that visitors are coming in from all over the world (a total of 80 countries so far). If you know a beginning reader, particularly one with a disability, be sure to check out the site.

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2008 Summer Paralympic Games

Published on September 12, 2008

There a really great page with photos from this summer’s Paralympic Games, the forgotten little brother of the Olympics. The things some of the folks in these pictures are doing are way more impressive than anything I saw in this year’s Olympics (excepting Michael Phelps’ craziness). Soccer matches featuring blind players? Crazy. One armed archery? Epic. These people truly define ‘athlete’.

Fair Games

Published on September 7, 2008

(I’ve been neglecting the ‘Accessibility’ post category at this site for a while now, and it’s high time to correct that mistake. Expect some more posts in this area over the coming days.)

There’s a really great article that’s been posted about the work my dad is doing with Maze Day. Maze Day is a yearly event geared towards children with disabilities, and held at the Computer Science Department at UNC. Each year, the students come out to try out new games and technologies being developed for them. Some really cool stuff has been developed over the past few events, and I know the students always have a blast taking part. Check out the article to learn about the cool things being developed (and given away for free!) for kids with disabilities.

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Anorexic Web Writing

Published on July 31, 2007

A List Apart fails to disappoint. While I don’t read every article in each issue (not all of them apply to my web development efforts), I have yet to find one that hasn’t taught me something new. The latest issue is a prime example. Two new articles tackle the problem of weak writing on the web:

  1. Better Writing Through Design — by Bronwyn Jones
  2. Reviving Anorexic Web Writing — by Amber Simmons

Both articles are excellent reads, but the latter is my personal favorite. Mrs. Simmons points out a number of interesting thoughts on where writing for the web becomes anemic. One specific example that hits close to home for me is alt text. Improving my alt text writing is a subtle, yet important improvement that would benefit my websites in a number of ways.

Accessible Hidden Text

Published on July 10, 2007

I just ran across an excellent article entitled Why “left: -9999px;” is Better For Accessibility Than “display: none;”. It discusses the two primary means by which web developers try to hide text (usually to allow for accessible logos or titles), and why using an offset is (often) better than just simply making it invisible. The author also explains why this is better, using some documentation from Microsoft on Internet Explorer accessibility. Looks like I need to fix my websites!

Blocking Meta-Refreshes in Firefox 3

Published on February 16, 2007

Mark Pilgrim just recently patched a long-standing bug in Firefox (the fix will appear in Firefox 3). Currently, there is no way a user can disable timed redirects through META refresh elements. This becomes a gigantic problem to blind users who utilize screen-reader software. By the time the screen reader starts reporting what’s on screen, the page changes unexpectedly.

Beginning in Firefox 3, users will have the option of being warned when such refresh event takes place. A notification bar, just like the one used to alert the user of blocked pop-up ads, will appear when a META refresh takes place. The user will then be able to click a button to allow the event. Note that this new system will be disabled by default, meaning that everything will act as it does today in Firefox 2. Also note that JavaScript refreshes are not handled by this fix.

What I find most intriguing about this new system is that the notification bar appears just like an ALERT to assistive software. Mark has a blog post that goes into way more detail on the fix, so check it out if you’re interested. It’s really good to see Firefox making strides in this area. Yet one more reason that Firefox 3 will be super awesome.

Improving Accessibility in Monkey Album

Published on November 11, 2006

I am in the process of improving the accessibility of my photo album here at the site. My primary goal is to make the alternate text representations of each image something worthwhile, instead of the filename cop-out that I chose a while back. Each image now has an associated alt-text data record, and entering these by hand one at a time (there is no mass-update capability at the moment) is taking quite a while. As of this writing, I have provided alt-text values for six of the ten albums that I have posted. I hope to have them all completed by tomorrow.

You will find that the alternate text for the album thumbnail is rather weak at the moment (‘Thumbnail for album XYZ’). This is due to the unfortunate way I constructed the various database tables. I essentially cannot obtain the alternate text record for the album’s thumbnail image, since I store the filename for the thumbnail, not the corresponding image ID. Later on I may improve this text, but I’m going to leave it as is for the moment. The alternate text for each full size image, along with each image’s thumbnail, has been greatly improved, and that was what I set out to do.

Thoughts on Accessibility

Published on October 26, 2006

October is “People with Disabilities” awareness month at IBM, and I attended a panel discussion on the topic today, which was quite insightful. One of my coworkers, who has cerebral palsy and speaks with an augmented communications device, was one of the panelists. I learned a number of interesting things about the opportunities IBM offers employees with disabilities, along with a number of other interesting things.

All of this got me thinking about the lawsuit facing Target, which I commented on quite a while back. A recent update to the story indicates that the trial is still moving forward. Target recently argued that the Americans with Disabilities Act only covered physical store space, not electronic store fronts. But a California judge ruled last month that this was not the case, and has allowed the case to proceed. This fact brings up an interesting point: if the law were to apply to physical locations only, how would businesses like, who have no physical locations, be allowed to operate?

It only makes sense (even business sense) that the ADA applies to electronic store fronts. If it didn’t, think of the number of customers that would be turned away. According to the Wikipedia entry on blindness (so take this figure with a grain of salt), the World Health Organization estimated that 161 million people in the world were visually impaired, with 37 million of those being blind. Would you, as a business owner, turn away 37 million prospective customers? I know I certainly wouldn’t.

I can only hope that the National Federation of the Blind wins this important court case. Regardless, it will hopefully wake up online retailers to the fact that web accessibility is important. Not only for blind users, but for search engine robots; all of which are blind. When the biggest internet user (the Google bot) is blind, I might begin to be concerned about the accessibility of my site.

Inaccessibility Hurts

Published on February 14, 2006

Jeffrey Zeldman called it. His book Designing With Web Standards pointed out that inaccessibility might get you in trouble (if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do so). And just recently, a blind student sued Target for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for providing an inaccessible website.

As much as I respect Target, and as much as I enjoy shopping there, I can only feel so sorry for them in this situation. Creating an accessible website is incredibly easy. To get it wrong, and subsequently discriminate your customers, is tragic. If you run a website, learn to incorporate accessibility into your design. Disabled users will thank you for it.

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Open Source Accessbility

Published on November 16, 2005

I came across an interesting article written by Peter Korn, accessibility architect at Sun Microsystems. In it, he discusses the accessibility problems facing the open source world, specifically as it relates to OpenOffice. Recently, the Massachusetts government decided to move towards using an “open document format” (essentially switching from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice). Government agencies are required by federal law to support accessibility guidelines. Unfortunately (for the OpenOffice guys), it appears that Microsoft’s office solution is far ahead in terms of application accessibility. This is an interesting tactic being used by Microsoft, but it illustrates a very real, very serious problem. If users with disabilities are ignored, open source software can never gain a foothold in the governmental sector (where accessibility is a requirement). Hopefully this particular problem will wake up the entire open source community, and result in improved programs for the disabled. It’s certainly a problem that cannot be ignored.

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Accessibility Improvements

Published on October 10, 2005

It has recently occurred to me that Born Geek is lacking in several web accessible areas (Year of the Code Monkey is not without its share of similar problems). Because I still develop the Born Geek website by hand (old school!), it lacks the most common feature available in automated web-generation systems: site search functionality. The only way users can currently search Born Geek is to perform a site search at Google. How tragic! I am currently looking at two Perl-based site search scripts, and I hope to implement one of them in the very near future.

One other area that needs some updating is the site contact form. I am currently not making use of the <label> tag, which would greatly improve the accessibility of the form. Not only would screen-readers be a little happier, but users could click a control’s associated label to set the keyboard focus (instead of having to actually click inside of the control).

Are there any other blatant mistakes I’m making as far as accessibility goes? If so, let me know about it!

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