Tag Archives: a11y

Web Accessibility Myths for the Mobile Generation

This is my sixth session from the first day at the CSUN conference.  This session covers “…the many things accessibility advocates believe are outdated.  Updating his popular Accessibility Myths blogs, Jonathan Hassell uncovers the worst offenders and replaces them with well-researched facts.”  This description comes from the conference event guide.  Now, I’ve never met Jonathan Hassell, but I’ve read some of his blog posts in the past.  I sure hope his session meets the high bar his session description sets.  I want the names of the skeletons in the closet!!


  • Jonathan Hassell, Hassell Inclusion, ltd. (@jonhassell)


Some bona fides…

  • 13+ years experience in accessibility and inclusion
  • Wrote UK standards BS8878 & chair of its drafting committee
  • Former head of usability and accessibility, BBC Future Media
  • A number of awards
  • A bit of book-flogging 😉

I like to challenge the orthodox views; some may surprise you.  However, it’s all based on data and research.


Myth 1:  What disabled and elderly people need is accessibility

  • They actually want a site to be usable, just like everyone else does
  • You have to be able to deliver a good experience
  • “Accessibility is just the engine…you still need the rest of the car to work to get you there”


Myth 2:  All you need is WCAG 2.0

  • It’s a little old (2009), and sites you use on a daily basis have probably changed since then.
  • WCAG is useful for web sites, developers, designers, requirements managers.
  • Other WAI documents are useful…but the reality is that very few folks code web sites from scratch; most sites are mash-ups.
  • It’s more about how you choose to integrate the variety of technologies that are out there.
  • Things are less about technical accessibility and more about the process of creating and procuring technology.


Myth 3:  The Best business case for accessibility is the law

  • If an organization’s web product is not accessible to a disabled person, that person might have grounds fro making a claim against the organization under different countries’ laws & regulations (ADA, CVAA, Equality Act, AODA, DDA, etc.)
  • However, outside the USA there’s very little case law
  • The last thing you probably want to do is do the bare minimum as “insurance” against being sued.
  • You’re much better off using accessibility as an ethical business case.


Myth 4:  Accessibility is cheap / expensive (depending on who you ask)

  • It really depends on how what it is you’re trying to make accessible
  • WCAG is not very helpful at determining cost of remediation, i.e. -text=cheap, time-based media=expensive


Myth 5:  We won’t get enough return on investment

  • Definition of disability is really important.  Numbers are probably rather low, because not everyone self-identifies.
  • One way to think about it is to “Design for your future self”
  • Different checkpoints have wildly different potential reach benefits
  • We should compare our “pressure group” to SEO industry…we need to start counting, like everyone else does


Myth 6:  If you build it (to be accessible), they will come

  • Not so!  How do you market to disabled audiences?
  • You have to tell people about what you’ve done, and there aren’t many specific channels for doing this.


Myth 7:  Accessibility and Inclusive design are anti-creative

  • Innovative challenges offer creative solutions
  • Mainstream inclusion vs beyond inclusion
  • OXO good grips as a success example
  • Audio game mainstreaming as a success example
  • Apple CarPlay as a success example


Myth 8:  Accessibility and Inclusive Design Help Everyone

  • It does have its problems…you can’t please every audience
  • Sometimes you just can’t win
  • This is why personalization is necessary; use themes where possible or use a tool that enables is


Myth 9:  Disable people use assistive technologies

  • Only about 6-8% of people use assistive technologies
  • Microsoft/Forrester did a research study in 2003 that showed that 57% of USA computer users were likely or very likely to benefit from Accessible Technology
  • Many platforms don’t include accessibility controls anymore, while there’s simultaneously fragmentation among AT solutions


Myth 10:  Accessibility is just about blind people

  • Nope.  They’re only 2%


Myth 11:  Text is More accessible than other media

  • People prefer pictures


Myth 12:  The most important thing is alt text

  • How about using better images?


Myth 13:  Most important people in accessibility are developers

  • No, it’s everybody


Myth 14:  Desktop version of your site is accessible, you don’t need to worry about the mobile version

  • Better to think about this exactly opposite


Myth 15:  Web sites need to be accessible from the start

  • Get an MVP first and iterate


Myth 16:  the standard is just for huge companies

  • Nope.  It’s for everyone.  A great product benefits everyone.
  • It’s an effective set of guidelines for creating effective web sites.

All About Google Chrome

This is my fifth session from the first day at the CSUN conference.  This session covers “…the built-in accessibility features of Chrome, Chrome OS and Chromebooks.”  Description comes from the conference event guide.  I attended Google’s pre-conference seminar in 2013, and it was very informative (my 10-part blog post can be accessed here).  I hope they pack in the juicy details this year too 🙂


  • Dominic Mazzoni, Software Engineer on the Google Team (@)
  • Peter Lundblad, Engineer on the Google Chrome Team (@)
  • David Tseng, Software Engineer Google Chrome Team (@)


David Tseng showed off a remote control that comes with ChromeVox built-in.  It’s meant for video conferencing.  David used the tool to join a Google Hangout (a kind of vido call).  It worked well in the demonstration, at least from the perspective of selecting and joining an existing Hangout.


Dominic Mazzoni talked briefly about the importance of the web as the world’s largest open platform.  The Chrome browser was originally introduced with the following three principles/priorities in mind:

  • Speed:  re-introduced competition into the browser market
  • Simplicity:  create a browser that doesn’t distract from the content you’re looking at.  Also, updates happen automatically.
  •  Security:  updates resolve holes asap

Dominic jumped into ChromeOS and showed some of the accessibility features available, including on-screen keyboard, screen magnifier, large mouse cursor, high contrast mode, sticky keys, tap-dragging, and ChromeVox itself.


Peter Lundblad demonstrated ChromeVox, a screen reader made especially for ChromeOS.  Support for voices in multiple languages has been recently added; Peter demonstrated this with both German and British female voices.  Refreshable braille device support has also been added to ChromeOS.  This particular demonstration was interesting to me because I’ve never actually seen one of these devices in action.  There is a “growl-like” on-screen display of the braille output so sighted users can see what the braille device itself is showing.  Peter added a bookmark using the braille device.


Dominic then took over and talked about synchronized bookmarks (and other settings) that “follow the user” to whatever device they may be using.  He demonstrated this using an Android phone.  The phone he showed the audience successfully showed the bookmark that was set by Peter on the Chromebook a few minutes before.  Dominic then activated the local search control (a circular control with links to phone functions) by swiping up and to the right to activate the link.

Dominic then demonstrated the ChromeCast, which lets you “cast” content from any Chrome browser to a display the Chromecast is plugged into.  Laura Palmero shared her personal experience using the ChromeCast.  Laura is a person with a vision disability that makes it difficult for her to view things in the center of her field of view, so she relies on high-contrast displays that are close to her (like her phone).  This has made it much easier for her to interact with her large screen television at home…she now controls it using her phone, which she uses all the time.


Question:  what about the accessibility of Google Docs?  There is a Google Docs session tomorrow (Thursday) that goes into great detail about Google Docs.

Question:  what is the strategy with ChromeBook?  It seems like just an interesting toy.  Answer:  it’s not a general-purpose computing device that’s meant to replace all computers.  It’s a device that’s made to work with the web,

Question:  what tools are you providing so developers can have access to things like view source, that sort of thing?  Answer:  we know we have some work to do with this, but there are workarounds.  Please speak with us after the session.

Question:  how well does it support ARIA?  Answer:  we make extensive use of ARIA in our web apps, and we rely on open standards and participate in working groups.

The (not so) Surprising Parallels Between Responsive Design and Accessibility

This is my third session from the first day at the CSUN conference.  This session is hosted by my friend George Zamfir, who I met at this conference last year.  The session guide describes George’s session like so:  “Responsive design has borrowed principles & best practices from accessible design.  Learn about both and how to apply them to your projects.”

Presenter:  George Zamfir (@good_wally)




In this post, I’m going to dispense with my normal slide-by-slide narrative structure.  George’s presentation moved way too fast and had lots of builds. 😉


George discovered that responsive design was a great way to build accessibility into his projects.  He showed us some of his previous work on the Scotiabank web site.  This ended up being TWO projects:  first for the desktop version of the site, then the mobile responsive version of the site.  He also worked on the mobile version of the bank’s credit card application.


What do all assistive technologies have in common?

  • They don’t care much about design, and they care to change it for the user (a lot like RSS readers)
  • Content trumps design, regardless of screen size
  • RWD is not about the design, it’s about updating the design to bring out the content



Visual, Auditory, Mobility, Cognitive & Speech.  Don’t measure people through the disability lens – which automatically focuses on what people are NOT able to do.  We now measure disability by what people CAN do.


Accessibility is contextual, so we should cater to users’ context.  You’re not necessarily engaging with someone working on a desktop computer with a large monitor, keyboard and mouse anymore.  He referred to a study of how people hold their phones and also the W3C’s BAD (Before After Demo) page.

  • One simple tip:  adding padding around text links increases the “hit size”
  • Keyboard accessibility translates well into touch-friendly interfaces.
  • Use native controls wherever possible.  On the bank side, they used <div> instead of <select> control, which was a problem when they went mobile.


Design for the edge cases (mobile first design)

If you start with a small screen, prioritization really matters. A variation of this model is designing for edge cases.  If you design for the harshest conditions first, the in-between cases are much easier to work out.  Consider accessibility as one of your edge cases!


RWD is a champion for A11Y, we have common goals for our users.


Question:  how do you handle navigation in RWD?  I target the simplest possible device and design progressively.

Question:  Do you do anything special about device orientation changes?  Answer:  why would you change the content?  Perhaps you change the layout, but you should not change the content.

Question:  What is your process when you have the luxury of a “clean sheet” design…how do you handle the lowest common denominator?  I like to start with everything besides the content.  We built the framework, and the content just fits into that framework.

Question:  what about hiding content based on context?  How do you handle that? Well, that’s probably not the best way to go…you’re probably doing it wrong if you’re doing it that way.



Foundations of RWD:  fluid foundation, media queries, responsive images.  In short:  Make your layout flexible!

  • Use ratios (ems) and percentages instead of absolute values (px).
  • Adapt to the size of the viewport:  width = device-width, initial-scale=1
  • What apple does is assume that the normal viewport size is 960 pixels, so if you don’t add the viewport declaration, you can get pages with text that’s very small-looking on a small screen.
  • Media Queries in CSS:  start with smallest screen first, and then the larger screens are additive over that definition.
  • Responsive Images:  for simplicity’s sake, start with this: use max-width:100%, height: auto;

Quirks in Web Standards, Browsers, and Screen Readers

This is my second session of the first day at the CSUN conference, and “takes a look at quirks and bugs in browsers and screen readers, what they mean for users, and how to avoid, fix, or work around them.”  (description is from the conference session guide).  As someone who is actively involved in building consistent web experiences (i.e. browser compatibility), I’m interested in how Ian does this when you add accessible technology into the mix.  Any misinterpretations of Ian’s presentation are entirely my own.  Any errata, please let me know!

Presenter:  Ian Pouncey, Accessibility Specialist, BBC (@IanPouncey)





Ian took some time to establish his credibility…

Used to work on the Yahoo! home page, and more recently has been a web developer at the BBC.  Been doing this for about 14 years.  Written a book about CSS from Wrox publishing.

Room was made up of developers, technical folks, screen reader users, and those obliged to come (a little humor).

Ian shared a few slides that were pretty humorous related to “skip to content” links, wherein the humor was related to where you placed the accent on the word content (hopefully he’ll post those slides).



Shared a couple pages about skip links from Gez Lemon and Terrilll Thompson, and then demonstrated dynamic skip link code with window.location.hash.



Ian showed form error listings and focusing on fields with errors.  Unfortunately, window.location.hash only works reliably in IE!

Ian did a demo of a skip link bug when using off-page content on iOS7.  He prefers using content off-top rather than off-left.  This technique however can result in some interesting behavior, notably showing the skip link after an up-swipe gesture to turn on VoiceOver, and then navigation after that makes the screen go completely blank.

Another option is to use off-screen CSS clipping, which unfortunately results in a lot more code.  This clipping technique is used on about 98% of the BBC web site, so if you want to see it at work, head over there 🙂



Next, Ian shared an ARIA landmark bug in iOS6.  This bug basically announces ALL landmarks in VoiceOver as simply “landmarks,” which is not very helpful.  This bug is resolved by adding a heading to every landmark.



Finally, Ian shared a bug with Live Regions.  You can’t always rely on live regions to provide information to the AT at the appropriate time.

Solution:  JavaScript-added content can be read once it’s been written to the screen.  So, you can build an empty div that quietly waits for content to be written into it.  Be sure to use role status with the assertive attribute.

Accessibility Features of HTML5

This is my first session of the day Wednesday morning, the first day of the CSUN conference proper.  I’m hoping to get a good overview of HTML5 accessibility features while at the conference this week, so I’m looking forward to this session.  This particular presentation is about the features available in HTML5 that you can use to improve the accessibility of your websites.  Session will include code examples and demonstrations, which I will do my best to capture in this post.







Introductions, he’s the staff contact for the HTML Accessibility Task Force


Open Web Platform

  • Accessibility in the OWP

HTML5 Accessibliity / Demos

  • Improved Semantics
  • ARIA
  • Graphics



A description of the HTML Accessibility Task Force.  They have a mandate to develop accessibility solutions, including technical reports, extension specifications, and provide integration paths.  They are about reaching consensus between groups.



A very busy graphic describing the “Open Web Platform” which includes virtually any industry or device that needs to connect to the Internet.  Since the web is meant to connect everyone, it needs to be as accessible as possible.



Tim Berners-Lee:  The web is the great equalizer!



  • Added structured access through improved semantics.
  • Ability to bring desktop paradigms into the browser
  • More options for creating text equivalents for graphics
  • Native support for synchronized captions, sign language, internationalization and more.



Mark presented a page of code, pretty standard for a blog.  He then ran through the page with VoiceOver.



HTML5 Has Much Improved Semantics!

It allows you to describe your document structure with sectioning elements, including <section>, <nav>, <article>, <aside>, <header>, <footer>.  You don’t really have to do anything special except use a variety of new sectioning elements.  What makes a useful aside?  A pull quote, comments, etc.



More information about new semantic elements:  color, date, datetime, email, month, number, range, search, tel, time, url, week

Not all of these will necessarily make it into the HTML5 spec.



New attributes for the input element, including autocomplete, autofocus, autosave, list, max/min/step, maxlength, pattern, required, spellcheck.

These will help build forms much easier, particularly the task of form validation.



ARIA Landmark roles include:  application, banner, complementary, contentinfo, form, main, navigation, presentation

The ARIA specification was built to provide expose the accessibility API (roles, states, and properties) to accessible technology.  It was designed to allow dynamic web pages to be accessible and provide a more consistent experience for all users.




  • Accessibility for dynamic content (can be reparative, too)
  • Wired into accessibility APIs (roles, states, and properties)
  • Programmatically link elements with labels and descriptions (aria-label, aria-labelledby, aria-describedby)



Back to the code sample, only this time Mark replaced most of the <div> elements with a selection of the landmarks noted above.  By marking up the search field, the OS  (Mac in this case) used system styles for the search bar and button.  The demonstration highlighted how VoiceOver announces each section, and using the rotor control, allows the user to directly choose from the various page elements.

One of the things I noticed as Mark was editing his code is that using HTML5 makes hand-coding of web pages and identification of code segments much easier.  If you’ve ever had to deal with multiple nested <divs>, this is definitely something you’ll appreciate.



Much of the benefits come when you view an HTML5-coded page on different platforms.  For example, iOS will bring up a numeric keypad when entering digits telephone number field.  For dates and hours, the OS will present the appropriate pickers, like a calendar or a clock.




  • Added <figure> and <figcaption> to allow grouping of images with their description.
  • Provides equivalent interactivity and behavior for dynamic and/or bitmap images <canvas>
  • Provide extended descriptions for complex images <longdesc>
  • Provide detailed guidance to authors  ALT Guidance (



  • Canvas allows interaction with pixels on a page, but…they’re just pixels in a box.  Solution:  specify regions
  • How do we define roles/states/properties?  Solution:  map tose regions to Fallback Content.
  • How do we indicate focus?  Solution:  drawFocusIfNeeded()



Mark gave a demonstration of canvas that showed a list of two elements with checkboxes.  What makes this interesting is that those elements were literally just pixels painted onto the screen, but used fallback content.


Unfortunately, Mark’s presentation was rather long, and he was unable to complete his presentation and we missed out on seeing his slides on media.