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Web Accessibility at Refresh Baltimore

Mike Brenner and Reinhard Stebner

Reinhard Stebner provided an engaging talk on Web Accessibility this evening at MICA. This post contains a few of my favorite highlights. I’d like to note here that Bill Mill is a good sport.

I’ve read and thought a lot about Web Accessibility. I’ve used JAWS to test sites and worked to make Flash more accessible in client projects. Yet, it’s so valuable to watch a skilled, unsighted user like Mr. Stebner navigate a system. Just as no two people will use Microsoft Excel the exact same way, there are many ways to use JAWS and Windows Eyes. And just as each Web browser handles CSS slightly differently, accessibility software varies from product to product.

Jaws will ignore display:none; in css and Windows Eyes will not. Instead, Mr. Stebner suggests using positioning to handle things we don’t want to be visible (top:0; left:-9999;) and then dealing with the hidden items contextually with labels.

He emphasized usability vs. accessibly and demonstrated how sites can be technically accessible and yet hardly usable. Having a highly usable site is a win for everyone. That’s common sense and therefore not always achieved. Headings should be used appropriately, as many people will navigate a page through its headings. They should be meaningful and used correctly. Specifying a tab-index is a bad idea, as it makes the arrow-key functionality not work and many people use arrow keys to navigate content. Documents shall be organized so they are readable without requiring an associated style sheet.

The item that gave me the most to think about is the idea of using lists to organize links. In HTML, a list is a collection of things. Putting a navigation structure, which is just a collection of hyperlinks, in a list is supposed to allow screen readers to pause between each link instead of reading all the links as a sentence. Semantically, this makes sense. We use HTML to apply meaningful mark-up to content – making things lists seems like a good idea. Yet, there’s no easy way to identify a list as a set of links, so a page with 12 sets of links can be very confusing. He demonstrated this with Jaws.

We touched on ARIA as a way to help deal with some of this, and instead of using lists for links, he would like to see more <div> and <spans> used.

I’m really glad I had a chance to see some examples of what works well and doesn’t with JAWS. And, I didn’t know about a JAWS feature called Virtual View, which allows the visitor to access extra information about the DOM, like class and id names. This supports the notion that class and id names should be as semantic as HTML itself.

It was a great talk. Please note that Mr. Stebner also provides accessibility consultations, should anyone want to hire him for his services.

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Web Stuff

Springbrook Web Conference

Today, I spoke at Springbrook High School on “Building Your Brand” with some awesome free Web tools. I usually avoid talking about subjects like branding and social media in favor of technical/functional things, but this was for a good cause. My pal Zac Gordon is doing outstanding things in Web education, which I DO care about.

Two of my favorite people teach at the same school. None of us were aware of the connection until Chas saw a picture of Zac and I on flickr. Funny old world.

As a bonus, I got to see Chas and sit in on a little bit of life drawing. Springbrook is lucky to have both these guys. One of them alone can make a big difference in kids’ lives – two of them, well, whoah.

The conference had 500 seats available, and there were people at the door still trying to get in, which makes me guess it was sold out. It’s so cool that 500+  kids are interested in learning about Web design and development.

My talk covered what a “brand” is and isn’t, citing Marty Neumeier’s The Brand Gap. I then discussed free tools for publishing stuff on the Web. I talked about the goals I’ve been able to accomplish with my WordPress site, and explored the merits of Vimeo, YouTube, Flickr, Blogger, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter. I thought it was interesting that the room exploded when I showed the Tumblr slide – but not really all that surprising.  I talked about managing one’s online presence, getting a domain and being good Web citizens.

Pretty Awesome.

Also, I didn’t fall off the stage into the orchestra pit. Win.

4 photos by Chester Lam

The Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier

 

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Web Stuff

Baltimore WordPress Meet-Up

Baltimore now has a really good WordPress meet-up. The next one will be on January 17th, 2011.

I should have been writing about this – the first meeting loosely covered some popular WordPress plug-ins, and I gave my “20 Things the New WordPress Person should know” talk at the second. Last night was an open forum – we have a broad mix of technical, business and beginner folks. It’s great. If you are lurking out there and mildly interested, join us.

Thanks to Ben Sterling and Kenzo media for being a sponsor.

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WordCamp Philly 2010

WordCamp Philly was great. Super well organized by nice WordPress enthusiasts  who actually return e-mails and are interested in their own event.  I enjoyed seeing Temple University and what they are doing with WordPress.

Aside from all the raisins that ended up in my messenger bag, I’d call it a successful day. My previous post has a link to my talk.

photo courtesy of .js at jennschiffer.com

I wanted a “Smothie” but they were closed. I wonder if they are anything like Smoothies.

Also, I think it’s fantastic that Mike serves steaks out of the carpets truck. I bet they are full of fiber.

I almost crapped my pants when I pulled up to the toll booth in the wee hours of the morning. Who the hell hired an evil clown?

If I HAD crapped my pants at the evil clown, it would have been okay – they are super pants.

It was a good trip.

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Web Stuff

WordCamp Midatlantic 2010

John Waters was at Barnes & Noble signing his book!

I had a quick book signing, too, [ Head First WordPress – see here for complete details ] for a complete stranger that I’ve never met, ever.

Finally, Baltimore WordPress peeps, there’s a new user’s group meeting on Monday the 20th.