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Tourism Award for Inaccessible Websites

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Congratulations to classic.co.uk for winning the coveted title of Cornish Tourism Website 2008. It's second significant award of the year having already swooped up Best Website at the Cornwall Business Awards.

Commiseration to both awarding bodies for showing total disregard for the Disability and Discrimination Act and Web Accessibility. Buzz words, maybe, at the turn of the millennium, but now integral to any web developer's tool kit.

From 1st October 1999 a service provider has to take reasonable steps to change a practice which makes it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of its servicesCode of Practice Section 4.7 (p39)

The booking system on the champion website is device-dependent - it is driven by Javascript - rendering this service totally useless to several web demographics. The site has had 9 years to rectify this!

Still, no criticism of the website in question or it's development team, since I am sure the project is driven by business requirements which so often force accessibility out. The criticism is solely of the awarding bodies for failing to recognise the importance of accessibility which in turn can be misguiding to the future crop of web developers that hope to learn and develop their trade from such critically acclaimed websites.

I would urge the judges of these awarding bodies to take a good look at Accessites.org criteria for the Art of Accessibility and consider more than just business logic and financial success when appraising websites.

I have just read an e-mail from one of the developers on the classic.co.uk website in response to my original post informing me that they are in the process of actually rewriting the site: In rewriting the site we are taking the opportunity to address many of the issues you have pointed out. This is good news although I did point out (as stated above) my post was at no time a criticism of the website itself and it's builders. However, I am not really sure what this says about the Cornwall Tourism Awards and Cornwall Business Awards if the winning site feels its own current incarnation is far from satisfactory. Perhaps the judges were missing something!? Enough said on the subject…

Posted on Oct 18, 2008 at 11:35:32.

Internet Explorer 8 and Google Chrome on OS X

Also relates to Browsers

Back in July I was getting quite excited about the endless possibilities that VMWare provides. Aside from spending endless hours dabbling with different Linux flavours I have also tried to make some productive use of VMWare Fusion on Mac for cross-browser testing. The Unity mode really simplifies functionality testing across a range of browsers all at once.

In the grab below I am test-driving a TinyMCE implementation on Safari 3, Firefox 3, Internet Explorer 8 and Google Chrome. The latter two of course being Windows specific yet they are running quite happily on my OS X desktop.

Screen grab showing Internet Explorer 8, Google Chrome, Safari 3 and Firefox 3

Of course, a key ingredient for virtualisation is reams of memory (RAM) and screen real-estate. These four browsers are running well side by side without too much of a performance hit and my productivity rate for cross-browser testing has just increased with the minutes I save switching platforms.

Posted on Oct 11, 2008 at 13:05:54.

Tourism Website of the Year!? Cornwall Tourism Awards 2008

This post does not relate to any other topics

I have just been imparting my experience of web accessibility to a couple of aspiring young web developers emphasising the importance of a few simple considerations when it comes to preparing a new site design realisation. Of course nothing beats learning by example so we headed over to the recently announced Cornwall Tourism Awards 2008 Tourism Website of the Year Top Three to see what the cream of the crop could show us about the importance of accessibility.

However, landing on the first site www.classic.co.uk, I quickly realised that the exercise was about to take an about turn. What I had hoped would be three websites demonstrating the perfect synergy of design and accessibility turned out to be three sites lacking in even the simplest exposition of elementary accessibility!

Robert was quick to point out that he could hardly read that text it is so small!. Small text has been less of a concern since ems were integrated as the de-facto unit of font scaling about 5 years ago but scrutinising the CSS for the site we discovered that in fact the fonts have been scaled in points!!! Points - a unit that should be reserved solely for print style sheets as it delivers very erratic sizing across the common screen browsers. More importantly, a unit of absolute dimension which instantly kisses goodbye to WAI-AA compliancy (guideline 3.4 of the WCAG 1.0). And most significantly renders the site inaccessible to a small (but still significant) proportion of web users stuck in Internet Explorer 6 hell. Especially when the point size chosen is a shockingly small 8pt AND the same eye-crunchingly illegible point size is used for the principle navigation!

Still sticking with classic.co.uk for a moment longer I got the students to run a standard user test - disabling javascript and navigating the site. Since we are looking at a tourism site (remember one of the finest in Cornwall - apparantly!) I suggested they try and book a holiday. The first property details we landed on suffered from excess white space!? In fact the copy was floating off the right of the 800px wide browser pane. A quick test with javascript back on affirmed the site was using presentational javascript to re-position the copy to the left, filling the obtrusive whitespace, once the DOM had loaded. A most peculiar practice which initially left me bewildered for a suitable answer to feed my accessibility proteges. Perusing the source code suggests the builders chose to render the site for print (sans CSS) and then use presentational javascript to realise the desired visual design!? Right… Don't try this one at home kids! What ever happened to device independence - technology has existed since well before the first millenium cork was popped to designate media styles… The unobtrusive Javascript paradigm exists to facilitate device specific features extending a device independent shell. Not to hop from one device dependency to another!?

Great for our exercise all the same - my students were really getting stuck in now and developing a solid foundation in accessibility faux-pas. Seconds later Alex piped up - I can't make a booking! Oh what a surprise, or perhaps I should say, not a surprise, to discover the entire booking system was solely device dependent on Javascript. So WAI-AA is well and truly out the window now (WCAG 6.4 failure) and really we are tinkering on the point of accepting this site does not meet the expectations of the DDA.

By this stage we had spent so long discussing classic.co.uk there was barely time to examine the other two sites up for the coveted title of Tourism Website of the Year. Other than to learn that navigating stmichaelshotel.co.uk with images disabled was impossible. At least this time the availability checker was not javascript dependent (albeit inoperable when images were disabled). However the site did succeed in bringing up a blank page (or some rather cryptic VB errors for Microsoft legacy browsers) regardless of what dates were chosen leaving bemused students and tutor alike. While the over-zealous drop down menus added serious headaches for any keyboard users out there.

On discovering that www.bedruthan.com's navigation disappeared into a cloud of invisible white-ness when images were disabled I decided to call it a day. The students had learnt more than a thing or two about the importance of user testing and non-reliance on automated accessibility tests.

This is really the main reason for this convoluted expose of our discussion. We were not trying to pick holes in otherwise successful sites. On the contrary we had set out to use these respected sites as a means to elucidate good technique in basic accessible website building. Now I don't personally know the criteria that are used for adjudicating the CTB Website of the Year but one would hope accessibility plays a significant part in that criteria. Yet all three of these sites appear to have stumbled out from beneath the rubble of the post browser wars at the turn of the millennium. Perhaps the fact they somehow fudge their way through automated accessibility tests suggests this may have been all the criteria the awards expected. At least I hope no so-called accessibility analysts lay claim to having user-tested these sites - the errors are glaringly obvious!

What use is an awards system from a notable body such as the Cornish Tourism Board if it is not to help guide future aspiring developers on their own path of enlightenment by delivering the very best that the industry has to offer. So what if a site has previously won awards (as at least one of the top three has). Web development evolves at a rapid pace and the county should be able to deliver websites that embrace the prevalent technologies while meeting the important issues that persist over the years - accessibility and device-independence being two of the many!

Perhaps there are no tourism websites out there that can assert accessibility. If so it is shame… Or perhaps an opening for aspiring accessibility developers of the future? Rich, Alex and Carl - nudge, nudge! ;)

Posted on Oct 07, 2008 at 17:31:33.

Brainbench Games Winner

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With recent distractions from the Severn bore (and the usual run of work) out of the way, I finally got round to following up on the recent Brainbench games results to discover that I scored highest in Web Design for Accessibility, winning a years subscription to all online tests and practice tools. I have never been too convinced by how much weight is put on the results of these online tests, but they do provide a nice way to progress my personal development, and I will certainly be making use of the practice tests to help further my knowledge of the web developers arsenal.

Posted on Apr 13, 2005 at 23:37:13. [Comments for Brainbench Games Winner- 0]

Latest WCAG Working Drafts

Also relates to Web Standards

The latest batch of WCAG working drafts were made public yesterday:

Posted on Nov 20, 2004 at 20:04:55. [Comments for Latest WCAG Working Drafts- 0]

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