Accessibility: June 2010 Archives

iPad: Accessibility

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In case you've been wondering, Apple did consider accessibility issues when releasing the iPad. There is a built in screen reader you can activate called VoiceOver (or can have a sighted techie activate), an additional zoom feature and "White on Black" which reverses the display colors (useful for some lower vision users).

I would also reiterate that the larger screen enhances accessibility for low vision users, some motion impaired users and users who may need to a holistic view of a text.

But the iPad won't be perfect for everyone. Writer Steve O'Hear notes that some people still won't have enough function for the touch pad interface. The iPad does allow for a keyboard dock, which is also good if you need to type a long report.

I also have to note that I haven't tested Voice Over yet, so I can't comment on its effectiveness. One thing I wish were more available is the ability to change default fonts. There is theoretically the ability to change font settings in some apps, but it's not universal or even easy to find. It can have an impact for legibility (especially when the default font is a decorative handwriting font as it is in Notes).

It's not perfect, but I am glad Apple is paying attention to this issue.

Expression Web Roundup

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This week I've been playing with Microsoft Expression Web, the successor to FrontPage. The good news is that I would recommend it, especially if it means you will stop using Front Page. I still see a lot of TWT portfolios using Front Page, and yes there are recurring Mac glitches.

Basic Review

Although I will still be using Dreamweaver as a primary editor, I am comfortable recommending Expression Web as a good solution for many people, It is cheaper than Dreamweaver, and its interface is more similar to Microsoft Office (a major appeal of Front Page over Dreamweaver).

However, the code it generates is superior over Front Page. It is 1) cleaner, 2) standards based especially in terms of formatting which is CSS based and most importantly 3) more browser neutral. The interface is somewhere between Dreamweaver and Microsoft Office, so that newer users may be a little more comfortable, but power users can generally find the tools they need.

Unicode Review

Again, Expression Web does much better here than FrontPage. My major complaint with FrontPage in terms of Unicode was that it defaulted to the vendor-specific encoding win-1252. Surprisingly Mac supports this to some extent, but it led to all sorts of display glitches, especially for "exotic" punctuation such as smart quotes and en/em dashes, all of which were conveniently inserted by Word (the source of a lot of FrontPage text).

Expression Web is now Unicode by default, although you can adjust encodings if you need to. It also has a fairly straightforward way to insert the LANG and DIR attribute, and an Insert Symbol tool which is superior to Dreamweaver's

I did have two complaints

  1. The default font in code view is Courier which doesn't incorporate a wide range of Unicode characters. You can have HTML looks fine in WYSIWYG mode but displayes as question boxes of death in code view. Fortunately you can switch the code font to something like Arial Unicode MS.
    BTW - Dreamweaver supports font switching in code view (at least on the Mac). As long as a font is available, the code will show a character.
  2. My other complaint is from Expression Web 2 in which Language tagging was directly tied to the keyboard you were using (by default). However, I was testing keyboards and managed to set my language tag to Greek for the entire doc...before I even typed anything in. Yikes. Interestingly, this option disappeared in the most recent version (good thing).

In terms of Unicode support, I would definitely recommend Expression Web although my heart still belongs to Dreamweaver. That doesn't mean Dreamweaver couldn't use a few tweaks though (I still tend to enter a lot of Unicode info by hand...just saying).

Accessibility

The one area Expression Web fell short for me was in terms of accessibility.

One of the things I love about Dreamweaver is all the tools which allow developers to enter quirky accessibility features in WYSIWYG mode. Insert an image and you are asked for an ALT tag. Insert a form field and you are asked for a LABEL tag, and the TABLE tool lets you quickly generate TR tags.

Not so with Expression Web. It does prompt you to enter an ALT tag for images (an improvement), but that's pretty much. If you want LABELs on FORMs or TRs with SCOPE on a TABLE, then you have to do it by hand. This is so much more tedious, the temptation is to skip it to the end...and you know what happens then - nothing.

An interesting accessibility tool is i-Map Creative Access from the Tate Museum in Great Britain.

Basics

In this project, select pieces of art from their collection has been additionally annotated for visually impaired audiences. The site includes an image, an extensive description of the image ("Orientation") - a feature that can be added to most descriptions of visuals.

In addition though, there are two options depending on the severity of your visual impairment. For those with near total loss of vision, there is an audio tour (with transcription) as well as a PDF of the images which are meant to be printed on a printer which supports embossed Braille and raised images. The site also supports a menu to switch between normal, large text and hi-contrast view.

For low vision users, there are some animations such as this animation of Matisse's The Snail The images are in Flash, but there is keyboard support and text external to Flash. Very interesting to view actually

Gap in Usability

I would recommend this site, but there is one accessibility gap - the one for usability. For some reasons the PDF file for the raised image is separate from everything else. In fact there is one document which has the Braille and images for the entire set of annotated images.

I really fail to see the benefit of one document separated from everything else. For one thing, it's simple to split a PDF into multiple docs, even if all you have is the PDF. For another, it is very confusing to gather everything together for a single piece of art.

I would really prefer to see everything relating to the piece on one page - image, description, audio and PDF. I would also love to see it integrated into the regular collection with maybe an iMap icon for those pieces with the extra annotation completed. The animation, in particular, would be valuable for sighted visitors since they separate and describe the components of the art very well.

Accessible, but Not Universal

Although this is a fabulous project with great lessons to be learned, I am heartbroken about the lack of usability and lack of universal design. This kind of navigation where the "accessibility" features are split off is counter to the concepts of universal design where everything is integrated in one place and available to all.

it's also the kind of design that scares people new to accessibility who think accessibility is a second site, not one site with a few extra features.

It is possible that iMap is a demo, which is why it is split off. But it could also be a project whose funding has run out and dropped off the radar in terms of maintenance. I really hope I am wrong.