Australia forgets about Accessibility?

Dec
20
2011

Melbourne 2011 - No Road Sign

The following is an approximate transcript of the talk – “Outta time, scope, and we fixed that already – Is there a Disconnect” I gave at the 2011 OzeWAI conference in late November 2011. As usual the slide deck is on Slideshare.

I also have a collection of sketch notes from OzeWAI 2011, as I find it easier to sketch the talk than take notes.

…oΦOΦo…

I have been involved with the Australian Web Awards for three years now.  Over those three years I have noticed an alarming trend in the results.   An almost disconnect from the Australian Web Industry in terms of accessibility.

For those that don’t know the Australian Web Awards is a national competition based around best practices, it has been running now for 3 year nationally and 7 years over all.

The core vision for the Australian Web Awards is to promote best practice in design and development for the web in Australia.   It does this by providing a competition designer and developers can benchmark themselves against.

The Australian Web Awards allows entries from anyone that works the web in Australia, from govt, corporate to the freelancer.   The only people that are discouraged from entering are the judges.

It’s an interesting fact that over the years we have found that the big budget sites are in fact at a disadvantage.  It seems the medium to small budget sites appear to win time and time again.

It doesn’t matter the size or complexity either.  If you have a multi-million dollar site verses a $40,000 site, both with the same number of pages and complexity,  the large corporate spend just doesn’t seem to have the focus on quality to get up in the Australian Web Awards.

The Report Cards

The issue comes to light when you look at the average scores for the sites judged against the 5 main judging criteria over the last 3 years.  As can be seen (below) all the areas have increased in quality over the years, the only criteria that has gone backwards is Accessibility.

Judged Criteria 2009 2010 2011
Development C+ B A
Visual Design B B B+
Accessibility B B- C-
User Experience C+ B+ A+
Content C+ B+ B+

When I first saw this I considered if it was just a back slash against WCAG2.

But maybe it’s something a little more.

Now let’s remember that the sites that have entered the Australian Web Awards are not just the average run of the mill site.  Often they will have been tweaked and improved, made the best they can be.

These sites from the owners and agencies viewpoint are as perfect as they can be.

And yet they come up wanting.   Overall we, as an industry have failed in accessibility.

You know I didn’t expect this, it blindsided me.  When I received the results from one accessibility judge after another, all telling me the same thing, over and over it was a bit of a shock.

For a while there it did make me question what had happened, if people really didn’t get the accessibility requirements.

Then I looked deeper into the statistics.

The Statistics

Now all the entries stated a level of WCAG compliance with their entry this year, so let’s start there.

About 30% stated they didn’t bother with WCAG2.   Of those that considered WCAG 40% where focused on WCAG1 and about 30% on WCAG2.   Interestingly

Now if we compared the stated level of compliance to the level that we found some interesting stats:

WCAG compliance Levels verses stated levels of compliance shown on a size basis

WCAG compliance Levels verses stated levels of compliance shown on a size basis

Interestingly if you stated you had ”No Compliance” in fact your site had a 69% chance of being compliant to WCAG2 A
anyway. Which just goes to show that WCAG2 A compliance isn’t that hard to achieve.

As to be expected WCAG 1 A had a high level compliance, as did WCAG2 A.  The surprise was that very little of the sites that said they where AAA where even close to mark.    Which may indicate a lack of compliance understanding.

Top Issues

Top accessibility issues represented in size of occurrence

Top accessibility issues represented in size of occurrence

Over the last three years the same issues have been repeated time and time again.   Despite developers telling me over and over they understand these issues.  It’s very clear that in Australia at least they don’t.

Top Accessibility Issue Chance of Occurrence
No alternative text or bad description 45%
No keyboard navigation or bad implementation 45%
Lack of colour contrast 38%
No block skipping (to content) or it’s hidden 37%
No Semantic appropriate header structure 32%
Bad Semantic Links (eg Read More) 27%
Bad form label coding 24%
Javascript with no fall back (progressive enhancement) 22%

Plus there was a whole collection of five percenters that are still important. These issue I found where often completive on the same site.  So they are worth keeping an eye on them.

  • Dyslexic text issues, justification, leading, general spacing.
  • Content heavy no chunking
  • No transcript, caption or video alternative.
  • Click areas that aren’t obvious.
  • Can’t stop constant movement – usually a carousel.

It also seems that certain states just don’t get some accessibility issues.

Accessibility Issue Worst State Best State
No alternative text or bad description NSW WA
No keyboard navigation or bad implementation QLD WA
Lack of colour contrast VIC NSW
No block skipping (to content) or it’s hidden VIC or NT NSW
No Semantic appropriate header structure NT VIC
Bad Semantic Links (eg Read More) QLD VIC
Bad form label coding VIC QLD
Javascript with no fall back (progressive enhancement) WA or NSW QLD

The Gatekeepers

Now Statistics like this can, but are they really telling us what is really going wrong. Why has accessibility slipped from the agenda in Australia?

Now I have worked on the web with private industry from small business to large corporate for the last 15 years.    I regularly chat privately with key decision makers over accessibility and ask for the real reasons accessibility goals are not being met.

Over this time I have found it comes down to a 4 types of key personas or gatekeepers if you will, these are their response:  (ed – please note I’m not going to publish here all the comments I quoted in this section during the talk)

Persona for Tran the Developer

Tran – The Web Agency Developer

  • Either we do the correction or the client’s inhouse team does it, at the end of the day a solution has to be found, often its remove the function or content that is the final fix.
  • Accessibility is just one aspect of my Job
  • I just code; accessibility is the clients issue now
  • The CMS stops me from making accessible web sites
  • We can’t implement the right accessibility due to our.
  • Why isn’t accessibility an issue at developer conferences and on developer blogs if it is important.

Persona of Joanne the Web Agency Project Manager

Joanne – The Web Agency Project Manager

  • Resources are an issue – getting people that really understand accessibility with other good development and design skills is hard
  • The National Transition Strategy is just a pain, but it’s also a good instant money maker
  • If it’s not in the budget/scope it doesn’t happen!
  • The project is already underway (when commenting on inclusive design)
  • If the client doesn’t ask, we don’t tell, don’t involve, let it ride.  After all we can charge more later on if it becomes a requirement
  • WCAG 2 is just too hard to understand, at least WCAG1 had a simple checklist
  • Accessibility is just bullshit, all this work for less than 1% of our audience, I can understand doing this usability stuff but anything else is just not in scope.
  • If we don’t have the inhouse skill, we often just fudge it.  Like who is going to check.

Persona of Nic the Business Owner

Nik – The Business Owner / Director

  • Accessibility is just a game of he said – she said, its open to option.  We trust our in house developers over the external consultants.
  • I’m sympathetic, but this is business, we can’t afford to have any of the accessibility stuff.
  • We CAN afford to discount and forget out the disabled community.
  • On ageing population:  Baby Boomers are running out of cash anyway, so they are a dead end.
  • Show me a real study on the return on investment for a web site with accessibility improvements alone.

Persona of Peter the Govt CEO

Peter – Govt Directors / CEOs / IT Managers

  • We are only doing this WCAG/NTS stuff over sufferance; even then we know we are not going to be challenged.
  • All we have to do is appear to complete the paperwork.
  • I don’t think this accessibility applies to us, if it does it’s just public facing sites.
  • No one is disabled here; if they were we would just redeploy them.

So now we have all these viewpoints of the gatekeepers. Now I’m sure you have heard them before, time and time again.

Sure there are some solutions around, you can put in a policy, mentors, decentralise, do audits, train people.  These are great if you have lots of resources and a big budget.  Sadly that is not a world I believe we all live in.

Now the Australian Web Awards has pointed towards a degree of industry disengagement.  The question is the cause just the usual issues, or is there something more.

No Solutions Here

Do I have a solution to all this.

No not really.  Maybe you have one.  That’s what we are here to discuss.

One thing I do have is a direction we may have missed.

Now I was talking about the issue of accessibility with an award winner at the Australian Web Awards a few weeks back.  He gave me a possible solution.

Remember Web Standards

Remember years back….

When there was a push for web standards, at least every conference had 2-3 people talking on web standards.  There were books and articles all over the place on web standards.  There were how to do guides, bug squashing sites, code libraries, how to implement guides and so on .

It was a wonderland of knowledge,

It was this free and cheap resource based that was the core to helping evangelise web standards

This allowed developers to easily setup and take up web standards.

It even allowed those usually closeted developers, who don’t read blogs or attending conference.  The ones locked away in the back rooms in cubical hell.   Yes even they came on board with web standards.

It also allowed educators to understand web standards (to some degree)

Where did Accessibility Go?

But what happened to accessibility along the way.

It’s like Accessibility and Web Standards were brother and sister, happy always together.

Friends forever –  until Web Standards became the popular one, the queen of the ball.   After all she was the one “everyone” was talking about.

The brother “Accessibility” seemed, a little lost, unsure on what really just happened!    Time after time people only wanted to speak with his sister “Web Standards”

We need to bring them back together so they are working with each other and not against one another.  Working groups take note.

But still you know “’Accessibility” he doesn’t really trust his Web Standards sister after all she has all this glitz and glam with html5 and css3, very sexy!

He just has WCAG2…. Sorry it’s a little boring!

Issues Blocking the Path

But it’s not that simple, there are 4 issues that seem to be blocking the path ahead.

False Hope and Stepping Up

I have seen this cycle a few times now – every few years a leading accessibility developer will commit to helping the community – to giving it back.

This is great.  I usually cheer!  It’s a time of celebration.  It’s always great to have someone that is very talented giving it back to the community.

However 12 months later, upon review, I usually find nothing has happened, and it was all hype.

Now I have nothing against the developers concerned.

I can understand completely what has occurred.

This is sad catch 22.

Usually we find, as an industry, we can’t afford to put that new found knowledge on the improvement of accessibility out to the community. It all comes down to dollars and cents.

If you are making a living of this IP, then really you can’t share it.  I really get that, I have been in the same boat.

Or maybe you can share the IP.  There certainly are business models that allow you to give away the baby and sell the bath water.

With this in mind we really need to get more people talking about accessibility, just like we did with web standards.

In any community there is about 5% of the population, at best, that will engage in a cause, and about 1% that who will evangelise it.  Accessibility is no different.

So maybe we need to stop relying on the top experts to provide the solutions to our problems.

To be honest these experts don’t have the answers to this problem that they can share anyway.

But you and your colleagues do.

We have the resources  – Jacqui talked about that this morning.

There is a limit to how much we can do as well. We all have to remember that. So let’s be realistic on the free time we all have.

However if we all just blogged, discussed, presented about some issue every now and again maybe we could inspire one developer to write more accessible code.

It would make a difference.

So I ask you what have you done to help accessibility along in the last 6 months, 12 months, 18 months….  Feeling guilty, good, do something about it!

The CMS Issue.

Have you even had a good look at the Content Management Systems (CMS) that and being sold by most web agencies.

They come in three flavours – Open Source, Off the shelf or the Bespoke – roll your own versions.

Now I haven’t looked at all of them on the market, after all there are 100’s of them, but have worked with a good number of them.   They aren’t that accessible.  Now what hope does anyone have if the base application you are using to produce an accessible web site isn’t following the recommended standards.

Sure with most CMS you can tweak the front end templates and sometimes you get lucky and you can make a site more accessible.

However accessibility is more than the front end of the site.

Have you looked beyond the login prompt to the admin control panels of these CMS.

Almost none of them are WCAG compliant, let alone even looking at ATAG.

Now that’s another hobbyhorse of mine, talk to me later about that one.

We need to get the developers of these applications to understand the accessibility issues.

We need to have them make that empathic link with the disabled – to engage them.

This going to be hard – these are usually the developers that are even further away from the mainstream of the web industry.

I know that some developers, for instance in the Java community are just getting to grips with JavaScript.  And have only just discovered about web standards.   Now I don’t consider myself to be on the bleeding edge, but really wasn’t that 10 years back. Hello 2001 calling.

At that rate it’s going to take us another 8 years to get WCAG 2 into these peoples mindset.   Think about it can we afford to wait.

I sometimes get the feeling that some of these developer are just living in the backwoods with a banjos playing.   Nice people, just old habits.

When was the last time you heard of someone talking about accessibility or the hard-core accessibility fixes at a developer conference.

Not a generalist conference, but a hard-core developer conference.     You don’t.  Accessibility is off the agenda.  Why?

Somehow we need to make a case for these CMS developers and firms to come into this century

A good deal of the issue is the code base, which can be from 10 to 15 years old.

This brings a degree of legacy for CMS compliance to WCAG or ATAG.

Mostly for these systems it’s a complete interface rewrite, not something that is undertaken likely.

Now I know there are some in house systems that are still written in Perl. I can understand the developer’s pain.

Same old issue, limited audience, limited resource, no one asks, why bother.

Vendors are not to Blame.

But it’d not all the vendors fault.

My associates in “web agency” land tell me that it’s very rarely that a client will enforce WCAG2 requirements in a contract.   There is a tendency, for the sake of future relations to side step the issue.

So when was the last time you pulled up a vendor on a core CMS accessibility issue?

Do you have a checklist to help an agency understand WCAG 2 requirements?

Do you enforce them, to the level of stopping the project?

It’s amazing I have seen large projects roll forward instead of folding over accessibility issues that were clearly a vendor’s issue, and should have been fixed during implementation.

Now from a vendors view having the first to market ATAG compliance CMS must be worth something  – one would hope.

Watch this space, things are afoot here.  There is hope.  Maybe next year I will have news I can share.

Education is a Factor

This lack of engagement also comes from the way we are training our graduates.  Often when a graduate enters in to “web agency” land they have no or a very limited knowledge of accessibility

Have a look around at the courses offered by Universities and TAFE sector, how many of them offer a unit in accessibility, there is ONE.   Please correct me if I’m wrong.

I know some lecturers do go out or their way to drum in accessibility, spending at least 3-4 weeks on it.

These guys are my Heroes.

Sadly the norm still seems to be one lecture, if that, on accessibility.  Not a lot you can cover in 45 minutes for the entire scope of accessibility.

I wonder sometimes, do the lecturers know that WCAG exists, the University might, but do they, and if they do why are they teaching it old school and not inclusively?

It would help if students were exposed to impairment simulator kit,  Zimmermans vision kit,  the full ageing simulation suit (Nasco or Gert), or at least use a vision or hearing simulator (eg the one from Cambridge University).

Now I know these aren’t perfect, but they do at least give a perception of the issues at hand and can help a person start on the road to a level of empathic understanding or the disability.

One more Problem, the other Gatekeeper

But even if we get all this right, spreading the word, the perfect CMS, the right education.  It just goes like clockwork.

It’s still going to fail – why?

Really it’s very simple, we are not longer in control of the web site.

Yes, that’s right.  We don’t control it.

We are just the “web monkeys” behind the scenes.

It’s the admin assistant that has just been getting the job done updating the website, 9-5 week in week out.

The content publishers – they are in control, not you.

Persona of Cate the Content Publisher

The content publisher – like Cate is the centralised goto person of the office.  Hence she is very multiple skilled.

They are often time poor and are usually handed issues that aren’t theirs from the people around them.

Badly designed interfaces and procedures constantly frustrate them, and they are forced to find quick and effective workarounds.

This person also has a very full outside of work hours; they often consider that they’re doing everyone’s job for them.

The control is with them, the content updaters, the content publishers.  We handed the control over to them years ago, during the CMS revolution.

You know if they don’t feel like putting the semantic structure in the content, or using the right elements on a form, or setting up the PDF link correctly.

Well they won’t, after all they are busy people.

We can have a perfect template, a perfect CMS output, and still can be an accessibility nightmare.

Just like PDF files need to come from a perfect semantic structured source, so too the content in that the CMS uses needs to have a perfect semantic structure

Still this is meaningless as no one will care so long as it looks good from a visual viewpoint.

Empathic Engagement

All the content publishers want to do it get the job done, the simplest way they can. We have to really understand this. To them it’s just work, get it done, pay the bills.  And go home.

Sure you can train these people all you want, have policies a metre thick. But at the end of the day, they have to really understand. They have to have empathic engagement with the disabled community.

Without even a seed of this empathic engagement they are just lost and there will be no professional care, the attention to details that makes a difference.

We need to stop singing with choir and get out there and talk to the disengaged especially the content publishers. They are the new sheriff in town.

When we got started in accessibility it was usually because of personal instance or that we saw or worked with disabled people in action?    See it’s that empathic engagement that made us think about accessibility issues.

We need to capture the emotional journey of the disabled and give it back to the gatekeepers.

In Summary

See we need to distil this empathy that we discovered into bite-sized pieces.

Just the right sized pieces so that people like Cate (the content publisher) can understand how we felt about accessibility and be taken on the same emotional journey.

Polices help, but reason and understanding is a better approach.

So let’s go talk, engage, educate, present at developer conferences, and most of all promote empathic engagement. Promote understanding.

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4 comments

  1. Thanks for this great article!

    Can you be more precise about «a checklist to help an agency understand WCAG 2 requirements»? Can you provide a short example or a sample of such a checklist?

    In a mid and long terme perspective, do you think the upgrade of Section 508 towards Levels of conformance A and AA of WCAG 2.0 will have a positive effect on vendors for improving their tools (CMS and so one…)? The second version of the new version of Section 508 is currently under public review in the USA (public review ending by March 7th).

    I totally agree with your comment «Often when a graduate enters in to “web agency” land they have no or a very limited knowledge of accessibility». What could be a national and general strategy in improving the awareness on Web accessibility at either public and private schools? Any idea about the three first steps to get started with?

    Thanks in advance.

    Yves Hudon
    Québec, Canada

  2. Hi Yves

    Thanks for the comments. The upgrading of Section 508 will help with US based vendors, however they still for instance have a requirement to meet the local legislation where they are enforcing their software licence, for example in the UK and Australia. So any shying away from WCAG2 compliance is just legal bullet dodging.

    Only way to make people aware of the issue in a educational basis is let them experience the issues. Use cheap immersive techniques. A lot of the issues in schools I have found comes down the educators lack of knowledge on the technical aspects of the web to start with. Fix this first and some compliance will follow.

    A checklist to help web design firms about WCAG2. Often government agencies have a better understanding of WCAG2 than the design firm they are working with. It’s about sharing the knowledge and helping educate not penalise the firm. A simple list of issues or possible danger design and development areas on their site, could make life a lot easier for all.

  3. An important article, Gary. You have articulated what I am sure many of us feel. As one of those who was around in that “evangelical” period, I’ve come to think that the web world now thinks of web accessibility as either “old hat” (e.g. folks saying “I know about this!” — then churning out horribly inaccessible websites) or that old nugget, “Too hard/too expensive” or the even older nugget “We’ll build now and add it in later”.

    You are absolutely correct that a large number of web content authors have control, and that CMSs are frequently to blame. (One reason I love ExpressionEngine is because you can lock things down to a very large degree, though I realise EE isn’t the right tool for every job of course.)

    I think web developers who care about these things, while having the passion don’t always have the skills to educate the Cates of the world, and more importantly the managers who make the CMS decisions, in a way the real world requires. Sometimes organisations are so entrenched in their own mire that a bulldozer approach, or even a simply enthusiastic one, will meet with walls of resistance. It can take subtlety and time, which means it’s never going to be an easy thing to resolve.

    But all the more reason we should be aware of it and supporting each other in order to improve the current state of affairs.

  4. Hi Vicki

    Even EE has it’s issues, the content author still has to provide a semantic document structure for the content in the editable areas. This is where all CMS fail. Have a glance over ATAG, and you will see that in many ways CMS are really not being build with the right degree of “smarts” in them.

    Yeah I agree the Cates of the world will need a slow feed of education, over time we can win this one. At least I hope we can.

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