Latest Accessibility News on Accessify

Spam emails from Accessifyforum?

If anyone is receiving spam emails notifying about private messages, please note that this is not something that I can help you with. Accessify.com is my site, but accessifyforum.com is owned/maintained by Nigel Peck, which he set up using that URL/name with my blessing way back in the days (it’s more of a partnership link arrangement). If you are getting these spam emails or are having any other problems related to accessifyforum, please contact Nigel directly. If that contact link doesn’t work for you, please drop me a line and I’ll find another contact point for him.

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Comments (1) Posted by Ian on Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New book review: Universal Design

Universal Design for Web Applications book coverJust a quick note to say there’s a new review up on the site, this time for Wendy Chisholm and Matt May’s book Universal Design for Web Applications.

I’m hoping to secure a few copies for a little prize giveaway, so watch this space. We’ll also be publishing an extract from the book soon, but have not got confirmation on the chapter just yet (somewhat ironically, it’s likely to be in PDF format, so I hope that the authors are able to encourage O’Reilly to make it nice and accessible!)

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Comments Off Posted by Ian on Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What the accessibility world needs is Stephen Fry to get a poke in the eye

And a darned good one, at that, so that he’s temporarily unable to use the seemingly endless collection of gadgets that he is so renowned for owning. But why should I say such a mean-spirited thing? Isn’t this person a national treasure whom I’m suggesting doing a frightful mischief to? And why, pray tell, is the very way that I am writing this post somehow being imbued with the very embodiment (oh that I should be so bold) of Mr Stephen Fry? If I’m not mistaken, I can even hear him saying these very words in my ear as I type and picture him mouthing the sentences that appear to be spewing forth on to the page. I’m not quite sure if I can keep up these linguistic gymnastics.

I’m referring to the wossy effect and by that I mean that after Stephen Fry appeared on Jonathan’s return (inaugural?) Friday Night show discussing Twitter, he is now the darling, nay the poster boy, of microblogging service Twitter. He was, by all accounts, a must-follow celeb long before that TV appearance - and one who does really seem to get what he’s talking about. When Stephen Fry talks, 84,000+ people listen (at the latest count). Or read, if one is to keep the pedantic nature of this blog post up. Or do they all read? Perhaps there are people who hear Stephen Fry’s tweets, albeit from a rather robotic voice that really doesn’t do the chap’s fine speaking voice the justice it truly deserves. Of course, there are such people - blind users, primarily, but perhaps others with less severe vision impairments who may also need some other form of assistance also. But I am rather going off the point here, that being that Stephen Fry has, by design or by accident, become a rather unlikely voice for the technorati of the world. Who would have thought that this mellifluously-voiced thesp could, with just a small handful of (sub 140-character) comments (to wit: "shockingly bad") about a mobile phone cause such a worry to the marketing people at Blackberry? Just as well that another much-followed Twitter user is able to counteract the negatives with his apparent love for said device?

Getting back to my point - not that it’s clear I even have one yet! - what I’m alluding to in the headline is that if someone like Stephen Fry were to suddenly lose the ability to use one or more of his much-loved gadgets, laptops or whatever, his frustrations with inaccessible devices and web sites would very soon become very public knowledge; he would, I’m sure, soon be explaining to the world at large exactly what these frustrations are and would possibly even have a solution or two up his tweed-clothed sleeve.

We may have our ‘web accessibility rock stars’ who have their respective followings, but it is still somewhat akin to me saying “I’m world famous … in Swindon” (also not true). Outside of this little bubble, we have no real power to speak of and can quite easily go about our shopping chores without being bothered for autographs. Even bona-fide web standards gods like Jeffrey Zeldman are unknown to the vast majority of people, shocking as it may seem to some, making it a genuine surprise when ‘normal’ people recognise them!

Stephen could talk about accessibility issues and 84,000 people, at least, would listen (or read). And perhaps some of those 84,000 people would the re-tweet what they learn, others might go and investigate further. A large majority would still ignore it and carry on searching for the next Twitter-spawned link to that day’s YouTube must-see funny, but the message of what it is to be denied access to information on the web would spread further. It wouldn’t be the first time that Mr Fry has found an unfortunate injury get in the way of using some piece of technology or other (I believe this broken arm caused some problems in getting together an episode of his podcast, or ‘podgramme’ as I believe is the moniker he prefers).

So, what I’m saying is if you see Stephen Fry, give him a poke in the eye (preferably both) but after you do, ask the good chap if he wouldn’t mind awfully conjuring up a blog post (or blessay) about the dashed awkward consequences of this terrible eye-poking incident.

Want to help? Share this link, Twitter it, pass it on however you see fit. If Twitter is, like Mr Fry, your cup of Earl Grey, please add this hashtag: #accessiblefry

Legal bit - of course I’m not suggesting anyone actually harm him! Stephen - if you want to skip the injury part, that’s cool, but we’d really love it if you were able to spread the word about web accessibility on different devices/platforms.

Credit where it’s due - Henny had this idea at the beginning of the (Chinese New) year, and I was just inspired to put a little something together that might, with any luck, go some way to achieving one of her New Year’s Resolutions

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Comments (13) Posted by Ian on Thursday, January 29, 2009

Accessifying Accessify.com for iPhone

One of the things I wanted to do with the rebuild and restyle with Accessify was to make it a little more slimline in terms of HTTP requests (in other words, fewer requests for style sheets that are not needed - one CSS file to do the lot) yet still support other devices. I have to confess that while there is just one CSS file (which has a far future expires cache setting on it so as not to cause needless reloads), which does include screen and print styles, I’ve only really taken care of the mobile display on the iPhone, mainly because that’s what I use and have found easy to test on!

I saw this article regarding style sheets for mobiles today (thanks to Brucey and Twitter) and it prompted me to share some of the tweaks that I did for iPhone friendliness. The key thing was not to massively redesign the site’s look and feel for a specific device, but rather give certain elements a notch up or down in size to make them usable for those small pointing devices that you and I know as fingers. So, for those interested in doing something similar, here are a few notes and doodles

A bit about the CSS

I’ve not implemented the suggestions in the article linked to above (I only discovered the link), but will almost certainly revise my approach accordingly. I did, however, use the media type using the max-width property to pass iPhone-specific style overrides to that device:

@media screen and (max-device-width: 480px)
{
	#primarynavigation {font-size:3em;}
	#blog_search {display:none;}
	etc etc
}

The effect on the design

The thumbnails below link through to larger, annotated images (PNG) format, showing how subtle changes to font size can make the site much more readable/usable on a small screen device but without ditching the entire style sheet. Depending on the style of your site some of this may be easily do-able, some of it may not. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

Simplified search area and larger body copy

The search area on Accessify was simplified for iPhone and pared back to its bare minimum. Likewise the tiny syndication links (to Twitter et al) were removed also. Some might argue that this is wrong as I’m hiding functionality, but it’s not critical functionality (in my opinion). Also, the body font size is boosted for easier readability:

Firefox view of search area iPhone view of search area

Footer categories - font size boost

At the end of the news page is the list of Wordpress-generated categories and archives. These were almost unusable on the iPhone without first zooming in and then making use of the world’s tiniest finger, so it was time for another font size increase:

Firefox view of footer categories iPhone view of footer categories

Not just accessify …

I’ve also been trying my best to apply the same treatment to other sites that I have ticking over, for example the book support site (which has been around for a couple of years now). I recently updated that a little and found that while it generally rendered OK, it could also benefit from some font size boosts. In particular, the tab navigation elements which work fine on a normal desktop browser were somewhat lacking. For the iPhone I opted to change these tabs to buttons that sit like a small stack of (rounded-off) bricks. Once again, a subtle change but just enough to make it more iPhone-friendly:

Firefox view of beginningwebdesign.com tabs iPhone view of beginningwebdesign.com tabs (rejigged as buttons)

So, like I said earlier, nothing too earth shattering here - just an exercise in giving your style sheets just the slightest of tickles to make the site markedly easier to read on a small screen device but without resorting to a completely different style sheet or no style whatsoever.

Now, I need to go back and read that article and see what I cab do for other handheld devices. If anyone can point me in the direction of some emulators that I can run on my Mac, I’d really appreciate it!

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Comments (3) Posted by Ian on Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Ultimate HTML Reference - now available in Firebug

Thanks to some nifty work from JavaScript guru and SitePoint techie James Edwards, The Ultimate HTML Reference (which I wrote last year) is also available as a reference within the ever-popular Firebug extension for Firefox. It’s called Firescope and adds a new "Reference" panel which includes a search tool. In there you can look up HTML elements and attributes, CSS properties, and it also gives you a summary of the element or attribute’s useage, browser support, and a code example.

Firescope searchAs well as the information panel, you can also bring up contextual menus within other panels. For example, when viewing the DOM of the page in the HTML panel, you can right-click on any element or attribute, to look it up in the reference search, or view a code example for it.

I know James is keen to hear any feedback on Firescope (feel free to add comments on this blog post if you want - I’ll be sure to pass them on).

The extension is in the mozilla add-ons directory which is the best place to download it (because then it will subscribe to updates). However, you’ll need a Mozilla login to get it from there because it’s still in the sandbox (in other words, not quite yet approved for mass public distribution). Alternatively, you can download and install it directly from the page on sitepoint.com (but without the auto-updates facility).

As well as having a new reference tool within Firefox/Firebug, the online reference has, itself, also had a make-over which gives it just that extra bit of polish. So even if you don’t feel like installing the tool, you can still check out the reference for yourself.

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Comments (1) Posted by Ian on Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Agggh! RSS was MIA!

Just a quick question, when will the RSS feed be back up and running i am getting a 404 when i try to access it?

So said the email I received today.

Oh bother.

So, it looks like this has been down ever since I relaunched the site. I guess it makes sense that I hadn’t got any feedback from long-time RSS subscribers!

Anyway, the feeds can now be found here:

I’ll put in an automatic redirect very shortly. For now, though, please reset your news feed (if you already have one). Thanks!

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Comments (2) Posted by Ian on Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Competition winners (and some of the wacky entries!)

Well. Erm … Wow.

When I put a competition on the web site for just 5 copies of the book, I wasn’t sure what to ask as a competition question. I didn’t want to ask anything too hard/tricky, so I left it quite open and decided that the way to win a copy was to entertain me with some creative writing - just as I found it really funny the way that people would draft over-the-top creative begging letters on Freecycle. It’ll be fun, I thought.

250 entries of creative writing later, and I have a very different opinon. I wish I’d gone for a simple closed question along the lines of "what does HTML stand for" and then just done a lucky dip!

I must confess that it’s been great to read through some of the funniest and silliest emails I’ve received in a long time; I’ve also received emails from people who appear to be on the verge of self harm or even harming me or their nearest or dearest if they don’t win a copy. Well, I did say to exaggerate! I received emails from people who:

  • wanted a copy to create a web site to put a site of themselves online to get back at a cheating ex
  • claimed that their dog had eaten all of their html coursework
  • were living rough while supporting their family of 15 blind, amputee children
  • thought the book would make a good doorstop or help with a wobbly table
  • started their email to me as "Dear Andy Clarke" or "Dear Ian whoeveryouare" (fail!)
  • wrote several pages’ worth of back story, worthy of publishing as a novella
  • admitted being senior people in their respective industry, responsible for web … and not having a clue what they’re talking about!
  • taught me all about squirrel habitations (yes, it did relate to building a web site)
  • claimed their pregnant wife just likes the smell of SitePoint books and the local supplier just ran out
  • were abducted by aliens and had all programming knowledge wiped from memory following a particular experiment
  • said that they were fed up with camping in the aisles of the local bookstore to read my book and that if they didn’t get a copy, their continued presence there might cause the store to stop stocking the book

Then there were quite a lot of emails which seemed to be genuine tales of woe - too many for a measly 5 copies to help out with! I really started to feel how difficult it must be for people working in charities having to turn down requests for help for things a lot more important than some (in comparison) silly little book.

In the end, I decided to choose a mixture of people who either made me laugh the most or who I felt would get the most benefit from learning the book. For reasons of privacy, I’ll not mention full names/details here - I’ll contact the winners directly, but they were:

  • A photographer whose website looked in need of a make-over (but whose letter to me was the most colourful of the bunch!)
  • 10-year-old Dennis whose ‘tutor’ was Dad but who was doing a rubbish job and needed to be fired (now he is)
  • Kevin, recently unemployed and looking to re-train (a sign of the times - there were quite a few of these)
  • A schools outreach program in Zimbabwe
  • A new mother trying to learn a new skill so that she can manage a business from home and bring up the baby too (awww!)

Now, because there were so many funny entries to the competition, I’ve selected some of my favourites and collated them here. Once again, I’ve removed the authors’ names to save them from any potential embarassment, and have also scanned through to make sure that there are no other personally identifiable pieces of information.

Thanks to everyone for taking part - it’s been fun … but I’ll definitely go with the closed question approach next time!

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Comments Off Posted by Ian on Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Markup Maker - Updated with improved HTML5 support

I’ve given Markup Maker a small update today. Nothing too earth-shattering, but with all the talk of HTML5 in recent weeks, I thought I should take a look and see how it copes with this flavour of HTML and decided to add a few more features.

If you’ve not heard of Markup Maker before, it’s a tool that lets you enter a series of structural identifiers for a new page that you want to code up, and it then converts it to a valid XHTML/HTML document. Effectively it creates the necessary scaffolding, with empty div elements and the associated CSS selectors. So,for example, for a basic page layout you might type the following (with each space indent indicating that it is a child of the previous, less indented section), e.g.

header
 logo
 search
main-content
 main-article
 page-navigation
footer
 copyright
 contact-points

… gets converted to (if HTML4 strict chosen):

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/strict.dtd">
<html lang="en">
<head>
 <meta charset="utf-8">
 <title>Page title goes here</title>
<style type="text/css">
/* Edit the styles as you see fit */
#header {}
#logo {}
#search {}
#main-content {}
#main-article {}
#page-navigation {}
#footer {}
#copyright {}
#contact-points {}
</style>

</head>

<body>
<div id="header">
 <div id="logo"></div>
 <div id="search"></div>
</div>
<div id="main-content">
 <div id="main-article"></div>
 <div id="page-navigation"></div>
</div>
<div id="footer">
 <div id="copyright"></div>
 <div id="contact-points"></div>

</body>
</html>

So, I’ve added proper HTML5 support to this now. First, select the HTML5 doctype:

HTML 5 option in selection box

The tool recognises HTML5 elements entered - such as header and footer - and converts those to <header></header> and <footer></footer> rather than <div id="header"></div>. Also, if HTML5 is chosen, the output automatically includes Remy Sharp’s JavaScript fix which enables Internet Explorer to style these elements correctly.

HTML 5 elements found in markup

So, using the example above, it would output the following as HTML5:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
 <meta charset="utf-8">
 <title>Page title goes here</title>
<style type="text/css">
/* Edit the styles as you see fit */
header {}
#logo {}
#search {}
#main-content {}
#main-article {}
#page-navigation {}
footer {}
#copyright {}
#contact-points {}
</style>

<!--[if IE]>
<script type="text/javascript">
// Script by Remy Sharp. More info: http://remysharp.com/2009/01/07/html5-enabling-script/
(function(){if(!/*@cc_on!@*/0)return;var e = "abbr,article,aside,audio,bb,canvas, →
datagrid,datalist,details,dialog,eventsource, →
figure,footer,header,mark,menu,meter,nav, →
output,progress,section,time,video" →
.split(','),i=e.length;while (i--){document.createElement(e[i])}})()
</script>
<![endif]-->
</head>

<body>
<header>
 <div id="logo"></div>
 <div id="search"></div>
</header>
<div id="main-content">
 <div id="main-article"></div>
 <div id="page-navigation"></div>
</div>
<footer>
 <div id="copyright"></div>
 <div id="contact-points"></div>
</footer>
</body>
</html>

Finally, one minor tweak is the option to output closing div comments - which helps identifying and fixing layout/styling problems when you have a lot of content on the page and the opening and closing tags are separated by some distance.

Optional setting to output closing div comments

So, please give it a go, and if you find any problems or have a suggestion for this simple tool, please drop an email to toolsandwizardsbugs@accessify.com.

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Comments (1) Posted by Ian on Saturday, January 24, 2009

Competition time! Win a copy of my HTML beginners’ book [competition now closed]

Please note - this competition is now closed and I’ll be drawing the winners soon. It’s going to take a while to read through the entries - 250 in total, wow!

Unboxing delivery of my book (second edition! New cover! Updatier!)I’ve got some promotional copies of my beginners web development book (Build Your Own Web Site the Right Way with HTML & CSS) that I’m just itching to give away to people who can guarantee them some good homes. I understand that, for the most part, readers of this site already get standards and are probably beyond learning what I teach in this book, but the chances are that you know people who would benefit from learning from this book, people who have asked "How can I learn this web thing that you do?". Here’s a book that you can pass on to them, safe in the knowledge that they’ll learn good techniques to begin with. Andy Clarke did just that for his son, Kevin Yank did the same for his wife. You can find out what others had to say about the book here.

How can you win a copy?

Well, there are five copies to giveaway. All I need from you is an email with the most cheesy/over-the-top/unbelievable/inventive piece of creative sob-story writing that you can think of. Don’t let facts get in the way of a creative bit of prose, just lay it on thick! In fact, just go for the kind of thing that people do when begging for items on Freecycle. The sillier the better, I say

The closing date for this is Friday 23rd January (0900 GMT) - after this point the email address above will no longer be active. I’ll pick five winners soon after (as long as it takes me to read them all - 80 and counting so far!) and contact directly to arrange a shipping address. Good luck.

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Comments (1) Posted by Ian on Monday, January 19, 2009

Accessify gets a long overdue facelift

Finally. At last! [insert similar phrase of own choosing here] … It’s done!

It’s taken me an absolute age to get this thing live and, if I’m completely honest with myself - and anyone else who happens to be reading this now - I’m still not totally happy with the end result. You see, I’m not much of a designer, and cannot help but criticise my own efforts (and I sure as hell know that others will want to take a shot at the ‘design’ of this). But hey-ho, one has to know his own limits!

I’ve needed to take a look at this site for so long but unlike many of my peers, I don’t actually live and breathe web development and (despite what my wife may claim!) I don’t spend all of my free time on the computer. The truth is, I usually have something like a 30-minute to 1-hour window of opportunity late in the evening to really concentrate on this kind of thing, when everyone and every animal is asleep. But by that time I’m tired too. And that, my friends, is why it’s taken me years to get around to giving the site a facelift!

So, what’s new?

Apart from the obvious visual changes, I’ve done the following:

  • Added some new tools and updated some older ones:
  • Updated the blog template
  • Added some new screencasts/videos
  • Tidied up JavaScript on the site (unobtrusive, jQuery based)
  • Used JavaScript to add in some other site features (e.g. ARIA landmark attributes)
  • There’s also been a lot of pruning of useless functionality (style sheet preferences, anyone?)

What’s still to do?

  • Well, the accessibility videos section is sparse. I am going to add to that in coming months - both videos created by myself and third party videos/screen casts
  • A Wiki - it’s structurally there but needs more work from some other parties (you know who you are, and I’ll be in touch soon!)
  • Some new content! Yes, the site is still there largely for the purposes of holding the tools, but in these days of micro blogging, perhaps it’s time to buck the trend and do some fuller postings? With a site that I’m happier to work with, this is far more likely to happen!
  • Fix some validation issues on the blog - little niggles really
  • Oh, and some new tools … either as I think of them or as people ask for them (and assuming that I can build them!)

I hope that visitors to the site like the change and find something of use here. I’ll really do my best not to let this stagnate from here on in, I promise!

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Comments (12) Posted by Ian on Friday, January 16, 2009
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