SXSW Accessibility lightning talk

We’re at South by South West Interactive this week with the team taking part on panels on the future of CSS, mobile, web standards in education and the Web Standards Project Annual meeting.

Chris Mills, Molly Holzschlag, Håkon Wium Lie and I are also covering the booth for the next few days doing talks and QA on HTML 5, one web, open the web, best practices in web design and education. Below is a copy of my 10 minute lightning talk on accessibility. There is also a text transcript following it.


Why bother? It costs money… It makes developers go insane… It only serves a small market… Blind people don’t browse car websites…

Screen readers are the poster child of accessibility, but that’s not even half the story.

Vision, cognition, mobility and hearing, temporary disabilities (RSI, broken wrist…even hangovers), children, mobile users and you

No one plans on dying young right? The aging market is only going to get bigger and you are that market.

Shopping, banking, e-gov, TV, blogs, Twitter, photo sharing, IM…we all expect to be able to do this when we’re older not only via desktop but also mobile and other devices.

As Glenda Sims, co-lead of the Web Standards Project quoted Mike Smith as saying at Web Directions North “Desktop browser share is becoming less and less important…it is all about standards compliant mobile browsers”.

So how do we make accessible sites?

  • HTML: text alternatives and semantic mark up
  • CSS: separation of content and presentation
  • JavaScript: progressive enhancement, accessible Rich Internet Applications

WCAG 2.0: technology agnostic test criteria, Section 508 (US), UK Government Guidelines, EU directives provide guidance on making sites accessible. But you must combine these with user testing as well as page validation.

JavaScript is the work of the devil isn’t it? Not so…WAI-ARIA to the rescue!

Web Accessibility Initiative Accessible Rich Internet Applications makes HTML dynamic, enables sexy keyboard and screen reader accessible widgets.

WAI-ARIA is supported by Opera 9.5+, Firefox 1.5+, IE8 and Safari 4 Jaws 7.1+, WindowEyes 5.5+, NVDA, and Firevox.

Roles and states can be assigned to widgets so that these can be communicated to screen reader users.

A slider widget showing terrible, bad, good, decent and excellent

Role I am a slider, therefore I slide
State: Feeling pretty good actually

alt="How are you doing?"

Landmark roles define areas of a web page:

Landmark roles on a page: banner, navigation and content

<div role=\"banner\"> ... </div><div role=\"navigation\"> ...</div><div role=\"main\">... </div>

Live regions, notifies users of page updates

Twitter allows 140 characters and updates this number as you type

Updates can be assertive, polite, RUDE and so on.

The Opera Debug menu is a great tool to help content editors check web pages by enabling and disabling CSS, JavaScript, images, multimedia Check headings, lists data tables and semantic markup

You can also see how web pages look by switching on Mobile view via View > Small screen

Opera Dragonfly is an in browser tool for developers that is a JavaScript debugger, DOM / CSS inspection tool, error console and remote debugging tool. Simply hook it up to your mobile and debug pages using the desktop environment.


7 thoughts on “SXSW Accessibility lightning talk

  1. Where does the slider define the values “Bad” and “Decent”? Also, where does the “Quality:” text come from? The code sample for it seems incomplete in both the presentation and the transcript.

    Also, the central groove of the slider is not properly centred inside the outer box. Is that a rendering bug in the browser the screenshot came from or was it drawn in a graphics program?

    Incidentally, HTML5 specifies <input type="range"> which seems a close match for slider controls. But I guess that would require translating the numbers into text labels…somehow. 🙂

  2. Thanks Bruce, hope all is well in India.

    These are code snippets Ben, and not intended to be in full as space didn’t allow.

  3. “The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important, than those of blindness.”

    This is another quote from Helen Keller.

  4. It is ironic that SXSW had presentations about accessibility, and yet they turned down my request to make captions and transcriptions to videos and podcasts. As a web professional, I have no access to audio files on the par with hearing peers.

    Hearing loss is the most misunderstood and ignored of all disabilities. No wonder why Helen Keller said: “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.” It is the communication issue that makes us feel isolated from hearing people.

    I would also like to add more facts:

    – Hearing loss is a public health issue that is THIRD (!) in line only to heart disease and arthritis.
    – Over 40 million (20%) of Americans have hearing loss.
    – Over 100 million Americans need access to captioning (not just deaf, but also foreigners, adults and children learning to read, etc.)

    With this in mind, it is important that all audio media is to be coupled with text versions to those who need it.

    It is also required as Priority I of W3C guidelines, by the ADA and DDA and other disability laws.

    Actually, we feel that blind users have more access to the internet than deaf users do. Mostly because blind users share same communication needs as hearing users do.

  5. Hi Sveta – these are all good points. I can’t speak on behalf of SXSW but as the web becomes increasingly multimedia based we do need to be careful to ensure audio and video is transcribed / captioned / audio described and such like.

    I work for Opera and one of the things we have tried to do over the last 18 months is offer transcription of podcasts as sponsorship for as many conferences as we can. This has included Scripting Enabled 2008, Web Directions North 2009, dConstruct 2008 and Geek in the Park 2008. In the pipeline we have dConstruct 2009. and Accessibility 2.0.

    There is also other work raising awareness and working on solutions for deaf and hard of hearing users such as Captioning Sucks! (

    I think there’s a lot to be done and something that we need to spotlight more as you say.

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