Universal design conference 2014

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

Enonic was present at Funka Accessibility days in Stockholm 2014 together with two students from the Master Program in Universal Design of ICT at Oslo and Akershus University College (HiOA). This blog post comments on some of the great presentations concerning universal design that was held at the conference. There will be some practical tips & tricks for both developers and publishers.

Universal design in ICT

The goal of Universal Design is not to create a “one size-fits all” product or service. It aims to encourage the development of information and communications technology that are useable and accessible to all people to the greatest extent possible.

Ignorantia juris non excusat

I didn't just forget to remove the Lorem Ipsum text from my document. It means “Ignorance of the law does not excuse” - and it is a legal principle holding that a person may not escape liability for violating a law merely because he or she was unaware of its content.

I am referring to the Norwegian “Act relating to a prohibition against discrimination on the basis of disability [Anti-discrimination and Accessibility Act]“, chapter 3, section 13-14 (Universal design and Details regarding universal design of ICT). Feel free to read it, it's only 30 lines of text.

Anti-discrimination and Accessibility Act – excerpt

Public undertakings shall make active, targeted efforts to promote universal design within the undertaking. The same shall apply to private undertakings focused on the general public.

New ICT solutions shall be universally designed. As of 1 January 2021, all ICT solutions shall be universally designed.

The duty shall apply to ICT solutions that support the undertaking’s general functions and that are main solutions aimed or made available to the general public.

Law should be an instrument, not a goal

Susanna Laurin is CEO of Funka Nu. She is responsible for Funka's activities in Sweden, Norway and the EU. She underlines that WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) have many flaws and advice us to focus on actually creating smart solutions instead of fulfilling only what is required by the law, as the rudimentary requirements of the laws are not enough to create good solutions.

Data is more important than intuition

One might think of people with disabilities as a market segment, but it is important to remember that they exist in every market segment. If your web page sells football equipment, don't be too quick to think that blind people don't play football, because they do. Do your research, reach new markets and watch your business thrive.

Google glass and universal design

Don't only think of universal design as making the web accessible for those with disabilities. According to some of the accessibility experts at FunkaNu, browsing websites that are responsive and universally designed ,works better on Google Glass than sites that are not. Thinking beyond traditional mouse navigation on the web might make sure your web-page is future proof.

Tips and tricks in regards to mobility and universal design

Marco Zehe is blind from birth and he is Mozilla's accessibility QA engineer & evangelist. He gave a presentation with useful tips and tricks in regards to mobility and universal design. Here are some of his tips:

  • Use buttons and links, not clickable divs or spans.
  • Hide inactive screens properly. Use display:none and visibility:hidden. Just moving out of viewport or using negative z-axis will not hide content from screen reader. Last resort aria-hidden=”true”.
  • Test in the screen reader simulator.
  • Navigate left and right through UI.
  • Watch what gets spoken, do elements get spoken correctly?
  • Do items activate, is focus always managed?
  • Use the html5 input types!

I learnt a lot by listening to Marco speak at FunkaNu. He demonstrated how to test websites with the screen reader simulator in Firefox on a connected mobile phone, he personalized what it means being blind and using the internet and reminded us how important it is to test - also on actual users with disabilities. I think a developer who works with universal design can greatly benefit from following Marco Zehe's blog where he talks about what works and what don't work, from his unique perspective.

Editors tips for increased accessibility

These tips were printed on a mouse mat that I got from the accessibility conference, I translated them into english and put them here for you:

 FunkaNu Musmatte with editors accessibility tips

  •  I have put the most important parts in the beginning of the text.
  • I have chosen good photos and described these with an alt-text.
  • I have created links that are easy to understand.
  • I have created structure in the text with headings, preface and paragraphs.
  • I have explained difficult words and concepts.
  • I am avoiding abbreviations and internal jargon.
  • I have tried to understand those who are going to read my text.
  • I have considered removing or shorten texts.
  • I have labeled headings and tables.
  • Documents on the website are also accessible.

Accessible navigation

When creating navigation for your site, it is crucial to also make it navigable through keyboard. Sometimes it can save time to search for available libraries that you can use instead of building everything from scratch - which by the way is difficult.

When searching for libraries, be sure to include search words related to accessibility and universal design. Instead of just searching for «mega menu javascript libraries», also include keywords like «wcag», «accessible», «keyboard navigation» etc. in your search.

Then you might find Adobes Accessible Mega Menu jquery plugin. I think it works excellent, it is well documented and maintained by Adobe on GitHub.

Brad Frost have also created a great blog post about Responsive Navigation patterns that can be helpful when choosing what kind of navigation you want to have on your webpage.

What is this thing and what does it do?

When considering to use a html control or a library, it is important to test what it does. Karl Groves who is an accessibility consultant at The Paciello Group gave the following helpful advice: Ask one question:

"What is this thing and what does it do?"

  • How does this control operate via mouse?
  • How does this control operate via keyboard?
  • How is focus managed to, through, and from this UI control?
  • What happens when the user acts upon the control?

To illustrate the importance of asking ourself this question, Karl used the above process to decide wether to use a standard select box, or the 'Chosen' jquery plugin that claims to make select boxes more pretty and user-friendly. But does it?

Screenshot of Chosen Jquery plugin example

Karl Groves presentation had a rant in 8 slides about what a select box does. It is enlightening for anyone who has not read the DOM interface for the HTMLSelectElement. The select element has a lot of functionality built in that is very helpful for those who are using mobile phones, keyboard navigation or screen readers, and by replacing it with div elements manipulated with javascript, as the 'Chosen' jquery plugins does, you throw all that away and make your controller inaccessible for many users.

Before replacing a standard navigation component with an "enhanced" span of div element,  read the DOM Interface for the div element. It clearly states that it has no special meaning at all and that: "Authors are strongly encouraged to view the div element as an element of last resort, for when no other element is suitable. Use of more appropriate elements instead of the div element leads to better accessibility for readers and easier maintainability for authors." 

Built in beats bolt on every time

Bruce Lawson from Opera Software tells us that a lot of accessibility features are «bolted on», and that they are there just to satisfy conformance checkers. WAI-ARIA provides a framework for adding attributes, and according to Bruce – this is just more «bolt on». He is an advocate for HTML5 which allows for built-in universal design instead of more bolt-on.

He says that most developers don't use assistive technologies, so they:

  • Don't care and don't bolt anything on.
  • Do care, but don't understand what they are doing
  • Bolt stuff on which then suffers metadata rot.

By metadata rot Bruce means that information in a web-page that is not visible for the end user, tends to not get updated and then becomes outdated.

Bruce is very enthusiastic about the Shadow DOM and Web Components in regards to universal design. This gives the ability to extend existing HTML elements. For example instead of creating a «fancy button» by using a span or div element, you may extend the HTMLButtonElement. Custom Elements present a fantastic opportunity for us to improve accessibility on the web. I won't go more into details here, but here is a nice guide to writing accessible web components recommended by Bruce.

Casual indifference to human suffering

In recent travels to Cuba, I discovered the poet, author, journalist, professor, revolutionary philosopher, national hero, martyr and honest man José Martí.

I'd like to repeat his words from a letter to Rafael Serra, a Cuban Negro exile: 

“And let us never forget that the greater the suffering, the greater the right to justice, and that the prejudices of men and social inequalities cannot prevail over the equality which nature has created.”

José Martí spent his life fighting for equality, and he was appalled by the prevalent “casual indifference to human suffering” as he called it.

Comparing slavery on Cuba to universal design on the internet might be stretching it, but in this digital era where “everything” happens on the internet, you might say that accessing it should be a human right. If you have seen the recent internet meme were Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs have been updated with “wifi” at the bottom, you know what I am talking about.

Brad Frost has this great blog post from where I would like to quote the following:

Next time you find yourself intentionally depriving someone an experience—to acquire knowledge, to complete a task, to do something online that can make their life even just a little better—picture yourself standing in front of that person in real life, looking them square in the eyes, then firmly and definitively saying “Fuck you.”

Meet the Normals

Dónal Rice works for the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design at the National Disability Authority of Ireland, and talked about the state of universal design in his country. In his presentation he pinpointed some interesting key findings in Research, and showed a animated film "Meet the normals" about the challenges of a family in regards to universal design in everyday life focusing on the process of building a bus stop. It is worth a look!

Fotografiska in Stockholm

Image of blind woman with the text authors profile in front

The day before the FunkaNu conference, I was standing in Julia Fullerton-Battens photo exhibition @Fotografiska in Stockholm. It is a room with several photos of blind peoples faces. Speakers are passing on their voices, who are telling the stories behind their blindness. Richards voice tells that even if he is blind, he likes to dress nice. Dressing nice even if he cannot see means a great deal to him.

- Usually my friends takes me to the store and recommend clothes, but sometimes I am brave and walk into a shop by myself. I have a blind dog, and he is great, but he is no good at selecting nice clothes.

When I was a kid and adults were trying to show me how to do things, like holding my ski poles correctly, I snarled and said “gjøre sjøl” - which translates to “do it myself”. So in my stubbornness, I can really understand the fact that people with for example cognitive disabilities want to be able to do stuff themselves, not getting someone else to help them.  If people help you out all the time, you will always feel that you owe something back. It is a matter of self independence and personal freedom that is easy to take for granted.

Funka's Accessibility Conference

Here you can find the slides from presenters at Funka's accessibility conference 2014. It was a conference with high quality presenters and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the topic. The staff, organizers and presenters was very helpful and friendly. There was a claim by Karl Grover that Accessibility People are the "party poopers" of the web - telling you what to do and what not to do, but in my experience they are nothing but great people by any standards.

Be sure to also check out our previous article about common accessibility traps and solutions.