Web Accessibility Shocker Update
Wednesday, 8th June 2011
An update on the Web Accessibility Shocker I reported on Saturday. First things first, I'm not going to name and shame (although I am tempted). I've had a good think about this and I'm concerned that naming the organisation wouldn't just damage their reputation, but could also damage the efforts of other people who are trying to make the web inclusive of everyone. So with that particular aspect cleared up, let's talk about the accessibility checker that should shudder at validating itself.
I actually contacted the organisation in question and while it is difficult to share a lot of their response without giving away who they are, suffice to say they didn't take my feedback very seriously. This is the response (minus incriminating names and web addresses).
As noted, this is a technology preview and we have not polished accessibility yet. However, I don't think there are any form elements in the interface that are not labeled (sic).
I'm also curious about your comment regarding "poor mark-up" - what do you mean? And how does this impact accessibility?
I accept that this is a technology preview and things might not be polished, but there is a popular phrase among technology companies about "chewing your own dog food". Can you imagine the W3C releasing an HTML validator that contained invalid HTML? Of course not, they would run the validator HTML through the validator to check it.
On top of that, isn't it easier to write a page properly in the first place, rather than bodge together some nasty HTML and CSS with a view to re-visiting it at some later date? It doesn't take any longer to write correct HTML, so why broadcast a message that suggests that it takes longer to write good web pages or that a page of this low calibre simply needs a polish (we all know the appropriate simile to use here).
Erm. "I don't think there are any form elements in the interface that are not labelled". There isn't actually a single <label> element on the form. I actually hope that there has been a mis-understanding along the lines here, because they must know what a label is. The form elements each have a description, but it is not enclosed within a label tag that marries it up to it's partner element.
If you don't know what these label elements are or how they help with accessibility, read the W3C HTML Techniques For Web Content Accessibility.
Or indeed, "poor mark-up" in inverted comma's as if this is a matter of opinion. There is a detailed analysis in the previous article on this, but I will summarise...
There is also the mis-use of the definitions-list element, which in particular adds incorrect semantics to the page, which does actually affect accessibility - typically being read out by screen readers as (disclaimer, no two screen readers are the same!)
Definition list of "n" items. [dt element] equals [dd element]
And as we remember, there actually aren't any dt elements in the definition list.
Mark-up matters, not just for accessibility but also for credibility.
Remember that despite having some CSS files, there were still tons of in-line styles? Why is that a problem for accessibility I hear you cry... Here's the answer. If you need a high-contrast display, or larger text, or a specific colour pallet, browsers give you the ability to override the style-sheet on any web page with your own style-sheet. This essentially replaces the theme of the web page with a style that makes it easier for the user to read and interact with the page.
The problem is, in-line styles disturb this harmonious facility. Accessibility fail.
And in reference to the link I omitted here:
We outline some of the reasoning for this decision at [...]
Bearing in mind I followed a link on the "technology preview" that asked for feedback and bearing in mind that I gave some good honest feedback, I'm a bit disappointed that the response was of such poor quality.
The one glimmer of hope is that the preview has gone missing for the moment, which makes me hope these issues will actually be addressed.
And finally, if you are actually asking for feedback, consider the following a reasonably useful template for responding to people who take the time to send it.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to send us feedback about our accessibility checker. Without feedback such as yours we might put the tool live with all these problems still to be fixed and we would look totally stupid, so you've saved us from ourselves.
We especially appreciate your time and effort because we know your Wife has already gone to bed and that you would love to be asleep right now, but because you felt so strongly about the values that we endeavour to protect, you are sat typing up this article at almost midnight instead of being tucked up all warm and cosy.
Thank you once again and all the best,
Fred Cain & Dave Jive (Made-up names)