Leave Accessibility to the Experts Please

There’s a fine line between inducing conversation and creating havoc. In the field of web accessibility (which is very complex and fragile already), it seems that this line has been crossed at least a couple times lately.

Recently, renowned CSS expert Chris Coyier (@chriscoyier) wrote the blog Navigation in Lists: To Be or Not To Be. The blog re-evaluates, again, whether lists (UL element) should still be used for navigation menus or just remove them and use only the remaining anchor text. Much unnecessary debate was generated from this. Most of it regarding use with screen readers, an area in which the author is not an expert.

The straight answer? Continue to use lists.

Just because one screen reader user gives an opinion, doesn’t mean that’s the way to go. Lists are beneficial in many ways: they’re semantic; they provide info to users of assistive technology; they provide hooks for developers to implement design and interaction; and it’s a convention.

A day after the Coyier blog, web standards guru Jeffrey Zeldman (@zeldman) on A List Apart published the blog titled on alt text about the use of the alt attribute and its impact on screen reader users. Topics in the comments include its use in HTML5, confusion with the title attribute, and using a space or not when empty value. This sparked a lengthy debate in the comments and on Twitter.

The straight answer? Use alt text; if an image is decoration then implement with CSS; if a decorative image is still inline or has no added value, use alt="", with no space. (Hint: repetitive content has no value.) If an image is linked, it must have alt text conveying the meaning of the link (and not necessarily the image itself).

Web celebs have created confusion when the answer was already agreed upon by most web accessibility professionals. So, I won’t write about NodeJS and Spring if you other experts stick with your area of expertise. Many times, we should leave accessibility to the experts. Agreed?

PS: I am indeed a fan of Coyier’s work and I greatly respect the invaluable foundation that Zeldman helped build for web standards.

56 comments

  1. Jennison Asuncion

    I worry when I see titles such as “Leave Accessibility to the Experts” because it, intentionally or not, sends a message to those who have an opinion to bring to the table that if you’re not among the “known experts” in digital accessibility, then don’t contribute or innovate unless you agree with the prevailing opinion of said experts. I would argue that in our profession, we, more than others, need to be inclusive and encourage discussion, especially in mainstream forums. Besides, aren’t the experts really the end-users we serve?

    • Dennis

      Good points, Jennison. I was a bit tentative to publish this, but still stand by my words. Web accessibility is a very tricky trade and is full of nuance. The takeaway here is that we don’t want misinformation to spread; and the bigger name you have, the more careful you need to be. And, in my opinion, to take people’s time on a blog with no answers and only causes confusion and frustration is not beneficial for anyone.

      • Henny

        “And, in my opinion, to take people’s time on a blog with no answers and only causes confusion and frustration is not beneficial for anyone.”

        This is what the comments feature is for – and I see that plenty of screen reader users have left comments for Chris.

  2. Aaron Jorbin

    The way you prevent misinformation from spreading isn’t to discourage people from sharing ideas, it’s to educate people on the right ones. This post very much comes off as don’t bother learning to fish, I’ll give you a fish.

    Building for accessibility to me is as fundamental a front end web skill as HTML, CSS and JavaScript. The front end developer community isn’t going to agree with that though if we are constantly being told to leave it to the experts. It also means that none of us are going to ever become the experts because we’ve been constantly told to keep our hands off and leave it to the experts.

    • Dennis

      Which is one reason why I wrote this post, to give a proper, succinct answer. Discussion is good, but only to a certain point.

      I agree that web accessibility is fundamental, but most developers (many times no fault of their own) don’t know this. Some techniques are straight forward, but others are not. Do you really want every single web dev to independently determine what’s better, alt with quote quote or alt with quote space quote? No, of course not, you listen to the expert. Just in the way that if I had questions on advanced JavaScript, I’d seek input from an expert in that field.

  3. Karl Groves

    Well, I certainly must agree wholeheartedly that any discussion is best left to the most knowledgeable in the field. After all, how else are we to avoid, as you say, misinformation of the audience.

    So I’m wondering, as a follow-up, if you can define exactly what does it take to call yourself an accessibility expert?

    Frankly, there are quite a few people in the web accessibility field who have little in the way of actual web development expertise. So, is an “accessibility expert” someone who knows only about web development at a very high level? Can someone really be an accessibility expert if you cannot both find and fix accessibility problems on a site? Can someone really be an accessibility expert if they cannot themselves develop an accessible site in the first place? I don’t mean simple HTML & CSS, I mean really develop on an enterprise level.

    Who is to say what an “accessibility expert” is? Who defines these criteria? Who gives out the badges that say someone is or is not an “expert”?

    What I see a lot of – especially from you, Dennis – are attacks on well meaning people. As Jennison said, we need to be inclusive. We need mainstream developers to become part of accessibility. Posting blog posts like “Leave Accessibility to the Experts” is not only alienating mainstream developers but probably also a lot of people new to accessibility.

    This kind of blog post is counterproductive for the overall accessibility of the web.

    • Dennis

      Karl, I almost removed your comment. I don’t appreciate being called attacking when the blog is written tactfully. Also, who the experts are is a separate issue. Linking your article is only self-serving. [And for the record, every comment on this post was approved.]

  4. Henny

    I understand the sentiment of this post but I’m really concerned it reinforces what is, well, not our finest trait in the accessibility community or the web developer community at large.

    What bothers me is that by saying ‘leave accessibility to the experts’ (whether as a means to provoke reaction or not) there is a risk of encouraging developers to disengage and not think for themselves. I work alongside and learn from the most amazing people every day 99% of whom are not part of the ‘accessibility community’, don’t identify with this community and make no claim to accessibility credentials. They build accessible stuff and just get on with it. They are my heros.

    There’s a lot of cult of personality on the web and the accessibility community is no better than any other. My overall fear, and it has been for years, is that we are fostering a perception that ‘only an expert’ can do this and ‘accessibility is too complex’. By doing so we send out a message accessibility is a dark art that only those initiated into the club can practice.

    I say no to that.

    Disregarding whether you or I think Chris Coyier is right or wrong I welcome a voice that is not deemed an ‘accessibility expert’ discussing issues on a platform that is not accessibility.

    If we keep fostering this perception accessibility is a dark art we undermine all the good work that Webaxe and others do. The fundamentals of accessibility are pretty easy to grasp – we should be broadcasting that! If something is complex or nuanced then you go to an expert just as you would in any industry or discipline.

    There’s an underlying attitude in the accessibility community that we are special and this is doing nothing to promote better inclusion.

  5. Thomas

    I have to agree with the other comments; presenting your response like this is likely counter productive, (or will two big egos in the field pay attention to a post like this–and start a deeper conversation–that they would otherwise have ignored?).

    What I think is clear is people of their caliber really should have known better than to comment on something they know is not their specialty. They know people read their words like gospel.

  6. John Foliot

    @karlgroves Dennis might have thought a little more carefully about his blog title, but he does highlight a fairly serious problem. When “notable names” start suggesting techniques and offering “accessibility recommendations” that range from mis-informed to outright harmful, we, our community, have a problem. These notables have a large and wide-reaching influence, and many developers will accept the ‘word’ of a Zeldman or a Coyier as gospel truth, without bothering to independently verify the validity of the recommendation. Once that genie is out of the bottle, then what?

    I am all for educational discussion, and encouraging developers to experiment, to question, and to bring forth ideas. But when you reach a certain level of notoriety and influence, there comes with that a responsibility to ensure that when you speak on *any* topic outside of your area of direct expertise that you take the additional step of vetting what you are about to “launch to the masses”. Sadly, this week, we had 2 examples where that failure has set back our efforts in ways still yet to be seen.

    • Steve

      Hey, John –

      I’ve read both the articles and the threads that followed. I took note of your alt description pattern, by the way, and have filed that away for future use. That’s a gem that I am sure will come in handy in many contexts.

      You say “Sadly, this week, we had 2 examples where that failure has set back our efforts in ways still yet to be seen.”

      I’m really curious about what you see as fallout for articles that generated discussion. Accessibility is not a perfect science, in my (non-expert, plebeian, peasantlike) opinion, it’s a design discipline with really complex considerations. We (can and should) do what we can and there are some really great practices for consistently universal support. Design is about context and trade-offs. Anyone who says there’s a steadfast rule that works in all situations is setting themselves up to be wrong.

      People will disagree on stuff. Discussions will be had on the internet. And folks that aren’t in the realm of majesty that includes self-described experts learn new things. Like I did with your comment on the article you think could have done damage. Grains of salt.

      I enjoy participating, watching, and learning from the community. But, frankly, articles like the one above imply an exclusivity that logically doesn’t jive with a practice that’s supposed to be about inclusion.

  7. Pratik Patel

    In both blog posts that are cited, I find that the authors had legitimate concerns, which–whether “we” deem it correct or not–were derived by processes or that they believe to be legitimate. Based on the latest comments on (@chriscoyier’s blog, it appears that the discussions have led him to come to a different conclusion. @zeldman’s blog post has led me to think about user interaction in a manner that I may not have before. Both are teachable moments. In both of these posts, educating has happened. In one case, the discussions may have changed minds. In the other case, perhaps not.

    We are seeing a tremendous growth in people who look at accessibility and who care about accessibility. These may be designers. These may be developers. These may be budding “accessibility experts.” I believe that it is our obligation to show them that it could be done by example and education. For that to happen, we must, no matter how frustrating it may be, learn to nurture those who want to do the right thing. Suppressing discussion and attacking people who begin them is not the way to do it. Last week, I personally had two experiences that lead me to believe that the threshold to succeed in the accessibility field is rising tremendously. If I, who has been working in this field successfully for many years, feels this way, try to imagine others who are entering it.

    I fear that the situation that Christian Heilman described in his post at http://christianheilmann.com/2013/01/27/drive-by-criticism-must-die/ is becoming a norm and not an occasional thing. It is very easy to criticize in a well meaning (but a misguided) effort to protect and preserve the somewhat less chaotic world of accessibility as we knew it. It is also easy to call ourselves experts and to preserve that domain. In my mind, there are more legitimate concerns. The questions that @karlgroves brings forth about expertise is the correct one. This evening, I responded to a question on a developer list that made me concerned quite a bit. The developer wanted to know how he could remove legitimate accessibility information from a picker control because the Section 508 tester was refusing to certify the app. This was clearly a case where the tester did not understand the interaction model of the device and assistive technology he/she was testing.

    Let me suggest that we focus on ensuring that developers and designers have the right information and right expertise. It won’t happen if we stop them from experimenting or even coming to the community with questions or new ideas.

  8. Catherine Roy

    I could not disagree more. Aside from all the other comments made as to why this is a bad idea, I worry about how this can be perceived by users, i.e. people with disabilities who are directly concerned and impacted. We should encourage user feedback *and* participation in developing solutions that affect their lives, not discourage it, even if it takes a little more time, discussion and effort.

  9. Stomme poes

    Dennis, all:

    Doesn’t the fact that there was “confusion” and much “unnecessary debate” raise a big red flag to anyone? (I see it does with many comments above.) Both articles had a pretty long list of comments. Longer than some articles where someone talks about a hot topic like, I dunno, drawing p0nies with . That means something.

    Web celebs have created confusion when the answer was already agreed upon by most web accessibility professionals.

    Apparently it wasn’t answered loud enough. Or these are not simple answers with open-and-shut cases. Just look at all the weird examples and edge cases people brought up in the ALA comments.

    Much unnecessary debate was generated from this.

    Apparently not. Okay, I dunno how much “debate” there really is that hasn’t already been covered somewhere, but the number of developers who still confuse title with alt, never heard of empty alts, think title is specifically useful for a group where it actually isn’t, or find the new HTML5 and elements confusing (ask Ian Devlin or the other HTML5 doctors) is high. Very high. Every time there is a “redundant” post about this stuff, a bunch of new people get introduced to ideas or practices the “accessibility community” had “decided on” long, long ago. Look at the reaction of big-name rockstar developers when someone show them to add :focus to a huge project used by many, many people (it is, “what’s :focus for and why do we need it?”). Yes. Now consider all of us non-rockstars.

    Maybe y’all need to break out of your echo chamber. In this vein I really like stuff like some of the articles at places like Paciello Group, where fairly simple articles are written for average developers and these are easy to find in search engines, easy to link to for other devs, and explain the how and why pretty well… and also allow questions/debate, because there are always edge cases and users are all different.

    While I dislike the idea of people who don’t know what they’re doing writing markup (OHAI bootstrap li class=”heading”!), it happens anyway, and the other side of that is if only “experts” deal with or talk about accessibility, that’s just another reason why there won’t be any attempts at it at all anywhere. Lots of us are minimum-wage code monkeys working alone and are not in a position to hire or consult with any “experts”. And I don’t mean experts in any kind of sneering tone. To me, an expert is someone who’s worked in person with actual disabled users of this still-mystical range of technologies, and does tests of code with both the people and the technology. So they know a lot. But they don’t post enough reports that non-government, non-corporate, non-university individuals can get ahold of or read. They talk to each other, at conferences on the other side of the planet or on obscure (yes) mailing lists. I understand testing is expensive and often conducted for various governments or other entities and therefore the reports remain jargon-filled and stuck behind a paywall, but in the random world of development I do come regularly across people who say “yeah I’ve heard of screen readers and I read some stuff about them but I don’t really know what they are” or “Hey how do people surf websites if they’re like Stephen Hawking?” (or better: could Stephen Hawking use MY websites? and how). There were even some comments/questions like this in the ALA article.

    Instead of leaving accessibility to experts, how about letting all of us become as much expert (or have EASY access to as much expert knowledge) as possible since we’re the ones writing that yucky markup you find in your banking, shopping, and social blah-blah apps and websites. We are. Ph33r us.

    • Stomme poes

      … I should fix the above.

      …drawing p0nies with canvas.

      …or find the new HTML5 nav and main elements confusing (ask Ian Devlin or the other HTML5 doctors) is high.

      My mistake.

  10. Alan Dalton

    I see your point, Dennis, but I disagree with this article’s title. “Don’t disregard existing accessibility research” might be better. That CSS Tricks post has comments from 6 people who use screen readers, all saying that marking up navigation links as lists is useful. Unfortunately, 9 designers had already said they would no longer mark up navigation links as lists. That’s a shame.

    I think that CSS Tricks is the world’s best website for learning CSS, and that A List Apart is the world’s best website for learning how to make websites. I just wish their authors would refer to WCAG.

  11. Olivier Nourry (@OlivierNourry)

    Beyond the controversy induced by the way Dennis expressed his opinions, there is a very serious issue discussed here, that we, as a community, need to solve before it wears us off. We are too small a group to take care of all the accessibility needs in the world. 99.999% (add as many 9s as you wish, it’ll never be enough) of the content on line escape from our scrutiny, and is produced by people who have no idea of what to do, when they know that something needs to be done. Or sometimes they know, but are constrained by various dependancies and contingencies.
    So, just after producing knowledge, our core focus should be on sharing it.
    Anyone who is used or refered to as an expert (and it’s easy to be, considering the average level), should work towards becoming useless, as early as possible. That’s what I try to do project by project, and I’m still looking for ways to do it at a global scale. It will benefit highly to the users; significantly to the web makers; and marginally to us, as our job will become more interesting (never felt a bit tired about explaining what’s the alt attribute for, for the n-th time?).
    In this regard, I’d like to draw your attention to Aurélien Levy’s (aka @goetsu) initiative, Accessibility Steps (https://checklists.opquast.com/en/accessibilityfirststep and https://checklists.opquast.com/en/accessibilitysecondstep/). I think it’s aiming at a relevant goal: provide straight answers to problems already solved. When I read Dennis’ post, it came instantly to mind, because here’s something that’s written in a non-ambiguous way for people who have better things to do than to break the WCAG codes. And since it’s a community-based project, anyone can contribute, for the greater good.

  12. Derek Johnson

    Hey Dennis, I see where you’re coming from with this post and how it must be frustrating for a11y experts when people who have a large readership post stuff that is perhaps less than optimal, however I disagree with your conclusions.

    If there’s one thing accessibility needs right now it’s higher awareness among devs and designers. I’m glad Chis Coyier is writing about it more now (and I’m glad he’s not right about everything all the time too!)

    I hope you and other accessibility experts can take this opportunity to continue pushing accessibility ever closer to the front of our minds and clear up the confusion around the issues that are most commonly debated.

  13. Jeremy Keith

    I couldn’t disagree with the sentiment of this article more.

    I think Aaron put it best when he commented “The way you prevent misinformation from spreading isn’t to discourage people from sharing ideas, it’s to educate people on the right ones.”

    Discouraging discussion isn’t productive, and frankly, it comes across as more than a little patronising.

  14. Enrique Moreno

    I disagree. Conversation and debate are NOT a bad thing. Even if the conclusion is that things are fine the way they are.

    Telling people to “leave stuff to the experts” is bad, in my opinion, because:

    – How is anyone gonna become an expert, if they don’t discuss about the issue? Only way to learn is through experience and failure.

    – Excluding opinions from newcomers in a field is a sign of obstinacy. People deserve to be heard out, even if their arguments are invalid.

    – Progress has many times in history come from people who disagreed on well-stablished beliefs. We should be open to doubt ourselves sometimes.

  15. Artur Ortega

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions

    I can understand Dennis but I wouldn’t get to the same conclusion. the linked articles only show how much work we still have ahead of us to do to make accessibility really mainstream. They show how much having real disabled colleagues and friends would make a difference to learn more about how we manage our life – and perhaps how we use a screen reader. The articles show how far we still are away from inclusion.

    On the other hand I feel the same pain. This frustration of well-meant activities – online and offline – which someone with a disability faces every day is sometimes getting as annoying as the obstacles themselves.

    I know lots of people with disabilities which don’t engage in this discussions because they have to deal already on top on their regular duties with barriers, prejudices and well-meant annoyances. Some try to reduce the additional load by reaching out by preaching and educating others who affect their lives – like civil engineers, politicians, journalists and at some point developers & designers. Yes, we don’t live only online… If time and effort is so precious already it hurts even more if such well-meant initiatives send you back to square one and you have to start again – and again – and again.

    Therefor I urge to not condemn Dennis for this statement. It only exposes the pain which well-meant but wrong postings can cause.

    And now back to work to make this world more inclusive! We’ve lots to do…

  16. Jared Smith

    I understand the sentiment of this post, and believe me, I’ve wanted to say the same thing several times over (especially on weeks like this one), but I don’t think that the “experts only” approach is ultimately productive.

    “The straight answer? Use alt text” is not a universal answer. @JohnFoliot (and apparently you) and I have differing recommendations on this matter. He suggests all content images should be identified even if they present the same content repeatedly, while I have evidence to show such repetition is problematic. If even “experts” in the field can have differing opinions on something so simple as alternative text, this shows that accessibility IS complex. Well, at least some of it is. Fortunately the items above that have been debated ad nauseum (and rightfully so) are things that have little impact on the end user experience.

    Ultimately, we in the accessibility field need to be better at communicating and educating. We need to learn to fight the right battles. But advocating our cause by alienating well-intentioned folks that have been misinformed or poorly educated is not the right path forward. It simply shows that WE need to do a better job.

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  18. Denis Boudreau

    Dennis, I meant to come here to point out that the title of your blog post made me really uncomfortable, but since others have done that already, I’m not going to. I think the point has been made.

    I totally share your frustration, but I tend to view the whole thing a little differently. Interestingly enough, I commented on Ian Pouncey’s blog this morning on another topic, but my comment could have been written here as well, so I’ll just link to it in case you guys haven’t read his post yet: http://ianpouncey.com/weblog/2013/02/web-accessibility-apprentice/#comments .

    • Dennis

      Ian’s post is indeed a nice one. I emphasize this point: “There is often a lack of knowledge of the fundamental aspects of web accessibility outside of the community. Lots of attempts to change that have been made by the community. It hasn’t really worked very well.” Correct. It’s not working.

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  20. John Foliot

    @Jared – I think you are mis-characterising what I wrote over at ALA. I’m not making any such blanket suggestion; I said that *in that context*, on a bio page, there is value in noting that there is a photo of the person being featured. Not a lengthy description of their shirt and tie, but simply that the photo exists. I believe that it is wrong to hide *THAT* image, on that page, in that context, from a non-sighted user, as that image does add to the value of the page. Crafting an appropriate value for the alt text is another discussion, and I certainly agree that “h1, Jared Smith, image, Jared Smith” is not a great response.

    I also agree that continued discussion, and education, is critical for the larger goal, and so I don’t want to see accessibility kept in the “guild” mode either – heck yes, let _them_ make mistakes and lets discuss it. My fear and concern however is when large “experts” sites post articles and suggestions that are unhelpful, that too many readers will consume the article, but not continue to read all of the comments, especially when the comment thread becomes very long – I just responded (again) over at ALA, and it is now comment #77. Six months from now, when somebody Googles “alt text” and see’s an ALA article, how many will read the article only and skip the comments? (Too many, I fear)

    Our community *does* need to engage, and to respond helpfully, thoughtfully, and reasonably (goals that I hope I accomplished over at ALA), and a good many ‘names’ in our community do that (Pratik mentioned his engagement above, and Jared gives away far more than he “sells” at WebAIM. Karl Groves – who also commented here – does so as well; each in the way we best can.)

    So ya, I would say to Denis what I said to Zeldman “right intent, wrong solution”.

  21. Paul J. Adam

    I do understand why people don’t like the title of this post but it sure did elicit some comments! There is a reason people specialize in Accessibility, it’s very complex and requires lots of research, learning and using assistive technologies, and interacting with people with disabilities. Someone who produces web sites and applications for a living usually moves from one project to the next and will not have time to learn all the intricacies of accessibility.

    Those 2 posts by Zeldman and Chris did spread misinformation about accessibility. Chris theorized that since he heard from one blind guy who did not like to hear the extra verbosity noise from semantic list navigation that lists are therefore bad for all blind people and we should remove the semantics. Luckily many people who work in the a11y field chimed in, in the comments and he’s changed is theory. I see this all the time in the a11y field where people make assumptions about all disabled users based on what they heard from “This one blind guy”, or “This one accessibility specialist said this”. They are keeping us on our toes, we have to be ready to respond to the misinformation before it spreads too far.

    Zeldman’s post theorized that blind people don’t care to hear about an image of an author’s headshot which I totally do not agree with. I don’t think he’s changed is mind there. He also said the way to make an image hidden from screen readers was to use alt=” ” with a space in the middle which is wrong, no space should be used. They said they have to do this to account for some ancient screen reader. That is something that should have been at least tested with NVDA and VoiceOver before making the accessibility suggestion.

    So I think it’s great to see 2 mainstream web dev blogs talking about accessibility even if what they say is wrong but I do understand how it makes our jobs harder when we have to correct the misinformation.

    Honestly I think accessibility is really easy, people just don’t know anything about it or take the time to learn. Hopefully the posts and comments will get more people interested in learning but really only experts and specialists will have the time to learn it all.

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  23. Dennis

    All:

    Yes, the title is controversial. Admittedly, it was written that way somewhat purposely. But if I were to do it over, I would modify the title so it’s not so overstated.

    I think discussion is fine, but to a certain point. As more than one comment affirms, if you have very high visibility, you have to be more careful with what your write. Remember, “With great power comes great responsibility”.

    I’m happy to see accessibility become more mainstream. And making a mistake is fine; it’s part of the learning process. But just imagine how much is time is wasted and how much confusion is generated when a very popular blog says the wrong thing. Then a few dozen folks must comment so that a vague answer can be digested out of it, if at all. This is not an ideal approach for many reasons, two of them are in two comments above:

    1. Comment 661: Six months from now, when somebody Googles “alt text” and sees an ALA article, how many will read the article only and skip the comments? (Too many, I fear)

    2. Comment 662: it makes our jobs harder when we have to correct the misinformation. [and takes away from everyday tasks like making financial and social media websites accessible]

    Several folks who commented said they “share my frustration” which tells me that I’m on the right track.

    On a side note, I’m disappointed that it took such a controversial blog to receive numerous comments on one of my posts, including a few nearly insulting words. I don’t feel as though the post is at all attacking or patronizing. A comment on Facebook even said “Nicely put, pure and simple, and I will share this with my students next week!”. Also, this ol’ blog has the guts to say things no one else is willing to say, which I believe is one reason why it’s grown in popularity. I even critiqued my own state and my own country’s websites, and much good has come out of it. I put a lot of effort into this blog/podcast for little or no money; please don’t crucify me for my thoughts.

  24. Dan Blake

    Hello all, I’m a front end web developer that does not now or has never considered myself to be an accessibility expert. However I have had professional needs to make websites 508 compliant and more importantly personal desire to try to make all sites I do more accessible.

    The issues I have found with this is that finding definitive answers have been pretty hard to come by. I have been diligent enough to track down the “experts” (which frankly is a lot of you on this thread) on Twitter to find information. I’ve attended Accessibility camps in DC, Accessibility Meetups in Baltimore put on by Karl Groves (who has also helped me via Twitter & email) and still feel in the dark about the “right way” to make websites fully accessible.

    If as a community you want to help the rest of us make the web more accessible may I make a recommendation? Write articles for A List Apart, .NET Magazine, CSS-Tricks, Smashing Magazine and any other popular website that dont focus on accessibility. Speak at events that are not solely focused on accessibility. Essentially don’t make us come to you, come to us. You’ll find a lot of folks won’t care but a lot of us will once our interest is peaked. Until I attended the Baltimore Refresh 2 years ago that sparked the article over at CSS-Tricks I didn’t really focus on accessibility at all, now I actively try to learn more.

    So in closing, thank you to all of you who have taken the time to provide information to us non experts. Now who can point me to an article on how to properly implement ARIA roles beyond landmark roles?

    • Dennis

      Great point on speaking at mainstream events, Dan . This came up within the community a little while back (to not “preach to the choir” all the time). Myself, I was the only one to speak on accessibility at the HTML5 Developer Conference in SF last October. I submitted a session proposal involving accessibility for the next one, too. I have also published a few articles on DesignFestival.com.

      For more on roles, see the TPG blog When to use an ARIA role and the Further Reading.

  25. Angela

    Chin up, Dennis. At some point, I’ve felt the same as almost everyone who commented–as well as how you feel.

    I’d composed a long response, but I’ve scrapped it since it just comes down to this: Everyone, let’s talk and share our experiences. Over the years, I’ve learned that, aside from indisputables, what’s helpful for my users may not work for another site’s users. I feel that we flesh out accessibility’s grey areas by sharing and discussing that experience–with all of the web community, experts or not. Also, if one doesn’t specialize in accessibility, it’s helpful to run issues–like those that Chris Coyier and Zeldman posted–by others in the web community and accessibility experts…especially when you’re well connected and your words will be taken as the gospel.

    I won’t crucify you for the very thought I’ve had at some point, whether or not I still feel the same way. I hope accessibility experts and others in the web community will respect others’ points and be open to discussion. Let’s have a beer at CSUN and commiserate.

    Here’s a funny coincidence from earlier today: Like Ian Pouncey said so well, even experts make mistakes. Just after I read your post, I needed to approve a file I received from an accessibility expert. The file contained two glaring errors—major, rookie errors that the W3C Validator and WAVE would have caught. Experts…

  26. Makoto Ueki

    I just want to tell you that I also share your frustration as a web accessibility advocate in Japan. Sometimes, the same things happen in Japan as well. I’ll attend CSUN this month and say “hi” to you :-)

  27. Sveta

    Personally as a deaf person, I think that people would better understand about accessibility not from reading very complicated WCAG guidelines, but from doing usability testing with users with disabilities. I’ve been to presentations about accessibility that are given mostly by non-disabled people, and some of them even leave out deaf people by not making their recorded presentation accessible via transcripts. Ironically, that’s how Denise, the author of this website, started out with podcasts by ignoring deaf visitors and thinking that transcripts are not important. Only later he realized that transcripts are important.

    [Editor’s note: First, my name is spelled “Dennis”. Second, I never ever thought transcripts were not important; I didn’t have funding as this is a personal project. Only until I realized I had deaf viewers did I make the extra effort to acquire sponsors and volunteers to get transcripts, and a few times out of my own pocket. In return, I remember one thank you.]

    I’ve been familiar with web accessibility guidelines for a long time, but could not understand their benefits until I actually saw people with other disabilities in action. Seeing a blind person using a screen reader, for example, was an eye opener for me and helped me better understand how screen readers work and why certain pieces of code work and others not. And more people also need to use assisting technologies to test their sites. VoiceOver comes as part of OS, and it’s a great tool to test with – it even helps me, a deaf person, to see how it works via captions!

    I think the major problem with accessibility guidelines is that they are very complicated with a few practical examples. Ironically, the guidelines ask for more plain language on websites, and yet the guidelines themselves are very difficult to read even for people with advanced reading skills. More videos showing users with disabilities in action and good accessibility examples would be very useful. I know about the BAD example by WAI – which is a very helpful guideline, but unfortunately, it does not show how to make aural information accessible for deaf people and some other examples like to show how to make websites accessible for users with cognitive disabilities. It seems that most focus on accessibility is about people with visual and mobility disabilities, but not so much about hearing and cognitive disabilities.

    • Sveta

      Apologies for misspelling – I was typing on my phone and auto correct for some reasons changed Dennis to Denise.

      As for transcripts, making excuses not to provide them for podcasts (for any reasons, including financial) still shows that deaf visitors are not important. Also, there are simpler ways to share information via text-based blog posts instead of aural posts, for example.

      Here’s a link to an old post by Sean Zdeneck about the lack of transcripts for podcasts on WebAxe about accessibility: http://seanzdenek.com/accessible-podcasting/

      “Dennis explains away the need for a transcript on financial grounds (“I can’t afford a transcriber”), and then assumes that his “podcast/blog” will be “informative and valid” anyway. But podcasts without transcripts are not informative – to say the least – for “listeners” who are deaf or hard of hearing. Granted, this thread is from 2005, when podcasting was still in its infancy. Nevertheless, it points to a troubling lack of awareness of both 1) the means to make podcasts accessible and 2) the need for accommodations at all, even when the podcasters presumably specialize in making web technologies accessible. Dennis assumes that making podcasts accessible requires a burdensome financial investment as well as a significant investment in outsourced human labor (transcribers). Both of these assumptions need to be challenged if we hope to change perceptions about accessibility and increase awareness of the need for accessible alternatives. At the time of this writing (June 2008), WebAxe continues to produce new audio podcasts about accessibility but not accessible podcasts, since each podcast is accompanied only by a short text summary.”

      • Dennis

        This comment is off topic. PS: I don’t recall receiving any advice or donations for transcriptions from a person who is deaf.

  28. Theo

    Maybe if we would have half as much articles about accessibility as we have about photoshop such discussions would not come up.

    Educate people is key and i want to learn more! Thank you.

    • Sveta

      Theo – I have a website about audio accessibility (with main focus on captioning as universal access, but also has information about other various ways for deaf/hoh people to access aural information depending on a situation) on http://www.audio-accessibility.com and also a Facebook page about this (AudioAccessibility) – if you are interested in learning more about experiences of deaf and hard of hearing people.

      • Theo

        @Sveta – Thank you very much for the great source, appreciated! I’ll spread the word as much as I can.

        “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” – love the quote

  29. Tim Harshbarger

    I think we just need to make peace with the fact that people, almost always well meaning, who aren’t deeply involved in accessibility, will make erroneous statements or will make statements that their readers will use erroneously. I expect that every discipline and profession has this issue.
    Since we do not control what others say, we need to focus on how we respond to situations like this. Responding to such articles with our comments, giving presentations and writing articles, and even possibly becoming involved in the editorial management of sites that publish articles all seem good ways to address the situation. And I won’t be a bit surprised if we come up with other good ways to respond.
    And just like every other profession, we can meet up online or at conferences, like CSUN, and quietly commiserate with one another followed by giving pep talks so we can get bakc into the game again and work to make the world more accessible.
    For me, I think one of the most important lessons comes from what Chris Coiyer may have learned from his own article. Just because a person has a disability, it does not mean that person is an expert on accessibility. I’m blind, but just being blind does not make me an expert on all things blind or accessibility related. I am, however, the world’s formost expert on what I like and dislike–unfortunately, I’ve not found a way to make a living from that. :)
    So, talking with a person with a disability about his or her personal oopinions of what makes things more or less accessible does not necessarily translate into something a developer can do to improve the accessibility experience for everyone with a disability. However, it is only by talking with people with disabilities and observing their usage of technology can you start to understand what the problems are and what kind of solutions may work best for most people. At that point, I think you get into the part of the equation Karl has written on–you need to understand the technology well enough that you can create those solutions–and the more you know about design, development, testing, and project lifecycles, the better and deeper you can integrate those accessibility solutions into applications.
    I also noticed that people have said both that accessibility is easy and accessibility is complex. I think there are parts of accessibility that are easy. Those are definitely the type of things that can be easily taught and used by others to solve most accessibility problems most of the time. There are also parts of accessibility that are more complex. They typically require a deeper understanding of users or AT or standards or technology to resolve. Sometimes we find ways to make those complex problems easy to solve, but I think there will always be complex problems to solve. That is why I believe we’ll always need people with accessibility expertise, just like we will always need people with usability or security expertise.
    And I better stop writing or start writing my own blog entry.

    • Dennis

      @zeldman Nice to see you finally affirm the existence of this 7 1/2-year-old website. Sorry it’s under such sensitive circumstances. But the fact is, no matter how I title this blog, and no matter how sincere you are in your alt text blog, you should have done a little more background work before publishing. As a comment above states, many people treat your word as “the gospel truth”. Even though people may have learned from your blog and comments, it may have confused and misled as many folks, if not more.

      • Laura

        Many readers will not only read Web Super Super Stars words but also take them to heart and will use them. For instance the second comment on Jeffery’s blog post was: “Brilliant! Thank you. Just what I needed for ammunition. Now, to reload.”

        I’d like to see an ALA feature article by John Foliot on the subject. How about it guys? John are you up for writing an article? Jeffery, would you consider publishing it?

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