Writing Resolution

Or should that be, in honour of Sir William Curtis, ‘Riting Resolution’?

I’ve neglected this blog in the last 12 months and I’d like to change that. I’ve said the same thing in previous years of course, and it hasn’t really worked out before so why should this year be any different? Well, I had an idea of listing up front what I’m going to write about.

My goal is to write something at least once a month, and to put a bit of pressure on myself I’m going to list what it’s going to be about ahead of time. In the case of the first three months I’m going to put those subjects right here in this blogpost:

  1. January – the problem with examples
  2. February – accessible web design
  3. March – being an introvert

Please leave a comment if you have any suggestions about what else I can write about for the remaining nine months. And please remind me if I’ve got a deadline coming up.

New Year (2015)

Warning: this isn’t going to be a cheerful look back on 2014. I’ve struggled with a general malaise that has affected almost everything I’ve done. There is a good reason for this but I am hoping that I can start to get my life back together.

I’ve broken promises that I’ve made in good faith, and this bothers me more than anything else. If I’ve said I’d do something for you and haven’t in the passed year, or have behaved badly towards you I can only apologise. I will try to make 2015 the year I put things right.

Life

For the last 13 months it has taken an effort of will to get enthusiastic about anything. Walking out of the front door of my flat has been a chore. Nights out, music festivals, and concerts have been just another thing I have to do even if I end up enjoy them. Practicing violin, something I used to do almost every day, has been something I’ve had to force myself to do even though I finding it relaxing. At work, especially at the start of the year, I have been brusque and uncivil at times.

I miss my Dad but he wouldn’t want me to behave like this. That should be all the motivation I need to fix things.

Work

Work has been hectic, frustrating, and rewarding. It can be hard to accept that you can’t help everyone, and in fact sometimes the best way to improve accessibility at a large organisation is to step back a bit. It’s better to provide guidance than to take over, although it’s very tempting to dive in and do everything for people (especially when they are more than happy for you to do so) instead of providing support but ultimately giving them responsibility.

In August Henny Swan left the BBC, a huge loss to our team both professionally and personally. We’ve since been joined by Jamie Knight, who is doing a great job kicking off a major piece of work that we hope will change the way we handle web accessibility at the BBC.

Next year should see an increase in work on a project that I am very excited about, and that I will hopefully be able to talk about (and perhaps even show something) at CSUN 2015.

Health

I started the year at my lowest weight for about 10 years. I’ve ended it at somewhere close to my highest ever. For the first time I’ve felt the effects of my obesity, nothing serious yet, but a general lack of wellbeing.

I’m at a stage when I need to lose weight, I need to get fitter, when before it had always been just a good idea. As this is a problem that is more psychological than physical it’s hard to know how to change things for the better.

I’d like to ask anyone who cares and is willing to call me out on my over eating and under exercising over the next year if they see things going in the wrong direction. I won’t be offended, I won’t be upset. You’ll be doing me a favour.

Final thoughts

These annual posts are primarily for my benefit, with a readership of between zero and few, but I feel the need to make a record on the first day of each year.

Regardless of how this last year has been, I am lucky to have a loving family, friends who care about me, and as much security in work and shelter as any of us do.

I’m not a believer in New Year Resolutions, but today is as good a day as any to start making my life a better one. Hopefully next years post will be a more positive one.

New Year (2014)

2013 has been a year of extremes, a year of gain and loss, but ultimately as bad a year as it could be.

While it is a year I’d like to put behind me, it will do no good not to recognise the better parts of 2013, and to look forward in hope of a better 2014, so a few positives first.

In January after a search of several years I finally became the owner (albeit with a mortgage to pay off) of my own home, a flat in North London. I’ve got plans for redecoration and changes, but so far I’ve managed to do nothing. Although the decor is not entirely to my taste it is clean and tidy, and it’s surprising how quickly you can get used to something, which does nothing to motivate me to get to work.

In April came the birth of my nephew, with whom my Dad and I now share William as a middle name.

Also in April I changed my role at the BBC to Accessibility Specialist. I’ve enjoyed my time to date, although sometimes I feel that I can’t get enough done. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in again next week.

In November 2012 I started learning to play violin. I’m not a natural musician and I find it quite difficult but very enjoyable and relaxing. In November I took the ABRSM Grade 1 exam and just about got a distinction pass score. This has motivated me to practice harder and hopefully get better faster.

As usual I wanted to lose weight over the last 12 months. After putting on weight during the first half of the year leading to a high point in July, I have subsequently lost weight and today I’m 5.7kg (12.5lbs) lighter than on the 1st January 2013 and the lightest I’ve been for years. I know weight is not necessarily the best measure of progress but I’m also feeling healthier and fitter with it. Next year hopefully I can continue with the current downward trend and plan to work on improving my activity level on top of the improvements to diet that I made last year.

Now the negative. The painful, life-changing negative.

In the first hour of Monday 2nd December 2013 my Dad passed away. He had been ill and in hospital for some time, but nothing prepared us for this. My Mum, sister, and I were able to spend his last hours with him and tell him how much we loved him, until he fell asleep and peacefully left us.

I miss him every day.

Web Accessibility Professional

As of today I have a new job and a new job description. Possibly a new career as well.

I’ve not left the BBC, a company I am very proud to work for, but instead of working for the GEL team (part of Platforms, in turn part of the Online Technology Group), starting tomorrow and for the next 12 months I will be joining Gareth Ford Williams and Henny Swan on the Future Media Accessibility team as a Senior Accessibility Specialist.

For some time now I’ve been considering the possibility of working full time within the web accessibility field and I’ve been very fortunate in being offered that chance at the BBC.

It’s going to be a big change for me. For the last 13 years I have been a full time web developer. For much of that time I’ve been interested and involved in web accessibility. Now the roles are reversed. I will be working in accessibility full time, my technical skills being the main contribution I make to the team. I’ll be writing a lot less code. None of the code I do write will be for complete features or go to production, except via developers. I’m also going to miss working with a team of developers, particularly those I’ve been with for the last 2 years. I’ve got 12 months to decide if this is right for me, and then I will either go back to my web development job or I can try and make the change permanent. Either way I’ll be giving it my best shot.

I can’t think of any job I’d rather do or anywhere I’d rather work right now. I’ll be on a team with a couple of great people who I have a lot to learn from, helping very smart developers make what in my view is one of the most important collections of sites on the web today as accessible as possible.

In other words, I have my dream job.

Thank you Henny and Gareth for making this possible for me.

CSUN 2013 notes

The 28th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, better know as CSUN 2013, took place February 25 to March 2, 2013. I attended the general sessions portion and provide here the notes I took from some of the sessions I attended.


WCAG Guidelines – What about the Users?

Speakers

  • Birkir R. Gunnarsson
  • Hinni Hreinsson

Screen reader usage and trainer

  • Many users run multiple screen readers
  • 21% of users had formal training with screen readers
  • 80% use their screen reader webpage summary feature

Familiarity with landmarks, headings, and table navigation

  • 1/3 are familiar with and use landmarks
  • 60% are familiar with and use headings
  • 61% are familiar with and use table navigation hot keys to browse tables

Web page exploration strategies

  • 80% of users use tab and arrow keys to explore pages
  • 8% of users use TAB and arrow keys exclusively
  • Large part of the user base rely heavily on TAB and arrow keys to navigate a webpage
  • Most also have other means of navigating

Suggestions for improvements

  • Web developers: use markup clearly and efficiently


Be the Fireman and not the Cop

Speaker

  • John Foliot

Current problems

  • Lack of accessibility planning / pre-planning
  • Stakeholders already on the defensive
  • Tight deadlines
  • No budget allotted
  • Content being developped without web acccessibility in mind

Resistance to change

  • Confrontation
  • Rejection
  • Avoidance
  • Insincerity

Finding the champions

  • It takes a cultural shift
  • Key is good communication and communicators

The law of the few

“The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell

  • Find:
    • ‘Connectors’ – know everyone, have done everything within the company
    • ‘Mavens’ – tech gurus, hardcore geeks
    • ‘Salesman’ – promoters, persuaders

Communication skills

  • Be likable, stay positive – all the time!
  • Connect – find mutual points of interest
  • Solve problems and build trust – teamwork starts with you
  • Create positive experiences – make learning fun
  • Identify and recruit the few

Establishing the systems to get you there

Tackle technical challenges

  • Standardise CMS use so you can solve problems in one place
  • Track bugs
  • Use frameworks to get accessibility built in
  • Create custom tools for internal use
  • Standardise evaluation tools

Tackle cultural challenges

  • Provide detailed expectations of outcomes, not dictate the solution – encourages creativity
  • Set realistic goals and expectations
  • Lay out the efforts as challenges not consequences
  • Don’t worry about the pursuit of quality – don’t let perfect be the enemy of good
  • Set timelines and milestones
  • Foster empathy and understanding
  • Brownbag events – invite actual users with disabilities

Addressing financial challenges

  • Be honest about how much it will cost
  • Scaled question – the longer you delay the more it costs

Transition towards a team based approach

http://www.w3.org/community/wai-engage/wiki/Accessibility_Responsibility_Breakdown

  • Identify the responsible people
  • Identify bottlenecks in each group independently

Establish training and internal resources

  • Motivation – internal awards, recognition, etc.
  • Document knowledge – wiki etc.
  • Aim for consitency of implementation

Legislation, policy, and best practices

  • Accessibility is a governance issue, and a shared responsibility
  • Appeal to pride instead of fear
  • Create a policy: work with existing standards, avoid re-inventing the wheel
  • Lose legal threat as a last resource

Measuring success

  • Avoid checklist mentality
  • Avoid apprearances of making concessions and sacrifices
  • Avoid overly long and complex accessibility reports
  • Make accessibility more than a QA process
  • Work with milestonesL test early and often
  • Be specific with what you ask for but generous with what you accept
  • Celebrate successes, both great and small


Agile and Accessibility: Theory and Reality

Speaker

  • Karl Groves

Waterfall approach of accessibility

  • Accessibility is a thing that intrudes at the end of every phase
  • If accessibility isn’t specified as part of a phase then accessibility isn’t going to get handled for that phase
  • Accessibility isn’t part of the discussion, it is an approval step

How do agile and accessibility work together?

  • Definition of Done
  • Inherently user focussed
  • Inherently quality focussed
  • Inherently collaborative

Tools and techniques

  • Test-driven development
  • Daily stand-ups
  • Definition of Done

Case Study: Fortune 100 Healthcare Company

Some Design Up Front (SDUF)

  • Spec work on what pages should look like
  • 95 initial reenderings (snippets of UI elements)
  • 9 page types
  • 10 sub-layouts

Traditional scrum

  • Accessibility team members assigned to several scrum teams
  • Before each story was considered complete it had to be cleared by accessibility team member

Deviations from the process

  • Underestimated scope
  • Underestimated resources
  • Untrained resources
  • Executive staff unwilling to adjust to meet evolving needs
  • Agile-fall!

Lessons learned

  • No project management system will assure success without knowledge and skills required to be effective
  • Accessibility can be integrated into any process
  • You must follow the process to realise the benefits
  • Time spent up front building accessible componenets and patterns is good accessibility ROI (still expect to refactor later)


Accessibility in Firefox for Android

Speakers

  • Marco Zehe
  • Eitan Isaacson

Android versions

  • Android upgrade is slow
  • Most common version is Gingerbread (2.3)
  • Latest version, Jelly Bean (4.1 and 4.2) is 3rd most common

Android accessibility

  • Jelly Bean has very good support
  • Gingerbread and earlier have very basic support

Firefix for Android

  • Each version has improved support for native navigation options
    • D-pad navigation (2.3+)
    • Explore By touch (4.0+)
    • Gesture navigation (4.2)
  • Additional navigation options built in to Firefox
    • Keyboard quick navigation (2.3+)
    • Gesture quick navigation (2.3+)
  • Firefox adds support for native navigation options to earlier versions of Android
    • Explore by touch backported to 2.3
    • Gesture navigation backported to 2.3


Infographics – Making Images Speak

Speaker

  • Ted Drake

Longdesc

  • Poor support
  • Hidden content for most users
  • Allows for good structure

WAI-ARIA

  • aria-labelledby or aria-describedby
  • Removes structure, treats content as a string

aria-describedby

  • Announces element as image, reads alt text
  • Can still use content hidden with display: none;
  • Long pause before content is read, easy to miss

aria-labelledby

  • Does not label element as a graphic up front, replaces content with transcript
  • Announces element as a graphic at the end of the transcript

Include transcript

  • Allows for good structure
  • Repeats content in the infographic
  • Can be visually hidden with CSS clipping

Toggle transcript

  • Provide a structured transcript
  • Hide content by defauly
  • Add control to show the content

Transcript link

  • Add visible link to transcript


Implementing Accessibility Testing At The Enterprise Level

Speakers

  • John Foliot
  • Mitchell Evan

Testing matrix

  • Prioritise Assitive Technology / Browser combinations based on likely use and instance of problems

Test plan for each feature or page:

  • How to test
  • Expected results
  • Actual results
  • Notes

Successes

  • Use a bug database, not monolithic reports
  • Browser / AT matrix

Template for future projects

  • Kickoff: confirm the plan, meet & greet
  • Ground rules for visual design
  • Collaborate with UX design
  • Visual accessibility analysis
  • Collaborate with developers
  • Test


Mozilla Firefox OS – Mobile Open Web Platform

Speakers

  • Marco Zehe
  • Eitan Isaacson

Operating system

  • Written entirely in HTML, CSS, JS, including apps and even the web browser
  • Open source
  • Linux Kernal
  • No SDK required for development

Goals

  • Get the next billion people on to the web
  • Initial launch in Central and South American countries
  • Hardware somewhere between feature and smart phone specs for affordibility

Accessibility in Firefox OS

  • Bad news: first version won’t have a screen reader
  • A screen reader is coming soon…
  • It will share the same core accessibility engine as desktop and Android versions of Firefox


Plain Language: Usable Content for Everyone

Speaker

  • Angela Hooker

Common content problems

  • Language that needs explanation (Shakespeare)
  • Unusual structure of language (Yoda)
  • Sometimes institutions (such as government) dictate the content
  • Overly wordy content
  • Jargon that hides meaning
  • Slang or regional terms
  • “Pedantic content” – big showy words where simple words will do
  • Forgetting the audience

Plain language is…

  • writing content that people can easily understand the first time they read or hear it
  • usable and meets users needs so they can act on it
  • not forcing your users to read content several times to understand it

How can plain language help?

  • Your users will be loyal
  • Will widen your site’s appeal, audience, and influence

WCAG 2.0 principles of accessibility

  • Plaing language supports POUR
  • Plain language is ‘Understandable’ in ‘POUR’
  • Plain language makes your content accessible for all

Plain language is not…

  • dumbed down content, it’s meeting the needs of your audience

Don’t forget…

  • People with low literacy skillls
  • Pleaople with low language proficiency
  • People with cognitive impairments
  • People with dyslexia
  • People who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing
  • People who are aging

What you can do

  • Write for your specific audience
  • Write for the average reader
  • Dont’ be clever, make it simple
  • Assume audience is intelligent but don’t assume they’re familar with your topic
  • Inverted pyramid method: put the most important information at the top and the background information below
  • Be concise – cut out excess / filler words
  • Use minimal text and short sentences
  • In print people write to tell a story, but online we should write about topics so users can complete their tasks

Mechanics

  • Write in active voice, avoid passive voice
  • Use simple verb tense and base verbs (present tense)
  • Avoid ‘hidden verbs’ such as ‘provide assistance for users’ instead of ‘assist users’
  • Use complete sentences
  • Use words and terms that your users are familiar with
  • Provide direct insturctions
  • Talk with your users: use personal pronouns
  • Avoid jargon, or explain it when necessary
  • Use ‘must’ instead of ‘shall’ in requirements

Quality

  • Test with users
  • Conduct A/B testing

Summary

  • Always consider your users’ needs first
  • Your users want to complete a task
  • Talk directly to users
  • Use everyday terms
  • Don’t follow trendy content practices
  • Each medium (mobile, dekstop, app, video, podcast) may require tailored content
  • Read your content aloud
  • Test your content
  • All of these help you incorporate accessibility throughout your project lifecyle

Web Accessibility Apprentice

I think I’m pretty good at writing HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. I think I’ve got a decent idea of how people use the web. I think I know a few things about web accessibility.

I don’t think I’m a web accessibility expert. I don’t think that I should stop talking, writing, or trying to improve the knowledge of others about web accessibility.

There are many people I admire who know a lot more than I about web accessibility. Collectively they are a community of sorts. Sometimes I get to be a part of that community, and that’s nice. It would be nice if more people were included, that having an interest and desire to learn were the prerequisites, not an existing level of knowledge. I try to foster that in my own communities, such as at the place I work. There are other people who do the same, and I respect them more for it.

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.

I don’t know what the answer is.

Maybe some of the people who are considered experts in mainstream web development could talk about it a bit more, perhaps not talk about it as esoteric knowledge, but as part of the normal set of skills a web developer is expected to have. They’ll probably get things wrong sometimes. They could have their content peer reviewed before they publish, but perhaps if they are getting things wrong then most developers are also getting things wrong so maybe it’s worth starting the conversation anyway.

The people who consider themselves web accessibility experts as well as those people who just have a bit of knowledge could join the conversation, perhaps take advantage of the larger audience and help more people learn.

It’s been a long time in web terms since I started out as a web developer. I was very bad at it at first. I got a lot of things wrong, and I didn’t even know it. I read articles by people I respected. I learnt that there was a right way to do things. Sometimes more than one right way. Other people I respected, and some that I hadn’t heard of but who had something to say, would discuss the benefits of each and knowledge was shared. I don’t remember reading a lot of HTML blogs, or JavaScript blogs, or CSS blogs, or accessibility blogs. They existed of course, but mostly I just read web development blogs. It seemed to work. I got better at my job.

Sometimes those people made mistakes. They still make mistakes. I know I do, even with all of the knowledge they’ve shared with me. Perhaps I, and others who have benefited from a better, more knowledgeable industry that still has a long way to go should help them in return. Yes, I should do that a lot more. I hope I’ll do that in the same way they did when they educated me: with patience and encouragement, not exclusion and criticism.

I’ve met quite a lot of the people who taught me how to do my job the right way over the years. Some of them I know well enough to have a drink with. A few of them I consider friends. I haven’t thanked them enough. I’ll start doing that more.

Happy New Year (2013)

Goodbye 2012, hello 2013.

It has been exactly a year since my last blog post, but I thought I should carry on the routine of writing about the year that has gone and the one to come as an aid to my own memory rather than the expectation of anyone reading this.

I’ve had basically the same goals for the last few years, so to start let’s take a look at them.

  • I’ve lost some weight. After losing some towards the end of 2011 I slowly put it all and more back on, reaching probably my heaviest ever weight. Since that point I’ve lost 15.9kg / 35lb / 2 stone 7 pounds, and that is after a fairly indulgent Christmas. Hopefully I can keep this weight off and lose more this year.
  • I’ve finally found a flat to buy. Contracts have been exchanged, and completion will be on the 8th January.
  • I’ve not started playing bass again, but have taken up the violin.
  • Another new hobby is fencing (the bladed weapon variety). I’ve completed a beginners course and plan to do a lot more this year.

Not bad going really. I have a few new goals for this year, which I’ll hopefully be able to (and have the will to) write about at a later date.

The highlight of the past year was my sister’s wedding, which was the best I have ever been to (a completely unbiased opinion, of course), and it was wonderful to be able to play a role in it.

Professionally, I find myself involved more an more in accessibility work. This is a very good thing, and I hope to carry this in to 2013. I’ll be speaking at the CSUN conference for the second year in a row, this time on the subject of Accessibility and the Web Development Process. The last year has seen lots of good work in my day job at the BBC, and I plan to write a bit more about that in the coming months. I’ll have been working at the BBC for 2 years come the end of January, and there is lots more I want to do there so I guess I’ll be sticking around for a while longer.

So long, 2012. Bring on 2013. Happy New Year!

Happy New Year (2012)

Another year gone by, and once again it has been a great one.

In January I started a new job, web developer on the Frameworks team at the BBC. Five years or so ago I came up with a list of three companies I would like to work for. Yahoo! was one of them. Tick. BBC was one of the others. Tick! I’m pleased to say that my expectations have been exceeded, I work with a great bunch of people and enjoy (almost) every day. Starting on Tuesday, my first day back after a Christmas break, I’m going to start work on a very exciting accessibility related project, making my job for the next month or so even more interesting.

In March I co-presented ‘Inclusive Design: Creating Beautiful, Usable & Accessible Websites’ at SXSW Interactive, and the following week had the best conference experience I’ve ever had at CSUN 2011. This year I will be attending again, and also speaking on the subject of Cyberethics and Accessibility.

In July, my first book was published. I’ve had enough time away from writing it to think that I’d like to have a go at the 4th edition, but this time write it from scratch instead of revising a previous edition.

After all that the second half of the year seemed quite quiet, but passed just a quickly.

This year there is one other big occasion I am looking forward to, the wedding of my sister at the end of April.

So, what else has been going on?

  • I finally started to lose weight, still a long way to go, but I’m getting there. My sisters wedding is a big incentive to lose a lot more.
  • Still no place of my own, but I’m a bit more hopeful of buying somewhere this year.
  • I attended a few more gigs in 2011 than I did in 2010. Best of them were: Iron Maiden, Iron Maiden (saw them twice in just over a week), Within Temptation, and Terrorvision (the second time I saw them, although they were good the first time as well).
  • On a related note, I’ve not picked up my bass for an entire year. I really need to buy a new one, but that has been the case for years.
  • Now I’ve started to lose weight I’m hopeful that I can take up Judo again, without damaging my knees every time I play.

So, life is good, and I hope yours is too. Have a great year, everyone.

Published

Today my first book, Beginning CSS: Cascading Style Sheets for Web Design, was released. Published by Wrox, this is the 3rd edition of a popular book that was previously written by Richard York, and I can only hope it is reviewed as favourably as his editions.

Richard gets author credit on the 3rd edition because this a revision, albeit one with lots of new stuff, rather than a rewrite. When Wrox offered me the job of creating the 3rd edition they let me make the decision on whether to revise or rewrite – I choose to revise it as I had no idea of what I was getting myself in to and figured it would be easier than starting with a blank page. In fact I found editing another persons words harder than writing the original copy in the book. If there is a next time, I’ll know better.

The process of writing / revising a book was interesting, a combination of frustration, hard work and satisfaction. I spent over 6 months knowing that whenever I was doing anything in my spare time other than writing that I had something I should be doing. At the same time browser vendors don’t have the good grace to stop working on their products (not even Microsoft!) so that the book doesn’t get out of date so quickly. While everything I wrote applies perfectly well to the latest versions of browsers, the deadline for the last chapter was just before the release of both IE9 and Firefox 4, and I knew nothing about IE10 or Firefox 5.

When I was done it was a great relief, but only a few weeks after I was already missing it, and couldn’t stop myself working on a chapter outline for another book. Whether I’ll ever write it is a different matter.

For now I can only hope that someone, somewhere, learns a thing or two about CSS from this book, and that they go on to enjoy creating websites as much as I do.

BBC

I am proud to be able to say that from tomorrow, 24th January 2011, I will be an employee of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

I will be working as a web developer on the Frameworks team, part of the Future Media and Technology Group. The BBC have long been on the list of organizations I wanted to work for (a list that included Yahoo! incidentally) so I am very excited about this new job.

I’ll be on the same team as one former colleague from the Yahoo! Front Doors team, Andrew ‘Bob’ Brockhust, and will hopefully get to work with other former Yahoo!s Neil Crosby, David Dorward and Mike Whitaker, who have also joined the BBC over the last few years. I’m also looking forward to meeting many more smart and talented people, and to having the opportunity to develop some great things with them.