Accessibility 2.0 – A million flowers bloom

Last Tuesday, 2009-09-22, I attended AbilityNet’s Accessibility 2.0 conference at Microsoft’s London Victoria offices. Here is my writeup of the notes I took in a mostly unedited form. I hope you can make some sense of it!

You can get the speakers presentations as they become available from AbilityNet.

Greg Fields (RIM) – Designing Accessible Mobile User Interfaces

  • Use native UI components where possible.
  • Be mindful of colour and contrast; minimum 7:1 contrast.
  • Respect user preferences by inheriting global settings.
  • Error messages should help users recover from the error.
  • Context menus should have the most frequently used option as the initial focus.
  • Consistent navigation, controls, interactions throughout the application.
  • Progressive disclosure: make users aware of the number of step in a process.
  • Organise information by type, meaning, etc.
  • Limit ‘chunks’ of info to 3 to 5 items.

Christian Heilmann (Yahoo!) – Neither Technology Nor Accessibility Is Dark Magic

  • Accessibility movement does not have impact / momentum.
  • Social web can be user to spread the message.
  • WiiHab – technology making a difference.
  • Web 2.0 is for everyone, not just geeks.
  • Branding holds us back, acknowledge and work with the competition.
  • Make links understandable and predictable.
  • Knowledge + Passion = Accessibility.
  • Teaching means being open.

Access Beyond the Desktop

A panel consisting of:

  • Lucy Dodd (BBC)
  • Henny Swan (Opera)
  • Veronika Jermolina (AbilityNet)
  • Greg Fields (RIM)
  • Damon Rose (BBC Ouch)
  • Julian Harty (Google)

Greg Fields

  • Moblie surpasses landline in some markets.
  • Serverside speech recognition can work with fewer client side requirements.

Henny Swan

  • Concerned about making the same mistakes as on the desktop in 1998.
  • Crossover between mobile and desktop accessibility.
  • WAI-ARIA, CSS3, media queries, HTML5 and geolocation technologies need to be ported to mobile.
  • Progressive enhancement for mobile.

Damon Rose

  • Mobile is a ‘killer app’ for blind people.
  • Mobile sites must not destroy the web experience.


  • Same site with mobile stylesheet.
  • Allow personalisation and port preferences or allow different preference profiles for desktop and mobile.
  • Mobile accessibility requires collaboration between hardware vendors, software vendors and site / application developers.

Lisa Herrod (Scenario Seven) – Understanding Deafness: History Language and the Web

  • 1 in 7 (about 9 million) are deaf ro hard of hearing in the UK.
  • Big ‘D’ Deaf: culturally deaf, may not speak English as a first language.
  • Little ‘d’ deaf: does not identify with the deaf community, English as first language.

Steve Faulkner (Paciello Group) – Accessibility with HTML5 and WAI-ARIA

  • HTML5 semantic elements and WAI-ARIA landmark roles do not serve the same purpose.
  • Some HTML5 enhancements can be implemented with ARIA now e.g. HTML5 ‘required’ attribute is equivalent to aria-required=”true” attribute.
  • Canvas accessibility has fail! Bolt on not built in.
  • Audio, video and canvas fallback content should be outside the element – ignore the specification advice.

Mark Boulton (Mark Boulton Design) – Inclusive Design

  • Accessibility ‘experts’ need to educate designers better.
  • Accessibility is put off as ‘someone else’s problem‘.

Saqib Shaikh (Microsoft) – Silverlight Accessibility

  • Same accessibility challenges and requirements as any other development – colour contrast, semantics, etc.
  • Detects high contrast and operating system colours.
  • Works with browser zoom.
  • Controls are ‘lookless’ – their function is separate to their appearance.

To Comply Or Not To Comply

A panel consisting of:

  • Kath Moonan (AbilityNet)
  • Bim Egan (RNIB)
  • Léonie Watson (Nomensa)
  • Mark Boulton
  • Lisa Herrod (Scenario Seven)
  • Christain Heilmann (Yahoo!)


  • Accessible products can still have beautiful design.
  • Guidelines are a starting point not the end, and shouldn’t stop innovation.
  • Responsibility for accessibility should not just lie with developers.
  • Test early, test often, with as diverse a group of users as possible, with and without disabilities.


This was yet another great day for accessibility learning in the UK, following on from Techshare the previous week and Standards.Next at the weekend. Every presentation had something to say, and as usual it was good to get a chance to talk with like minded individuals throughout the day.

The day brought up a lot of discussion over how best to create mobile sites: same markup with a mobile stylesheet or a separate implementation based on the same content source. This is not my area of expertise, but I find it an interesting question nonetheless. I’m looking forward to hearing more on this.

There is one point I would like to comment on. Mark Boulton said that the current crop of accessibility experts, who in the main are developers, need to do more to educate designers. Kath Moonan said that developers were heroes for being the ones to learn the skills needed, and it was also said that developers should not be the only ones with whom responsibility for accessibility lies.

At the moment developers are expected to know about accessibility not just when it comes to the code they produce, but also in terms of design and content, which they are not necessarily involved in producing. While I agree that developers can help designers catch up this can’t last. Developers cannot continue to be the single point through which accessibility is researched and knowledge distributed.

It seems to me that designers need to not only take responsibility for the accessibility of their work but also for their own education. Those of us who have been thinking about such things for longer can start the ball rolling, but beyond that we should be working towards developers and designers having a basic but broad knowledge of accessibility on top of which each group builds its own specialist knowledge.

Standards.Next – Cognition and accessibility

On Saturday, 2009-09-19, the second Standards.Next event took place at City University in London, organised by Henny Swan and Bruce Lawson. This time the subject was ‘Cognition and accessibility’, a much overlooked topic.

I had the distinct pleasure of speaking along side some remarkable and talented people: Antonia Hyde, Jamie Knight and David Owens.

There have been several good write ups of the event already, but I’ll add my thoughts as well. The ‘key points’ are what I took from each speaker, not necessarily what they intended to be the most important.

Antonia Hyde – Accessibility beyond code

Antonia has rare access to testing time with users with learning difficulties, people who benefit tremendously from the internet. The work she does is invaluable in teaching us how we, as developers, can help. As you may be able to tell I’m a big fan!

Key points:

  • Describe content and controls literally – ambiguity is a barrier to comprehension
  • Combine icons with text to re-enforce messages
  • Colour coded blocks of content or sections of a site can enhance structure

Jamie Knight and Lion – Autism, the Internet and Antelopes

Before Standards.Next Jamie was interviewed by Henny about his experience of being a web developer / designer with autism. This was eyeopening and truly astonishing – the idea that stress could affect a person’s ability to talk for the next seven months came as a shock to me.

On the day he added to this with an entertaining talk and further Q&A.

Key points:

  • Fast paced action and speech in video can be hard to follow
  • Screen readers can help process content
  • Instructions must be in a literal form

David Owens – Lessons Learned Doing Usability Testing

David has recently been involved in user testing, something that few developers are able to do enough of. It is great that he works for a company that sees the value in this, because it is something that even big organisations often skip.

Key points:

  • Users can’t always remember how to do things that they have done before
  • Font re-size widgets still have a place, even though they duplicate browser functionality
  • Put flash controls before the flash so that users are made aware of them before they give up

Me! – Content and Cognition

It has been very interesting to read what other people took from my talk. In a way I felt that I was giving a summary of many of the points the other speakers had made. It reinforced my opinion that so many of the things we need to do to make our sites usable applies to most of the groups that we, rightly or wrongly, put users in.

The points I was trying to make were:

  • Avoid distractions
  • Mix content types to reach a wider audience
  • Provide feeds or APIs to allow others to transform your content in to new forms

It also kicked off a number of interesting discussions.

  1. I advised that popup windows should be avoided. Kath Moonan added that lightboxes, which are like in-page popups, also test badly with users. It appears that Alastair Campbell may be planning some research on this matter.
  2. I advised to not create elastic layouts, because this makes font-resize work like page-zoom rather than these being separate things. This removes choice from users. Some may disagree with me but I think it is a valid argument. Mike Davies has asked me to write more about this for one of his sites, so there will opportunity to flame me at a later time.

My slides are available online.

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