Buzz Archive: August 2003

JAWS petition: just say no

There is increasing buzz in web designer circles about a petition to Freedom Scientific to produce a free version of their JAWS screen reader so that web designers can test their own web pages. JAWS is the leading screen reader on the market by a wide margin, and as interest in web accessibility has skyrocketed, so to has interest in JAWS. However, this petition is a bad idea, for several reasons:

  • Web designers should not start out coding to the quirks of specific accessibility tools, for the same reasons they should not start out coding to the quirks of specific visual browsers. The W3C has recently updated their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which provide clear and concise guidelines for making web sites that are accessible to a wide range of users, platforms, and disabilities. Start there and understand the issues first.
  • There are free tutorials available, such as Dive Into Accessibility, which explain individual guidelines and explain how specific examples affect different users in different situations, using different tools. JAWS is one of the tools specifically covered in the tutorial.
  • There are Free Software tools, such as the text-only browser Lynx, which do a better job of providing a baseline of accessible behavior. If your site is usable in Lynx, it's going to be accessible to virtually everyone. Lynx is available for every platform on Earth.
  • For the remaining 1% of cases where quirks in JAWS cause specific problems on your site and require specific workarounds, Freedom Scientific offers a free, fully functional demo version of the latest version of JAWS (currently 4.5.1). The demo will run for 40 minutes, then stop running until you reboot. But you can reboot and re-run it as often as you like; there is no upper limit on usage. The JAWS petition that is currently circulating incorrectly states that "since the free download for JAWS is time limited, it is of no use to the designer after expiration date." This is false; you may use it as long as you like, 40 minutes at a time.

Assistive Device Behavior Charts

Over at Juicy Studio, Gez Lemon is developing a chart that shows the capabilities of various assistive devices commonly used by others to access web content. Included in this list of devices are JAWS for Windows, WindowEyes, IBM Home Page Reader, pwWebSpeak, and EmacSpeak(linux based).

Gez announced the launch via his website and also on the WebAIM discussion list, a thread worth reading. Gez is interested in feedback.

Quite a nice project in the works.

The Juicy Studio website also offers a tutorials section(wide ranging topics) and runs a forum -- topical areas covered are Standards Compliance, Accessibility, Web Development, Programming and much more.

The Juicy Studio site validates and follows the guidelines of XHTML 1.1, CSS, WAI WCAG 1.0 AAA compliance, and Bobby. RSS feeds and WML options for the website are available.

“When you're on the move, visit the Juicy Studio WAP site(WML) to keep up with the latest tutorials, and search the Glossary of Terms database.” Gez Lemon, Juicy Studio.

Nice work and website, Gez.

Validation just got better

Much clearer error explanations and a new "fussy parsing" mode are the major new features of the latest W3C Validator Beta release:

“The big news in this version is internal support for custom and customizeable error explanations. This means an end to digging all over the net drying to figure out what an error message means; just turn on the "Verbose Output" option and the explanation will be displayed inline with each error message.”

“When the W3C Markup Validator is running in "Fussy Parsing" mode it will complain about all sorts of things that are technically legal in HTML, but which is known to be problematic in practice and probably not what you wanted.” Terje Bless, W3C Markup Validator Team

These improvements will certainly aid less experienced HTML authors in their quest for valid markup that works in all browsers.

For more details read the full announcement, or just go for it.

An Accessibility Presentation For the People

For the People ("Bringing our world together, one voice at a time.") is a voice chat service that's worth checking out, not least because tomorrow they will be having a presentation by Gary Moulton from Microsoft's accessibility division. You will need to join to take part (and hopefully there's still time to do this, as the page reads "Most membership requests are processed within hours of their receipt, but please allow 72 hours to receive your confirmation of membership via Email before contacting us."). This is a great opportunity to ask someone from Microsoft about the issues that matter to you and about the company's support for web standards.

New CSS Working Drafts

The W3C Working Groups on Wednesday released three new Working Drafts attached to CSS: the CSS3 Presentation Levels Module, meant to aid creation of outlines and slide presentations; the CSS Print Profile, for printing documents on low-cost hardware; and the CSS3 Syntax Module. Developer comments on these Working Drafts are invited on the public www-style mailing list.

Aural Pleasure

In an eloquent radio interview for National Public Radio (NPR), Paul Ford of ftrain describes the evolution of Web standards.

What's especially interesting is that Paul uses descriptions of human language as a metaphor for the merging of various Web standards. He carries the metaphor through very well, and as a result describes the standards issue in a very non-judgemental, realistic way.

Postcard Tips

This is an alternative way to get the message out. Matt Robinsion developed the Wish You Were Here pages : a small site designed to advocate modern web design practice, with tips for web designers. Tips are arranged or grouped in categories from Design(Making your site attractive and usable.), to Coding(markup)(Writing better HTML and CSS), to Content(Improving your site content).

“Elegant, flexible designs, easier maintenance and lower bandwidth costs. Don't you wish you were here? Look through these postcards for coding, design and content tips for your own sites, and if one of the sites you visit regularly doesn't measure up, why not show them you care by emailing them the URL of an applicable card?” Matt Robinson on the page

On the front of accessibility, one may like to pass out the link or cards from another website. The WAI Quick Tips Reference can be quite helpful to many. The cards or list contain 10 key accessibility tips and the printed version will fit inside a wallet and are available for free.