WCAG2 Masterclass workshop: Roger Hudson interview

In the first of our interviews with presenters for the upcoming Masterclass series of workshops, we talked with Roger Hudson. Roger is one of the world’s leading accessibility experts and has a wonderful blend of theory and practical insight. Roger’s also one of the FullCodePress organisers.

We asked Roger about the current state of accessibility and what attendees can expect at the workshop.

Webstock: Hasn’t the accessibility battle been won already? Don’t most developers already take accessibility into account when they build websites?

Roger: Well things are getting better, no doubt about that, but there are still an awful lot of poor sites. Recently, when preparing a paper for the CSUN conference, I did a quick review of the 7 most visited sites in Australia and the 7 most visited in the US – only one of these 14 sites did not have accessibility errors on the homepage. Conference slides and speakers notes from my presentation are available here.

Webstock: How important is WCAG 2 and how widely used it is?

Roger: In my opinion WCAG 2 is a great improvement on WCAG 1 and I believe that when developers understand how to use it they will find complying with WCAG 2 easier. WCAG 2 is going to be the accessibility benchmark for many years to come, New Zealand adopted WCAG 2 in March 2009 and Australia endorsed a year later. However, the way the NZ authorities have adopted WCAG 2 is going to present some interesting challenges for the web community on your side of the Tasman. The draft of new US section 508 is also closely aligned with WCAG 2.

Webstock: What’s WAI-ARIA and why is it important?

Roger: WAI-ARIA defines a way to make Web content and Web applications more accessible to people with disabilities. It especially helps with dynamic content and advanced user controls like those developed with AJAX. Work on WAI-ARIA is moving pretty fast. To varying degrees, ARIA is now supported by several browsers and screen readers, and is likely to become a W3C Recommendation in the near future.

During the workshop I will be showing a number of examples of how ARIA can improve the accessibility of web page components including forms and slider controls. Some in the web community believe once ARIA is more widely supported it will be here for the long term, other see ARIA as a temporary accessibility fix until HTML 5 becomes fully endorsed and supported – either way WAI-ARIA is one of the exciting new things happening in the area of accessibility. An increasing number of sites are now incorporating some ARIA – for example the BBC.

Webstock: I suspect a number of developers see accessibility as being “too hard for too little return”. How do you answer that attitude?

Roger: Accessibility is not too hard. When you come down to it, accessibility is largely about following the specs and making sites that are semantically correct. There are one or two slightly tricky bits, but as I said earlier, I strongly believe WCAG 2 will make it easier for developers to make accessible sites – not more difficult! What is very hard/difficult is trying to retro-fix accessibility problems on sites that were badly made in the first place.

With regard to the ROI, even if we forget the several hundred thousand New Zealanders with disabilities who will benefit from having sites that are accessible, there is an explosion in the different devices which we all now use to access the web and accessible sites are much more likely to work effectively on these new devices.

Webstock: What are three key takeaways attendees will leave your workshop with? How will these help them do their job better?

Roger: 1) An understanding of how the different elements of WCAG 2 fit together. You’d be amazed how many people still don’t know the difference between ‘normative’ Guidelines and Success Criteria, and ‘informative’ Techniques.

2) Practical real-world examples which demonstrate that complying with the WCAG 2 Success Criteria is not difficult.

3) An ability to test the accessibility of sites with different tools and experience using sites with the NVDA screen reader.

And for a fourth, we will also a various easy ways of meeting the WCAG 2 requirements relating to multi-media content such as video material.

Webstock: Tell us a little about yourself. What’s your background, how did you get involved in accessibility, what keeps you working in this area?

Roger: I started in the film and television business as a writer/director and then became involved with the web. During 1996/7 I coordinated one of the first online teaching research projects called the Virtual Classroom. Started providing web usability services to clients in 2000 and then drifted into accessibility. I keep working in the area because I like doing it, when it stop being interesting and challenging I will probably move onto something else. You can find out more about me on the Web Usability site and my blog.

Webstock: Thanks Roger. We’re looking to having you here for the workshop and FullCodePress!

Paparazzi descend on Webstock

Well, not quite, but we are really pleased that there was been a great deal of media coverage of Webstock this year. This is great for our sponsors, good for the speakers, and makes us feel warm and fuzzy.

Here is some of the news coverage we’ve seen so far:

New Zealand Herald


Radio New Zealand

Media 7 And we were even on the TV!

Workit for Webstock

Webstock’s silver sponsor and longtime supporter Microsoft have taken a different approach to their presence at Webstock this year. They have chosen to take on the role of observer and broadcaster. Their efforts have culminated around a single piece of collateral – a backstage pass and a website – to create a lasting memory of Webstock for attendees and those not lucky enough to participate in the event. We caught up with Microsoft New Zealand Web Evangelist Nigel Parker and talked about their contribution to Webstock this year.

1. Tell us a little bit about the workit.co.nz website and the idea of the backstage pass.

I have been lucky enough to be involved with Webstock since its inception in 2006. I have got to know the team and previous speakers that have been involved with the event and each year that Webstock takes place I’m fascinated in the excitement and love that gets generated. Previously we have engaged the audience in activities like our Valentine’s Day Flickr photo booth. This year I really wanted to bottle that excitement and take it to a wider audience and other communities.

2. How did you go about generating the content?

Every year leading up to Webstock a small gathering of fascinating people takes place at Mahurangi College in Warkworth. The event is known as Kiwi Foo Camp and is organised by Nat Torkington and Jenine Abarbanel, with assistance from Russell Brown. This year at Foo I pulled aside Webstock speakers Ben Cerveny and Eric Ries to talk on camera about themselves and the Webstock event.

With incredible support from Webstock personality and Senior VP Natasha Lampard I was able to attend and share Adam Greenfield’s mind blowing Wellington Walkshop and talk on camera with Jeff Atwood.

2. On the site you have interviews with companies and people attending Webstock, what are you trying to achieve with this?

I have been actively part of the New Zealand web community for many years. I am continually inspired by the innovation that comes from kiwis on the web. What I wanted to do with the site was showcase some of the Microsoft Gold Partners that I think are doing cool work. Among them, Intergen has been a resident sponsor of Webstock since the beginning and I caught up with their team at the event and in their office to talk about an exciting new kiosk project that they have been working on.

Also anyone that follows me on twitter knows that I’m a huge cricket fan so it was great to be able to interview another Microsoft Gold Partner NV Interactive about their latest exciting project launched this week for New Zealand cricket.

3. You mentioned Microsoft Gold Partner, what does this mean?

Microsoft is a platform company that coalesces with a strong partner community to achieve scale. The Microsoft Gold partners are highly visible in New Zealand but sometimes that can be intimidating for smaller web companies starting out. This year we have rolled out a new programme called WebsiteSpark. The programme is designed to give smaller web companies the tools to build web solution using the latest Microsoft web and design software with no upfront cost. Peter at Swizzle has done a great job of supporting this initiative with a local hosting offer.

Eighty three NZ web design companies have already signed up to WebsiteSpark. Having worked personally with some of the companies like Mcgovern, WebsiteSpark is already showing its potential to be a great program for innovative New Zealanders working on the web.

4. Webstock is an advocate of freedom and web standards. The backstage pass site leverages both Silverlight and Flash – what are your feeling around using plugins and standards based web technologies.

I find technologies like Silverlight and Flash work as a “ready now” cross platform solution to create immersive user experiences. I see standard technologies like HTML5 as “ready soon” technologies that will achieve much of what Silverlight and Flash can do today. I am excited about the prospect of HTML5 and will definitely start using it when browsers, frameworks and tools evolve.

If you take the workit.co.nz backstage pass site as an example. I chose to publish the videos on YouTube for greatest reach and discoverability, this lead to a dependency on Flash that means you needed the plugin installed to watch the videos. The site is fully functional if you don’t have Silverlight installed but if you do have Silverlight it lights up with slicker navigation and an amazing immersive photo mosaic of shots from the Webstock conference connected to the Flickr photo service.

As more web companies support a programmer’s interface to their services the opportunity to enhance experiences on the web continues to develop. It is this future that I glimpse at during the two days of attending Webstock and plan to take back to future projects that I participate in.

Thanks for your time Nigel. We really appreciate the support that you’ve provided Webstock.

Danke Schoen!

Webstock is only possible because of the support of some bloomin’ fantastic people. Webstock 2010 was no exception, infact for me personally, due to a variety of circumstances, this one was the hardest to do and the one where I needed and appreciated the support most.

So we’d like to do a massive shout out to some of the wonderful souls who help Mike, Ben, Deb and I pull off this year’s Webstock malarkey. Their contribution; their energy; their patience; their great ideas, their sense of community and their selflessness is truly inspiring stuff.

Without further ado, great, big, huge, madsize thanks to:

The Agents Of Awesome
To Keith, Kowhai, Ludwig, Aleah, Jess, Mike, Amanda, Jenine and Tash 2.0.
Thank you for your attention to detail, your initiative, your warmth and your willingness to go the extra mile in everything you do.

Our Speakers
To Jeff Atwood, Shelley Bernstein, Daniel Burka, Ben Cerveny, Sebastian Chan, Mike Davidson, Regine Debatty, Esther Derby, Brian Fling, Thomas Fuchs, Adam Greenfield, Lachlan Hardy, Lisa Herrod, Bek Hodgson, Amy Hoy, Mark Pesce, John Resig, Eric Ries, Rives, Kevin Rose, Toby Segaran, Chris Shiflett, Scott Thomas and Jeffrey Veen.
Thank you for your sharing your knowledge with us, and inspiring us to do and think of things bigger and better than before.

Our super fricken awesome Sponsors
To Brian and the team at SilverStripe; Katy and Wayne and the folks at Intergen; Carl and Bron and the Springloaders; Nigel and Daryl and Microsoft; Leslie and Chris and Google; Rod and Craig and the Xero crew; Mark and James and the other 3month-ers; Andy and Jo and Digital NZ; Simon and the Affilorama team; Matt and Su Yin at Idealog; Rachael and Young at our nation’s airline, Air NZ; and the Wellington City Council.
Gosh dang! We feel very lucky to work with people who not only get the web, but get what we’re trying to do. A cooler team of Sponsors we could not hope to find.

Big love to James Everett, Timothy Greig, James Gilberd, Matt Dillion, Peter McLennan and the kids behind #Midnightnote, #webstockbingo and the #webstockgame. Thanks too to our other hard working and super awesome suppliers. And as always, a very, very special thank you to Ange.

And last but certainly not least, to each and every one of you who attended Webstock this year, thank you for your support and your enthusiasm and your passion. We deeply appreciate the opportunity you give us to put on this event and the faith you put in us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I’ll leave this guy to have the final word…