The speaker interviews: Glenda Sims

Glenda Sims is a web standards and accessibility evangelist and has long been passionate about these areas. We asked Webstock ’10 speaker, Lisa Herrod, to interview Glenda.

Lisa: Often we only have time and budget to conduct WCAG 2 compliance reviews on a website without user testing. What tools do you typically use for this type of work?

Glenda: My favorite free tools for accessibility testing are the WAVE Firefox Toolbar by WebAim, Vision Australia’s Web Accessibility Toolbar and Deque’s FireEyes. If I only had 2-4 hours to review a site and no budget for accessibility testing software, I would pick a handful or representative pages to test. I would start with the Wave Toolbar for a quick smoke test on the representative pages. Then my habit has been to move to the Vision Australia’s Web Accessibility Toolbar to do quick manual testing on things like CSS, color and structure. My new favorite tool is FireEyes because it is able to pinpoint accessibility errors in reading order, color and javascript, in addition to handling the usual WCAG 2.0 tests that can be done automatically.

Lisa: Sometimes accessibility testing is conducted independently of the web design and development process. Do you have any tips for integrating it throughout the whole process?

Glenda: Bringing accessibility in at the end of a project, after design and development, is a bit like ordering food in a restaurant and not telling the server that you have a severe allergy to onions until they bring your food to the table. There is likely to be rework and a delay in successful delivery. If you simply include the requirement for a site to be WCAG 2.0 compliant in the original project definition, you give the team a chance to design and develop with accessibility in mind. Identify who will conduct the accessibility tests and introduce them to the design/development team before a line of code is written. Encourage the designers/developers to ask the accessibility expert for advice and/or mini-reviews. This will give the team a chance to make minor adjustments throughout the project, rather than flying blindly into a brick wall at the end.

Lisa: How do you respond to web developers and managers who think they don’t have time for accessibility?

Glenda: Actually, I love to work with developers and managers who think accessibility is a waste of time. First I ask them if accessibility testing is less important than quality assurance testing or security testing. I probe until I uncover their internal priorities and concerns about WCAG 2.0 compliance. I imagine I’m in their shoes and I assure them that I want to find the sweet spot where WCAG 2.0 compliance actually makes good business sense to them.

My greatest joy is converting a person from an accessibility resistor to an accessibility advocate.

Lisa: What is your stance on automated versus manual accessibility testing?

Glenda: As important as manual accessibility testing is, I would be lost without automated testing. For the last 10 years I’ve been working at a university with over one million web pages. There was no way on earth we could ever manual test all of our pages. One of my most powerful tools was a regular monthly accessibility scans of our sites. The problem with a manual test, is the results are only good for the moment in time in which the test was conducted. But with automated scans, you have the ability to run massive scans on a regular basis and see when sites begin to degrade.

I’ve always thought of automated testing as my first line of defense that would help me turn my head in the right direction. Once I’m looking in the right direction, then I can make excellent use of the limited time I have to conduct manual testing, or better yet conduct user testing.

Lisa: How have you seen accessibility testing evolve?

Glenda: When I started in the field of accessibility, over a decade ago, the standards were new and testing methods were not always objective. With the release of WCAG 2.0 we’ve benefited from all the knowledge learned over the past ten years, resulting in very clear testing methods. Items that I never thought could be tested automatically are now being tested with no manual intervention (like color contrast). Even more exciting is the progress made in WAI-ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications).

When I see the W3C, Adobe, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Opera, Vision Australia and more working together to make dynamic web content accessible, I have no doubts that we are on the road to helping the web and the world reach our full potential.

Thank you both, Glenda and Lisa! And we’re looking forward to seeing you at Webstock.

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