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!