Web Accessibilty

accessibility iconsThe Americans with Disability Act (ADA), was passed in 1990 “to [eliminate] discrimination against people with disabilities.” Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web in 1989 and developing in 1990 both the first web server, and the first web browser, called WorldWideWeb and later renamed Nexus.

The Internet and the WWW provided both new opportunities for those with disabilities and new challenges.

Making things accessible to all in a digital environment takes extra thought and effort and, unfortunately, that is still not being done in all case. I am sensitive and aware of many of these issues but willing to admit that I don’t always run every check on webpages or add relevant alt tags to every image.

I have worked on a number of online projects that required focus groups and user testing, but those tests did not usually include people with disabilities or specifically address all the issues of accessibility testing.

using a touchscreen with a head dauber
A voter with a manual dexterity disability is making choices on a touchscreen with a head dauber

There have been design jobs I have done that required accessible checks because they were government sites or grant-funded by government agencies. The website for the Poetry Center at PCCC is an example of a site that because of its funding support

There are now free tools that will check many, but not all, of the most important accessibility issues on your website. WAVE Toolbar is an extension originally designed for the Firefox browser but now available in Chrome. It’s an interesting example because if you view it using Firefox you get the message: “The WAVE Firefox Toolbar is no longer available. It is no longer compatible with new Firefox versions and the Mozilla add-on developer environment no longer supports the functionality required for toolbar evaluation. We recommend that you install the updated WAVE Chrome extension.” Even accessibility tools aren’t always accessible.

Each of these tools requires interpretation in the same way that using a spellchecker or grammar checker or plagiarism-detecting tool require user interpretation. On the Poetry Center website, I will get “errors” that say “Heading markup should be used if this content is intended as a heading” but the noted line of code is not intended as a heading, so I can dismiss the error.

This post itself will produce dozens of errors in a check and some of them are out of my control because they are built into the WordPress theme I am using and I don’t have complete control over things like built-in anchors and semantic tags. Still, it is still worth running the checks to see if there are things I can address, such as images without tags (descriptions for visually-impaired users) or tables that will not present the information intended correctly to someone using a screen reader.

Do I always run a check on every page I produce. No. I am guilty of doing general checking when I first produce a site and then getting lazy as I add pages (especially true for blogs). Did I run a check on this post because it is about accessibility? Yes.

A more customizable and detailed tool (perhaps harder to use and interpret for some) is HTML_CodeSniffer which is a bookmarklet that works with most browsers.

Do you ever view your site in all the current browsers? Though you might dismiss Internet Explorer as old school, if 35% of your site visitors are using it, you can’t dismiss it.

Is your site mobile-friendly and more than just friendly to phone and tablet users?

Another tool is Tota11y which is described as “an accessibility visualization toolkit…a single JavaScript file that inserts a small button in the bottom corner of your document.” When you click on the button, you see where your web page has accessibility problems.

Good places to start are probably not with the tools as much as with some sites with information about accessibility in general. The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative provides both. They have a Web Evaluation Tools List and also information such as “How People with Disabilities Use the Web.

WebAIM is another source offering “Considering the User Perspective: A Summary of Design Issues,” and information on the “Principles of Accessible Design” as part of its “Introduction to Web Accessibility.

A search will also provide many simple articles, such as “25 Ways to Make Your Website Accessible,” that can get you started as a designer with making your designs more accessible.

The first step is simply being aware that there are always potential problems for some users when you present information in a digital environment. For example, will someone using a screen reader know that I put “aware” in italics in the previous sentence, and how important is my use of italics, bold and especially colors to the meaning of the information? What is left when all of that is stripped away?

Personal Branding

Big companies spend lots of money and effort to build their brands in order to make their products stand out. Apple, Walmart, MacDonald’s -we know who they are and what they do.

But what about building your personal brand? Do you have a personal brand that helps you become recognized and can help build your career? Have you any “brand loyalty”?

I  am one of those who believes that we all have a personal brand whether we consciously created it or not. I think this is especially true as you move some of your life online through social media.

But should you consciously create a personal brand? For most people who read my posts, I would say Yes. Your personal brand is the summary of what defines us as a distinctive individual, especially online.

A solid personal brand can help you when applying for a job, building a business or networking to make new personal connection or “business” connections.

I have long advised friends and clients to grab hold of whatever Internet “real estate” is available for themselves. Do you own your name on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks?  It’s bad enough if you own a business and you can’t get the user name or domain (URL) for your business, but if you can’t get your own name, that’s bad too.

I have a acquaintance who can legitimately be called a celebrity. I had advised her years ago to buy her name as a domain, but she didn’t see the need since she didn’t have a website. Her branding was based on the information online on her employer’s website. When the time came that she did feel the need to have her own site because she had a book coming out, she discovered that someone had bought the name, “parked” it and wanted $25,000 for it.

Now, for most of us, no one is that interested in owning our domain. But if your name is fairly common, others may grab it before you. The poet Mark Doty discovered that another Mark Doty had grabbed the coveted .com domain that most people expect will be your place online. He had to settle for markdoty.org.

I told that to another poet, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, and she quickly asked me to get her domain and build a website and blog. She wanted to own her name and brand, rather than relying on what turns up in a search – like her inaccurate and incomplete Wikipedia entry.

Your personal brand is an investment and you may need to spend some money and time on building it. But it is a lifetime investment and it continues to grow.

Like it or not, your personal brand is connected to the perception of others, but you can help construct that image. How would you like others to think of you? What do you want to show up at the top of a search when you put in your name?

I wouldn’t use myself as a prime example of great personal branding, but I have been working at it for years. I bought my Ronkowitz.com domain years ago and have bought other domains for separate projects, such as my Poets Online workshop and e-zine. I write on several blogs and I try to connect all of them together and to my name.

One quick test is to type your name in a Google or other search. Are the top results your own websites, blogs and properties?  Are the results you or some one else?  I am pleased that a search on my name turns up at the top the actual me – including my @ronkowitz) on Twitter, some of my presentations on SlideShare, this Ronkowitz.com site and my faculty website at NJIT. That’s a pretty good picture of my brand these days.

The term “digital footprint” used to mean the data trail left by our interactions in a digital environment. That includes everything we do on the Internet on any connected devices including phones, tablets and any connected devices like a GPS, smart TV etc. We leave footprints in the world accidentally, but branding should be what we leave intentionally. We might try to cover up or erase some of our footprints as part of polishing our brand.

You need to be more mindful of the trail you leave, and also to consciously create an impression that is one who want to show to others, rather than one that has been created for you by web spiders, data trackers, cookies and clever marketing tools.

Current Trends for Designing Your Website

If you are designing or redesigning your website now, you should look at some of the current design trends.

Responsive and flat design have both been trendy in the past year, but plenty of older sites have never upgraded. If these terms are unknown to you, that might be a reason to hire a designer! But put simply, flat design is a style with minimum use of  elements meant to give the illusion of three dimensions. That means not using drop shadows, gradients or textures, and employing simple typography and flat colors. Designers like flat design because it allows interface designs to be more streamlined and efficient.  The current version of  the CondeNast.com site is a nice example of flat design. (More on responsive design)

Lack of updating is also a cause for not having a real mobile alternative for your site. That doesn’t mean just that your site can be viewed on a mobile device – any site can be viewed, but does it work efficiently on that platform? This requires a completely different view of the site.

This graphic from Coastal Creative shows 8 trends they expect to influence designs this year. Not every one works for your site. For example, the “cards” design is very popular, but it’s not for all applications.

 

 

Source: 8 Design Trends You Can Expect to See in 2016 | Red Website Design Blog

Erik Satie’s Umbrellas

When Erik Satie died in 1925, those closest to him were shocked to discover that the dapper French composer had lived in a filthy, threadbare room with to which he hadn’t admitted a single visitor in 27 years. Now a museum dedicated to his life and work, the dingy apartment was once strewn with hoarded umbrellas and newspapers that almost completely buried its most striking feature: two grand pianos placed one on top of the other, the upper instrument used as storage for letters and parcels. It was at once a haven and a prison for Satie, a secretive, introverted alcoholic who died from cirrhosis of the liver.

One of many mysteries about his life is how the self-styled “velvet gentleman” managed to keep up appearances, emerging from his squalid hovel so immaculately groomed (always in one of seven identical grey suits purchased in 1895 with part of a small inheritance) for the daily 10km stroll to his favourite cafés and local haunts in Paris.

See more at: www.limelightmagazine.com.au