WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

@media – Day 2

Another day, another healthy dose of web standards and development techniques. While those in the audience were clearly suffering the effects of last night’s game/party/drunken melee, today’s presentations were no less relevant or useful than yesterday’s.

Dan Cederholm started the day talking about Bulletproof Web Design. He presented several tricks for ensuring that site designs react correctly to changes in user preferences, such as font sizing, color options, etc. He also presented some cool ways to break out of the box – to make the restricting rectangular boxes that the CSS box model offers look a little less rectangular.

Robin Christopherson from AbilityNet then presented on some techniques for evaluating accessibility that go beyond just evaluating code and looking at specs. Things like ensuring that the pages are magnifier and voice recognition friendly. And the necessity of providing alternatives to inaccessible AJAX and Flash and other dynamic web elements.

Cameron Moll (who, I just discovered, lived just an hour or so from WebAIM headquarters until this last week) shared an excellent overview of mobile web technologies and what it means for us as web developers. There’s certainly a lot of hype around mobile access these days, but until the industry comes up with some modicum of consistency or (heaven’s forbid) UI standards, then the whole realm of wireless design, let alone accessible mobile design, is going to be difficult to approach.

Roger Johanson, Rachel Andrews, and Dave Shea shared their ideas on CSS project management. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that most of the techniques they prescribed are ones that we use and used on our recent site redesign – undoing browser default CSS behavior to start with a truly blank style template, using multiple CSS files for site components, separating hacks from the rest of your CSS, and using comments and semantically relevant (not visually descriptive) class and id names.

The last session I went to was by Tantek Çelik on microformats. I admit that I’ve never understood microformats and what their purpose was. After hearing his presentation, I see their potential and power. I never knew how easy they were to implement – it’s just as simple as identifying page elements with their prescribed class names. The problem I see right now is with how these ‘tagged’ elements will be found by others. He discussed spidering, user detected elements (such as with Tails for Firefox), and user posting or pinging of content, but each of these has downsides. Spidering has a lot of overhead for both the spidering system and the content provider (for instance, our site is getting about as many site hits from spiders as from actual users). Leaving it to the user to find these elements does not build a large, central, searchable archive of elements. And user posting of microformatted content (such as through Pingerati) requires author activity and may not work for dynamically generated content. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding something, but this seems like the current weak link in the microformats chain. Though if something like Google began indexing tagged elements in it’s normal spidering processes and provided a sweet user interface for finding and using this content, then… well, one problem would be solved and another introduced, that being the integrity of the content itself. Blimey (to use an English term), this paragraph turned into a blog entry of it’s own.

A few more get-togethers tomorrow, but for the most part @media 2006 is concluded. It’s been a worthwhile time for me. I’ve learned a lot and met some wonderful people. I can’t wait for the podcasts and presentation notes to be posted!

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