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Derek Featherstone: on accessibility

Derek is an international accessibility expert. Can we do things on the web that go beyond the “can we just meet the guidelines?” and make things truly more accessible for users?

People with disabilities will have their preferences and needs always available so the web/environment could adapt to them for a change

Derek described the process for building accessibility complaint websites. Most people think of the W3C guidelines when they think of accessibility;

  • Start with pristine HTML
  • Add in presentation with CSS
  • Add in behaviour with Java Script

However going beyond those basics we need to look further. Small barriers can be big to those with disabilities. There was a humorous (yet serious) point when an example was given of a screen reading on an Amazon page and a Chapters page, both of which are a nightmare for those utilising screen readers. Funny for us to watch but a real fail for those with disabilities.

Make a site more accessible is an exercise in incremental improvement – slowly making small changes for gradual improvement. Derek challenged us all to incrementally improve and quoted Albert Einstein who said;

If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it

Derek was challenged to make an online crossword accessible - he achieved it by using labels on clues and using JavaScript to jump from one clue to the next. He then created a field set in the correct numerical order and applied JavaScript to make the crosspoint easier to use. He also showed a Greasemonkey script that works on a YouTube page to allow full keyboard video control. A talking, accessibility-optimised, talking map – useful? Who knows if there is an application for that functionality?

Derek talked about the Firefox plugin Ubiquity and asked what would happen if we could use that as an accessibility tool and left everyone thinking about how far we could go with accessibility. What kind of things can you do to make a difference for people? The perfect quote, again from Einstein,

If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants