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Building Accessible Websites [Paperback]

Joe Clark
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 11 2002 VOICES

Using a strategic approach to the issues in a journalistic style, this book will be a foundation for how people think about this issue going forward-the first book people would read on the topic, before delving into the minutiae of the moment.

With lawsuits and human-rights complaints proliferating, and with simple awareness of accessibility percolating through the industry, soon it will be hard to find a web shop that won't be producing accessible sites, whether it presently has the experience and know-how or not. Government mandates, lawsuits from disability groups, more non-English speaking web users, and an increasing population of Web-enabled devices make this a vital topic.


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From the Inside Flap

Quite simply, I want it all, and so should you. Give us everything you've got. Give us everything there is to give.

Designers assume accessibility means a boring site, a myth borne out by oldschool accessibility advocates, whose hostility to visual appeal is barely suppressed. Neither camp has its head screwed on right. It's not either–or; it's both–and.

I want nothing less than spectacular graphic design, intelligent, well-tested usability, high-calibre writing with typography to match, top-flight photography and illustration, and resolute cleverness. I want standards compliance, with old, incompatible browsers left to die on the ice floes.

And while all this is happening, I want the highest practicable accessibility standards. I brook no compromises. Why should you?

I'll tell you where all this comes from. I respond strongly to visual stimuli and to words, an unusual combination. If you've read Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Basic Books, 1983), you'll be familiar with the idea that the human brain fires on a number of different cylinders, as it were, which explains why kids who are good in gym class are often lousy in math. Now, in my case the faculties are asymmetrical: I can write but I can't draw. Yet both words and pictures speak to me.

I go back over twenty years in accessibility, dating from a prophetic night at age 13 when I stumbled upon an open-captioned television program, The Captioned ABC News. Curiosity immediately took root about this newscast, with its heavily-edited visible words partially duplicating the news anchor's delivery. One detail grew significant: Why did the W in the captioning typeface stand higher than the other lower-case letters, and why were the quotation marks two little dots? Posing those questions to the actual captioners led me to discover typography and graphic design, which I have obsessed over, written about, and practiced ever since.

I love good TV, good cinema, good graphic design. I have a modest understanding of photography, and am a published photographer.

All these traits are inseparable. I cannot turn one faculty off while enjoying another. Accessible media, when very well done and when based on something worth looking at in the first place, will form a gestalt. Accessibility is value-adding.

Quote

Accessibility is value-adding.

I feel like I am missing out when I am forced to deal with inaccessible media. The communal sensory pleasures of watching films in first-run theatres are offset by the lack of beautiful captions and apt, well-delivered descriptions. I have been known to attend plays and subconsciously glance at the feet of the performers, expecting words to appear and disappointing myself when they don't. (Yet I have dreamed in captioning only twice. You'd think that would happen more often.)

True enough, some of us have a hard time taking in such a breadth of information when expressed through so many simultaneous channels. Among nondisabled people, baby boomers predominate in this category; they are one generation too old to have grown up with television, with computers, with foreground and background stimuli intermingling and swapping place. They will never get accessible media, nor should they be expected to, until of course their sight and hearing start to erode.

But this is how I look at it: I have high standards, and I know from direct, decades-long experience that beautiful visual artworks take on even greater appeal with the addition of expertly-created access features. You should have the same high standards and you should come to share that knowledge.

In this book, I refuse to advocate the unnecessary compromise of visual sophistication for accessibility. But I will not advocate the compromise of accessibility for visual sophistication, either. If you have to noticeably alter your layout to make it accessible, that's what I'll tell you to do. But if, as is nearly always the case, it is possible to provide accessibility with no visible alteration whatsover, I will tell you exactly how to do it.

It simply is not the case that appearance is more important than accessibility. Nor is it less important. Neither is it a question of "balancing" the two, as if they were incompatible. Zero-sum arithmetic is irrelevant here. Yes, you can design a site with a higher or a lower calibre of graphic design, and the entire edifice of Web accessibility as we know it is built around incremental compliance levels. You have lots of leeway. But despite what you have heard, appearance need not come at the wholesale expense of access, or vice-versa.

An objection will now come to mind. Even if we offer up every accessibility technique in the book, the experience of a disabled Website visitor simply cannot be the same as that of a nondisabled visitor. Those who advance this objection do so with the implication that they are telling us something new; it's supposed to be an airtight counterargument against going to all that trouble.

Well, newsflash, everyone: Blind people already know they're missing out on the full visual richness of the world, just as the deaf know they will never share in the world's wide-ranging auditory panoply. Telling us that people with sensory disabilities miss out on something is like complaining that vegetarians can't eat meat.

The limitations of disability are obviously built-in; are sometimes immutable but are, in any case, unlikely to change at any specific moment; are accepted by actual people with disabilities; and are barely worth talking about, let alone advancing as a justification for doing nothing. Why moon and gripe over what you cannot see or hear if accessible forms of representation are right there waiting to be used?

Equality is a misnomer. Equivalency is the goal. The only people who hold that disabled people's experiences must be on an absolute par with those of nondisabled people are opponents of accessibility. The real audience for accessibility features simply uses them; if well-executed, such access features are barely noticed. I speak very much from lived experience here. What gets noticed, what gets in the way, is inaccessibility, or, I suppose, inept or ill-executed accessibility.

Quote

Accessibility puts the multi in media.

Nondisabled people view the media landscape and take it all in, and so do disabled people; the fact that the view and the media landscape might differ for each camp is neither here nor there. With access features, both camps are working at the top of their respective forms.

Besides, Web design is a form of multimedia. Adding access features brings truth to that word, or at least its first half. Just as even the crassest TV show becomes way more multi once you add captions and audio descriptions, even the crassest Websites turn into real multimedia with the rich textual and navigational redundancy this book teaches you to create. Accessibility puts the multi in media.

The only way to get what I want – which is everything at once: full-on design with full-on accessibility – is to teach you how to do the latter. I can't teach you to be a better designer or programmer, but I can and will teach you top-notch accessibility skills. As for the other half of my goal: Once you're finished with this book, it may be time to upgrade your design and programming skills to match your newfound mastery of accessibility.

This book is all about raising the bar.

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

From the Back Cover

Using a strategic approach to the issues in a journalistic style, this book will be a foundation for how people think about this issue going forward-the first book people would read on the topic, before delving into the minutiae of the moment.

With lawsuits and human-rights complaints proliferating, and with simple awareness of accessibility percolating through the industry, soon it will be hard to find a web shop that won't be producing accessible sites, whether it presently has the experience and know-how or not. Government mandates, lawsuits from disability groups, more non-English speaking web users, and an increasing population of Web-enabled devices make this a vital topic.


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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly readable and recommended Jan. 7 2004
Format:Paperback
Right up front, let me say that I usually find web usability books are a major pain to read. The authors normally set themselves up as "experts" and present all their opinions as undeniable facts. While you can get good information from their writings, I quickly tire of the tone of "I'm the expert".

So why am I reading a book on web accessibility? Because I know it's good for me. It's a subject I don't know much about. And with this title, I was pleasantly surprised. This is a very readable book by an engaging writer, and it's a good mix of opinion, fact, standards, and practicality. It also helps that he doesn't much care for the "my opinion is fact" usability experts either.

With the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, public entities have to address the issue of making their websites accessible to various groups of disabled individuals. Clark starts off by explaining how visually-disabled, hearing-disabled, learning-disabled, and physically-disabled people use computers and the web. He then explains in entertaining fashion how each type of element in your web page can be made accessible to the different devices that are used by the disabled. The suggestions are also broken down into beginning, intermediate, and advanced techniques so that developers at all levels of experience can take positive steps towards compliance with accessibility regulations.

For Notes/Domino developers, you have the same issues to deal with as do web developers on other platforms. Since Domino applications on the web are often Notes applications rendered to HTML "on the fly", it's a little more difficult to exercise the total control that other types of web page coding involve.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Since it is not an option, you must do it Feb. 27 2003
By Charles Ashbacher TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
In the new environment where customer service rules, all web masters must consider the needs of those whose senses are not within the ordinary norms. Furthermore, the federal government has a great deal to say about what is required of web sites when it comes to servicing the handicapped. Therefore, it is necessary for all web programmers to learn what the rules are and how to most efficiently satisfy them. That is the purpose of this book and the author is successful, although in a very preachy way.
Two pleasing points are that the author scoffs at those who play semantic games in describing people with handicaps, heaping particular scorn on the term "handicapable." People who are blind or deaf simply will not experience the web the same way as those with those senses and short of eliminating that medical limitation, nothing can be done about that. Which is the second of the points. It is absurd to try to make the experience equivalent to that of a sighted or hearing person, so the focus should be on making it as functional as possible within their field of experience.
While much has been done in terms of screen readers and closed captioning, there is still a lot of weaknesses in the technology that replaces the actions of one sense with another. Clark is very clear about those weaknesses, pointing out that some things are just not possible, so the emphasis should be on what is possible. Further points of emphasis are in the usability testing of the site, where it is difficult to perform such tests without using someone whose handicap is what the structure is supposed to overcome. As is the case with all other areas of software development, including the accessibility must be part of the initial design, as making the adaptations later is much more difficult and expensive.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Well-Structured, Useful and Practical Feb. 11 2003
Format:Paperback
Joe Clark's detractors are the sort of critics who would gleefully detract from anyone who shows the poor taste to believe what they say and say what they mean. It's far easier to construct a rambling, nattering bleat of discontent than it is to actually write a book on web accessibility.
The book is structured to support multiple levels of interest and involvement. If you want to understand the entire history of web accessibility, it's there for the reading, but if you'd prefer to skip the narrative and get to the nitty-gritty how-to, the road signs are clear. In addition, the tools are there for proficiency levels from the first-time web designer who is willing and able to contribute only 101% toward accommodating the disabled to the veteran developer for whom 200% is still insufficient.
Clark makes it clear that not everyone is so well-informed, so esoteric, and so single-minded as he; nor should they be. He merely makes it possible to try. Accommodating, flexible, and wry -- much like the best of the Web -- "Building Accessible Websites" is as many things to as many people as such a book could possibly be.
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Format:Paperback
Building Accessible Websites is a considerable achievement: a thorough, practical guide to Web accessibility that's pleasurable to read.
The book's structure is much as one might expect. Joe Clark starts by running through "some typical objections to providing accessibility, blowing them out of the water one after another," then lists a number of active reasons for making one's site accessible. He outlines the various kinds of disabilities, explains how disabled people use computers, and defines both accessibility and the structure of accessible pages.
Having mapped out -- in five relatively brief chapters -- the nature and extent of the issues, Clark gets down to the nitty-gritty: how to make images, text & links, navigation, type and color, tables & frames, stylesheets, forms & interaction, and multimedia (including Flash) all accessible.
The long chapters on images and navigation reflect Clark's belief that addressing these two issues -- even at a basic level -- will make a site "vastly more accessible" to two large disability groups: the blind/visually-impaired and the mobility-impaired.
These how-to chapters are all organized similarly. For example, Chapter 6, The Image Problem, covers:
* the three levels of accessibility for uncomplicated image types (the alt, title, and longdesc attributes);
* variations in browser support for each attribute and workarounds;
* problem image types including advertising, animated GIFs, bullets, charts & graphs, exploded drawings, hit counters, maps, pictures of text, porn, image portfolios, rollovers, sliced graphics, spacer images, and webcams);
* succinct advice on implementation.
A section titled Bottom-Line Accessibility Advice concludes each chapter.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Good content, poorly written.
First of all, I would like commend Mr. Clark for addressing this topic at all. Accessibility is an important in computer development. Read more
Published on Feb. 14 2005 by James
3.0 out of 5 stars Tiny, tiny font
This book has some wonderful information. However, I find it ironic how this book discusses accessibility and the book itself is not accessible! It is written in tiny, tiny font. Read more
Published on June 24 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars A Useful Perspective
In this book, Clark presents a lot of advice to help authors in creating accessible websites. Each chapter gives advice (albeit very opinionated) on how to design accessibility... Read more
Published on Dec 3 2002 by Gerard L. Torenvliet
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure to read
'Building accessible websites' was a pleasure to read, and I was particularly pleased to see that Joe Clark takes a critical look at the W3C/WAI guidelines. Read more
Published on Dec 1 2002 by Robert Jan Verkade
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative and surprisingly entertaining
I think that many people tend to avoid dealing with disable people and to what relates to disabilities. Read more
Published on Dec 1 2002 by M. Tristan Nitot
5.0 out of 5 stars Building Accessible Websites
Building Accessible Websites is a stunning book.
Accessibility is not an afterthought anymore. It is a vital component of the World Wide Web for Personal, Professional and... Read more
Published on Nov. 20 2002 by Alan H. Herrell
1.0 out of 5 stars a labour of (self-) love
I was looking forward to reading this, but what a disappointment. I need information on what the laws and standards actually are, not what Mr Clarke thinks they *should* be. Read more
Published on Nov. 7 2002 by Terry J. King
5.0 out of 5 stars Guide for Building Accessible Web Sites
BUILDING ACCESSIBLE WEBSITES
AUTHOR: Joe Clark
PUBLISHER: New Riders
REVIEWED BY: Barbara Rhoades
BOOK REVIEW: When you build a web site, do you think of... Read more
Published on Oct. 29 2002 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of detail, fun to read
Many books on accessibility make you feel guilty and some offer advice that sounds easy but is hard to follow in real world (paying) design situations. Read more
Published on Oct. 29 2002
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