Wendy Chisholm

Stairs make the building inaccessible, not the wheelchair. Co-author of Universal Design for Web Applications. Strategist for Microsoft. @wendyabc at twitter.

Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

today’s stew

with 2 comments

It’s interesting that comments on my previous stew focused on types of toilets (although, I am happy to have learned about the toto 2000). I’m not sure if that means the idea of monetary incentives for accessible web design should be flushed…

This morning as I prepared for my commute to work (the walk to the basement of our house), I was thinking about the comments on Scoble’s Will videoblogs be outlawed because of California’s accessibility laws? One of the concerns is limits on personal expression.

Having recently wrestled with making a slideset accessible, I can understand the pain and frustration. I don’t have the hours to spend futzing with broken software. I need to get those slides accessible, publish them, and move on. As a working mother, I only have 24 hours per week to do my work – and that goes by far too quickly.

With the civil rights movement, the government literally held doors open to ensure integration in schools and on buses. For accessibility, it almost seems as if we are holding the doors open but forgetting to fix the ramps and railings that lead to them. Those renovations hold a cost that the civil rights movement did not have to contend with. Civil rights is overcoming attitudes; human rights/disability rights not only has to change attitudes but must lower physical barriers as well. That cost – in time or money – is a barrier. How do we remove that barrier? Is it up to the government? The community?

Getting back to personal expression, our laws say nothing about making private homes accessible. In a similar vein, personal web sites are not covered by law. Again, looking at civil rights, if you don’t want to let a white person into your home, you don’t have to but if you own a business, you must open your doors.

On the web, the line between personal site and public service blurs. I would argue that Scoble’s site is not a personal site, he offers a public service – the information he disseminates is astounding (not only in quality but in quantity! :). But, who should pay for the captions of his videos? One of the values of what he is doing is the real-time interaction – streaming video from his phone.

When making information accessible, you can run into a lot of broken tools along the way – as I did yesterday (and let me pause here to apologize for using my blog as a venting receptacle. My purpose is to help make the world more accessible – bitching and moaning is not a constructive way to enter the dialog…I task myself with sending constructive feedback to folks working on OpenOffice and Acrobat and making sure the problems did not stem from my own ignorance). Unfortunately, the reality is that many tools are broken (or not as easy to use as they could be) and making information accessible is not always cheap and easy.

How do we make it cheap and easy? And this need for “cheap and easy” goes both ways. Not only do the barriers to information need to be lowered for people with disabilities – the typical screen reading or magnification software costs more than a desktop computer – the barriers to creating accessible information need to be lowered. So, who should assume the costs?

Written by wendy

July 10th, 2008 at 3:41 pm

cheap and easy?

with one comment

At barcampSeattle, Bryan, Dylan, Matt, I, and several others started a dialog about helping people adopt accessible design practices. The summary of our discussion was, “make it cheap and easy.” Last week, inspired by a comment from tantek, the dialog continued on twitter. We compared accessible design to green/environmentally-friendly design….and doughnuts. 🙂

I’ve been working on a mental stew with the following ingredients:

  • “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” about one family’s year-long localvore experiement – eating foods raised by themselves or neighbors and minimizing the cost of fuel used to produce and consume the foods they eat.
  • “Vegetable Gardening West of the Cascades” about the benefits of gardening in the Seattle area and how we could eat fresh veggies from our gardens year-round…assuming climate change doesn’t shift our winter temperatures too many degrees.
  • We’re preparing to paint the outside of our house and I’ve been researching the greenest option – paint or stain. Which lasts longer? What are the effects on the environment? Where are the materials produced and how much fuel will it take to ship to our painter? The costs and products are not quite there yet, which is frustrating for me as a consumer.
  • My son is toilet training which means many more flushes of our toilets. We received the water bill yesterday and are consuming noticebly more gallons of water *per day.* What if we only had so much water in a cistern or a well and couldn’t just pull more from the city? When will I be able to view our water supply like I do our bank account? When we overdraw, it has to come from somewhere.
  • I’m co-writing a book on Universal Design of web applications and I’ve been tearing apart, challenging, and reconstructing my knowledge about accessibility, disability studies, culture, and web technologies.

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As a consumer, I *want* to do the green thing. I want to buy efficient toilets and use the least toxic paint. I am driven by making the world a better place, not only for myself, but for my son. What holds me back are costs and fears. The fears are: How long will the water-based paints last? Will they protect my house as well as paints with pest/herbicides? In Seattle, where there is so much water on wood, this is a big question. The costs are: Water-based paints costs almost twice per gallon than latex paints. Stains need to be reapplied more often. Then, there’s what I prefer. I like the way paint looks.

I am trying to understand the point of view of designers and developers who have not whole-heartedly adopted web standards and accessibility. I think they have similar struggles with fears and costs. I believe that most people want to do the right thing but they aren’t sure they know how, don’t have the time to find out, and fear the costs.

If I were to put in more efficient toilets, the city of Seattle would give me a rebate. I assume the reasoning by The City of Seattle goes something like: We’re all in this together, so if more people save water there will be more water for all of us. I guess I get my own tax dollars back when I contribute to the greater good.

While I think there are plenty of reasons to make your sites accessible, perhaps monetary incentives would help. I don’t know where we’d get the funding, but imagine if you added appropriate alt-text to all of the images on your site, you could get a rebate. What do you think? Would it work? If we could raise the money, is there a better way to spend it (like buying technology for people with disabilities)? do you have other ideas to make accessible design “cheap and easy?” Is that the right target? Other thoughts?
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Written by wendy

July 2nd, 2008 at 6:51 pm

Posted in musings

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