Denis Boudreau: Hi, this is Denis Boudreau and you're listening to the WebAxe podcast.
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Dennis: Thank you Denis Boudreau for that great opening in French. Welcome to Web Axe Podcast 93: Teaching Mistakes. This is your host, Dennis, and I am going without Ross today, but I will have a special guest later. Katherine Lynch joins us to have a pleasant conversation.
But before that, I want to speak about a few things going on with me. I got a new day job that’s been keeping me really busy, so I now work at PayPal in San Jose, and that’s all good, for the last two and a half months or so. And I’ve done a couple of recent presentations. You may have saw the blog posts on Web Axe. The first one was for EASI an Easy webinar on Twitter and accessibility, updated information, talking about accessible Twitter clients. So check that out if you haven’t already. I wanna give a shout out to Norm Coombs at EASI for doing all that work with the webinars. And the other presentation I gave was through Skype for the Accessibility DC Meetup, and I wanna give a shout out to John Croston for putting on those events, and that presentation is called “How to Build an Accessible Web Application”. Easy Chirp is the example throughout the presentation, and you can check out the slides for both of those on SlideShare, and they’re also posted on Web Axe like I mentioned. So if you feel inclined, please check those out.
Yeah like I said, I’ve been pretty busy lately. We’ve all been sick here to at home and people are sick at work. So it’s been a little while since the last podcast. But I’ve picked a few articles that are outstanding to me that I thought I’d give a mention. And one champion especially of late on Twitter and blogging is Karl Groves, and a recent article he put out is called “How Expensive is Accessibility?”. Another great one recently is a presentation from WebAim, “ARIA in HTML 5 Accessibility”. That’s from the Higher Ground Conference a few weeks ago, and that’s definitely a good read. Another person getting a lot more exposure, doing a lot more articles lately and even on Twitter now is Roger Johansson. And one of his many recent articles is “Screen Readers and CSS”, and he did another similar article of pointing out just like some nuances, some interesting things going on between different screen readers in interpreting CSS. And Sylvia Fifer, she has another new presentation “HTML 5 Video Accessibility”. All very good articles, and there’s many more, but I thought those stood out. And of course follow Web Axe on Twitter and now on Facebook for daily updates.
So now we will go into a discussion with Katherine Lynch. It was great to finally speak with her. We’ve been communicating online for probably a couple of years now, and here it is, an interview discussion with Katherine Lynch.
And I have Katherine Lynch on the line. Hello, Katherine.
Dennis: Katherine is a web accessibility professional. Can I introduce you as that? And I know you’re pretty heavy on Drupal.
Denis: And Katherine makes presentations around the country and writes articles that you may be familiar with. And you can also find her on Twitter @katelynch. How are you today, Katherine?
Katherine: I’m good. How are you?
Dennis: Good, thanks. Thanks for joining us.
Katherine: No problem. Thank you for having me.
Dennis: Sure. It’s nice to have you on the show ‘cause we’ve kind of twittered back and forth.
Katherine: we have. Yes.
Dennis: And I know we’re familiar with each other’s work and stuff, so, nice to have you on the show.
Katherine: Thank you.
Dennis: And you work for Drexel University, is that in Philadelphia?
Katherine: Yeah that’s in Philadelphia. I’m the web developer for the libraries there.
Dennis: Your website, KatherineLynch.org, if you wanna check out some of her presentations and writings. And I noticed you’re also an artist.
Katherine: Yes, yes I am.
Dennis: That was pretty cool, some drawings and photography and such.
Katherine: And some recipes. I also love to cook.
Dennis: Oh nice. It’s funny how many programmers are artists or musicians.
Katherine: Yeah, yeah it is.
Dennis: Some say writing code is kind of like art.
Katherine: Yeah, they definitely go hand in hand.
Dennis: Right on. So presentations, how long have you been presenting? Looks like there’s a pretty good list on your site there.
Katherine: Yeah I’ve been presenting mostly on web accessibility and Drupal and occasionally Drupal accessibility probably for about going on three years.
Dennis: Nice. So you’re mostly within the states?
Katherine: Yeah, mostly within the states. I’ve had some presentations accepted, I’ve had conference proceedings added in a few places internationally. Haven’t been able to make it out to international conferences yet.
Dennis: Yeah I don’t think I have either actually. I’d like to make it at least in Canada.
Katherine: Yeah, definitely.
Dennis: So you have something coming up pretty soon.
Katherine: In about a week. Yeah I’m gonna be presenting on Using Drupal for Responsive Accessibility and Design at Drupal Camp Chicago 2011 next Saturday December 10.
Dennis: Great, we’ll look forward to that. you have lots of articles and everything. Are there any ones that stick out in the past that you wanna mention besides the latest one which we’ll talk about in a minute?
Katherine: Well there’s a presentation that I gave earlier in the year at the Drexel E-Learning Conference which is actually at Drexel University in Philly. The conference this past year was focused on web accessibility. So the organizers asked for proposals for presentations and things from people who were interested in speaking on that. and one of the presentations that I gave that was something figured was one about the accessibility issues facing social media integration in e-learning interfaces. And the abstract is up on my website. You can contact me for the slides. One of the reasons I’m mentioning it is I actually talked pretty extensively about your work with the Accessible Twitter application.
Dennis: Oh okay.
Katherine: That’s basically the best accessible tweeting solution out there.
Dennis: Great. thank you.
Katherine: You’re welcome. It’s a very fine app.
Dennis: Thanks. Well it’s now called Easy Chirp.
Katherine: I think when I gave the presentation, it was still called Accessible Twitter.
Dennis: Oh ok. Yeah that’s cool. it was just renamed.
Katherine: Yeah Easy Chirp, I remember.
Dennis: I think in June. Yes in June, because I did all that right before I went on vacation.
Katherine: That’s cool. it’s catchy.
Dennis: And your latest article “5 Teaching Mistakes Accessibility Advocates Make”.
Dennis: It was a really good article. Myself and many other people tweeted it and you made some good points there, just kind of for a reality check about our community and just things to think about at the back of your head and what you might be doing right or doing wrong and how we can improve getting the word out there about accessibility. You wanna just go through each of the points and discuss them a little bit?
Katherine: Sure. So basically the inspiration behind this article was I’ve been to a number of accessibility meetups or camps, and I’m consistently struck by the fact that they all seem to start the same like the first 50 percent of the day tends to be devoted to what web accessibility is, why it’s important. And the thing is a lot of us seem to be stagnating in certain areas, and there are just some things that I noticed, and let me be correct on these things too in the past when I was first starting to make the accessibility presentations or design learning materials for it. It’s really easy to do, and the first one that I talk about point number 5 is we assume others don’t know anything. And so this is to say, you know, we say we’re giving a presentation about web accessibility, and we spend the entire presentation or the entire article talking about what is web accessibility and who is it for and why is it important. And these are things that people can infer probably once they understand what web accessibility is.
An example I give is sort of like imagine if you pick up an article that promises to help you learn about the ins and outs of mobile web development and three quarters of the paper is just devoted to explaining that web development for mobile devices means web development for tiny screens. It’s something that we can probably all infer. So basically, this tends to be something that just weighs down a lot of presentations, that easily the first 40 to 50 percent of it tends to be explaining what web accessibility is, selling it as a cause that everyone should get behind or in some more distressing cases, which I’ll also get to a little bit later, is blaming people for not already knowing about it, explaining what each challenges are for each different type of disability, types of assistive technology, and then maybe the very basics of web accessibility. By that time, you don’t have a lot of time left. you might only be able to mention headers and alt tags.
Dennis: Yeah, this is a great point. And I’ve noticed that in other types of presentations too. As a matter of fact, a couple of days ago, I went to a mobile design meetup. And at least the first 20 minutes of the presentation, the guy was just talking about stats and how popular mobile is and how much popular it is now and how much e-commerce people are doing on mobile, and it’s like, “okay, we all know that mobile is popular, that’s why we’re here.”
Katherine: Exactly, and it’s stuff that doesn’t need to be said necessarily because you need to consider the audience.
Dennis: So unless your presentation is on an introduction to web accessibility, then the point is I guess, we can lighten that a whole lot, or maybe at the beginning just ask how many people here are beginners or how many people know what POUR means.
Katherine: Exactly, and that’s the technique I learned how to use, which is sort of rather than for the millionth time just launching into my explanation of what is alt text and what does it do for a screen reader, ask the audience “does everyone know what alt text is?” and if everyone knows what it’s for, a quick show of hands, and if there’s enough people who actually don’t know what it is, then you can explain it. So it’s helpful to have these basic explanations in your back pocket in case you need to explain it. And it’s also good to check, because I did give a mini presentation once during a brown bag about web accessibility and very quickly realized that nobody in the room even knew what that was. So it’s like explaining to people how to make a sandwich and they don’t know what bread is. You have to back it up a little bit and explain “oh by the way, web accessibility is for users with disabilities”, and it’s good to have a couple of one or two-sentence explanations to quickly explain this stuff. And that doesn’t happen often. I will say that was probably the only time that that’s happened where majority of the people in the room just didn’t know. And to clarify, that was not a presentation to web developers. That was a different set of people. So it was not surprising, and sort of my role was to teach them in that case. But just to bring it back to the main point, that is how often that that actually happens. That has happened once that I’ve been in a place where people actually don’t have any idea what it is. And yet many presentations are presented as if that happens a lot, that the entire roomful of web developers who are attending your web accessibility presentation don’t know what you’re talking about to begin with.
Dennis: Well let’s move to your next point which is we assume that others know too much.
Katherine: Yes, so basically this one goes hand in hand with the first one, that it can be a little bit difficult to explain more advanced concepts of web accessibility to developers who are not accessibility advocates to begin with, and this is because they don’t necessarily sit down and read the WCAG 2.0 documents cover to cover. They don’t necessarily listen to every Web Axe podcast but they should. They don’t necessarily do the level of study that we do, and so while they may know what alt text is and how to use header tags, you may need to stop and explain a little bit better how to do more advanced things like sort of explaining how to employ pause, stop, and hide for moving content. You may need to sort of clarify certain more abstract concepts for why you should be able to hide content for people who have cognitive disabilities, that sort of thing. It’s sort of, if you teach people why we’re employing these techniques, if you teach people to understand what the problems are and why these solutions are in place for those problems, they can start to come up with their own solutions and sort of applying it at work.
Dennis: Yeah, that’s a good point. I always like to know why you need to do something. That way it helps you remember in the future if you know why and then it opens doors for you to do it on your own and to even innovate a little bit.
Katherine: Exactly, once you understand the concepts, it’s very easy to start thinking for yourself and coming up with techniques that can help you even more.
Dennis: Just to elaborate on that point a little, I’ve a couple of ideas on how to slowly teach other folks accessibility, like with design folks that I’ve worked with, you can just kind of talk about color contrast or using color alone for meaning, things like that. then if you got more like the java script programmers, maybe you could just start with maybe ARIA Live or some basic ARIA stuff.
Katherine: Some good things to do with like programming developers, like java script developers that I’ve noticed is pretty helpful also is to sort of explain to them the variables that they’re going to need to make easily deliverable to the people who are building the HTML structure or people who will be writing say, PHP modules that will be interacting with that. or surfacing things for CSS. Sort of an example for this would be within Drupal. It’s helpful for people who build modules for Drupal that spit out HTML content to understand certain aspects of web accessibility so that they can assign classes or IDs to various pieces of HTML regardless of the fact that they themselves are not writing the styling, they’re not writing the style sheets, but making it so the people who are building a theme around these modules can access any part of that, so that if there’s information in there that’s going to clutter a screen reader or possibly break it, if it’s tagged appropriately, they can use CSS to remove it conditionally. If they need to make something, like you said, like using color alone, they can actually change it so that it’s correct, like if the module developer decided to only use the color red to signify something, but he’s got appropriate classes or IDs around it, then the person who’s styling it to fit their Drupal theme can also make it bold or italicized or whatever they need to do.
Dennis: All right, let’s move to number 3: we get hung up in the cause of accessibility.
Katherine: We get hung up on one specific cause. And this is not as pervasive a problem as the first two, but I’ve noticed that many web accessibility advocates will tend to focus on advocating the best user experience for only one or two types of disabilities or one or two types of assistive technologies. This generally is a result of the fact that the person who’s in the place of the advocate is doing so from a personal standpoint. They themselves may use this assistive technology, may need it, or perhaps they have more experience with it because they work with people who need this, or perhaps they have family or other loved ones who may need it. So they tend to be more well-versed in this. and it’s very good to be well-versed in any field of web accessibility, but when we take a position as an educator on web accessibility as a whole, as I mentioned in the article, we can’t forget about the cause as a whole. One thing we need to keep in mind is that if we’re talking to a roomful of people about web accessibility who really don’t know it, if we explain what web accessibility is, what it does, who it’s for, and then only for instance spend the rest of the presentation really dwelling on problems and solutions for say screen readers, that has every potential to confuse people who don’t know what we’re talking about and think like “okay, all I really have to focus on is making sure it’s okay in a screen reader”. And it’s like that’s how it so happens that we have people who still use text-only versions of web pages, because they think that that’s okay.
Dennis: I’ve heard that more than a few times. “Are you familiar with web accessibility?” “Yeah, that’s for blind people, right?”
Katherine: “Yeah exactly”, “That’s great, yeah”. So one solution that I have to this is, well there’s two that I mentioned in the article. One is if you got a real gift for one area of web accessibility, that’s great. consider co-teaching, co-presenting, or co-writing an article with an advocate who has a passion for a different avenue of accessibility who kind of would be able to work well with you, because not only will you present something more comprehensive, you‘ll probably learn something too. And then the other thing is just also try pointing your students or the people you present to to comprehensive resources like the Web Axe Podcast or WebAIM or Higher Ground or some things like that.
Dennis: Good point.
Katherine: Thank you.
Dennis: And number 2.
Katherine: Number 2.
Dennis: I was gonna read it. I was gonna say I’ll try not to misread it this time.
Katherine: Oh okay.
Dennis: We try to convert people who don’t need converting.
Katherine: This is probably the biggest one for me or one of the biggest. There’s a reason I made this number 2, and this goes back to number 5 actually. It’s interesting how often you’ll see a presentation at an accessibility conference or camp or with just a roomful of accessibility-minded people, and the majority of the people in the room who are there are accessibility advocates or accessibility-minded or are interested in learning about accessibility. If they’re at your presentation, chances are they’re already interested. And yet the first 10-20 minutes of the presentation, in addition to familiarizing people with web accessibility basics, are basically explaining why everybody should take this into consideration, why this should matter. A lot of people who are at accessibility presentations have already either had their own personal experience in which they realized that web accessibility matters. For me, I saw a colleague of mine talk about web accessibility, long time ago now, many years ago, and this is when I first learned about web accessibility. And when you first learn what web accessibility is, that’s when it matters to you, because then you realize who this is for. So generally speaking, there are gonna be people who are already in that place, or there are gonna be people who don’t know what web accessibility is but other stakeholders wherever they work or whoever they’re working with want web accessibility measures in place for the website. And so it’s either a new requirement of their professional position or it’s a personal interest or it’s a desire to create a better web-based product. And in any of those cases, these people already think or know that web accessibility is important enough that they need to sit and pay attention.
Dennis: So let’s not preach to...
Katherine: Exactly, that’s the whole thing. You don’t need to waste time in a presentation saying “this is why it should matter”. You should be ready to do that in case somebody raises their hand and says “why should we care”, but chances are that’s not going to happen.
Dennis: Number 1, we blame people for not already knowing.
Katherine: This kind of ties in with almost everything else on the list basically. There are a lot of web developers out there who don’t know much about web accessibility or who don’t understand it at all. And I believe one of the reasons why web accessibility is still kind of widely accepted is because it’s kind of a daunting subject for people who don’t know about it. And this is because if they make a mistake, what tends to happen is it gets aired publicly before somebody contacts them privately for help. Or people look at you sideways, “how could you possibly not know that?” and so basically I think there’s a certain amount of fear around web accessibility for people who don’t know what it is. And again this also goes back to people who are only learning about web accessibility measures, because their bosses realize that they need to do something about web accessibility because of a lawsuit they heard about or because a client or user complained, something like that. but for whatever reason, the people are interested, and it’s our duty to teach them rather than chastise them for not already knowing.
Dennis: Yeah, not be condescending.
Katherine: Yeah and also especially in the age of social media, particularly things like Twitter and Facebook, it’s very easy, if you see an accessibility problem with a website, to just go loudly complain about it on one of those forums. But rather than asking the developers of that particular site to fix the problem, alerting them to the problem that they might not even know about, and then asking them to fix it. One thing for instance, a lot of people don’t know about, and I addressed it in the social media presentation that I mentioned earlier, is Facebook actually has a web accessibility-specific feedback form, that if you see web accessibility problems in their interface on their website, that’s the place where you go and submit the report. And it’s got some sort of specially designed information fields just for web accessibility like “are you using an assistive technology? Which one? What version?” and that kind of stuff. And I just wonder how many people use that form versus how many people go on Facebook or Twitter and complain about how inaccessible something is.
Dennis: That’s a good point, but how many people know about that? know that it’s even there to use.
Katherine: And I think that a large portion of why web accessibility measures like that sort of get slipped under the rug is because they don’t want people to know that there’s a possibility that there’s something that could be inaccessible. Generally speaking, if there’s an accessibility problem, you run the risk of somebody rather than asking you politely to change it, of sort of running that up the flagpole and say “I really wish this was more accessible, but I can’t use this, this is not keyboard operable over here” or “the new HTML output is a mess” and that sort of stuff. It’s sort of like we lifted a quote out of a presentation that I gave on advanced accessibility on Drupal, that basically the whole gist of this that what I’m saying is “if a developer wants or needs to learn about accessibility and if we take up a position of education in the open source community, then we have a duty to help those who want to learn, particularly when a student is learning something, because he or she is afraid not to know, a culture can emerge in which the student is afraid to ask and therefore reveal that he doesn’t know.” And I’d really like it if we can make that culture go away, that people aren’t afraid to ask.
Dennis: Yeah, and I can relate to that, because any new technology you’re learning, it can be intimidating, and you don’t wanna feel stupid by asking questions but no question is a dumb question, right?
Katherine: That’s right, yeah.
Dennis” I’ve been learning Git lately. It’s not my favorite tool.
Katherine: Me neither, but I’ve learned to use it as well.
Dennis: And at my day job, there’s a guy who’s like an expert and stuff. So I asked him some questions and he was real nice and helpful and didn’t say “what are you, stupid? Don’t you know how to do that?” If he was like that then that would obviously turn me off and make it much more difficult to want or to learn it.
Katherine: It’s the same thing within the Drupal community exactly. There are people in the Drupal community who are sort of tough to approach for questions but there are just as many people who are incredibly nice and helpful and sort of are glad that you asked. Larry Garfield, one of the main Drupal developers in fact and John Albin who’s another prolific Drupal developer is also very interested in web accessibility now for Drupal, are both good examples of that sort of, it’s good to have people who are experts in a field willing to help people who are just starting out and willing not to take issue with the fact that you don’t already know. And it is difficult and frustrating for some web accessibility advocates at least to sort of temper that simply because this is stuff that a lot of us try so hard so often to really make people know. And so if you get like the 20th person who says “is it okay if I just put ‘picture’ as my alt text for this image?” you’re liable to be frustrated.
Dennis: But going back to letting a business know if you have accessibility issues, there’s a good resource on the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative website for doing that.
Katherine: Chances are good that even you can, even some small websites or businesses is just start talking to somebody and say “I noticed this problem.” If you’re in a position to offer to help, it wouldn’t even necessarily be a bad idea to offer to help with that. say like “I’m a web developer and I could help fix this for you” or something like that. “If you release podcasts, I can make some transcripts for you” or something like that. and just sort of give people a chance and obviously if people don’t respond, if they sort of repeatedly ignore requests for help or offers to help, then that’s something that they’re sort of sending you a message, but sort of giving people the benefit of the doubt, is helpful.
Dennis: Yeah, you reminded me of another point I was trying to think of, and that was if somebody asked you for help, you should be excited about it, because I work with some different teams at my day job. And a couple of the teams are really good and they ask for help and they’re all interested, involved and believe in the cause and everything. It’s all good but you know, it’s kind of fun that they come and ask, so, some of the teams aren’t as enthusiastic. So if somebody’s interested, you should be excited and try to be as patient as possible.
Katherine: It’s like if a friend of yours is trying to learn a language that you speak, like if you’re going to another country and you’re trying to learn how to speak that language, it’s more helpful when people who do speak that language are nice to you about that then who start to help you out if possible and give you the benefit of the doubt if you say the wrong thing.
Dennis: Exactly. Okay, Katherine, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Katherine: Thank you very much for having me.
Dennis: It’s been a pleasure, and we’ll have to have you on again some time.
Dennis: Good luck with your presentation next week.
Katherine: Thank you.
Dennis: All right, bye.
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