Archive for June, 2006

Fresh01’s redesign: more questions for the DTI

Dan Champion and I remain unhappy with the Department of Trade and Industry’s answers to why they spent a quarter of a million pounds on a Clarkian failed redesign.

Our unhappiness is due to their wasting public money on a site that does not meet the level of accessibility required in their own spec, and the fact that the DTI have said that “if further changes are to be made to the website the cost will be met by DTI”, so presumably, Fresh01 (the suppliers) will not be required to put their mistakes right at their own expense (if indeed, the DTI’s answers show that it’s the supplier’s fault).

We want to know why this shoddy procurement, development and supplier monitoring happened, and what will be done to prevent it reoccurring. Therefore, we’ve sent further questions to the DTI as a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Continue reading Fresh01’s redesign: more questions for the DTI

WordPress as a CMS: diary plugin wanted

For small sites that I make as freebies or cheapies for charities I’m involved with, I try to give all the content work to the site owners, and so need a CMS (Content Management System). Good semantics, reasonable documentation, user-friendliness and the price tag mean that WordPress is my first port of call.

I generally use a heavily customised WordPress 2 install, with my accessibility hacks to the front end, and some hacks to the admin screens to remove functions that the punter doesn’t require. (I like to remove superfluous options as it’s less to confuse the non-techie social secretary of the Malvern Lyncathropy Association).

I keep the bundled TinyMCE “visual editor”, even though it’s impossible to tab out of the editing screen and it can mangle code. But the good committee of the Llangollen Line-Dancing and Felching Association are never going to learn semantic XHTML, and I figure that the decent semantic framework of modified Kubrick and the valiant attempt that TinyMCE makes to produce good code beats other freebie blogging tools that I’ve seen.

By way of digression, the single weakest link in the chain of validity and accessibility of user-maintained websites (or those that accept contributions from readers, like most blogs) is the mechanism by which people enter their content. Rumour has it that xstandard produces more robust code than the bundled WordPress editor. Patrick Lauke said at @media that he was going to work on a WordPress plugin that wraps the freebie xstandard Lite editor. But we were pissed at the time, so he may have forgotten saying it.

Anyway, one thing that all freebie sites seem to have in common is that they need a “diary” or calendar section of upcoming events. My PHP/ MySQL knowledge is inadequate to code such a thing, so I’m asking the community if anyone knows of a WordPress plugin that allows the user to write up details of a scheduled event (in exactly the same way as writing a blog post) on an “events” page, but which

  • orders a page not by date of posting (like the blog frontpage) but by “event date” (which will be in the future), closest date first
  • Automatically ceases to display events that are in the past, and removes them from the database (or optionally, removes events that are x days old)
  • allows the user to define an event as reoccurring (every 6 months, every year), so it doesn’t get removed when this instance is in the past (or maybe, this is better combined with the above, so the removal of past events feature is selected or de-selected on post-by-post basis)

If anyone knows of such a plugin, please let me know. If you write one like this, I promise to father all your children. And give you a free copy of Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance what I (co)-wrote.

Oh – and Happy Solstice!

Stupid government websites

Dan Champion has an excellent post with information accessed under the Freedom of Information Act about the brand-new oh-so-1997 website of the Department of Trade and Industry, built by Fresh 01 and Fujitsu for a cost of £200,000, yet fails to meet a reasonable level of accessibility, even though it is clearly required in the specification (specification – PDF, 120K, specification – .doc, 89K).

Continue reading Stupid government websites

Letter to the MS Society on Accessibility

Web Accessibility is a human rights issue rather than a technological problem. And history shows us that human rights issues are never resolved until the people who are losing out become vocal in demanding their rights. In the USA, disability lobbying groups have pursued AOL, Southwest Airlines and most recently, Target.

But in the UK, nothing much has happened. It could be that most websites here are perfectly acceptable. Ahem. More likely, it could be the case that going to the law is stressful, complicated and expensive. I doubt I’d want to initiate a court case, and I’m pretty able-bodied and solvent.

It could be that people with disabilities may not know their rights to the Web.

So when there was an article in the magazine for the MS Society about using a computer accessibly, I wrote the following letter which was published in the May/ June edition.

Continue reading Letter to the MS Society on Accessibility

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – Swan Theatre, Stratford

As Marina is 7 years old, it seemed like a good time to introduce her to Shakespeare. And what better way than a matinee in The Swan Theatre at Stratford of that most child-friendly of The Bard’s works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream? So, the tickets were booked months ago.

Unfortunately, I read the press reviews last week. “A darkly sexual re-telling”, one said. What? When I’ve seen it, it’s all fairies and rustic lovers. The craziest I’ve seen is at Ludlow Castle when punk fairies scaled the battlements of the ruined castle. To make it worse, the reviews wrote that it was performed in fifteen Indian languages.

So it was with some grave trepidation that we filed in to the theatre, on the hottest day of the year, expecting to beat a hasty retreat in the interval.

Instead, it was fantastic. I have never seen any piece of theatre so visually arresting, so acrobatic or so musical. The stage was red soil from Rajasthan.The forest was bamboo and paper. Indian dance, costume and some jaw-dropping visual set pieces had Marina, my mum and me spellbound. Ajay Kumar, who played Puck, Joy Farnades (Bottom) , Shanaya Rafaat (Helena) and Archana Ramaswamy (Tatiana/ Hippolyta) were first amongst equals in a splendid cast.

I enjoyed this production (by Dash Arts and the British Council) despite of the polyglottal action, rather than because of it (I found myself reaching for the programme too often to remind myself of what’s happening, when I really wanted to be simply feasting my eyes on the action). But that’s my only criticism, and my enthusiasm was shared by the rest of the full house; the cast received a long standing ovation (the first I’ve ever seen at The Swan) and were called repeatedly back on stage.

Go see it!

WCAG 2.0: when I want a beer, don’t give me shandy

June 2013: I’ve seen this page used as supporting evidence to say that the final WCAG 2 guidelines don’t matter. Please note that I was criticising a previous, draft version of it. This page is no longer current; it’s dated 2006 whereas the final guidelines are dated 2008.

There’s been some excellent discussion about the last call for comments on WCAG 2.0, both on the Web (see Joe Clark’s “To Hell with WCAG 2” and on w3c lists), and also in the hollowed-out volcano where the WaSP Accessibility Task Force meet. The fact that the w3c have extended the review period shows that they’re listening to legitimate criticism.

In many ways, the discussions about the document reflect the disparate philosophical positions within the community on what “accessibility” means. While the ATF hammer out a joint statement on this version of WCAG 2, here’s my personal take on it. This is the first W3c spec I’ve tried to read, so maybe my comments are based on daft mis-readings of the spec. Please do tell me if so.

Executive summary

The ideal of WCAG 2 is measurable, testable guidelines that are technology-agnostic, and will therefore not date so quickly. This is a noble ideal, but the realisation is flawed. While WCAG 2 doesn’t seem to be inherently evil, its message is diluted, both substantively (no requirement for valid code, tables are explicitly allowed for layout) and by excessive verbiage and jargon. Like shandy, it’s not an unpleasant drink, but it doesn’t hit the spot like a nice pint of bitter does – and that’s what I was hoping for.

Continue reading WCAG 2.0: when I want a beer, don’t give me shandy