Archive for May, 2007

Three and a third years for Steve Smith’s life

If I spent a day drinking, and then killed your nephew by smashing him with a lump of metal, you’d expect me to go to prison for a long time.

My oldest friend, Matt, was the only member of his family who could face going to court for the sentencing of the man who killed Steve Smith, his nephew. Steve was twenty when he was killed by Simon Kelly, aged 47, of Charlton Road, Banbury, Oxfordshire.

Steve had spent the day with his girlfriend of two years, and was riding home on his motorbike when Simon Kelly killed him with his Toyota Rav, which he was driving on the wrong side of a country lane.

Kelly had spent the day drinking at home, and in pubs with his wife. Instead of getting a lift home with his wife in her car (she wasn’t drunk), he chose to drive. He had 147 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit is 80 micrograms.

Why he ignored the warning signs on the road and decided to overtake her car on a blind bend, less than a mile away from their home, is unknown. “There’s no suggestion of competitive driving”, said Kelly’s lawyer, and I certainly wouldn’t want to imply such criminal, irresponsible, stupid and selfish behaviour of Kelly (who was previously banned for 27 months for drink-driving in 2001).

Steve’s girlfriend, Jenny, said in court,

There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think about him. Our future life together has been taken away.

I’ve no idea what our future would have been, but I know I now have to face it without him.

A year afterwards, Steve’s mum still cries herself to sleep sometimes.

Simon Kelly was sent to prison for three years and four months. He’ll be out in two years.

I didn’t know Steve, but I’ve met his mum and his sister a few times, and I’ve known his grandmother and uncles and aunts forever. Three years and four months for his life doesn’t seem fair to me.

Does that seem like justice to you?

(Report in the Gloucestershire Echo)

HTML 5, microformats and testing accessibility

(Last Updated on 29 May 2008)

It’s unsurprising, I suppose, that if a group of like-minded individuals go into conclave to write a specification, they will be angered and annoyed when that spec is criticised and questioned by outsiders. This is what has happened when the microformats spec and HTML 5 specs came under scrutiny.

Testing shows the gulf between theory and practice

Most microformats adherents seem to agree with an article that James Craig and I wrote, hAccessibility, that pointed out that the current spec’s use of the abbr element is inaccessible to some users. In theory, “Austin, TX” is an abbreviation of “30.300474;-97.747247”. In practice, it doesn’t work (mp3).

It shocks me that when this flawed idea was originally mooted, a trivial test with a forty-minute demo version of JAWS would have shown it was inaccessible, yet no-one thought to do it. As they say, in theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not..

Creators of new techniques and specs need accessibility at the heart of their specs, and that means testing.

Goodbye headers, hello again <kbd> and <samp>

A similar problem is happening with the HTML 5 group. Like many people, I haven’t paid much attention to the WHATWG until now, because it was “a loose, unofficial, and open collaboration of Web browser manufacturers and interested parties” with an “invite-only steering committee”. It all seemed highly pie-in-the-sky, and there were other, more immediate tasks at hand, like evangelising accesibility in existing technologies like HTML, or emerging technologies like microformats.

Now that the WHATWG spec is to be the basis of HTML5, a lot more scrutiny is directed at the spec.

The HTML5 spec ruled nothing in and nothing out. The criteria for retaining an element or attribute is that of usefulness. I personally question whether the computer-science kbd, var and samp elements should go in there (really, when was the last time you used these on a client’s business site?), but that’s not the reason for my rant.

As Roger Johansson recently noted, the HTML5 spec drops two useful attributes from data tables – the headers and summary attributes that WCAG recommends.

Lachlan Hunt, who’s heavily involved in HTML5, wrote,

They haven’t been removed. They just have not been added yet due to lack of evidence to support them.

The headers attribute: I’m aware that this one currently has better support in ATs than the scope attribute does, but for most cases it’s redundant.

If the problem is just associating cells with their headers, we should investigate alternatives that would make it easier, such as defining an algorithm for more accurate implicit association.

That would be better because it increases accessibility, while reducing the requirements on authors. However, that needs research and evidence to determine if it can cover sufficient use cases reliably, which will allow us to figure out if headers is still required.

Now, in my opinion, one of the reasons that screenreaders are the Netscape 4 of the assistive technology world is precisely because they try to use heuristics to figure things out, rather than use the specified standards. If, for example, everyone had used the (now-deprecated) menu element for navigation, assistive technologies wouldn’t need to try to guess where content starts, and authors wouldn’t need to code the dreaded “skip links”. But that’s another side issue.

The burden of proof

Testing is vital, particularly at the border of accessibility theory and practice. I wonder, for example, if tabindex and accesskey would have made it to the HTML4 spec if there had been full testing with assistive technology users?

What I really want to know from the HTML5 people is who they think is going to do this research that will provide the evidence that their gang requires before useful attributes are restored to the specification.

The WHATWG spec is funded by big business, all of whom have millions in the bank. Maybe now the spec is “official”, they will be funding user research with disabled people using assistive technologies. Perhaps they will invite representatives from the manufacturers of the big screenreaders to work with them. They could even fund those representatives, given that assistive technology vendors aren’t anything like as rich as Apple, Opera, Mozilla and Google.

After all, it’s impossible to imagine that they would make arbitrary decisions to remove or retain certain elements, all with unknown accessibility side-effects, and put the burden to prove the usefulness of removed attributes on a small group of volunteers, isn’t it?

Also see Gez Lemon’s more sober article, The HTML Scope/Headers Debate.

Orange belts

(Last Updated on 16 May 2007)

It took us 10 months to train for this, twice a week, but both Marina and I passed our orange belt Karate/ Kickboxing gradings with a grade B. Not bad for a fat old fart with multiple sclerosis, even if I say so myself.

Here we are, very sweaty and dishevelled, after sparring. Warner and Sean comprehensively kicked my arse.

Woe betide anyone who disagrees with me now about the accessibility of microformats or PDF!

40 year old man, 8 year old girl, with boxing gloves and helmets next to punch bag