IT Accessibility News – March 2011

Table of Contents

New Web Site Accessibility Testing Tool

SortSite is a new tool available on campus for testing the accessibility of Web sites.  It will check sites or individual pages for conformance with WCAG2 Level AA, the proposed new Federal standard for Web accessibility. SortSite is available in the VCL and as a locally run application.  As with all accessibility testing software, you cannot depend on one tool to do everything, but SortSite will provide a wealth of information about a site’s accessibility conformance.

WAI-ARIA 1.0 is a Candidate Recommendation

So what is ARIA? The Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) specifications define a framework for giving semantic meaning to related objects on a Web page.  For example, an expandable and collapsible list is usually just a set of <ul> and <li> elements that are either shown or hidden using JavaScript and CSS. The only way you know that the series of <ul> and <li> elements are related is by their visual relationship with each other as they are hidden and revealed.  There is no way by looking at the HTML to know that they are related, unless there happens to  be a <div id=”collapsible_tree”> element surrounding the code, but a div like that is not helpful to assistive technologies.  What ARIA does is provide a way to programmatically tell the end user what this set of <ul> and <li> elements does.  In this case you would add an attribute like <ul role=”tree”> to the outermost <ul> element to tell the user this set of objects is going to behave like an expandable and collapsible tree.  This greatly assists users with assistive technologies.

What does it mean to be a Candidate Recommendation? This means that the specification is stable, and it is currently being tested to see if it can actually be implemented in real-world examples.  The W3C encourages using the specification in production work at this time.  After this level, there are 2 more levels before it becomes an official W3C recommendation, but it looks like this bill is well on its way to becoming a law.

WebAIM Screen Reader Survey Results

WebAIM has conducted and released their third Screen Reader Survey.  For the complete results visit  Here are some of the pertinent highlights.

  • JAWS is still the predominant screen reader, but NVDA, the free and open source screen reader, is gaining ground.
  • There is a significant rise in using mobile screen readers, with Nokia devices leading the way followed by iOS devices.
  • Roughly 37% said Web accessibility has gotten better over the past year, 20% said it has gotten worse, and 42% said it has not changed much.
  • 75% said making more accessible Web sites will improve Web accessibility versus making improvements in assistive technologies.
  • About 40% said they use the new ARIA landmarks when navigating a Web page.
  • 57% report finding information on lengthy Web pages by using headings to navigate.
  • 50% prefer two first level headings, one for the site name and one for the document title, while 37% prefer one first level heading that contains the document title.
  • [edited] 98% had JavaScript enabled when visiting a site.

Progressive Enhancement of Web Pages

If you haven’t heard of progressive enhancement, think of it as the opposite of graceful degradation.  Basically, you start with a Web page that you know everyone can access, then you add additional layers of functionality based on what is present on the user’s system.  It’s a design approach that ensures everyone will have full access to your site instead of designing for the latest and greatest and see who can actually catch up.  Here is a brief overview of progressive enhancement.

Creating Multi-Language Sites

If you need to create sites with multiple languages, there is specific code you must include in your HTML document to allow the browser and any assistive technology to know what language the page is written in.  If you include Spanish on an English page and don’t indicate the language change, the screen reader will read the Spanish like a bad American tourist.  If you indicate the language change the screen reader will speak it as smoothly as Don Juan himself.  Here is a quick overview on how to encode for languages.

An Accessible WYSIWYG Editor?

Finding a fully accessible WYSIWYG editor has always been a challenge.  Here is one that is new to me, the CKSource Rich Text Editor.  I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet, but if you want to use it in any of your projects let me know and I’ll be happy to work with you on it.

Testing for Web Accessibility with a Free Screen Reader, NVDA

First, using a screen reader for testing the accessibility of Web pages should not be your first action.  Personally, I don’t use a screen reader for testing unless I am testing something unusual or testing to see specifically how some advanced technique interacts with a screen reader.  There are better techniques for testing basic Web accessibility.  However, if you do need to use a screen reader, I highly recommend NVDA, an open source Windows-based screen reader.  Here is a tutorial for how to use it.

Accessible YouTube and Twitter

Just to share with you some of the projects going on to make some of these small, barely-used third-party Web sites accessible, here is a front-end for an accessible version of YouTube and one for Twitter.  The Accessible YouTube just makes the player controls accessible.  It doesn’t automagically insert captions where they didn’t already exist.  Also,  Accessible Twitter was recently recognized by the American Federation of the Blind in their 2011 Access Awards.

25 Ways to Make Your Web Site Accessible

The creator of Accessible Twitter has also created a guide outlining some simple strategies for making your site more accessible.  It’s a good read, especially for people new to Web accessibility.