Web Accessibility-WOW Website Project and Interview with Brent Norris, Web 2 Developer

Greetings WOW Members and Web Professionals everywhere! Bill Cullifer here with the World Organization of Webmasters (WOW) and the WOW Technology Minute.

Today s podcast is a continuation of the coverage of the topic of Web accessibility. To assist me in better understanding this topic from a Web 2 developers point of view, I?’ve enlisted the support of Brent Norris, Web developer from the great state of Hawaii. Brent has been a long time supporter of the WOW organization and the WOW Technology Minute.

I ve asked Brent to take on the project of researching the current status of Web accessibility and the tools that are available today for the Web professional. Brent s uncovered some interesting information and resources. He also has a unique perspective on the topic as well. For the complete 7 minute interview and the tools and resources check out today s podcast at WOW Technology Minute.

In future interviews, Brent will be reporting on his findings regarding my request to conduct and analysis on the WOW Technology Minute website with the goal of aligning it with best practices. Brent will cover the topic from an educational perspective complete with a written report and audio interviews of the process.


BILL CULLIFER: Greetings WOW Members and Web Professionals everywhere! Bill Cullifer here with the World Organization of Webmasters (WOW) and the WOW Technology Minute.
Today?’s podcast is a continuation of the coverage of Web accessibility. To assist me in better understanding this topic from a Web 2.0 developer perspective, I?’ve enlisted the support of Brent Norris, Web developer and a long-time supporter of the WOW organization and the WOW Technology Minute, from the great state of Hawaii. I?’ve asked Brent to explore the topic of Web accessibility from the perspective of his daily activities. In addition to that, to help support the WOW with it?’s Web 2.0 application and ensuring that we are providing the best practices relevant to Web professionals. Good evening and thanks for agreeing to this interview and for your continued support to the WOW organization.

BRENT NORRIS: Aloha Bill, thanks for having me back.

BILL: Thank you Brent. I?’m curious to know Brent, with that said and that introduction, can you give us an update?

BRENT: Sure. Well, I?’ve been looking at tools and testing methodologies. In fact one of the things I wasn?’t aware of is that as of February 1st the Watchfire WebXact and Bobby online products, were no longer available. Those were purchased by IBM. I think that was a couple of years ago now. And so anyway, we kind of looked for new tools. And there happens to be some really great tools out there. The FAE, the Functional Accessibility Evaluator from the University of Illinois, is an example of a great tool. There?’s a few others and lots of resources out there. Although maybe not as many resources as there used to be. Microsoft, Apple, they still have their Section 508 and accessibility resources. The Illinois Center for Information Technology Accessibility has their resources. And then section508.gov and virtual508.com, I believe, they all have their tools as well. So then there?’s the tools that we?’ve outlined, there?’s the resources that we?’ve outlined to go and use. We?’re also going to include additional resources on the website. And using those tools we?’ll be able to assess the current situation and come back with some recommendations.

BILL: Yeah, thanks Brent, I appreciate that. And so I?’m curious to know, for those listeners that are not familiar and that haven?’t been practicing for the length of time that you have, give us a high level of the mechanics, if you will, the functionality of both LIFT and Bobby.

BRENT: Well, Bobby is an online tool, you enter a URL into the Bobby interface and it would come back with warnings and issues that pass Web accessibility guidelines. So it would give you a pretty accurate assessment of how well your website did when it came to Web accessibility. And it touches on 508 compliance as well. So that was an online tool. LIFT was an extension for Dream Weaver that gave you some additional help, as you were coding a page there were some pop-ups windows that would help you in Dream Weaver to add accessibility features. Things like tab indexes, navigational aides and it would indicate to you when you needed to give different forms of content. So if you included a table it would make sure that you put the proper table headers in and it would make sure that if you provided a piece of multimedia content that you would provide it in an alternate form as well. So those were two really popular tools, back in the day. And now IBM has those tools also in their Rational Testing Tool, so Section 508 is still very much in the realm of professionals and the tools and the case, they?’re there for professional use.

BILL: So that begs the question then, Brent, you know this is what I?’m trying to get at with this podcast, in particular. In previous podcasts we?’ve explored the rationale and the business reasons for Web accessibility. For example, we?’ve interviewed most recently T.V. Raman from Google, who made a very solid case for designing, developing, with Web accessibility. There are quite a few people with disabilities, both visually and hearing, and otherwise. So with that said, I?’m trying to hone in on that large percentage of the audience that?’s not that familiar with Web accessibility. In other words, we know practicing professionals that receive government funding, higher education for example or government, for the most part they?’re somewhat familiar, if not very familiar, with Web accessibility. But to those that are out there in the field that are not necessarily practicing Web accessibility everyday, I?’m just curious to know from your point of view, how practical is it to use the tools that are available today to make sound and Web accessible websites. I guess I?’m trying to cut to the chase and peel back a layer of that level of the onion. How practical is it that these individuals can go out and use these tools today?

BRENT: Well, you know, you raise some really interesting points and I think the search engine optimization point is probably the most popular for most folks. One of the things that we know from reading Google?’s webmaster guidelines is that Web accessibility also helps drive traffic to your website. So I think there?’s a strong business case to bring your sites into compliance or to bring them at least to that 80-90% level for accessibility. One of the things I learned from the IBM Rational Policy Testing homepage, is that there?’s actually over 10% of the online population has a disability. That?’s 750 million people worldwide, 55 million Americans. And there?’s also a large number of people with learning disorders and disabilities that also need help when we?’re putting our pages together. So things like trunking the information, while they?’re good for search engines, they?’re also good for folks that, they?’re good for everyone to be able to help read and skim through the data on the website. So the tools actually from the search engine optimization state, mimic some of the needs of accessibility folks too.

BILL: Fair enough. So I?’m a Web developer and I?’m out there managing small business websites and I?’m strapped for time, these tools are resourceful for me as well?

BRENT: I think so. And there?’s plenty of tools available. SEOmoz has a good search engine optimization tool. Website Grader is a good search optimization tool. But what I really think we need to do is use something like the Functional Accessibility Evaluator from the University of Illinois site and combine the features of that tool and maybe one to five data point in some of these website graders that consider search engine optimization. So in other words, make accessibility part of that, part of that thing.

BILL: Yeah, fair enough. Okay, well that?’s an interesting point. Well listen, let?’s make it a point to make all of these links and these resources available on today?’s WOW Technology Minute and then reaching out into the future Brent, can you give us an in-depth analysis of the current WOW Technology Minute website with the, an analysis that we can easily read and understand and walk the listeners and the viewers of this podcast through the process of what we did when designing our sites for Web accessibility?

BRENT: Absolutely. We?’re going to do a full pass and identify those tools. We?’ll make sure all the resources are available and we?’re going to also identify the best practices. So we?’re going to outline not only the top ten things that folks should be doing on their websites, but also where to get more help.

BILL: Excellent. Thank you so much Brent, I appreciate it. Bill Cullifer here with the World Organization of Webmasters, the WOW Technology Minute on the phone with Brent Norris from the great state of Hawaii. Thanks again Brent.

BRENT: Oh, thanks Bill and have a good evening. Aloha.

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