Digress.it accessibility

Back in March, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills completed an accessibility audit of the Digress.it plugin for us. UK law states that all public service websites should be accessible which means that the website should be implemented in ways that users of a website who have a visual impairment, hearing disabilities, or those who have limited manual dexterity are not disadvantaged. This could mean providing alternative style sheets for improve contrast, ensuring that HTML is written in a semantic way so screen readers and text-to-voice software are able to parse content, and ensuring controls are not spread out across the page so someone with limited movements has to constantly move their mouse.

If you didn’t see the report then an embedded copy is below:

Bis Digress It Plugin Accessibility Audit Report 2010-03-25

The report tested the Digress.it plugin against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 guidelines. These guidelines are considered the de facto standard for ensuring online content is accessible and are endorsed by the UK Government.

Here is what the report summary said:

Overall the Digress-it plug-in did not perform well in terms of accessibility. Nine Single-A and four Double-A accessibility issues were identified which failed to meet the requirements set by the WCAG 2.0.
However, many of the Single-A issues, such as the lack of alternative text and skip links should be straight forward to address. Achieving Single-A accessibility should be part of a quick win strategy.
By far the biggest issue to address relates to the accessibility for keyboard users. Several elements such as the commenting icon and add/expand comment icon elements were not keyboard accessible which means it would be very difficult for a keyboard user to access the content and post their reply.
Although JavaScript support is given more flexibility under the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, Nomensa still recommends that progressive enhancement techniques are used to ensure that users with JavaScript disabled or unavailable are still able to perform actions on the site. Testing of the Digress-it plug-in found that when JavaScript was disabled, the user was unable to read or post comments on the site, preventing them from carrying out a core component of the Digress-it plug-in.

Not a great outcome however as mentioned many of the basic issues (the so called “single-A” issues) can be taken care of with by sticking to good HTML coding practises. I’ll go through the main issues and identify how we’re going to overcome them for the future version of Digress.it (and also JISCPress).

1. All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose.

In order to overcome this issue we need to ensure that all images have ‘alt’ attributes, and videos and embedded audio have captions. Whilst we can ensure we do this for the Digress.it theme, we can’t ensure that document authors (and WordPress users in general) will do this.

2. Create content that can be presented in different ways without losing information or structure

Like the issue above we will ensure that the Digress.it theme is made using good semantics, such as using H1 elements for titles for areas of content where the context changes and H2 elements for sub-areas, rather than increasing font size to represent headers or other elements which be understood by a sighted person but someone with a visual impairment may not. Again actual content on the pages will end up being structured by users and so in the training videos which we plan on creating for this round of JISCPress development we will make sure we cover good markup of pages.

3. Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.

The future Digress.it theme will clearly promote the content over the branding of the site to improve readability. Additionally the colour palette will be updated with more contrasting colours used and also alternative stylesheets will be included so users can decide what is best for them. Further implementations such as buttons that change the size of text can be included as well.

4. Make all functionality available from a keyboard

I’ve put a bit of thought into this one and I think we should take a leaf from Google’s applications such as Gmail and Reader. I’m proposing the following for navigating a document by the keyboard:

N – next document page
P – previous document page
Up key – move up a paragraph
Down key – move down a paragraph
Left key – move to the comments
Right key – move back to the document

I’ve recorded a short video to demonstrate this:

As well as keyboard navigation we will ensure there are skip links throughout the document to reduce scrolling.

From the beginning of July we will be working on the new Digress.it theme (as well as Digress.it version 2.0) and will additionally improve the JISCPress website with a new design and a number of help videos too.

If you’re interested in accessibility issues on the web I would highly recommend watching the two videos below which are talks by Robin Christopherson, a severely visually impaired Internet user and speaker for AbilityNet. The first is from a session at Future of Web Apps London back in November 2009 that I attended where he shows the audience how someone with his disability uses the web. The second video is a full session from Future of Web Apps Dublin from earlier this year where he goes over the main problems with websites today.

3 Replies to “Digress.it accessibility”

  1. Do you plan to address their comments about Javascript in any way? I can’t see how we could retain the paragraph level commenting without the use of Javascript (it would require a complete rewrite and redesign). However, if Javascript is turned off, the reader should still be able to comment on the document section, as they would any normal blog post.

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