Accessibility in books, websites, libraries and your mind.

I have been reading a lot of books about accessible design lately. This started around the time that I got sent this story about the National Library for the Blind in Norway and some of the design flaws that make it very hard for the visually disabled to get into, much less use. The Vermont Technical College has a lot of these books on access. Sadly, I am one of the only people to have checked them out in the last decade. As an aside, I think at this point I would have a very hard time going back to a library where they didn’t have datestamps in the back of the book. I think libraries keeping circulation info “secret” — not on purpose, but by ILS system design — is a decline in information-sharing with patrons, and a shame. Here are the books I have read, with links to my reviews.

Beautiful Barrier Free
Access by Design
Design for Dignity: Studies in Accessibility

And, of course, let’s remember how to make our web sites accessible. Jacob Nielsen has come out with lists of top ten web design mistakes as well as top ten weblog design mistakes. Check to see if you make any of these mistakes. I recently wrote a note to ALA’s webmaster commenting on the lack of ALT or title tags on the ALA Midwinter Meeting page. It’s a nice looking page, but information is imparted through lots of graphics, with no alternate navigation. Usually there is a set of text links at the bottom of the page if they use images for navigation. This is what someone viewing the page with a text-only browser would see. I cannot stress enough: this is the conference information page for the largest library association in the world. If we can’t follow our own rules about accessibility, how can we expect others to?

are audiobooks accessible? A TAP report.

Accessibility Trial of the Downloadable Digital Audio Book Service from netLibrary and Recorded Books LLC. At least twelve libraries providing content to the print impaired participated in this project. Upshot? Responses vary, though mejor hurdles mentioned include interacting with the website, dealing with DRM and usability of the Windows Media Player.

The volunteers who participated in this two-month trial had a wide variety of experiences and reactions to those experiences. Some volunteers thought this was the best digital audio book system they had ever tried…. Many of the volunteer testers noted that the quality of the texts, the narration, and the sound was very high.

Others thought the overall system was barely functional and marginally accessible. The content website, the digital rights management system, and Microsoft’s Windows Media Player software presented substantial accessibility challenges for a large portion of the group of volunteer testers.

the web for the blind, or the clueless

I spent some time today with three novice computer users. Two were fairly bright people who were challenged but ultimately victorious in their struggles with the mouse and with Windows. One had a lot of trouble scanning a web page to look for whatever the “action item” was that she had to click on. So, finding the “send” button on her email, finding the “attach file” button after browsing for a file, or finding the “log off” button were very frustrating and took minutes for her each time.

This corroborates what we know about novice users, or users with cognitive impairments: they read every word on a web page and have a hard time getting the hang of cues that are communicated with colors or other subtle indicators. For them, web-based email like Yahoo [with its enormous ads and complicated interface] is more of a punishment than a pleasure. No wonder people still use AOL. This is just really a roundabout way of passing on a few links about accessibility: