Monday, October 1, 2018

What do CSS, standards and “easy” sign language have in common?

For one, they were all topics of very interesting presentations at this year’s A-Tag, the Austrian accessibility day, organised by accessible media. Secondly, they are all important components in making digital content accessible. 

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)  is a style sheet language used for describing the presentation of a document written in a markup language like HTMLBoth CSS and HTML as key elements of the web need to be accessible and coherent between each other to make a website accessible. 

What can go wrong? 

Manuel Matuzovic provided a great example of how things can go wrong. Imagine if you have 8 elements on your website and just for one week you would like to push your newsletter by moving it up to third position on your website. Your web developer quickly changes the position of the newsletter in the CSS code and it appears now on third position on your website. However, the underlying HTML was not changed and a screen-reader or the focus indicator of somebody who uses not the mouse but the keyboard to navigate the website, will jump to the element that is still third in the HTML code and will only come later to the newsletter. That can be confusing and impractical and it breaks the accessibility tree of the website. It is therefore important that the developer understands accessibility, so they would know that such an approach would make the site inaccessible, and that another solution would need to be found.

The web of things rather than the internet of things 

W3C’s Shadi Abou-Zahra then spoke about the “web of things” on top of the internet of things. A smart home, where everything is connected, could potentially be very accessible for persons with disabilities. But not if for example the smart radiator gives out his readings only in GIF format. GIF is a format that screen-readers cannot read so it would be inaccessible to blind home owners. This example shows us that we need to have accessibility considered from the very beginning and ensure that it forms part of the core programming of every IoT device, rather than trying to add it on later. 

The ‘web of things’ concept is interesting in that it would allow all objects to communicate via one surface, like how we currently access the internet via our browsers and apps. If all devices can be accessed via one surface and that surface is accessible, it could indeed create an accessible world. 

The building blocks…. are standards

The different components can only work together, if we all agree on standards. All developers and manufacturers need to be aware of and follow the latest accessibility standards - in October 2018 that would be WCAG 2.1 and the revised EN 301 549. Eric Eggert, also from W3C, did a great job in explaining and demonstrating what the new components in WCAG 2.1 are, why they are relevant and how they can be implemented in practice. His explanations of the new success criteria in WCAG 2.1 can be found on the Knowbility blog linked in the recourse section and are definitely worth a read.

Another aspect is to integrate accessibility in all standards relevant for persons with disabilities or just adopt it for every user. The credo of “nothing about us, without us” does not apply to standards yet, but standards determine most of our products and services. 
Christian Galinski from Infotherm argued for a special interest group (SIG) on accessibility in standards. The SIG would promote Recommendation 2016 which advocates for introducing the obligation to mention in every standard whether they have accessibility relevance or not, which would make finding relevant standards much easier than it is today and hence easier to apply them. 

Last, but in no way least… the content  

On top of products and services, the content of course  needs to be accessible as well. 
For deaf users this means, content needs to be made available in sign language. And as with the hearing community and written language, the levels of understanding of sign language differ among people. So parallel to the need for “easy language”, there is also a need for “easy sign language”. For this reasons, the Austrian Sign Language interpreter community has introduced the concept of ÖGS+. This is interpreting into sign language (in this case Austrian Sign Language, ÖGS) in a way that is more pictographic and easier to understand. Since there is an extra level of explanation provided, the interpreters chose to design it with a +. Hence the name ÖGS+. Very soon, news and stories will be available on their website in Austrian, German and International Sign Language as well of course in ÖGS+. 

A great one-day training event

Again, the A-Tag proved to be a very good one-day training event, bringing together the many different stakeholders needed to make digital content accessible to users of all abilities. Looking forward to next year's edition! 


W3C CSS Accessibility Task Force:
Recommendation 2016 concerning standards on eAccessibility and eInclusion:

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