Tag: Websites

Location, Privilege and Performant Websites

Here’s a wonderful reminder from Stephanie Stimac about web performance. She writes about a recent experience of moving to an area with an unreliable network and how this caused problems for her as she tried to figure out what was happening during a power blackout:

Assuming all of your customers are living the same life, with the same privilege, with the same access to fast internet and data is the quickest way to ensure you’re excluding some of them and not providing the same level of service the rest get. It’s most likely not even happening intentionally, bias is inherent in us all in some way or another. Bias based on location is something I hadn’t considered before my experience on a subpar network due to where I live.

But if you’re providing a service or utility that is essential to a large portion of your community, it’s important to take a step back and assess your user experience from a different perspective.

Stephanie also makes note of how NPR has a text-only version of their website so that it’s still possible to access information on the worst possible network connections. CNN does something quite similar.

And doesn’t this go beyond web performance? At the core, this is an accessibility issue as well and yet another example of how hard it is to make accessible sites.

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Why Are Accessible Websites so Hard to Build?

I was chatting with some front-end folks the other day about why so many companies struggle at making accessible websites. Why are accessible websites so hard to build? We learn about HTML, we make sure things are semantic and — voila! @— we have an accessible website. During the course of conversation, someone mentioned the Domino’s pizza legal case, which is perhaps the most public example of a company being sued because of a lack of accessibility.

Here’s an interesting tidbit from that link:

According to CNBC, the number of lawsuits over inaccessible websites jumped 58 percent last year over 2017, to more than 2,200.

Inaccessible websites are not just a consideration for designers and engineers but a serious problem for a company’s legal team as well. Thankfully, it seems more of these cases will be brought to trial and (my personal hope is) this will get folks to care more about semantics and front-end development best practices. Although I’d like to think that companies would do what’s best for the web and make websites that meet the baseline requirements without a legal threat, we absolutely need to make inaccessible websites illegal for folks to really pay attention to this issue.

However! I also worry about attributing what might simply be a lack of knowledge to malice. I reckon a lot of websites have bad accessibility not because folks don’t care, but because they don’t know there’s an issue in the first place. As my conversation with front-end engineers progressed, I realized that the reason accessibility isn’t tackled seriously probably doesn’t have anything to do with bandwidth, or experience, or money.

I reckon the problem is that the accessibility of a website can be invisibly and silently broken.

Here’s an example: when developing a site, JavaScript errors are probably going to be caught because everything breaks if something goes wrong. And CSS bugs are going to get caught because something will look off. But the accessibility or performance of a website can go from okay to terrible overnight and with no warning whatsoever. Yhe only way to fix these invisibly broken things is to first make them visible.

So, here’s an idea: what if our text editors caught accessibility issues and showed them to us during development? It could look something like this:

An example of how performance and accessibility issues might be flagged in VS Code whilst you type.

I’m sure there are a ton of other ways we can make accessibility issues more public and visible. There are tools such as Lighthouse and browser extensions that are already out there, but making accessibility (and even performance, another silent fail) a part of our minute-to-minute workflow ensures that we can’t ignore it. Something like this would encourage us to learn about the problems, give us links to potential solutions, and encourage us all to care for a relatively misunderstood part of front-end development.

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Weekly Platform News: CSS column-span Property, ADA applies to Websites, Auto-generated Image Descriptions

In this week’s roundup: multi-column layouts gain wide support, the ADA means more A11y for retailers, and Google is doing something about all the empty image alt attributes in the wild.

The CSS column-span property will soon be widely supported

The CSS column-span property, which has been supported in Chrome and Safari since 2010 (and IE since 2012), is finally coming to Firefox in version 71 (in December).

This feature enables elements that span across all columns in a multiple-column layout. In the following demo, the headings span across both columns.

article {   column-count: 2; }  h2 {   column-span: all; }

See the Pen
Demo of CSS column-span: all
by Šime Vidas (@simevidas)
on CodePen.

(via Ting-Yu Lin)

The Americans with Disabilities Act applies to websites

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites, which means that people can sue retailers if their websites are not accessible.

Domino’s Pizza’s appeal was recently turned down by the Supreme Court, so the lawsuit against them for failing to make their website accessible to screen reader users will now resume in district court.

Guillermo Robles, who is blind, filed suit in Los Angeles three years ago and complained he had been unable to order a pizza online because the Domino’s website lacked the software that would allow him to communicate. He cited the ADA, which guarantees to people with a disability “full and equal enjoyment of the goods and services … of any place of public accommodations.”

(via David G. Savage)

Google announces automatically generated image descriptions for Chrome

When used with the VoiceOver screen reader, Chrome can now automatically generate image descriptions for images that do not have proper alt text (<img alt> attribute). Google has already created more than 10 million image descriptions, but they are not meant to replace alt text written by humans.

Image descriptions automatically generated by a computer aren’t as good as those written by a human who can include additional context, but they can be accurate and helpful.

This new accessibility feature, called “Accessibility Image Descriptions,” may not be enabled by default in your version of Chrome, but you can enable it manually on the chrome://flags page.

(via Dominic Mazzoni)

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