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Improving (?) Accessibility

[Update: Sep 4. Turns out I can’t get the php switcher to work at all on the actual site. Great. And aarrgh. Some stupid path problem, no doubt. Wish me luck.]

A housekeeping note here. I got a bee in my bonnet about making this site and the one on government more readable on handhelds. I’m firmly convinced that in the future we’ll all be using wristpads capable of projecting readable displays, and I thought I’d start adapting now.

The usual fractal complexity of questions arose when I followed what started as simple search paths. Before I knew it, I’d realized that the two sites also left a lot to be desired for color blind people and for those who might need large type or high contrast.

Thus started the adventure whose buggy result you see before you today. The selection box at the very top of the screen should allow you to choose between the graphics-two-columns version, a low graphics-one-column version suitable for handhelds, and a high contrast version that also allows background and text colors to be selected, as well as text sizes and a few fonts. Font & color selection in the high contrast version require javascript.

The main problem is that the cookie clearing process doesn’t seem to work very well, so you may have to manually select the format you want and change text sizes in your browser to return to a previously selected format. This is annoying. I can’t even say I’m working on it because getting this far has taken two weeks longer than I had and at this point I have to give it a rest. I’ll try to get back to it Real Soon Now.

The complexities involved in doing this stuff are mindboggling, at least to me, who’s never contended with this before.

For instance, it turns out that handhelds make up their own minds about whether to use a handheld version of a web site. Fighting with that is way too complex for an amateur like me, so I decided the simplest solution was to have user-switchable styles. After much searching I found something that sort-of seems to work, but, as I say, it doesn’t return to default at all well.

That struggle, however, paled in comparison to the one for accessibility. Despite days of searching, I have yet to find a site that can render a web page as it would be seen by people with different kinds of color blindness or different kinds of vision problems. (Hint, hint! to some bright programmer out there!) Also very nice would be a “cross-compiler” as it were: something that could take your style sheet and generate others that preserved aesthetic appeal while improving readability.

That “compiler” also needs an option that helps in designing for the blind. I’d hadn’t given thought to the obvious point that organization is critical when using a site with a screenreader. But then when I did try to think about it, I’m completely ignorant of the habits of mind one needs to apply. Something that could streamline the process beyond the basic “jump to navigation” would really help.

The thing is, if there were — in a totally ideal world — easy, one-click ways of making web sites accessible, a lot more people would do it and we could reverse the slide into opacity that the internet browser revolution has wrought.

Anyway, all this is a roundabout way of saying I hope the changes are useful to somebody.

accessibility, web site design, handheld, low vision, impaired vision, color blindness, blind