14 May

Intro to accessibility

Last Wednesday, May 9, 2012, was Global Accessibility Awareness Day. According to the website it

is a community-driven effort whose goal is to dedicate one day to raising the profile of and introducing the topic of digital (web, software, mobile app/device etc.) accessibility and people with different disabilities to the broadest audience possible.

I took the occasion to make some more inroads into my own awareness of web accessibility. Julius, a new colleague of mine, helped me set up Orca. It is an open source screen reader for Ubuntu.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far because my voice over didn’t want to play nice. So we concentrated on testing a site with the WAVE toolbar. That’s quite a nifty tool for me because I can see where there might be problems on a page and where accessibility could be improved.

I tested the newly created Mahara user manual to check how it fared. It is written in reStructuredText and published through yet another open source tool, Sphinx. WAVE pointed out areas of concern but also things that worked in favor of accessibility. Fortunately, mostly everything was well because I had made sure that figures had an alt text and inline images immediately take on the short name of the substitution as their alt tag.

There were three items that needed improving:

  1. The search field did not have a label and thus a person relying on a screen reader might not know immediately what to do there.
  2. The images of so called admonitions like “note” and “warning” were placed as background images in the stylesheet and thus would not be read aloud. That means that a person listening to a screen reader would not know that a section was coming that was highlighted but would read it as if it were regular text.
  3. One thing I just realized when I looked at the output by Fangs is that my manual arrow ( -> ) comes across as “dash greater than”.

I fixed the first issue, and the search now has a label instead of text below it when it is already too late. For the images in the admonitions, I’ll have to talk to a front end developer to come up with a good solution. The third issue can be fixed by finding a nice looking Unicode symbol of an arrow that I can use in reStructuredText. I don’t know why I hadn’t done that right from the start. 🙁 However, I’ll have to check how to include the Unicode encoding for the LaTeX PDF build. The arrow looks nice in HTML but not yet in LaTeX.

Then the last step will be to propose the changes for the search box and the admonitions to the community for inclusion in a future release of Sphinx.

26 Mar

Firefox 4 (counter) clockwise

The new Firefox 4 is out and I installed it now that most of my extensions work. There are a couple of things that I noticed:

  • It looks very much like Chrome with the tabs on top and the context menu placing “Open in New Tab” in the pole position.
  • The page loading icon is sometimes two different icons.

The latter is the one things that has been fascinating me for the entire day. So much so that I even recorded my screen to record the action. Normally, the page loading icon spins and spins and spins and you are happy when you finally get to the page, the flash movie etc. It usually spins clockwise. However, sometimes the page loading icon in Firefox spins counter clockwise. And on top of that, the graphics is a different one.

Now the big question is: Why? I’d love to hear a good explanation for these two different graphics. Is it essentially a different process, is it a bug that hasn’t been fixed, is it a feature to show a different loading process?

21 Aug

EYC unConference (Part 3)

After a wonderful lunch and small talk at the lunch buffet, we had two more sessions at the EYC unConference today. You can read part 1 and part 2 before continuing if you haven’t already done so.

Low budget user testing

Courtney Johnston offered to facilitate a session on user testing and how to do that on a shoe-string budget.

A lot of user testing can be done by using paper and web site mockups. You also do not need hundreds of users, but can often already get an idea when you ask about 6 people to participate in a card-sorting activity or give them a task to complete on a web site. Some professional usability testers may bury their head in the sand when they read these lines, but here were are talking about testing web site for communities that operate on a very low till non-existent budget who cannot afford to have sessions in a usability lab and use awesome, but expensive software and setups to conduct their testing.

Often, even only with a few number of people, you can get an idea of whether a certain navigation works, whether menu items are named logically etc. However, when you only have access to a small number of people, you should be acutely aware of their ICT background to interpret their answers correctly and not make false assumptions and objectifying these.

Getting started with user testing

Courtney Johnston provides tips of how to do low-budget user testing; CC shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Feeding back to software developers

Tim McNamara offered the last session that I went to for this day of learning more about community involvement online. It was on how to give useful feedback to software developers. That was a dear topic to me as I get frustrated sometimes when people write forum entries or send me emails from which I cannot really make out the problem and try to solve it. It always takes a lot of effort to figure out what the issue might be and how to solve it.

The Google Project Hosting issue tracker is a good example of how to guide users in providing constructive and useful bug reports. When you open a new issue, you don’t just get an empty text box, but depending on your bug report, you can choose a template which then gives a few suggestions of what to include in your bug report. The template for a “user defect report” has the following items:

What steps will reproduce the problem?
Step 1.
Step 2.
Step 3.

What is the expected output? What do you see instead?

What browser (or hg/svn client) are you using? On what operating system?

As these questions are written directly in the text box, people can’t overlook them. 😉

I will have to check if we could also add such pre-populated text in Launchpad for people filing Mahara bugs. That would be very useful.

Now what?

Currently, I am still in the processing phase because there was a lot of information today, a number of web sites to check out, things to try out for myself and wrapping my head around. It was great to meet people who create web sites for non-profits and a lot of times use open source. Joomla was talked about quite a bit as a person ran two sessions on it whereas other CMS were hardly mentioned (we should remedy that next time). However, as was pointed out when the Wordle was shown: Drupal sits on top of Joomla and has “brain” right next to it. 😉

Words shouted out during the closing session of EYC unConference to say what was important

EYC unConference in a Wordle; created by Wellington ICT

A big Thank You to the organizers and volunteers as well as the participants of the unConference who made that day a great learning experience.

21 Aug

EYC unConference (Part 2)

As written in the previous post on the EYC unConference, everybody could propose a topic for a session and gather people to discuss it. After my initiated session on how to actually get people to use a community web site in which the attendees greatly participated and did not need a lot of facilitating, I went to a similar session. There the focus was on the use of social media, in particular Twitter and Facebook.

Online communities and social media

People saw the purpose of Twitter and Facebook differently and it always came down to finding where the people you want to reach hang out and picking them up from there.

Another important point that was raised was that not everybody is using social media and should not be forced to do so in order to join a community, but they should have alternative means for engagement. though that does not mean that the lowest common denominator should be chosen. It is worthwhile to educate community members about the possibilities of social media and offer them training so that they can become literate in its use.

Despite that, especially established community members should not be forced to go out of their way to continue engaging. Somebody came up with an analogy to a restaurant that was picked up by Joanna McCleod. When regular patrons come to a restaurant, they should not be made to go out again to find a flyer that is being distributed on Lambton Quay in order to be able to dine at that restaurant. They should still be able to just go inside without any detours.

The session attendees agreed that it is about the way of communicating and not necessarily the tool. Twitter and Facebook can change rather quickly in this day and age. So you may have to switch to another service. However, the idea of the social networking will persist. And you should not be afraid to pull the plug and discontinue using a tool when you realize that your community does not take to it. Your efforts can be used elsewhere more productively.

group discussion about using social media with communities

Never mind the nice weather outside. Community's social media use is as good. CC shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Web accessibility

Robyn Hunt talked about what everybody could do to improve their web sites to embrace accessibility. That does not only mean that people with disabilities can get more out of a web site, but it also means that the web site is improved for everybody as accessible web sites often also include looking at usability issues that might frustrate “regular” users as well.

I know that I have to improve the accessibility of my blog here, e.g. give meaningful alternative text and not just my picture caption and probably improve a whole bunch of other things that are normally hidden to the eye, but help people greatly who use screen readers.

Learning more about accessibility is a project on my ToDo list for which I will have to set aside a time and either participate in a workshop or read relevant texts.

One thing that particularly stuck in my head was that Facebook is not a good page in terms of accessibility because it is quite busy among things. However, when viewed on a smartphone, people with disabilities can participate as the content presented in the smartphone apps is basically clutterfree making it easier to use. Thus, though the service was not changed, a change of device suddenly enables a number of users to finally participate. And the internet offers independence and freedom to a great many people with disabilities as they can now get information that they had previously no access to and they can also engage in online conversations.

I cover the rest of the day in part 3 on the EYC Conference.

25 Mar

Check marks upside down

This is a true curiosity which caused some good laughter today. A colleague showed me his check marks in Firefox today. They were upside down and have been so for a long time. He does not have a clue why they are not the usual way. It does not matter on which web site he wants to place check marks. Be it Moodle, be it Doodle (as in the screenshot), they are always upside down. Should we now call them “hut marks”?

Check marks from down under in Firefox?

Check marks from down under in Firefox?