Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My notes from W3C "Readability"

Last week I attended the W3C symposium on Text Customization for Readability. That's a mouthful... We explored ways that a reader can change the way text looks, to make it easier to read.

If you have low vision, how do you read online?

David Sloan says people like himself with low vision can have great difficulty reading text with subpixel rendering, e.g. ClearType which is no longer configurable in Internet Explorer 9.

Eileen Rivera enlarges text significantly in order to read it. Her wish list item is to allow all text to wrap so she does not have to scroll horizontally. She added that content authors should watch the "gymnastics" that low vision readers go through, which should inspire content authors to work on improving the experience.

Suzette is dealing with the effects of cataract surgery. For her, increased font size is necessary, but makes it difficult to skim. Increased line spacing makes reading more comfortable for her.

Anthony Lee says web browers need to make adjustments very easy. Easy like adjusting volume on your TV, or pinching and zooming on a tablet.

What have we learned from research?

Shawn Henry studied people who customize their CSS. The most popular changes were: font size, font family, colors such as background color and text color, and line height. Less common CSS customizations were text decoration, text alignment, font weight, and margin.

Whitney worked at an online university, and researched what default text styles would be most usable for a broad audience. Specific audiences were teenagers, older adults, people with reading disabilities, people with low literacy, and English learners. It turns out these varied groups had some common needs: larger text size, meaningful images, plain language, and "breaking up walls of words" e.g. clear headings, short paragraphs, and lists. Things that allow people to find the key points.

Luz Rello, studying people with dyslexia, found that personal preference for text presentation was important but not optimal. Authors presented solutions that the readers had not tried, and reading performance improved measurably. The conclusion is that we should base our standards and designs on both kinds of research.

When adapting text, is it better in general to preserve layout or allow reflow? This question came in the context of dyslexia research. Wayne Dick pointed out that we are already creating a reasonable linear reading order for screen readers, so reflowing text looks like a winning strategy.

Tools for readability

Wayne Dick is a researcher who has low vision. He is designing an interactive tool to help each reader find their own best customizations.

Olaf Drümmer and Vasile Topac discussed PDFs. They evaluated tools which convert tagged PDFs to HTML, so that greater customization is possible.

Olaf also commented that mobile is "our best friend" because mobile platforms often require responsive design and customizable text for all users, not just for people with disabilities.

Ideas for the future

Some emails allow reflow, others do not. Will email clients become web authoring tools?

Will we build machines that can analyze a visual layout to infer semantics?

Can research tools become tools for customers, to make customization easier?

Do innovations in e-readers help us design a better web?


In web accessibility standards, text customization should be an important checkpoint.

A common theme is "one size fits one." We need to build things so readers can adjust their text.

Friday, May 11, 2012

WebAIM survey of screen reader users

If you use a screen reader, please fill out the 2012 WebAIM Screen Reader User Survey. The survey closes on May 25.

Sharing for the accessibility nerds out there... At the end of the survey, I added these comments... Let's see if I get a response!
When you report the results, I would be curious to know how you solicited people to fill in this survey. Was it just through the WebAIM email list, or did you take steps to get some kind of broad cross-section of users worldwide? In you report, will you analyze possible effects of selection bias in the results? I'm not complaining (all questionnaires have some selection bias) but I would like to hear your perspective on how much the respondents represent the whole world of web users.

Also, in a future survey, it would be interesting to use Adobe Flash Accessibility.isActive, to detect and report the respondent's use of MSAA while filling the survey. I don't advocate using this method to customize content. But I believe it could be a good analytic tool. For example, if I knew that 80% of survey respondents who said "I use a screen reader for a disability" have MSAA active, then on my own web sites this would allow me to sample my own customers to see how many have MSAA, and it would strengthen my case that yes, we do have customers using these technologies. If you are interested in adding this capability, let me know, I could donate some development time - [my email]

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Walmart Grocery opening half a mile away? Good, bad, or indifferent?

This Contra Costa Times article was the first time I have heard of a "Walmart Grocery" store.

A chain store wouldn't be my first choice for our neighborhood, but on the other hand it does seem to be a real grocery store... We need more information. At the Planning Commission meeting we can scrutinize the proposal, demand transparency, and speak out on the issues we care about.

Our attendance could really make a difference! The same story played out with a Walmart Grocery in Austin, Texas. As a result of citizen pressure, the over-large plan was modified, but not cancelled...

The Planning Commission will meet May 3, 6:30pm, in Richmond City Hall, 450 Civic Center Plaza. Cross streets are 25th and Barrett.

It is appropriate for both Richmond and El Cerrito residents to attend, since the property is on the border of El Cerrito Gateway Park and Baxter Creek.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reflections during Lent

When I was a kid, we sometimes went to the Unitarian church in Yakima. I don't remember it very much, but there was a church hall, and a sermon, and songs I think. It felt good to go and listen. I laugh now when I hear Garrison Keillor's caricature of Unitarians as vague and noncommittal. He's absolutely right, but I would say it another way. The Unitarians I know are highly committed: they are committed to questioning everything, committed to seeking. So that's me in a nutshell - one part of me.

I attended York School, a private Episcopal high school in Monterey. I needed and appreciated the rich connectedness at York: connections between people, the tapestries of ideas. At the time if you asked me whether I believed in God, I would say that I always get a glimpse of God through music. This is where I became a singer. We held occasional services in the chapel, but there were no efforts to convert the diverse student body to any religion. Now when I look back, I realize that this place was a perfect example of evangelism. The people there lived their lives committed to fairness and caring, and were proud to tell the world about it.

I kept on singing. Now in the Bay Area, I was drawn to the radical inclusiveness of Glide Church, and the raw energy of the music hit me in the gut. So I joined the Glide Ensemble, a hundred strong gospel choir. I was there for just half a year, which coincided with a difficult pregnancy. I continued to be a seeker, but my heart was closed up and tangled. One day something burst. We were singing this song, crying out: You are the source of my strength! You are the strength of my life! I lift my head in total praise to you. I cry again now feeling the words burst through me. Truly, faith is not something we work to achieve. It is a gift given to us.

So I arrive at Christ Lutheran Church, a hodgepodge of beliefs and ideas. It was easy to make friends here. But I wanted to know, do I belong here? I tried one of the study groups. That's where I learned to drop my stereotype of what it means to belong in a church. It does not mean you need to look or act a particular way. I learned that God made me like this, just as I am -- with my complicated brain, my untangling heart, and my confusion and doubt. I am welcome here.