Brainstorms and Raves

Notes on Web Design, Development, Standards, Typography, Music, and More

Thu

14

FEB

2002

More: Olympics Site Accessibility Issues

The New York Times has a new article, Love Letters, One-Hit Wonders and Sites Unseen that covers the Olympics site accessibility issue I recently wrote about here. The New York Times interviewed me, WebReference’s Andy King, and Perkins Miller, the Internet director for the organizing committee for the Salt Lake City games. I ring The NY Times praises for accurately quoting what I’d told them; however, the accessibility issues that Miller states have been resolved have really NOT been resolved to make the site accessible:

"Some of the criticisms that she and others raised have since been addressed by allowing people with 'alternative viewers' that rely solely on text to gain access to some content. (A simple stripped-down text page with six headlines, for example, has been added as an alternative to the home page for users with non-JavaScript- enabled browsers.)"

NBC Sports page screenshot - thumbnail. Click on image to view full screenshot.The "stripped-down text page" has links to MSNBC news reports but still does NOT provide access to the Olympics site. For example, what if someone with a non-JavaScript-enabled browser wanted to find out today’s Events schedule or get a map to the Olympic Village? The person would be provided with the links to MSNBC Olympics news reports rather than access to the schedule or to get a map. There’s still no way to access the site without JavaScript enabled.

NBC screenshotIf someone is looking for today’s schedules, being redirected to MSNBC’s Olympics news coverage isn’t going to help them. Unfortunately this doesn’t resolve accessibility issues to the Olympics site.

Also on the Olympics site’s main page is a link to their Accessibility Guide. Curiously, it’s not accessible unless you have a JavaScript-enabled, frames-enabled browser. The very helpful Guide provides information for accessible routes, seating and wheelchair assistance, medical services, venue signs, and more.

Screenshot of my Handspring Visor last week with the Olympics site redirected to the MSNBC Olympics news stories.

Handhelds Blocked, Too

In my continued explorations of the Olympics site accessibility, I used Avantgo with my Handspring Visor to access the popular Olympics site today. Once again I was redirected to the same text links of MSNBC Olympics news stories. As I mentioned before, that wouldn’t help much if I was trying to check out schedules, maps, and the abundance of other information available at the Olympics site.

AOL7.0 JavaScript OFF by Default?

The other potential problem is that at least some versions[1] of the new AOL 7.0 software come with JavaScript turned off by default. AOL carries a major market share of web surfers, and the average web surfer using AOL may not understand why they’re automatically redirected to a plain text page of only MSNBC news reports instead of being able to access the Olympics site itself, especially since there’s no message or other indication that the person has been redirected.

screenshot of AOL 7Additionally, turning on JavaScript via AOL 7.0’s Preferences window is not exactly user friendly. Once you click on Settings->Preferences from the drop-down menu, one must go through several hoops to turn on JavaScript, which is lumped under Scripting (never mentioning the term 'JavaScript'), as shown in the screenshot.

The Point Here

So what’s my point with all this? Due to its worldwide needs, the Olympics site requires widespread access, regardless of abilities or disabilities. As I’ve mentioned previously, they were sued for accessibility problems with their Sydney 2000 site, and I’d originally hoped that they’d gained an awareness of the accessibility needs for the Salt Lake 2002 site. While they included the ALT attributes and descriptions this time (they were sued for not including them for the Sydney 2000 site), there are other critical elements that are of equal importance that I’ve previously covered.

My Interview with the New York Times

Here is the e-mail interview that I had last week with New York Times reporter Pamela L. O'Connell:

NYT: You mention that the site requires Javascript—and that most alternative viewers and screen readers don’t work with Javascript.

SK: That’s correct. Alternative viewers and screen readers rely on text, which excludes JavaScript. So if a site is accessible only via JavaScript and frames like the Olympics 2002 site is now, that immediately excludes all those with alternative viewers.

Andy King of WebReference.com wrote a great follow-up that covers more of the JavaScript issues, which you may have also already seen.

NYT: Are you referring not just to alternative browsers but to things such as screen readers that the blind might use, for example?

SK: Yes, exactly. Screen readers, voice readers, braille browsers, as well as other devices such as handhelds and cell phones, too, all rely on text.

See also the Web Standards Project’s comments about Accessibility and alternative devices.

(And by the way, I’m also on the Web Standards Project’s Steering Committee, but my Olympics 2002 article and my comments here are solely my own and NOT at all on behalf of WaSP.)

NYT: Can you define the difference between usability (which seems to me somewhat subjective) and accessibility (which seems a more objective matter)?

SK: I see good usability as being a friendly, logical, easy-to-navigate and easy-to-access approach to a site. Users should have no trouble accessing a site, finding what they need easily, opening pages quickly, and accessing whatever information available at the site.

Accessibility means wide user access, in my opinion. While the needs of any one site may vary, a site like the 2002 Olympics site has the widest accessibility needs because of its world-encompassing audience and should therefore be built using the W3C’s Accessibility Guidelines and not excluding users as it so blatantly does now.

Accessibility is a part of usability, and usability is also a part of accessibility. As you may know, there are specific Accessibility Guidelines, recommendations via the W3C. They are simple enough to implement when a site is being designed and require minimal effort. So it is especially disconcerting to see a major site like the Olympics 2002 site not including alternate access via the NOSCRIPT or NOFRAMES tags. (In other words, it’s fine to use these technologies, but please use the alternate tags to allow users to access the site’s information whether or not they can use these technologies.)

According to The Usability Company:

The official definition of Usability according to the ISO is:

The effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments

Our definition

"Usability is the science of improving screen technology to the maximum benefit of user and owner."

If you are looking for more sources, feel free to check out the resources at my other site, WebsiteTips.com, where you’ll find annotated links on accessibility and usability.

[1]: Special thanks to my son, Chris, for initially bringing the AOL 7 default settings to my attention.

07:54 pm, pst14 February, 2002 Comments, Trackbacks ·

Categories: Accessibility, Design, Standards, Usability

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