Archive for August, 2006

Geek in the Park: Pragmatic accessibility

Yay for the Geek in the Park meeting. I missed the picnic, as I was returning from monstrous partying for my kid brother’s birthday, but got there in time to actually have a pre-speaking run-through with my partner-in-crime, Pat Lauke, to make sure the two-handed presentation we’d jammed by phone and mail worked.

It was splendid to meet old mates like Matt Machell, the excellent Jim O’Donnell, as well as meet more people (and a shame I couldn’t meet others – who were these people, for example?)

My notes, combined with some notes Patrick gave me, are reproduced. These are dense, as we talked for two hours, as this is just our crib sheet rather than a full transcript (if you want the full thing, we are available for weddings, barmitzvahs and satanic orgies. Especially satantic orgies).

Continue reading Geek in the Park: Pragmatic accessibility

Would a vasectomy make a vas deferens to me?

My children are charming bundles of joy (of course: they each have 23 of my chromosomes), but Mrs L and I have decided that two are enough. A vasectomy seemed the obvious course of action, so I went for an initial consultation with the surgeon. I went in all eager. I came out determined never ever to let that man’s scalpel near my orbs.

In order that he doesn’t sue me, let’s call him Doctor Hamish McNobchopper, as he was Scottish. And a specialist in chopping.
Continue reading Would a vasectomy make a vas deferens to me?

(Last Updated on 14 November 2013)

We loves it, my precious (and an apology)

I must have been involved in the production of dozens of books, but the best bit is always opening the box that the printer sends, and taking a look at the physical artefact. One Wrox colleague of mine would invariably open the volume, press it to his face, and take a deep sniff.

When my glory copy of Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance plopped through the drawbridge of chateau Lawson, the first thing I did was be grateful it didn’t land on my foot. At 630 pages, it’s gigantic (at least 200 pages thicker than its precursor). It’s a fab feeling, holding a wodge of dead tree with your own words on it.

The next thing I did was to open it at a random page in one of my chapters. In publishing superstition, if the first thing you see is a typo, the book will sell well. Immediately, I spotted a typo: I’d written “accessibility boors” rather than “bores”.

Worse than that, in the introduction I commit a cardinal sin that I only recently berated Andy Budd for:

One of my biggest bugbears, the Accessibility Old Wives’ Tale™, is to be found on page 130: “.. many screenreaders will ignore text between form elements, unless they are enclosed in a label. So, which screenreaders are those? … So this is a plea to all authors, not just Budd: if you make statements like “some browsers or “many screenreaders, please identify the culprits.

And I went and wrote that “some screenreaders” can’t deal with ins and del, without telling the reader that I was talking about JAWS.

I know it’s only an introduction, and Jim Thatcher goes into great detail comparing screenreaders later on (who knew, for exmple, that implicitly associating an input field and a prompt by enclosing an input field in the label causes the prompt to be ignored in three of the big four screenreaders?), but I need to apologise, readers, for my sloppy authoring there.

And apologies, Andy Budd.

But does a typo and an Accessibility Old Wives’ Tale™ guarantee doubly good sales?

Hello Private Eye readers!

It’s an honour to be namechecked in Private Eye, having been a subscriber for donkey’s years. Here are my blog posts about the DTI‘s botched re-design (most recent first).

Given you’re all educated, sophisticated, influential and rich (and such visitors are rare round here), can I take this opportunity to unashamedly pimp my new Web Accessibility book to you? Thanks!

For those who haven’t read Private Eye, here’s the report on page 6 of the 18 August edition. It’s concise, and surprisingly accurate, considering the technical nature of the content and non-techy audience.

Yet another government website redesign has gone horribly awry – this time at the Department of Trade and Industry, which spent £175,000 on a site designed by Fresh01 and implemented by the department’s IT supplier, Fujitusu (Eyes passim).

The finished site went live in May, proudly proclaiming: “This site meets the W3C web accessibility initiative AA-level standard.” W3C standards are designed to ensure that websites work with all web browsers, including those with special features for people with visual impairments or other disabilities. But the DTI’s shiny new site doesn’t.

Two bloggers, with an interest in web accessibility issues, Dan Champion ( and Bruce Lawson ( noticed this failure and have been chasing the DTI via freedom of information law to find out what went wrong. They discovered that the requirements document given to the contractors says it was a “key objective” that the final website should be “a leading example of usable, accessible web design” and that there should have been “a robust programme of usability testing carried out during the design and build phase”.

“The statement relating to accessibility was an error”, the bloggers were told. “It was removed from the website on 19 May 2006 when we reviewed the site in the light of the questions raised.”

They sent more questions, asking how the DTI had planned to monitor that the website met the standards (other than waiting for bloggers to do the work for them) and whether the companies involved remained on the lists of preferred suppliers. However, the DTI wrote back saying that answering the questions would cost more than £600, so they were “not obliged” to deal with the request.

So, DTI spent £175,000 on a website that doesn’t meet the requirements it set, but won’t spend £600 on answering questions that might just help them get the next expensive redesign right.

Dan Champion has an overview of our appeal against the DTI’s silence. Meanwhile, if you feel like writing to your MP, you can complain online.

Forms: inputting country names

Asking users to tell you which country they live is simple. Devising a method which is both usable and accessible for the user, and which provides good data is not. There are two main problems:

  • There are between 194 and 239 countries, which is way too many for a drop-down select box (how long would you listen to JAWs read out that list until it got to Zambia, if that’s where you lived?)
  • Some countries have synonyms: when I’m scrolling down a list, I don’t know whether I’m looking for “E” (England), “G” (Great Britain), “B” (Britain) or “U” for “United Kingdom”.

Continue reading Forms: inputting country names

(Last Updated on 25 August 2006)

Too much heaven on their minds

England is a nice place, generally. It took me a while to realise it, but I was helped to appreciate it when I came back to live here with my wife, who’d been reasonably active in the Thai democracy movement so had experienced being chased by men with M16s, friends “disappearing” and millitary dictatorship.

We tend not to do that here. Having been built up our culture over centuries by absorbing waves of immigration and different cultures, we tend towards tolerance (or, perhaps more cynically, we just hate each other in a quiet, law-abiding way). We mind our own business, which can mean that people die in their houses and nobody notices, but it also means that we don’t much care what God you pray to, as long as it stays your business. And that’s how most of us, muslim, secular, hindus, jews, whatever get along just fine.

So it’s particularly baffling that our recent terrorists have been home-grown extremist “muslims”. (I use quotes, as their brand of Islam has very little in common with that practiced by my muslim colleagues, friends and neighbours).

These guys obviously are pretty grumpy with the majority way of life in the U.K., so I’d like to suggest a way to live as they want to, without the tiresome necessity of blowing up themselves and everyone around them.

I propose that the government give them every assistance to relocate to places where liberalism, democracy and secularism are illegal, and religious zealots rule.

Take Iran, for example. There’s no nicer way for a would-be plane bomber to relax after a hard week’s plotting, than by enjoying the public hanging from a crane of a sixteen year-old mentally-disturbed girl like Atefah Sahaaleh, for “crimes against chastity” (that is, having the temerity to be repeatedly raped by a 51-year-old revolutionary guard).

Or Saudi Arabia: a fine place for a trainee terrorist to get spiritual sustenance by watching police force schoolgirls back into a burning school to their deaths, because they hadn’t put on their headscarves before trying to escape?

Or there’s that idyllic oasis of piety, Pakistan, where an ex-pat British wannabe mass-murderer can help administer religious justice by gang-raping women like Mukhtar Mai, “punished” because her 12 year old brother was seen walking with a girl from a different group.

All of these acts are completely abhorrent to 99.99% of muslims, but they illustrate the barbarity of people with too much heaven on their minds. We could equally cite the Catholic Inquisition of a couple of centuries ago, or the outlawed Hindu practice of burning widows alive. All horrible.

A modest proposal

So, let’s go further, as it’s not just extremist “muslims” who cause the trouble. There are jews who believe that killing Lebanese muslims is a religious duty. There are christians who murder abortion doctors or gay people. There are hindus who persecute muslims and christians.

Let’s get everyone, of whatever flavour of God-bothering, who believes that their religion requires them to kill, and send them to somewhere empty where sane people don’t want to go (I’m thinking of Antarctica, the Aussie Outback, nuclear test grounds, or Swindon). They can all slaughter each other to their hearts’ content, without disturbing the rest of us.

They would be more than happy, as even if they get murdered by a bigger, badder loony, they get to meet their Invisible Friends in the Sky. Meanwhile, the rest of us can continue to co-exist sensibly and peacefully, worshipping privately and getting on with our lives.

It’s a win-win situation.

Your thoughts?

(Last Updated on 20 August 2006)