A bit of history
John Allsopp showed us how new media emerge from their ancestors: cinema from the stage, photography from painting, television from radio and cinema, the web predominantly from print. We’re in at a very exciting period of development of the web. With some 11 years of web behind us we’re thinking it’s all becoming quite advanced, but John reminded us of where photography, movies, radio were after only 11 years of development. We look back on those early efforts and see how much those media have developed since then. As web designers we are right now influencing and shaping how the web will be in the future.
John reminded us that the Viewmaster was popular in its day, showing us photographic scenes in glorious stereo. But once we’d seen those scenes the Viewmaster had little more to offer. The web on the other hand has the capacity to do things.
It’s not how it looks but what it can do.
Local accessibility expert, Jonathan Mosen spoke next, starting us off on the right “Accessibility foot” by pointing out that although he was clearly disadvantaged, he could still surf the web. He was referring, of course, to his height.
As a blind user Johnathan has found the web has changed his life. He no longer needs a stranger to read his bank statement to him or a supermarket employee to be pulled from regular duties to help him shop for groceries. He uses Window-Eyes and Internet Explorer to surf web pages, check his bank balance, buy groceries, run Google searches, order pizza and for all the other activities that any user carries out.
Johnathan showed us how he surfs the web, though he was kind enough to reduce the speed of the speech browser by about half. He explained that if a page is properly coded with correct heading, alternate text and well-phrased link text then he can use the built-in features of his software to manoeuvre quickly to the information he needs.
Anyone with a bit of accessibility awareness knows those things so the information wasn’t new. It was a very useful confirmation though. What I found interesting was a demonstration of the technology, the information about actual user experience, and most importantly, the anecdotal evidence of the power of the web to transform a life. Moreover, Johnathan is a very witty and entertaining speaker.
We saw that local auction site TradeMe incorporates all the features a blind user needs to buy and sell online, while Pizza Hut goes well until a blind user wants to complete their order, at which point a new window with inaccessible technology makes it impossible. Johnathan did comment though that New Zealand sites are by large very accessible, attributing that to our culture of inclusiveness in New Zealand.
Russ Weakley of MaxDesign showed us through one method of sorting out the Cascading Style Sheets for a design. His process involved first dividing content into boxes and coding up the empty boxes with coloured backgrounds. Once that’s done you can gradually add content, formatting and so on, while testing at every stage.
That possibly sounds ridiculously simple and obvious, yet it gave me a much-needed boost so I came home and spent three hours sorting out a new template for myself. In the last 5 years I’ve gone from ‘discovering’ CSS, to being bewildered and totally floundering, to struggling mightily, to some semblence of competence. Russ’s approach now gives me a system for applying the knowledge I have. He also reminded us about the power of descendant selectors, so my new template includes far fewer classes than before.
The evening was usefully broad, embracing a wider and more philosophical view, while also focusing on specific experiences and techniques. Now I want more!