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2006-02-13: should ignorance be our real target?

The big news right now is, of course, Target(.com) being sued: box of chocolates | Taking Aim at Target(.com).

I've looked around at a few threads, some within the web industry and a couple of legal sites. Some of the comments I've seen are appalling. People saying the suit is ridiculous, a waste of time, that nobody is getting hurt if Target's website in not accessible. The word "freedom" being tossed around to justify treating disabled net users like they're second class citizens.

I think I'll scream if I see one more person trot out the idiot line "blind people can't drive so let's sue the car manufacturers". Discrimination through ignorance is a galling thing.

it's discrimination, not free trade

One point people are missing is that we really are talking about discrimination. Making an inaccessible website means treating some customers as second-class citizens. Target is refusing to serve them, just as effectively as if they turned their backs on them instore.

This is not trivial, this is not some minor detail which really makes no difference to the people involved. The net has become fundamental to many peoples' lives. The net can allow a person to do a large number of mundane tasks from the comfort and safety of their own home. It can save huge amounts of time and leave energy for more important things in life.

Why should disabled people be denied this simple convenience? Not forgetting that for some users, shopping online goes beyond mere convenience, it could be the difference between needing assistance and being independent (at least for one more task).

it's the law

Now let's cast aside the moral highground, since it doesn't motivate business. Plain and simple, accessibility is the law. As Joe Clark has pointed out, Target is bound by law not to discriminate against someone based on skin colour, religion or disability. It's one of those rare laws which are based on enforcing some basic humanity on the free market.

Around the world, there are many different implementations of the basic concept; usually with a clause about not causing undue harship on the provider. There is no undue hardship on Target to make their website accessible. They have in fact demonstrated how easy it would be for a company with their resources to fix the problems, by fixing some of them within 24 hours.

so why does it still happen?

So if it's the right thing to do and it's the law anyway... why do we still see so many inaccessible websites?

In part, I think it's ignorance.

People don't know that it's the law, they don't understand why it's the right thing to do, they don't know that it's entirely achievable. Even if they are aware of the issue, many people think it's not serious or that it's too hard to do anything about it.

We, the advocates, need to inform the uninformed.

we already know

An accessible web would be a great leveller (would be, we're certainly not there yet). Online, who knows or cares if you have a disability? People can only see what you say, you can be judged on what you think without being judged on what you look like. You should be able to do anything and everything the same as anyone else who can access the internet. People can love and hate you for it, just like anyone else.

Advocates of accessibility and web standards are, obviously, convinced that these things are worthwhile. We know, in our hearts and minds, that accessibility is right. We know, because something has convinced us.

Perhaps we know someone with a disability, perhaps we've simply heard about the challenges they face. Perhaps it was enough to realise that the technology exists to make the web accessible to everyone.

we have to attack ignorance

Not only do we need to work on the technology that makes accessibility possible, we have to convince people that they need to use that technology. We have to find people who don't understand, yet could make a difference if they did. We need to show them, in ways that makes easy sense to them, why it's right and why it's possible.

If they still don't care, then we have to show them why it's the law anyway and they don't have a choice. Carrots and sticks, honey and vinegar, however you like to say it. People cannot be allowed to live in the blissful ignorance which lets them perpetuate online discrimination.

We also need to inform the bystanders, who quite clearly don't realise that this issue is important. This is difficult, since the default state of most people seems to be apathy; but with enough hard work even the biggest issues can start to turn around. Pushing for web accessibility would be just a little easier if the general public had a better understanding of what it's all about.

If we can attack ignorance, if we can inform enough people, then maybe one day the lawsuits won't be required so much any more. I suspect that sometimes the big stick will still have to come out, but maybe afterwards people will be more receptive to the carrot.

2006-02-11: test driving opera 9 technology preview 2

So, right now browser preview/beta releases are the new black. IE7b2 is doing the rounds, so I won't bother getting back into that circus. Let's have a look at Opera 9 Technology Preview 2 (on PC, since that's what I use).

what's good

There's a lot of polish going into this version, but I won't bore you with every single little detail which I like. The bigger points:

  • I will mention that overall, a huge number of preference/options settings now have more flexibility.
  • Add any search to the search dropdown, just by right-clicking it. You can define a search keyword while you're at it. I've since discovered Firefox lets you define your own search keywords, but it's not as easy and you still can't add it to the dropdown without writing an extension.
  • opera:config ... the ability to deep link a preference setting is going to make life a lot easier when directing users to a particular setting.
  • Tab/window nomenclature now matches other browsers. I'm sure a certain standardista will feel vindicated.
  • BitTorrent. The cool kids tell me BitTorrent is a good thing. It wasn't included in previous versions since there were some bugs - gasp, I hear you say... a software company that didn't just slap the new feature in, bugs and all? That's right, they waited until it was good and ready for public consumption. That's a company that cares. Redmond this ain't.
  • The ability to change a stack of settings for specific sites. So now you can disable flash but have it automatically re-enabled for those three sites where you actually wanted the flash.
  • Content blocking - seems to be something similar to the popular "ad block" in Firefox, which is nice. I'm also thinking of blocking the boring photos posted by specific users in some photography groups...
  • Tab thumbnails, making it easier to find that particular tab.
  • "Insert personal"... it's form field autocomplete, but in a user-controlled manner. I really like this.

what's bad

Actually not a huge amount to complain about.

  • Still doesn't have a "home" button on the toolbar, out of the box. Seriously, what the hell? I really don't like the default toolbar and I always change it immediately. It is my opinion that this one single issue causes the most trouble for potential new users.
  • Tab selection order still bugs me, I'm sure a certain standardista would agree. It's that reading-through-the-blogroll thing.
  • Some settings still don't have quite enough flexibility for my liking, eg. I'd like to be able to allow the tab bar to extend to a second row but no more.

what's... not sure

  • Widgets. People who went nuts for Konfabulator (or whatever it was called) should get a kick out of widgets. Plus, they look the same as all the faux-plastic/glass widgets that I see plastered all over the Mac at work. People love those things. So anyway, I'll have to play with the widgets a bit more to see if they're useful for me.

conclusion

I'm looking forward to the final release. Although, actually the beta has been rock solid on my machine so far anyway.

link crazy

2006-02-06: google blacklisting happens

I've encountered some people who basically don't believe that Google will blacklist a site for dodgy search engine optimisation activities. Boing Boing has posted an article about BMW Germany's site (bmw.de) site being removed from the index for serving entirely different content out to search engines: Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO | Ramping up on international webspam.

Cutts has also posted on how to get back into the index: Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO | Filing a reinclusion request.

I'm still not convinced that Google's new stance won't end up blacklisting or lowering the pagerank of sites with legitimate alternative content. Time will tell, I guess. Not to mention the fact that pagerank is basically a mystery anyway, so who would know?

Update 2009.04.26: Google has posted a video with tips on filing a good reconsideration request. Official Google Webmaster Central Blog: Tips on requesting reconsideration.

2006-02-01: australian it media: still clueless about standards

Australian IT published this little gem today: Australian IT - Sunbeam polishes its e-image (case study | Sunbeam Australia, JANUARY 31, 2006). It's a bit of advertising dressed up as a "case study". Basically it's a whole lot of fanfare about an average website and the people who built it. For added annoyance factor... "e-image"? Ugh.

Sure, the site looks nice. But it really isn't all that usable, it lacks key information, it's quite slow to load, meets only rudimentary accessibility requirements and it's not standards-compliant. To my mind, there's nothing about this site that sets it apart from any other corporate website.

As a Standards Guy™, it's incredibly irritating to see the site held up as a shining example for all to follow. I'm also wondering how you get your business's name splashed all over the paper for free. Enquiring minds want to know.

As a recent user of the site, I can also say it can be confusing to navigate (tip: the best way to get information on Cafe Series coffee machines is to ignore the "Cafe Series" section) and if you want product support, just ring them. Which is a pity, since one of their stated goals was to reduce phone calls. Considering the operator's icy tone of voice I suspect they get my particular question rather a lot, too.

I keep waiting for the day where I'm no longer peeved by old-school table-based websites being praised, but so far it hasn't happened. It's a pity that Australia's IT media are still unable to do anything other than look at the pretty graphics and read a product's marketing blurb.

I suspect I'll stop being peeved before they stop reading marketing blurbs...

Tags: (in the joe clark sense), , .

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