2007 Web Directions North wrap up

With Web Directions coming to Vancouver for the first time, I knew I didn’t want to miss out on this events. Here is a brief summary of my experience at Web Directions North 2007

First, I had the pleasure of meeting the following people (in alphabetical order):

  • John Allsopp
  • Angela Baxley
  • Kenneth Berger
  • Brian (West Coast Logic)
  • Dan Cederholm
  • Marc Charron
  • Joe Clark
  • Andy Clarke
  • Craig Cook
  • Brian Duchek
  • Jonathan Eckmier
  • Derek Featherstone
  • Ian Fenn
  • Molly E. Holzschlag
  • Klaus Komenda
  • Seamus Leahy
  • Bill MacEwan
  • Alex MacLennan
  • Eric Nowina
  • Greg Rewis
  • Dave Shea
  • Maxine Sherrin
  • Jonathan Snook
  • Stephanie Sullivan

I’m not going to bore you with the gory details, but I’d rather go over the highlights and some lighter moments from my perspective.

Accessibility 2.0 with Derek Featherstone

Highlights

  • Use of Multiple Intellegence Theory and how it’s used this to solve issues.
  • Issues with Checkpoint 6.3 using a binary approach.
  • An in-depth analysis of Hijax and how it works.
  • Opera uses tab to only tab through form fields in a form.
  • Seeing the differences between the different versions of JAWS.
  • Learning that visually impaired people are starting to use physically raised letters instead of braille.
  • If your site is having a particular issue with a screen reader, include it in your accessibility statement.
  • For an invalid form input, perhaps have an audible sound to alert the user.
  • tabindex="-1"
  • readonly=readonly
  • The interesting prospects of the proposed WAI-ARIA.
  • Thinking of the construction of a web application like a traditional storyboard walk-through for animation.

Lighter Moments

  • Ian Fenn accidentally unplugged the projector right before the class.
  • Having JAWS and Window Eyes try to read out content while Derek was attempting to talk.
  • Derek shaking his fists at the laptop when the above point occurred.
  • Poking fun at the Adobe representatives.

Opening Keynote – WSI Vancouver – Crimes against Web Standards with Molly E. Holzschlag

Highlights

  • Well, this was the first time I had seen Molly talk, so the whole experience was quite light-hearted for me. Still informative and engaging.
  • Someone admitting they had used ActiveX controls.

Lighter moments

  • Seeing Eric Meyer with a "Snakes on a Plane" poster on his wall.

Design and Coding at the cutting edge with Cameron Moll

Highlights

  • The diagram that shows Graphic Design (Means) combined with Human Computing (Involvement) and Communication (Meaning) to come up with the UI. (An experience)
  • Making input buttons intuitive. (e.g.: "Remember" versus "Yes")
  • The very insightful example of where you would put armor on a plane, based on a history of where the bullet holes were found on the planes that returned. (Think about it)
  • Do you want to see if a site has sufficient contrast and hierarchy? Try applying a blur as well as devoiding a page of colour. Can you still tell what is what? (I believe this ties into the rules of composition)
  • Apparently, <a href="tel:604-123-1234">604-123-1234</a> will work as a dialable link on a phone.
  • XHTML-MP is the preferred market language for mobile devices.

Accessibility and the Design Process with Joe Clark

Highlights

  • Poking fun at the deprecated TTC site.
  • Getting a real good idea at how much work it will actually take to rebuild the TTC site to a standards-based design. Basically, it sounded like you would need a team of at least 10 people to even attempt it.

Lighter Moments

  • Seeing swear words on the projector.
  • Announcement about the Boys’ Night Out at Pub Jacks. "No girls, no trannies. Sorry, kids.".

Transcendant Design with CSS and JavaScript with Andy Clarke and Aaron Gustafson

Highlights

  • Seeing "The Jam" play on the projector before the presentation.
  • The idea of looking at different cultures, menus and books for artistic inspiration.
  • Thinking of everyday situation and wondering how you would mark them up. (e.g.: A rack of different breads at a bakery. Perhaps an unordered list?)

Lighter Moments

  • Helped Andy move a chair on stage. I commented that "I never would have thought I’d be moving a chair with Andy Clarke today!".

Web Apps: Developer to Designer with Paul Hammond and George Oates

Highlights

  • Learning more about SMARTY.
  • Think of designing something by considering it in it’s next larger context. (e.g.: a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house on a street, a street in a city.)
  • Learning about Yahoo Pipes.
  • Seeing the design process behind the current interface you see at Flickr.

In summary, Web Directions North was as a life-changing experience for me, and I don’t say that very often. It was quite a thrill to be able to talk face to face with my mentors who have helped me out tremendously, past and present.

And how do you top it all off? When I had seen Dave, Derek, John and Maxine at the very end of the conference standing on stage receiving a standing ovation, I felt proud of what they had brought to Vancouver. As well, I had a vision. I had the distinct thought that someday, that will be me. Seriously!

A sincere thanks to these organizers for allowing me to share in the experience. It was quite something for me personally and professionally. Looking forward to you all coming back to the northern hemisphere.

References

Accessibility of the Vancouver 2010 Games site – Follow up

A look back on a question I posed to John Furlong (CEO of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games) and my thoughts on Mayor Sam Sullivan’s involvement with the closing ceremonies of the Torino 2006 Olympic games.

Back in May of 2004, I had a chance to ask John Furlong, CEO of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, about the current state of the official Vancouver 2010 Web site. To review, my questions to him were;

  1. Do you feel that the web site, which will be the main focus of Olympic and Paralympic information for the world, should meet at least the basic guidelines of accessibility?
  2. If your site did meet these basic requirements, what value would you find in promoting an accessible friendly web site?

To paraphrase from the last article;

"…Mr. Furlong’s assured me that the web site will certainly lead an example to the rest of the world. [O]nce a team is in place to look after the related tasks, certain guidelines will be followed. The site that you see right now will definitely change as the Olympics draw near."

from Crazy Bat Designs – News item of 20 May 2004

With the current winter games coming to a close and the torch being passed on to Vancouver, I decided to pay another visit to the Vancouver 2010 site to see the current state of things. I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few changes. Some of the things that jumped out at me were the following;

The Good

  • CSS validates
  • Primary language is defined for both English and French versions of the site.
  • One Accesskey is in use (It’s ’13’ though)
  • A text-only version of the site available
  • Alternate CSSs are available at the top and the bottom of the document. (Not on the home page, oddly enough)
  • RSS feed available (Doesn’t validate as of yet)
  • Alternate content for those with JavaScript disabled

The bad

  • 22 validation errors on the home page. (Including No DOCTYPE defined)
  • One CSS for all media, which results in content being cut off when printing
  • Heavy dependency on JavaScript (Although the user is given a message and a link to the text version of the site, it’s still not the most usable)
  • A few form elements are missing their respective labels
  • Tables are still being used for layout in some cases
  • Some inline styling
  • Non-breaking space abuse
  • Semantics aren’t the greatest. (Example: Heading 2 is used for a title in the content area, but also for a ‘More Featured Stories’ link and a survey question within the heading 1 for ‘Upcoming Events’. No lists are used for main navigation.)
  • Meta data for the English page indicates that it is the ‘Version Francais’
  • The home page itself is a little plump at over 100k
  • Some words that precede the ‘more’ link don’t make sense. (Example: ‘announcemen’)
  • Scripts could probably use some consolidation
  • CSS selectors could be a bit more semantic (Example: .leftContent, .small, .strong. What if .leftContent is moved to the right? What if .small is big? What if .strong is not so strong?
  • Most title elements on the site are the same.
  • Absolutely no title attributes

As you can see, there is more work to be done. However, I can see that there is definitely an improvement to the site from the previous state the Vancouver 2010 site was in. As it was said;

"…never good enough."

John Furlong, CEO of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games – 19 May 2004, Morgan Creek Golf and Country Club. Surrey

As time goes on, I shall look forward to the further improvements to the site and vow to report on any significant changes.

Accessibility and the Olympics

Along the lines of accessibility, I was keenly interested in seeing the closing ceremonies for the Torino 2006 Olympic games. I had heard of the tradition of the Olympic flag being passed from the mayor of the current host city (Torino, Italy) to the mayor of the future host city (Vancouver, British Columbia). Mayor Sam Sullivan is the current mayor of Vancouver who would be the one to receive the Olympic flag.

What you might not know is that Mr. Sullivan is a quadriplegic, due to a skiing accident that had broken his neck at the age of 19. This fact has caused quite the media buzz in Canada, and even in the United States over speculation of how Mayor Sullivan will be able to receive the flag.

For me, it wasn’t so much the modification of Mayor Sullivan’s wheelchair that fascinated me so, but the fact that this is the most exposure that accessibility has received at the Olympic games, from what I can recall. Form seeing recent interviews, Mayor Sullivan has promised to raise the awareness of the Paralympics. For this, I am very interested in what will result in the near future and leading up to 2010.

I also have to admire Mayor Sullivan for his sense of humour as well. My favourite quote;

"Why would Vancouver send its worst skier to represent it at the Winter Olympics?"

Mayor Sam Sullivan

I certainly wish Mayor Sullivan the best of luck in bringing the Paralympics more into line with the attention of the Olympics as I think there is much work to be done to bridge the gap. In my opinion, the Olympics are suppose to be a symbol of the world coming together. Why then are the games separated as they are and why is it that the athletes do not come out together?

In terms of the games being separated, I understand the reasons behind the different events for people with different abilities, but I cannot understand why the games aren’t held at the same time? If there is years of planning by the cities that are bidding on the games to come up with the timelines to host both games, then why not accommodate them as one true Olympic games?

As for the athletes not coming in together, this I have never understood. I would think that the idea is that there is one country, one team. Shouldn’t the team include both Olympic and Paralympic athletes?

If Mayor Sullivan is intending to bring more focus on the Paralympic games, I sincerely hope that he is in the mind set of bringing all athletes closer together as a team. I think that if he can take advantage of the momentum that has created the recent media buzz with the closing ceremonies in Turin and the passing of the Olympic flag, then that would be the first step in the right direction.

Time will tell.

Contacts:

(Marco Battilana) (info@crazybat.ca)
www.crazybat.ca

References

phpBB WASO

We are proud to introduce the latest offering from Crazy Bat Designs, the phpBB WASO.

Project Origin

What started me on this project was the interest in the creation and the use of a successful Web Application that was being used by a large, diverse user group. In this case, I chose to look at one of the more popular open-source forums being used; the phpBB forums.

I wanted to get to the core issues of what it was that has made phpBB as successful as it is. To start, I thought of Web Applications as a whole and came to a logic conclusion. To create a successful Web Application, there are two key factors that are vital; functionality and user interface design.

One of the most important things with Web applications should be that it functions properly. You wouldn’t want to use an application to not perform what it is you want to do. If it doesn’t work, no one will use it.

Next to this, the User Interface is the next item of focus. Along with a fully functional Web application, you want to make sure that the usability has been well thought out to allow for the most ideal user
experience. Again, if it is not usable, no one will use it.

However, what I see that needs more awareness is Web Application design that meets Web and Accessibility Standards. One of the most common and overlooked aspect of Web application design that should be as equally vital as functionality and user interface design.

I believe this is because the majority of users who use Web applications don’t immediately see the impact of it being well structured and designed with accessibility in mind. I think the way of thinking is that if most users can use it, then the benefit of conforming to Web and Accessibility standards is negligible.

Keeping in mind that Web and Accessibility Standards are more in focus these days, I’m sure that the people responsible for developing the next generation of the phpBB have these standards in mind. To compliment this, what I am showing here is that it’s possible to take an existing Web application, like the phpBB, and make it more Web and Accessible compliant. In addition to the immediate benefits of easing on bandwidth and making it simpler to update the phpBB template files, I am also attempting to reach the most people possible.

Objectives

The overall objective of this project is to rework the existing phpBB with the intention of;

Downloads

For the latest files available for download, visit the Crazy Bat Design forums on Github for more information.

About phpBB

phpBB is a high powered, fully scalable, and highly customizable Open Source bulletin board package. phpBB has a user-friendly interface, simple and straightforward administration panel, and helpful FAQ. Based on the powerful PHP server language and your choice of MySQL, MS-SQL, PostgreSQL or Access/ODBC database servers, phpBB is the ideal free community solution for all web sites.

phpBB are a group of individuals based internationally who believe in Open Source software. The project has been stable since its creation in June 2000 without changes in licensing, leadership or corporate associations. Our goals remain unchanged and clear, to continue developing and supporting a stable, free, Open Source forum system.

About this project

I am a firm believer in open-source software as well as reaching the most people possible. This project is intended to contribute and add value to the already popular phpBB framework by making these enhancements open for everyone to use.

As well, I am also a promoter of Web and Accessibility Standards. This project is an example of taking the existing phpBB and reworking the front-end so that it becomes more standard compliant, with only minor changes to the core functionality. It’s to also show that it is possible to achieve standards compliancy, regardless of the complex nature of phpBB’s functionality and default user interface.

See and example of the phpBB WASO in use with the Crazy Bat Design forums

If you have found any value in this project, please feel free to copy, use and distribute the provided image. Spread the word about phpBB WASO.

phpBB Web and Accessibility Standards Overhaul - 80 by 15 button

Thank you. Marco.

Contacts

(Marco Battilana) (info@crazybat.ca)
www.crazybat.ca

References

Accessibility of the Vancouver 2010 Games site

I had a chance to ask John Furlong, CEO of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, about the current state of the official Vancouver 2010 Web site.

Morgan Creek Golf and Country Club. Surrey – Business Luncheon with John Furlong, CEO of the 2010 Olympic
and Paralympic games.

I was honoured to be able to attend this event with a group of about 150 others. Not honoured because of the fancy luncheon, Political representatives, Presidents and CEO’s of other companies attending, but because I knew that John Furlong, CEO of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games was attending. I also knew that there was going to be a short question and answer session after the presentation.

First, a little information about John Furlong. If you have never had the honour of hearing this gentleman speak, you are certainly missing out. He speaks with such conviction and assurance that you have no choice but to believe what he is saying. Not so much like a politician, but more like an athlete who whole heartedly believes that he will perform to the best of his ability.

In summary, his presentation was fantastic. He told us various stories about the 7 years of work involved for putting together the Vancouver Olympic bid, the moments after Vancouver was selected, stories of personal perseverance, what the spirit of the Olympics truly are, and finally sneak previews of some upcoming commercials promoting the Olympic and Paralympic games. I thought that it was appropriate that the commercials ended with an appearance from Andrea Bocelli, the famous visually impaired Italian tenor. It tied into the questions I was going to ask very well.

So, as the Q and A session started, I nervously raised my hand.

My question to Mr. Furlong was (to paraphrase);

"Hello Mr. Furlong. My name is Marco Battilana and I am a Web Standards Consultant. One of my main functions is Accessibility design. As an example of this, say an individual who is accessing your web site is visually impaired and relied on a screen reader to access your content. I assure that standards and best practices of web accessibility are followed and that content is read out in the most logical order possible.

So, because of my background, I had a look at the Vancouver 2010 web site. I noticed that the vision statement on the web site states; To create sustainable legacies for athletes, sports development, our host communities, our Province, our Country, and the global Olympic family by hosting an outstanding Olympic and Paralympic games.

In specifics to the Paralympic games, it’s quoted on the web site that; Canada is a world leader in advancing the interests of athletes with a disability.

In relation to the development of our Country and the Paralympic games, I noticed that the web site needed many improvements in relation to the basic level of Accessibility guidelines.

So, I have a two part question for you. First, Do you feel that the web site, which will be the main focus of Olympic and Paralympic information for the world should meet at least the basic guidelines of accessibility?

And second, If your site did meet these basic requirements, what value would you find in promoting an accessible friendly web site?"

First, Mr. Furlong told me that was a very good question.

Second, (to paraphrase) Mr. Furlong’s assured me that the web site will certainly lead an example to the rest of the world. That once a team is in place to look after the related tasks, that certain guidelines will be followed. The site that you see right now will definitely change as the Olympics draw near.

The one actual quote from Mr. Furlong that had the most impact for me was ‘Never good enough’. Mr. Furlong assured me that this is the motto to be followed. That whatever is being built is continuously improved upon every step of the way. Not just talking about the web site, but the whole Olympic and Paralympic efforts.

I thanked Mr. Furlong for his response. The crowd applauded.

After the Q and A was finished, I ran over to Mr. Furlong before the crowd surrounded him. I thanked him for his answer told him that I didn’t mean to paint him into a corner, but that I am passionate about what I believe in. He assured me that I didn’t paint him in a corner and he had no problem answering my question. I then politely asked if we could have a photo together, to which he agreed. (The photo is on the way.)

In conclusion, I am a believer in the Olympic and Paralympic dream. Like this dream, I am also a believer that an individual, regardless of ability, should have a right to access information.

I will be keeping watch on the Vancouver 2010 web site. When I can see that
there has been some advancement on the accessibility of it’s design, I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that maybe, just maybe, I made a bit of a difference.

Contacts:

(Marco Battilana) (info@crazybat.ca)
www.crazybat.ca

References: