Peach Arch.  Photo by Daniel Means.  Licensed under CC-BY-SA and available at
Peach Arch. Photo by Daniel Means. Licensed under CC-BY-SA and available at Flickr.

There is nothing quite like the sense of sheer glee you get when you’re waiting at the border… and have been waiting at the border for a while… and then a new customs inspection lane is opened up. Zoom!

Marlene and I left Seattle this morning to go to the Code4Lib BC conference in Vancouver. Leaving in the morning meant that we missed the lightning talks, and arrived after the breakout sessions had started. Fortunately, folks were quick to welcome us, and I soon fell into the accessibility session.

Accessibility has been on my mind lately, but it’s an area that I’m starting mostly from ground zero with. I knew that designing accessible systems is a Good Idea, I knew about the existence some of the jargon and standards, and I knew that I didn’t know much else — certainly none of the specifics.

Cynthia Ng very kindly shared some pointers with me. For example, it is helpful to know that the Section 508 guidelines is essentially a subset of WCAG 1.0. This is exactly the sort of shortcut (through an apparently intimidating forest) that an expert can effortlessly give to a newbie — and having opportunities to learn from the experts is one of the reasons why I like going to conferences.

The accessibility breakout session charged itself with putting together a list of resources and best practices for accessibility and universal design. As I mentioned above, we arrived in the middle of the breakout session time, but a couple hours was more than enough time to get initial exposure to a lot of ideas and resources. It was exhilarating.

In no particular order, here is a list of various things that I’ll be following up on:

  • The Accessibility Project
  • Guerilla testing
  • The 5 second test
  • Swim lane diagrams
  • The Paciello Group Blog
  • Be careful about putting things in the right sidebar of a three-column layout — a lot of users have been trained by web advertising to completely ignore that region.  Similarly, a graphic with moving parts can get ignored if it looks too much like an ad.
  • The Code4Lib BC accessibility group’s notes
  • Having consistency of branding and look and feel can improve usability — but that can be a challenge when integrating a lot of separate systems (particularly if a library and a vendor have different ideas about whose branding should be foremost).
  • Integrating one’s content strategy with one’s accessibility strategy.  To paraphrase a point that Cynthia made a few times, putting out too much text is a problem for any user.
  • As with so much of software design, iterate early and often. The time to start thinking about accessibility is when you’re 20% of the way through a project, not when you’re 80% done.
  • Standards can help, but only up to a point.  A website could pass an automated WCAG compliance test with flying colors but not actually be usable by anyone.

And there’s another day of conference yet!  I’m quite happy we made the drive up.

Here’s a general question to the world: what reading material do you recommend for folks like me who want to learn more about writing accessible web software?