Web Accessibility

I was looking at a web site that has a web accessibility page. It describes how the site is accessible to people with various impairments.

I googled for whether such a page is a legal requirement. I don’t think it is, but what is a legal requirement in the UK under the Equality Act 2010 is not to discriminate by preventing impaired people from accessing services. I see there are similar provisions in the US, and no doubt in other countries.

It’s easy enough to understand what discrimination is when it’s a set of steps leading into a shop, and people in wheelchairs can’t get in – but maybe it’s not so easy for people to understand how websites can discriminate, and how web accessibility is important for the impaired.

So how can web accessibility go wrong?

Websites can discriminate by using fonts that are hard to read against the background colour.

They can discriminate by not having a text explanation for images that are used on the web site.

They can discriminate by using high-level language that stops some people understanding what the site is saying or stops them understanding how to do what they want to do on the site.

They can discriminate by having complicated menus that some people find difficulty in negotiating.

And the list goes on.

So with that understanding, I pasted a chunk of the text into Google. I pasted a chunk of text from the statement I had seen on the accessibility page of the site I was looking at.

I pasted in:

recognises the importance of providing a website that is accessible to all user groups, including the disabled, the visually impaired and those with motor deficiences and cognitive disabilities.

And I got ream after ream of websites with the same standard text about how they care about accessibility, and what they’ve done to make their websites good examples of accessibility.

It’s depressing. Not that I am claiming anything wonderful about me or web sites I am involved with – it’s just the way that someone’s idea of making the Web a better place for the impaired has been turned into a endless pages of standard text.

Well maybe not. Maybe the websites are built to good standards, and it is just the accessibility pages that are a bit ‘off the shelf’.

So I ran a couple of prominent sites through a web accessibility tool.

    The UK Government website page on the 2010 Act threw up 29 errors and 91 alerts.

    Marks and Spencer had 12 error and 227 alerts.

    WordPress.com returned a creditable 2 errors and 30 alerts.

    WordPress.org returned zero errors and 6 alerts.

No More Pencils (where I originally published this post earlier today) returned 4 errors and 6 alerts. That’s good for me, but I think it’s just because the site is built in WordPress which is good on that score, and I chose a theme made by a developer who writes beautiful code.

By the way – you might want to look at how the web tool Narro, reads ‘The Herdwick Sheep and Beatrix Potter’

The Warsaw Pact

My wife Tamara gave me Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall. It’s a book about geopolitics and how geography affects foreign policy.

The first chapter is about Russia and Russia’s position in the world.

First, a quick recap, about NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

It was formed in 1949, with a declared aim of containing Communism and establishing a defence against the Soviet Union.

The original members were Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United States.

It was historic in that the U.S. formally tied its security to that of Europe.

The Warsaw Pact was formed in 1955 in reaction to the creation of NATO, and it was an alliance of Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the USSR.

And, this is the thing – in Prisoners of Geography, the author points out that by 2004 every country except Russia that was in the Warsaw Pact had left and was either in the EU or NATO.

That’s an amazing fact when you think about the nervousness that Russia might be feeling over its position in the world.

Of course, NATO was and is a very different creation to the Warsaw Pact. The countries of Europe would not describe themselves as semi-occupied nations around a central strong man, as was the case with Russia and its satellite countries.

But still, the complete disintegration of the Warsaw Pact and the former members joining ‘the opposition’. That’s quite a thing, no?

But

In the Guardian yesterday there was a report of a study that shows that even at very low doses, neonicotinoids interfere with the ability of birds to navigate.

This is against a background that the European Union is moving (one step forward, two steps back) to a total ban on these pesticides. The UK is trying to stop the ban. Go figure.

Against this background, I have been thinking about thinking.

In May 2014 I wrote a short article here about Rachel Carson, the biologist who wrote in her book Silent Spring about the consequences of man’s interference with the environment.

Tamara and I made a card that year for World Animal Day. It featured a roan antelope and this statement about the current state of affairs. We wrote:

When Rachel Carson wrote ‘Silent Spring’
in 1962, people could perhaps claim they
didn’t know about the hidden destruction
to the environment, to wildlife.
No one can claim that now.

We wrote that because of the destruction of habitats and the crashing to near-extinction of wildlife of all kinds, both here in the UK and worldwide.

We saw that politicians were powerless against or, lobbyists for, businesses that simply didn’t seem care.

We joked ironically, asking where where these people were going to retreat to? Were they going to sit on their paradise islands and watching the sun dip over the horizon of a dead planet?

But…

I am reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, and he makes a damning case for the destruction of the environment by Homo sapiens going back many thousands of years. He describes how time and time again, when man first reached a new destination – an island, a continent – the big fauna disappeared ‘overnight’.

And that got me thinking that perhaps this modern era is the first time in human history when there are any people who give a damn about whether the environment and its flora and fauna is destroyed.

It’s the first ray of hope I can tell myself against the figures for the crash in populations of just about all species.