Too Cool for Words

A few days before his graduation in early March, one of the top students in the Web Technologies track of the EmployMe! program at NJIT showed me his final project page. He came into my office and typed the URL into a browser on my workstation and watched while a completely blank page loaded. Puzzled by the non-page, he told me it worked fine on his machine in the computer lab. We sat down at his computer in the lab; he opened a browser and typed in his URL, and there it was, a slick, completely Flash-animated introduction to his personal web site with embedded links to the static pages he had skillfully created. Now pleased that his web page worked exactly as he had planned, he was still puzzled about why it didn't display at all in my office.

I told him, " I don't use Flash."

His eyes narrowed a bit and I could see his impression of me was quickly morphing from Techno-Wizard to Web-Neanderthal, so I asked him to move to another PC that had JAWS installed, then to a Mac that had VoiceOver running. Both computers were configured to allow visually impaired students to fully use the computer --including the use of a web browser. His Flash page crashed the PC and, though the Mac didn't capsize, it still just repeated the title of his page over and over and never spoke a word of content. Even on a Mac, his page was too cool for spoken words.

All of the student web pages are routinely checked for W3C compliance. The students are learning to be web-designers and it is fundamental that they learn to design standards-compliant pages. But websites now need to be far more than just W3C standards-compliant, they need to be accessibility-compliant, too. And those standards come in two varieties: 508 compliance and WCAG.

You may hear me groan all the way from Newark, NJ to wherever-you-may-be, but you can check the 508 compliance, or the WCAG compliance of Serendipity35, and to share the pain a bit, you can check the accessibility compliance of any URL, here.

There are resources available for developers and designers to learn how to design accessible content, but the adoption of the techniques has been very slow in coming. For obvious reasons, it can be expensive to rewrite old websites that were designed without complying to any standard. Some sites would have to be two completely different sites --one with just text, one with all the bells and whistles-- both to stay compliant and keep the website owner happy. New sites, however, are still slow in building compliance into their structures. It is just too tempting to use all the new tools, programs, and protocols to build that killer cool site and the voices of those who need adaptive technologies to participate in all this techno-beauty may remain just as unheard as that Employme! student's web page was on the Mac.


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