2004 Conference Proceedings

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ACCESSIBILITY OF THE BLOGGING REVOLUTION

Presenter(s)

Kynn Bartlett
Chief Technologist, Idyll Mountain Internet
110 E. Wilshire Avenue, Suite G-1
Fullerton, CA 92832
Phone: 714-526-5656
Fax: 714-526-4972
kynn@idyllmtn.com

Summary:

Web logs, also known as blogs, make it easy for anyone to regularly publish content on the Internet, and that brings both challenges and benefits for Web accessibility.

What is blogging?

A blog is simply a portion of a Web site that is updated regularly, usually at irregular intervals, with new content. The term is short for "Web log," and it reflects the idea that a blog is a record -- like a ship's log -- of where the author has been on the Web and what she found interesting.

Blogs, like other Web pages, are published in HTML. Unlike traditional Web pages, though, they're usually not created using Web design software such as Microsoft Front Page or Macromedia DreamWeaver. Instead, most blogs are created using simple content management systems: The blog author, known as a blogger, simply types her content into a Web form or a dedicated program for blogging, presses the submit button, and the material is published on her blog for all to read.

The blogging phenomenon is a natural extension of the Web paradigm whereby everyone is potentially both a content user and a content provider. Even more than Web design software and personal home pages, blogs make it easy for anyone to publish their thoughts, opinions, feelings, experiences, and knowledge on the Internet.

This ease of publication, coupled with increasing media coverage, has grown into a revolution in how the Web is being used. No longer is the Internet solely thought of as a corporate domain for commercial transactions; the Web is reclaiming the Internet's function as a commons for open expression of ideas and personal communication.

There are hundreds of thousands of blogs, with (as of September 2003) new blogs being created at a rate of one every twelve seconds. Topics range from politics to technology; from rock bands to scientific inquiry. With this tremendous interest and rate of growth, the accessibility implications of blogging cannot be ignored.

What are the accessibility benefits of blogging?

The largest accessibility benefit of blogging is that it forces a separation of content from presentation (and navigation). Blog posts are composed separately from the page layout and appearance, which are stored in templates. This paradigm of Web publishing, already in use in a number of large scale content management systems, has already proven to be a boon for Web accessibility.

This content separation model allows for a number of alternate interfaces for content to be easily generated at the time the blog is updated. The most common application is RSS, an XML-based language used for content syndication. Web users with RSS readers, such as Ranchero Software's NetNewsWire, can aggregate together a number of Web sites' "news feeds" and read them all at once, without the distraction of each page's site design or layout getting in the way.

Another huge benefit is simply the fact that anyone is able to publish to the Web using a blog. The "bar" for Web publishing is lowered once more via the blogging paradigm, without having to learn HTML, CSS, XML, and other Web technologies. This is advantageous for all users, including those with disabilities, as lowered requirements for communication are a good thing. Instead of having to learn how to code a Web page's layout, a blogger can simply use a default template (and most have decent accessibility) or install a set of accessible templates provided by other users of the same software.

What are the accessibility challenges of blogging?

The universal ability to publish Web content is a double-edged sword, and can cut both ways. Yes, anyone is able to publish to the Web via blogging, but that means that most of them will know nothing about issues related to Web accessibility. There has been a general lack of knowledge about Web accessibility even among trained Web developers, and the influx of new Web authors could exacerbate the existing problems.

For example, many authors will be unaware of the benefits of providing alternative text and long descriptions on visual images. On the flip side, most bloggers are text-oriented and may not be aware that illustrations and graphics enhance a Web page's understandability by people with cognitive disabilities.

In addition, certain types of blogs are evolving that are -- without proper care exercised -- almost certain to be inaccessible. Photoblogs provide digital pictures and audioblogs give spoken audio streams, but neither are commonly supplied with necessary text alternatives.

The software tools themselves may lack required accessibility features. Publishing tools are unlikely to have been designed to conform to the World Wide Web Consortium's Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines. Templates may have been designed without reference to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Software to read RSS feeds could fail the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines. All of these represent potential points of inaccessibility.

How can blogs promote accessibility?

The question of blog inaccessibility can be addressed through education and outreach specifically to the blogger community, including those who create blogging tools. The programmer of the freeware Kung-Log blogging tool, for example, was quite willing to work on improving his software's accessibility after the potential problems were pointed out.

Within the community of technically oriented bloggers, there is a kind of herd mentality group-think that can be useful for distributing accessibility memes throughout the community. Promiment technical bloggers such as Jeffrey Zeldman, Mark Pilgrim, Matt May, Accessify.com, and others have made great progress in leading other blog authors to realize the benefits of Web accessibility.

But most importantly, Web logs can be used proactively by people with disabilities to make their own voices heard. Mark Siegel of the 19th Floor blog says, "Blogging can be a way for a person to shout out their existence to the world; to give people other views on disability that have nothing to do with a telethon or a human interest story on the local news." Projects ranging from LiveJournal's "No Pity" community to the Epilepsy Foundation's "Heroes Among Us" provide a humanizing voice that is so often denied to people with disabilities in mainstream media and publishing.

This is the true power of the blogging revolution: Empowering everyone with a voice.

REFERENCES

Bartlett, Kynn, 2002, "Maccessibility: Accessibility Evaluation of Kung-Log Blogging Tool," http://www.maccessibility.com/archive/000544.php
Bartlett, Kynn, 2003, "Beyond HTML: Web Accessibility for the 21st Century," http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf/2003/proceedings/76.htm
Pilgrim, Mark, 2002, "Dive Into Accessibility," http://diveintoaccessibility.org
Pilgrim, Mark, 2002, "What is RSS?," http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2002/12/18/dive-into-xml.html
Siegel, Mark, 2003, "The 19th Floor: Making Accessible Minds," http://www.the19thfloor.net/archives/000139.html
World Wide Web Consortium, 1999, "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0," http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG
World Wide Web Consortium, 2000, "Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0," http://www.w3.org/TR/ATAG

WEB LOG REFERENCES

Bartlett, Kynn, "Maccessibility," http://maccessibility.com
Lasica, JD, "JD's New Media Musings," http://ranchero.com/netnewswire
LiveJournal Community, "No Pity: A Community for People with Disabilities," http://www.livejournal.com/community/no_pity
Lloyd, Ian, et al, "Accessify.com," http://www.accessify.com
May, Matt, "bestkungfu weblog," http://www.bestkungfu.com
Vilandre, Jody, "Sitka Surfin'," http://www.jodyvilandre.com
Zeldman, Jeffrey, "The Daily Report," http://www.zeldman.com

BLOGGING SOFTWARE AND SERVICES

Blogspot, http://www.blogspot.com/
Heroes Among Us, http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/eCommunities/heroes/
Kung-Log (Mac OS X), http://www.kung-foo.tv/kunglog.php
LiveJournal, http://www.livejournal.com
MovableType, http://movabletype.org
NetNewsWire (Mac OS X), http://ranchero.com/netnewswire/
TypePad, http://www.typepad.com


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