2006 Conference General Sessions

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Crista Earl
American Foundation for the Blind
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York NY 10001
Day Phone: (212) 502-7605
Email: crista@afb.net

Presenter #2
Vishal Talreja
American Foundation for the Blind
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York NY 10001
Day Phone: (212) 502-7649
Email: vishal@afb.net

How accessible is this new world of blogging to people with vision loss? Presenters discuss blogging service accessibility obstacles and making your blog accessible.

Everyone's abuzz about blogging--the online pastime has had an impact on politics and journalism, and is providing people with a new way to speak out and connect. But how accessible is this world to people with vision loss? The presenters will discuss which blogging services have accessibility obstacles, and how to make your own blog accessible.

1. What is a blog? How are blogs different from message boards?

Presenters will discuss what blogs are and some of their distinctive features:
A blog is usually an individual's personal website, on a specific topic, with frequent updates.  Blogs usually have:

 Informal style
 Frequent posts, some as often as every few hours
 Posts displayed in reverse chronological order
 User comments
 Links to other websites
 Strict template

The most fundamental difference between blogs and message boards is the central person or persona as the "blogger."
Content on blogs is created by individuals or small groups and then responded to by others, whereas content on message boards comes from the community at large.  Blog discussions tend to be more guided and discussion-like, while discussions on message boards tend to be more question-and-response or "me too" in nature.
2. Why are blogs important to people with disabilities?

Participation in the blogosphere is participation in an active, proactive, reactive community. Blogging represents the potentially broadest community, not limited by geography or disability. If blogs are designed and maintained with inclusion in mind, they are a practical, effective means for people with disabilities to participate in the broader community and to form communities of people with disabilities.  Failing to consider accessibility means that bloggers  and readers with disabilities will be shut out.

Blogs are also becoming an important tool for communicating with team members, clients, and coworkers. With careful attention to accessibility, they are an accessible way of speaking out and connecting with people.

Tools exist, in the form of RSS aggregators and feeds, to manage and streamline the overwhelming quantity of information available.  This is especially essential for users of assistive technology, who need efficient ways to filter, sort, and control the news and bits of information coming in.

3. Why do we need tips specific to blog accessibility?  Isn't blog accessibility really just web accessibility?

Blogs are created and maintained by two groups:  the infrastructure is often a web site or tool maintained by professional web developers.  This group could benefit from the same guidance in creating accessible web pages and systems as any web developer.  But, since blogs include a more or less established set of features, tips customized to the application can cut down on the burden on developers.  

Blog content, the blogs themselves, are often created and maintained by non-technical people.  They may have enough HTML experience to be able to do their own customization, or they may be using the customization tools of their blog environment.  These non-technical people need to know what to ask for and which features to use.  When they are posting non-text content, they need to know what to provide for users with disabilities.

4. How do I create an accessible blog?

The presenters will offer seven quick tips that will get you off to a good start, as well as resources for the more advanced.

a. Choose an Accessible Service
Presenters will show examples of accessible and inaccessible features on mainstream blog services and will especially highlight the use of the inaccessible "capcha" for spam control.

b. Describe Images
Presenters will give technical and semantic guidance on how to describe images included in blog posts.

c. Avoid "Click Here" or "More..."
We'll have examples of the negative effects on screen-reader users of badly written text links and ways to rewrite links and surrounding text in order to make links "stand alone."

d. Put your blogroll on the right-hand side
Since both screen-reader users and screen-magnification users must get past the extra links on the left to get to the main content of the page, placing the main content on the left saves a great deal of time and reduces user frustration.

e. Check that the comment form is labeled properly
Unlabeled or incorrectly labeled forms are a barrier to screen-reader users.   

f. Use flexible font sizes
Flexible fonts will expand according the user's browser settings, allowing users with low vision to enlarge the text slightly and in some browsers, greatly.  If the page is coded correctly, the user can pick a large font size from a menu or with a hot key and make the text far more readable without any special equipment.

g. Don't force links to open in new windows
New windows that spring up on top of current windows are disorienting to users with visual and cognitive impairments.  In addition, the back button no longer takes the user back to the previous window, causing disorientation and frustration for many users.

5. Conclusion

Attendees will learn what a blog is, why they are becoming increasingly popular and important tools, what some of the common accessibility problems are, and how to fix them.

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