5th Conference “Accessible e-Government”

Yesterday I went to a conference “Accessible e-Government: Current Trends in Web Development” at the ZGDV near Frankfurt because I couldn’t make it to the accessibility conference in Erlangen a couple of weeks ago, and because some of the speakers were competent people I met in London at the @media conference.

To my disappointment it seems the target group were in fact IT professionals working for local municipalities. Most lectures focused on rather basic principles of accessibility although their topics would have had the potential for more advanced details.


Markus Erle from Wertewerk talked about Accessible Information Architecture. Well, mostly about information architecture and usability, which has a lot in common with accessibility issues, but otherwise the link to the accessibility topic was rather faint. Although later he presented an example of a community website for people with learning disabilities with a simplified email user interface — a training ground for real webmail sites like GMX or Gmail.

Jan Eric Hellbusch was next with Avoiding Errors While Creating Accessible Websites. He mentioned several principles for quality assurance, like frontloading, i.e. good concepts and flowcharts in the planning phase to avoid errors later, because subsequent testing and fixing accessibility into a project is more expensive. Speaking about costs, Jan mentioned an estimated cost increase for adding accessibility to be in a one digit percentage range. In a study Heerdt and Strauss estimated even less than 1.56% which I consider too low (Miesenberger et al. (eds.): ICCHP 2004, LNCS 3118, pp. 323-330, Springer, 2004).

Worth noting was the principle of normalization: no special rules, normal conditions for all, participation for the disabled — also in the creation of a website. Better ask screen reader users instead of buying an expensive screen reader yourself, because they use it in different ways than a sighted user.

Henrik Tonn-Eichstädt with the help of Anna Courtpozanis intended to demonstrate how complex scenarios work in a screen reader. They didn’t. A new computer with a trial version of Jaws posed enough technical problems to turn this part of the presentation into a catastrophe. Reminder to self: always record demonstrations in advance, never rely on live ones.

Otherwise Tonn-Eichstädt had a fluent presentation of his study on the internet usage of blind users, but was making assumptions as soon as questions became more technical. No, comments in the markup will not be read by screen readers. And even sighted users wouldn’t find a hidden title on normal text, since a title is used on links or acronyms.

In a side note more than 35% of the blind and 52% of the disabled in Germany are older than 65 — I always wondered how many will never use the internet anyway when I hear numbers like “10% of Germany’s population is disabled.” Now you know.

Kai Laborenz had a smooth and entertaining presentation on CSS featuring multi-column layout and sliding doors. He managed to draw my attention to people with a different color contrast setting where background images will be gone. I must admit I almost forgot these cases when screen reader issues and zoom readers are so omnipresent.

Chris Heilmann talked charmingly and competent about Hijax and the known problems and solutions, advantages and disadvantages. Although Yahoo! is experimenting with the integration of the new XHTML 1.1 Role Attribute and States and Properties modules, that was no topic yet in his lecture. I missed a relation to accessibility, techniques for making Ajax accessible, but in the end if you have a robust server model as a fallback you don’t need necessarily accessible Ajax. Still he mentioned Flash’s capability of screen reader recognition, so in combination with JavaScript some customized notes for those users become possible.

Perhaps the most controversial presentation was Prof. Christian Bühler’s on the DIN certification of websites. So far they proposed a pre-audit for accessibility to easily filter non-accessible websites, followed by an accessibility test checking three pages against the German legal equivalent of the WCAG. Since August the main audit procedures have been finalized, a task that took them several years.

Alas they partnered with DIN CERTCO, the German authority for standard certification, thus the process will cost about € 5k — every year. Small communities don’t have that money, companies with the money will not spend it because people with disabilities are beyond their perceived target groups, and they gain no financial advantage since they can’t be sued in Germany.

Also you have to provide evidence of your qualification and regular training. Nice, only our profession doesn’t have regular training, at least I can’t prove whose blogs I read frequently. Does reading Joe Clark’s blog automatically qualify? Molly, will you certify that somebody with my IP address accessed your website? Finally you have to notify the testers of any changes on your site’s content, and even if the contributors in your web team change. I wonder how this will work for highly dynamic news sites. No, this certification is stillborn.

Last was Rainer Schlegel about Accessible Websites with Open Source Systems. But he repeated more or less that there are virtually no accessible content management systems, except Papoo and perhaps Immediacy. Most templates can be adjusted for WCAG conform output, but accessible interfaces for editors supporting ATAG are nonexistent. I had been looking forward to that presentation to learn about stuff like Typo3 extensions for marking up acronyms or language changes, but it didn’t get into such detail.

Overall this conference gave some inspiration, meeting Jan, Chris, Markus and Kai was nice, but my advice would be: save the money for Erlangen.

One Response to ‘5th Conference “Accessible e-Government”’

  1. Christian Heilmann

    [...] Martin Kliehm (who was also nice enough to give me a lift back to Frankfurt afterwards) posted a very good summary of all the presentations on his blog so I won’t bore people with it here, let me just add that is very impressive to see Jan Eric Hellbusch give a great presentation although he is severely visually impaired and relies on a screen reader to tell him his notes explaining what the slide is about. [...]