Wise Pig, Wise.

Teddy Pig, who I would love to call “my favorite shit stirrer” but someone will totally accuse me of being homophobic, has a majestically awesome article on his blog about website design for e-publishers. Not only does he name some of the most annoying habits of some epub sites – like changing the entire URL on a book when it’s released from a “coming soon” link to an entirely different, non-intuitive link. That has driven advertisers on our site crazy because they don’t know until the last friggin’ minute what the URL will be. Bad, bad bad!

But by far the most interesting, and the part I’ve dealt with the most, is this section about sight impaired linkage and code usage:

Are all cover pictures clearly text and alt labeled for sight impaired and also hyper-linked to the book’s sales page?

Did you know even Amazon fails at this? As I said, this is becoming a big thing and should be part of your companies presentation in a professional manner. I find the most dedicated eBook customers are those who are site impaired. Catch the clue and ride the wave.

After our redesign, I had an email asking that I remove the captcha (that would be the security word you enter to comment if you are not logged into the site, like wanker45 or booty99)  from the comments page for users who are logged in because page readers do not read captchas. If the page reader software cannot read the captcha image, then the person using the software cannot leave a comment and participate in the discussion. The person who brought this to my attention was bashful about it, as if asking for this amendment to our design was somehow outrageous. I felt terrible that we were inadvertently excluding those who use page reading software to surf the web, and fixed it as soon as possible.

Speaking only for myself, I know that I don’t want to exclude those who are sight impaired, and while I know about alt tags and title tags for images, I’m sure there are parts of the sight impaired features that we miss, and we’re not even trying to be a marketplace. So what other features for the differently abled do you wish were on websites – not even this one, but any site out there?

And mad props to Teddy for taking on the issue of Fugtastic E-Pub Websites.

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  1. 1

    I list some links regarding accessibility in a similar article I did last year about erotic author website design:
    Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview
    Accessibility: Principles of Accessible Design
    Web Site Development Information
    RNIB Web Access FAQs

    My article lists some common (my god, how common) mistakes in author websites, and things not to do ever, ever, ever! Unfortunately bad, hard to use, useless, and downright stupid websites seem to be the rule, not the exception. Right now my biggest hate is for Flash intro screens – pointless and horrible for anyone using a text browser, screen reader, or who’s on dialup.

    You might want to see if your blogging softwares offers a text alternative to captcha, like a maths or simple question to answer. I have good visions with glasses, and even I’m having trouble reading the captcha image.

  2. 2
    Cat Marsters says:

    At least the captcha you have here is a proper word and short number.  When it’s those random strings of letters that look like the cat’s been on the keyboard again, I find them very hard to type.  Maybe I’m dyslexic, or just blonde.

    Incidentally Ann, I totally agree with your comment about music on websites.  Noes!  Turn it off!  It’s one of the reasons I barely use MySpace any more (yes, there’s an option to turn it off automatically; no, it doesn’t work).  I’m not really interested in someone else’s choice of music, and besides, I’m often browsing late at night when everyone else in my house is asleep.

    I do disagree about dark backgrounds, however, in the case of the majority.  A professional typist told me the easiest thing on eyes is white text on a dark blue background (MS Word even has a preset for this).  It’s certainly less headache-inducing for me.  But then I’m only mildly shortsighted (a prescription I can’t help but notice stabilised after I started using the darker background; using a white background, my eyesight went from longsighted to needs-glasses-for-driving within three years.  Probably coincidence, but there you go).

    Imagine that I’ve neglected my studies in eyesight difficulties lately and just for this second can’t recall precisely the difference between blind, partially sighted, walks-into-trees, etc.  Are there many sight-impaired readers out there who find ordinary website fonts difficult?  And if so, can they read ordinary books with the same size font?

  3. 3

    Cat, technically, the easiest to read is yellow on blue, I’m assured by a friend who actually does graduate level research into such things, but most people like black on white, because it’s what they’re used to. I did a straw poll on my LJ about this and the split was almost exactly 50:50 between those who liked light on dark and dark on light, regardless of vision. Regardless of what you use, good contrast, common sense and listening to reader feedback as Sarah is doing, are all ways to minimise user stress. You can’t please all the readers all the time, but if your site is still usable with the style sheets turned off (a quick and dirty way to check accessibility, in fact) then you’ve probably got it pretty right. Sight-impaired users can set up custom style sheets in browsers like FireFox to give them the background they’re happiest with, if they really need to.

  4. 4

    Hmmm… Looking at my site it looks like I’m guilty of the too-small-to-read-type in my welcome message. I’m having my website redesigned, so I’ll tell my webmistress to work on that.

    I don’t know if it bugs the vision impaired, but those damned blinking flashing banners drive me crazy. Can’t the person pay $10 a month and get a websiste with no banner? Or the sites where a face talks to you and you can’t turn it off to shut the thing off. Cute fluffy bunny cursors aren’t cute.

  5. 5
    Erin says:

    You may want to check into Section 509 requirements. Those are the requirements that the government mandates for its own accessible webpages.

    I have the eternal joy of converting the executive summary of a publication we put out for one of the federal agencies into a section 509 compatible document. It means converting every single chart into text for the alt tags, and other such joys.

    I completely understand why it’s necessary – I just feel that it would be nice of Microsoft Office could help a sista’ out.

  6. 6
    Laura says:

    Argg!  Flash!  I hate flash!  Hate it, hate it, hate it!  Any kind of sound or movement on a website should require that I push a button to play it, not play by itself.  People who use obscure icons that are supposed to be self-explanatory but actually make it impossible for me to find anything on their site also drive me nuts.  And people whose websites have a loads of ads.  And webrings.  And people who think that having a “myspace” page is the same as having a true website.  And anything that makes me “sign up” to see more—I get enough spam, thank you very much.

    Do I sound snarky?  Sorry, I have to give a presentation this week on author websites to a group of mystery writers, and I’ve been lurking in the pits of hell looking at ghastly ones.

  7. 7
    Robinjn says:

    Actually, all web design should be working toward CSS compatibility. CSS provides ultimate power (and ultimate useability) because when properly implemented, CSS provides tremendous power to the disabled user (when styles are turned off, as I have done right now to this page, the formatting resolves to simple paragraphs).

    Flash, tables, etc. should go away. And your blog is a lovely demonstration of proper CSS usage.

    Some websites for more on CSS style and useability are:
    http://www.w3schools.com/
    http://www.webtypography.net/
    http://www.alistapart.com/
    http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/

    And finally, the lovely and wonderful CSS Zen Garden:
    http://www.csszengarden.com/

    Of huge help in designing for accessibility is also Firefox’s Web Designer’s toolbar, a free download.

  8. 8
    Scotsie says:

    Three cheers for Teddy Pig!  As a part-time web designer, one of the things I try to keep in mind is usability for color-blind users since I grew up in a color blind family.  I applaud all people advocating for easier web use for all visually impaired users!

  9. 9
    Grace says:

    I find the most dedicated eBook customers are those who are site impaired.

    It’s an error that could be an amusing pun, given the context, but poor spelling, punctuation and grammar are one of my biggest bugbears. It might seem petty, but it can make a significant difference if you’re dyslexic (like my husband) or shortsighted (like me) and trying to figure out what the hell something says.

    If you find it easy to see a word, it’s easy to see what someone meant if they made a mistake – if you’re struggling to see, it becomes much harder to make an educated guess.

    Proofreading is something every website needs. Including Teddy Pig’s! So glad he’s championing an important issue.

    Regarding captchas, I don’t use a pagereader, just my eyes – but, like Ann Somerville, I still find the damned things impossible to read half the time! I second the recommendation for questions that only a human could answer as an alternative to captcha.

  10. 10
    Grace says:

    Curses, I fail at simple formatting. Only the first bit was supposed to be a quote.

  11. 11
    Shannon C. says:

    First of all, as the person who e-mailed Sarah, I want to publicly thank her for fixing the captchas. I don’t comment all that regularly, but I appreciate that I can.

    As to my bashfulness on the issue, all I can say in my defense is that sometimes I do feel a bit like a voice in the wilderness, because blind people with total vision loss are comparatively rare. In some cases I’m literally the only one people ever hear from if I choose to speak up. Which, while I realize that’s important, is a bit daunting, you know?

    Second of all, I agree with a lot of what’s been said here so far. Flash pages drive me crazy. Lack of alt tags drive me crazy. If I can’t find what I need on your site, which is usually information about your books, I’m not going to be likely to *buy* said books.

    I also appreciate Teddy Pig’s advocacy on this point. I do read ebooks when I can, because books in Braille take up a huge amount of space and I’d much rather save the trees that producing a book in Braille would kill by reading a book electronically. I could go off on a completely different rant about the evils of DRM, but that’s not really on topic. But yeah, suffice to say, if mainstream publishers could come up with a way for me to read secure ebooks without having to go through a huge song and dance routine just to get the damn files to work properly with a screenreader, I would be extremely happy.

    And now I forsee me coming back here every five minutes to see what else has been said instead of writing a paper. *LOL*

  12. 12
    Jules Jones says:

    Hear, hear.

    I tend to rant about this because while I’m okay now, I spent six months having to use Dragon Naturally Speaking to be able to do anything with a computer. It’s nowhere near as bad as being totally blind, but it’s a really good way to experience a lot of the problems caused by poor website design that assumes that everyone is using a mouse. My site could still use some work, but you can navigate through it using only keyboard commands, and every image has an alt tag.

  13. 13
    Cat Marsters says:

    You know, I had no idea about style sheets (actually only the haziest idea of what one might be, and no clue they could be turned on or off by the browser).  I’d also never heard of ALT images before now.  Picture me clueless.  It’s something I shall work on amending.

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