Web Accessibility

This week, this short post will recommend some useful tools which can be used to help evaluate the accessibility of your website. Accessibility refers to the degree to which as many users as possible can access your web service. The consideration of this factor is evidently to your own benefit, as well as to those users who may have visual, hearing, motor or cognitive impairments.



The WAVE Web Accessibility Tool can be used to check for negligent html elements, such as missing alt text.



The W3C HTML Validator can be used to check for errors within the html code of your website.



The Snook Contrast Tool can be used to validate the contrast between background and foreground colours used in your site. This is an important factor for those with visual impairments.



It can be useful to turn off style sheets to see how your site will appear to users of screen readers, for example. This is an option provided by most browsers (Plain Content View).

Additional, yet salient, points include remembering to include a unique page title for each page, to add relevant headings for each section of text, checking your site zooms correctly on different browsers and verifying that a user can ‘Tab’ through GUI elements of your site in a rational order. It is particularly important to check drop down lists and search forms in this final respect. In the case of multimedia elements, video captions, audio descriptions or transcripts should be provided where possible.

For more information and a comprehensive list of accessibility verification tools see the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Page.

Considering accessibility when designing any web interface is of benefit to both yourself and your users and so it makes sense to do so!


Analysis of a Relic


Sony CFS-B21L (Source: amazon.com)

I should mention that this blog has been created as part of a course in e-learning and interactive design. This week, I was tasked with undertaking a brief analysis of an everyday product, from a design standpoint.  While mulling over the choice of subject, my gaze unwittingly fell upon the cassette player, languishing under a  thick layer of dust, on my top shelf. Dust removed, it struck me that it would make an interesting subject for such a study.

A relic in the context of today’s technology, I have kept this lump of metal and plastic for the occasional playing of an old cassette or two, the few inherited through generations of family. Of course, the cassette format itself has been rendered obsolete, initially by the introduction of the Compact Disc (CD) and, doubly so, by the explosion of easily-accessible, digital music. Yet, this player has proved itself useful on occasion and also comes with a handy radio, which does indeed ‘sound so powerful’, particularly when the volume is increased to levels unhindered by modern health&safety standards.


1950s Philips Jubilee Radio Advertisement (Source: wtip.org)

Although it is interesting to compare this device to radios of the 1950s, one should remember that it was little more than 10 years ago (this particular model was manufactured in 1999) that the Sony CFS-B21L was considered state of the art, such is the rate of progress within the electronics industry. Below is a modern mp3 player concept from designer Tae-wan Kim, perhaps a thousand times smaller. Although  it contains no speakers and, of course, no cassette player!


Tok Tak MP3 Player Concept (Source: yankodesign.com)

So, lets take a quick look at the design of the Sony player. One of the key considerations within modern interaction design is the provision of feedback to the user. With the introduction of touch-screen devices, this has become a key concern and, some may argue, a significant barrier to certain users, particularly the elderly. In this case, the Sony undoubtedly has the advantage over its modern day counterparts. When a button is pressed on this device, there can be no doubt as to its effect. The audible clunk of a solid lump of plastic, one centimetre in diameter, negotiating its way into place. Although it’s unlikely this was ever advertised as one of its positive attributes in its heyday, it could well be now. Someone needs to tell the, rather optimistic, gentleman selling one on e-bay for €30.


“The Sony CFS-B21L: Providing Haptic Feedback Before it was Cool”


Interestingly, one of the principal advertised features of the device was its ability to perform in-line recording, direct from radio. Truly a historical milestone, it even boasts MEGA BASS and a handle for portability.

Taking a slightly more serious view, the most poorly designed element of the interaction process has to be the lack of an on/off switch. To turn the device off, one must first flick a toggle to switch the device from the radio to the cassette player and then pause the cassette player, not the most elegant of interaction scenarios. The controls are also all located on the top face which means the user must effectively be positioned above the device itself to use it.

That said, although some elements of the controls may take time to figure out, it is, in many ways, easier to use than most modern devices! This is, of course, partially due to a lack of features but even so there is no led screen, no complicated set of menus to step through, no back button required. The consequences of a mistake are minimal and experimentation with the controls is a risk-free experience.


Older Devices do have their Advantages! (Source: knowyourmeme.com)

In conclusion, it may be old, it may be clunky but at a  time when the public was still enamoured by the technology itself, when alternatives were limited and when users were yet to become expert critics, the Sony CFS-B21 did serve its purpose. Now, a victim of progress, it appears to us obsolete. Yet, it was a design iconic of the times and it is interesting think, in another ten years time, what devices will we be using when we come to look back at an iPad with the same sense of nostalgia?


A View of the Future, from the Past (Source: lessons-from-history.com


Links for Education


Education has been described as a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next. As the primary focus of this blog, at present, is to be upon education, and yet my primary experience is not as an educator, I thought for my first post I would simply post some links which I have personally found interesting or motivating, often outside the bounds of traditional avenues to education.

1. Reel Physics


This team from Escapist Magazine regularly test the physics behind the latest movie stunts, tying the principles of mathematics to the interests of the masses. The format is similar to the popular Discovery Network show Mythbusters, but the approach taken is somewhat more academic in nature.

2. W3Schools


This website teaches the basics of web development in an easy to understand manner. Although basic in nature, plenty of examples are provided to guide the learner through the process and this website could prove to be of interest to some of the initial readers of this blog.

3. Sketch A Day


This is a website used by many professional Product Designers to improve their sketching and drawing skills. The video tutorials provided on the designer, Spencer Nugent’s youtube channel are fantastic.

4. Intelligence^2


IntelligenceSquared organises debates on key topics, often with high profile participants. Although the organisation could be compared to events such as TED Talks, the debating format allows both sides to air their views. Their website provides video footage of each debate and acts as a fascinating source of content for debate and discussion.

5. Concise Irish Sign Language


Finally, some self-promotion never hurts. This is an App I developed with a friend of mine, who is a life-long practitioner of Irish Sign Language, over the past year. It is currently the largest, accessible, digital Irish Sign Language Dictionary in existence. Updates coming soon!

Until next time,