Sunday, October 1st, 2006
Web Accessibility : Web standards and regulatory compliance is a new version of the classic, Constructing Accessible Websites. A lot has changed since that book was first published. We’ve learned a lot of lessons as web content developers in practical accessibility, how does the new book compare?
Fair warning, I worked for glasshaus (publishers of the first version) and know several of the authors of this book, make of that what you will.
The first thing to notice about this book is its size (and I’m not just talking about the title). You get a lot of paper for your money. A quick look at the table of contents will let you know just how much is covered (everything from the legal issues to Flash). Given this, it would be quite an intimidating book to hand to a newcomer, and this may be its biggest downfall: Information overload. Fortunately it is a book you can dip into if you’re looking for a specific subject.
Accessibility can be a dry subject, and one of the issues with the earlier edition was its prose. The new book is improved in this regard, particularly the earlier sections. Bruce Lawson‘s introduction and Shawn Lawton Henry’s Understanding Web Accessibility are succinct, well written and entertaining. Later chapters do occasionally lapse into long windedness though.
The book is great for providing information you can use ot make the case for accessibility in your organisation. There’s a neat set of statistics for Legal and General’s website that are well worth appropriating to show to any manager (just mention the 90% increase in online sales following the accessible redesign).
So what else does the book cover? Well, there’s a lot of information on techniques. The hows and the whys of modern web accessibility make up the majority of the book. It covers content, navigation, data input and presentation, in plain old HTML and other technologies like Flash or PDF. The methods here are as up to date as you’ll find in print (and more up to date than a few websites you could find). There’s a lot of detail here, as well as solid explanations of the reasons for particular techniques. For example, there’s advice on when to use alternative text and when it’s superfluous based on context.
Most of the information concerns how to interpret the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 1 in modern times. There’s a chapter with an overview of information on the upcoming version 2, and how that might change approaches, but it’s mainly focused in the here and now. There’s plenty of notes on how browser support has changed since the initial guidelines, and how some old advice is now outdated. There’s also guide to testing your site’s current accessibility, along with examples of automated testing – with the appropriate caveats about using human judgement.
To show that it’s not a book for people who only talk theory, Patrick Lauke provides an account of his work to increase Salford University‘s web accessibility. A case study is a welcome addition to a book that could easily be purely theory and techniques with no context. This is a definite advantage over the previous edition. However, it’s worth noting that since this case study the site has changed, so the examples aren’t viewable in their original form.
Legal information is an area this book covers in depth, which you’d expect from a book with “regulatory compliance” in its title. You can find out exactly what laws you need to adhere to, with details of the US, EU, UK and beyond. There’s example cases given and what they could mean for you. However, a lot of this information falls into the category of “this may be an interesting development”, so don’t expect definitive answers, there’s simply not enough experience in this area to give concrete answers.
Overall – Web Accessibility : Web standards and regulatory compliance is a burst of data to update older skillsets. If you’re new to web design, then this book is a great text if you want to learn good techniques. If you have kept up with industry goings on it’s probably not for you. If you have the original, but need an update of your skills, this version is bigger, clearer and more up to date.