Karl Groves

Tech Accessibility Consultant
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+1 443.875.7343
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karl@tenon.io
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@karlgroves

The day I had an assault weapon in my car and was confronted by police

A couple of blog posts ago, I wrote about Gun Control and mentioned that I’ve owned a couple of SKS rifles. The SKS fires a 7.62x39mm round, the same as early AK-47s and is also similar to the cartridge used by the M-1 Carbine. The SKS was a military rifle, used by the USSR and supplied to their communist allies in the 50s. It was replaced by the AK-47. While pedantic gun nuts will argue (rightfully) that the SKS isn’t an “Assault Rifle” it is an assault weapon. The differences between the two terms don’t warrant much discussion here. The SKS is the weapon that Micah Johnson used to shoot 12 police officers in Dallas on July 7, 2016. It has an effective range of 400 yards.

I had one in my car one day in June 1992 during an encounter with the police.

One day in June 1992 I was driving down the road and saw some friends playing lacrosse in a field across from a church in our neighborhood. I pulled over next to them and chatted for a while. My friend Mike eventually came by in his 1971 Monte Carlo. In case you’re unfamiliar with the ’71 Monte Carlo, that’s the car that Ace Ventura drove.

Mike’s car looked (and ran) exactly like it, but over the previous winter we did a fair amount of work to it so it would be faster. After a little bit of chit-chat, I told my friends I was on my way to the shooting range and left. As I got in my car, Mike got in his and followed behind me, revving his engine and acting like he wanted to race me. I decided to take the bait. I knew his huge tank of a car didn’t stand a chance against my Corvette. We drove through Linthicum, MD and eventually onto Rt. 170, which had a long straight away along the BWI airport. We made a left turn onto BWI and both of us put the pedal to the floor. My Corvette pulled away easily and I let off the gas and let the car decelerate on its own.

If you look at the right-side of this map, there’s a 90-degree turn. The map makes the turn look tighter than it is, but it is a turn I’d taken in my Corvette at over 60mph before. This time I was going more like 50 mph, but as I got to the apex of this turn, a pedestrian jumped out on front of me. I panicked and jerked the wheel left to avoid him and then right to compensate as the rear end came loose over some gravel in the intersection. It didn’t work, and my Corvette skipped over the median like a rock skipped on a lake. I ended up landing on the wrong side of the road, going the wrong direction. In other words, I spun in a complete circle. I got out of my car, shaken and pissed off. I looked at my car and it was a mess. The entire front suspension was destroyed and the fiberglass front end was cracked up.

It wasn’t long until the police arrived. This was before cell phones, but the Transportation Authority cops patrol the area around the airport frequently. A female cop stopped and surveyed the situation. When she came over to me I explained what happened. She asked me for my license and registration. I gave her my license and then told her my registration was in the glove box. C-III Corvettes don’t have glove boxes in the dash, but rather behind the seats. In 1976, the rear window was vertical and they have this cubby hole that goes underneath the back of the car. The cubby hole is barely big enough to fit a large suit-case. It was just wide enough to fit my rifle in its case.

“I need to get my registration from inside the car”, I told her, “and I have a gun in my car”.

“OK you need to step away from the car”, she responded as she positioned herself between me and the car.

“Its OK. It isn’t loaded. I was on my way to the range”, I explained.

She had me walk further from the car to create distance between me and the gun. She then called the State Police who have a barracks not far from there. A State Trooper came by, grabbed my rifle case from the car, took the rifle out and inspected everything. He then asked me where I was going, what I was doing, etc. Everything, of course, went fine. I had the rifle in a case, it was unloaded, and I had no ammunition in the car, either. As I said, I was on my way to the range.

The events this week, with the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile got me thinking about this event so many years ago and how different it was for me. Philando Castile had a Concealed Carry Permit for his gun. In other words, he was legally allowed to carry a loaded handgun and the police shot him anyway.

In both cases, the car’s driver informed the police officer that they had a gun. Both drivers were responsible gun owners cooperating with the police. One of us lived. People can try to argue this isn’t about race all they want, but I shudder to think that maybe Philando Castile would be alive today if he was white.

The hard slog (an introspective humblebrag)

For some reason, this week was a pretty good week for Tenon. We got a large number of upgrades, including annual payments for some of our larger plans. We also got our fair share of purchases of our “Micro” plan, which doesn’t really make us much money but every bit helps. This morning I had to log in to Stripe (our payment processor) to help a customer with an expired credit card. I quickly became astonished at the worldwide reach of Tenon, especially lately. We have paying customers across the US, Canada, France, Scotland, Ireland, England, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, India, Spain, Japan. As SaaS companies go, we’re extremely small. As an accessibility company we’re extremely small. Hell, as any type of company we’re extremely small.

It is easy to feel like everything with Tenon is a hard slog. I am working, at some level, 7 days a week (usually mornings and evenings) on Tenon. Monday through Friday, I wake up in the morning and do an hour or so of catch-up on things like support requests that’ve come through from users in Australia and Asia. I work my normal work hours for TPG and when that’s done, my evenings are filled with family commitments interspersed with Tenon work. My laptop and mifi device come with me as I sit in the car programming while my daughter is at dance. When the family goes to bed, out comes the laptop for more work. But it isn’t just me. Developers and sales guys are also at it as well. It isn’t a stretch to say that someone is working for Tenon 24/7/365.

It is a hard slog. Everything is bootstrapped. Every penny goes right back into the company, paying for development, paying for overhead, paying for long-overdue legal bills. I’ve personally made nothing from Tenon so far, but I still consider it a massive success. I’m humbled by the fact that our growth is almost entirely from word-of-mouth. I’m humbled by the fact that other people believe in us. The slog, however hard at times, is perhaps its own reward. To everyone who has ever said nice things about Tenon to someone else: Thank you

I’m available for accessibility consulting, audits, VPATs, training, and accessible web development, email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343

I have no sympathy for excuse-making and won’t apologize for that

Almost a year ago, Dale Cruse posted a list of must-follow people involved in accessibility. I was honored to be on that list. Dale described me as “militant about accessibility”. I began working on a follow-up post where I disagreed about the “militant” label. Ultimately I deleted the post largely because it turned into a ramble about being committed to quality over accessibility.

The other day, I posted this on Twitter:

It got a lot of traction on Twitter and is probably one of my most popular Tweets, with 109 “engagements” according to Twitter. It also got one sharply negative response, from Amanda Rush, who was inspired to write a blog post of her own. A series of 140 Character-at-a-time posts on Twitter isn’t really a sufficient method of communicating ideas so I’ll do it here.

I’ve described this a bit before, but in the very late 90s I created my first web pages. I was working in the music industry at the time and someone else had made a website for me, but getting them to do updates was sort of a pain so I decided to learn how to do so on my own. Over time I got more serious about web stuff and frequented a number of Usenet newsgroups like alt.www.webmaster and comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html. There, I forged friendships that remain to this day with people like Brian Huisman and William Tasso. I also interacted with other people like Mike Davies, David Dorward, Jukka Korpela, and Patrick Lauke – all of whom opened my eyes to accessibility. They often commented about web accessibility, often saying simply “How would this work for a person on a screen reader?”. They got me thinking about my sites’ in the context of the user. They soft-selled me into giving a shit about the person who has to interact with my work. I owe a lot to them for opening my eyes. The user matters.

Starting with my very first jobs as a professional web developer I’ve heard every excuse imaginable for why someone doesn’t do more about accessibility – up to and including outright hostility:

  • …but how many blind people actually visit our site?
  • …but aren’t most people with disabilities unemployed?
  • …if people with disabilities need some help, they can just ask a friend
  • People with disabilities aren’t in our target demographic

The list goes on. In the meantime, the accessibility community goes on the defensive, trying to construct spurious business case arguments for accessibility.

Enough is enough. Accessibility is a civil right, end of story. I dare everyone reading this to stand up in their workplace and replace “blind people” or “people with disabilities” in the above list with “black people” or “Jews” and blurt it out. Scared to sound like a racist jerk? Good.

This isn’t “appropriation”, as Amanda Rush claims, this is about illuminating the fundamental failure of judgment that drives this type of excuse-making. Accessibility is a civil right. I’m not trying to claim that ICT products and services need to be perfect. My argument is that these excuses are offensive and worthy of ridicule. Don’t agree with me? That’s fine. You should be aware, however, that the US Department of Justice, the Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, lawyers, judges, and lawmakers across the country agree with me, as proven by my List of web-accessibility related litigation and settlements. Every single one of these lawsuits was a prayer for relief based on a claim of violation of the plaintiff’s civil rights.

Accessibility is a Civil Rights issue, plain and simple. I have no patience for excuse-making around accessibility and I will not apologize for pointing out that it is a Civil Rights issue that exists on the same level as racial discrimination.

I’m available for accessibility consulting, audits, VPATs, training, and accessible web development, email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343

Gun Control

I’m a gun owner. I purchased my first firearm 25 years ago, when I was 18 years old. My friend Jason was very enamored with guns. At the time, he had a .22 caliber Marlin rifle and took me to a local shooting range. I enjoyed shooting and was pretty good at it. Well, I was good enough at it that it encouraged me to do it more often. I liked doing something that required skill and that didn’t come easy but that wasn’t so hard it was discouraging. So a few months later when he invited me along to a gun show, I took the chance. I can’t remember whether it was that gun show or another, but before long I became the owner of an SKS. At the time, the market was flush with them and you could purchase one for around $100, still greased up with Cosmoline. The SKS was fun to shoot and far more powerful than the .22 Marlin. Since that time, I’ve owned several other firearms, including a 9mm pistol. I currently own only two firearms: the 9mm and a rifle.

Gun control in the United States is a major wedge issue and like most wedge issues I don’t really agree with either side. The fact that the issue is so divisive and feelings run so strong makes it particularly frustrating and difficult to have a calm, rational discussion about. My friends in other countries seem to think that gun violence is an easy issue to solve. “Just stop letting people have guns” is really easy to say but far less easy to do when the right to have guns in the first place is central to the founding of your country. The Bill of Rights is extremely important, both from a legal perspective and a historical perspective. These first ten amendments to our Constitution were written, in large part, to appease anti-Federalists. These were people who weren’t very crazy about the idea of a central government and had really strong feelings about how we came to fight for our independence in the first place. Even with a casual read of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution it is obvious to see that these were people who were pissed at England and weren’t having any more of that monarchy crap. The Bill of Rights was created specifically to spell that out. Each of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights were written in reaction to the injustices the colonists suffered at the hands of monarchy. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that without the Bill of Rights, there would be no United States.

In the case of the Second Amendment, everyone tends to have their own interpretation of what it means and even about why we have it in the first place. I don’t think too many people disagree, however, that the core message of the Second Amendment is the right for people to defend themselves. The inability for colonists to defend themselves was a huge issue at the time and one that Ben Franklin writes about extensively in his autobiography. In it, he discusses the numerous times that he tried to get English troops to help defend colonists against Native Americans and/ or allow the colonists to have guns so they could defend themselves. So while the obvious arguments that the Second Amendment is tied to the English Bill of Rights of 1689 hold true, the simple ability to defend oneself from any aggressor, be it a tyrant or not, was seen as important enough to the founding fathers to include it in the Bill of Rights. To many, the type of aggressor doesn’t matter, up to and including the Federal Government itself. In fact some would say that defense against tyrants is also central to what the Second Amendment is all about. In other words, you can’t just say, “OK everyone turn in your guns. Gun shops and gun manufacturers, ya’ll gotta shut down now”, because the entire spirit of each citizen being able to defend ourselves no matter what type of aggressor we face is central to who we are as a people.

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.Thomas Jefferson

The problem is that it is 225 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights and we don’t need to defend ourselves from aggressive Native Americans, tyrants, external aggressors, or even terrorists. The people we need to be made safe from are each other – specifically those who have guns. Last night, a lone gunman with an AR-15 and a handgun shot up a nightclub in Orlando Florida and killed 50 people. We are only half-way through 2016 and there’ve been 113 mass shootings.

Every Day on Average (all ages)

Every day, 297 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention.

Every day, 89 people die from gun violence: 

  • 31 are murdered
  • 55 kill themselves
  • 2 are killed unintentionally
  • 1 is killed by police intervention
  • 1 intent unknown.

Every day, 208 people are shot and survive:

  • 151 shot in an assault
  • 10 survive a suicide attempt
  • 45 are shot unintentionally
  • 2 are shot in a police intervention

Key gun violence statistics

According to the CDC the per-capita rate of death by firearm is the same as death by motor vehicle accident. While many government agencies such as NIH, CDC, NIST, and NHTSA have funded extensive research into improving motor vehicle safety, conservative lawmakers actually fought to ban research into gun violence. This isn’t false equivalence. If we’re to assume that it is every American’s right to bear arms then we must ensure the safety of the public as well. If we can put into place sensible safety features and regulations around ownership, operation, and safety for motor vehicles, why is it that we can’t study the causes of gun-related injuries and put into place other sensible regulations?

As a gun owner, I am very serious about gun safety. It is my responsibility as a gun owner to ensure safe storage when not in use and safe handling during use. I think responsible gun owners will agree with this. But this is not enough. We are not doing enough to ensure public safety. We are not doing enough to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys and people who are emotionally unable to handle the responsibility of gun ownership. We are not doing enough to regulate ownership criteria and training of new owners. In fact, we are effectively doing nothing. In order to decrease gun violence in our country that needs to change.

Is WCAG too long?

Yes.

And no.

But mostly it just feels that way.

I just got home from this year’s CSUN Conference and, as always, it was a wonderful time. Like many people, I find myself feeling very energized. The overall feeling of camaraderie at CSUN leaves you feeling like you have an army standing behind you as you venture forth to make the world more accessible. One thing bothers me a bit about this year’s CSUN that’s lead to this post.

On Friday, Billy Gregory and I presented Why WCAG? Whose Guideline is it, Anyway? with The Viking and The Lumberjack. This talk focused on some humorous criticisms we have of WCAG and how people – primarily those who are not experts – can be tripped up by WCAG. Like everything we do, Billy and I attempted to use humor to help clear up some of these points of confusion. The talk was standing-room only and was well-received by the audience. But that didn’t stop some people from objecting to what we had to say.

After Cordelia Dillon put out the above tweet, she was quickly “corrected” by David MacDonald to clarify that WCAG was only 36 pages. Regardless of the accuracy of Cordelia’s tweet, this marked the 2nd time that David MacDonald has chosen to comment on the substance of this talk despite having not been in attendance. Whether or not the “Normative” portion of WCAG is 36 pages or not, David lacked the context necessary to understand what was being said. More importantly, David’s knee-jerk reaction is even more ridiculous when you consider that the Viking & the Lumberjack are very definitely not the first people to make this observation and David knows it. Public criticisms on WCAG’s length have happened since 2006 – 2 years before WCAG reached final recommendation status. I’m not about to get into the history and drama of the WCAG Working Group prior to 2.0’s release because it isn’t relevant to this discussion, but suffice it to say that this had been a topic of discussion prior to Joe Clark’s ranticle on ALA.

It isn’t (just) the length, it is the density

David is correct in saying that the normative information – the actual standard – of WCAG 2.0 is only 36 pages long. Regardless of whether or not the standard itself is only 36 pages, people tend to lump the associated materials into what they collectively refer to as WCAG. In other words, it is an exercise in pedantry to correct people who claim WCAG is too long because the actual standard is only 36 pages. What people refer to as WCAG also includes the informative portions. How to Meet WCAG 2.0 is 44 pages, Understanding WCAG 2.0 is 230 pages, and the Techniques and Failures for WCAG 2.0 is 780 pages. In full disclosure this makes our claim at our presentation to be far higher than reality. What we wanted to convey however is that it feels immense.

The writing style of the actual WCAG Recommendation needs to be written the way it is. Every word of a document like WCAG is important. Every word and phrase has a specific meaning. Because WCAG has been adopted as an ISO standard and because WCAG is (or will be) incorporated into a number of regulations throughout the world, the wording must be explicit and detailed regarding the requirements for conformance. But the informative content, such as that within “How to meet WCAG 2.0” has no such requirement. Despite this, the How to meet… document has an overall grade level of 9.6 and the Understanding… document has an overall grade level of 10.7. Individual entries in the “Understanding…” documents hover around a grade level of 10. The document that discusses Understanding techniques has a grade level of 12!. Clearly, the writing style of the informative content does not help when it comes to peoples’ perception of the content’s length. Also, there’s ample opportunity for people to say, “WTF WCAG”:

Creating components using a technology that supports the accessibility API features of the platforms on which the user agents will be run to expose the names and roles, allow user-settable properties to be directly set, and provide notification of changes. (G10)

I know what this means. But I’ve been professionally involved in accessibility for more than a decade. You could say that I know enough about accessibility that I don’t need to read the above technique to know what it means to conform to SC 4.1.2. The above technique title is simply not any more easy for the layperson to parse than the Success Criterion itself! I admit, this is a particularly bad case. Some of the other technique titles are short and clear. But G10 has plenty of friends, like this one.

The Presentation Doesn’t Help

There’s really no nice way to say this. The WAI site and their deliverables are not attractive. They are mostly just walls of text that exacerbate the content’s readability problems. Recent changes, such as the redesigned Quick Reference are huge steps forward, but the vast amount of pre-existing information presented in typical W3C-wall-of-text-standard-document format does not do this information any favors. The current list of WCAG WG members contains a number of participants with extensive UX experience. The WAI should leverage these resources to work on redesigning the presentation of informative materials to make them easier to navigate and understand by the layperson.

Do I think WCAG is too long?

Not really. I think the writing style and presentation of the associated materials makes WCAG feel too long. I think that the WCAG Working Group should be commended for recent redesigns of some supporting materials and they should continue these efforts. In addition, I think they should strongly consider adopting well-established plain language practices when authoring or revising their materials. This is especially true when it comes to the "How to meet…" and "Understanding…" documents which are often sorely needed by those who are new to accessibility. These steps should help alleviate some of the many well-founded criticisms of the content’s length.

I’m available for accessibility consulting, audits, VPATs, training, and accessible web development, email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343

Conference talks are not sales pitches – a preemptive rant

It is less than a week before the Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, affectionately known as “CSUN” (as in, “see sun”) after the California State University, Northridge whose Center on Disabilities hosts the conference. I’ve taken this week as vacation and my talk still isn’t prepared. This is probably the least prepared I’ve ever been for a talk, so I’d better get on it. But first, I want to rant.

My first public speaking engagement (in the tech space) was 2004 at the 51st Annual Conference of the Society for Technical Communications. Over the last 12 years I’ve spoken in 7 countries and nearly 20 states. There’s a particular practice at conferences that I think is a bit deceptive, which is using a conference talk as a veiled attempt at a sales pitch. The way this works is this: a compellingly-titled talk is instead a 40-minute spiel revolving entirely around the product that’s made by the presenter’s company. The more closely that the talk’s topic relates to something the product does, the more likely that the talk is merely a sales pitch.

This practice is common among industry conferences, even in non-technical industries. But at CSUN, it just feels more wrong. In full disclosure: I’ve done this myself. I did it at the Open Web Camp, 2014. While I tried my best to avoid it, given the topic it was pretty inevitable that it be focused on Tenon. At the same time, I ended up feeling like I had tricked the audience into listening to me sell Tenon. If I ever end up doing another talk that is all about Tenon, I will clearly disclose that in the title or description.

My challenge to speakers at CSUN 2016

End the veiled sales pitches. End the deception. People spend $555 for the conference and around $300 a night for the hotel. Many people fly in from all over the world to attend, and some people pay for this out of their own pockets. CSUN attendees deserve better than to be treated like a room full of sales prospects. The attendees are there to learn and to exchange ideas, not be pitched. You can save that for social events and impromptu conversations in the hallways.

Putting my money where my mouth is

I have two talks, one is a co-presentation with Billy Gregory and another is a solo talk, titled “Extreme Accessibility”. I will not mention Tenon in either talk. I will not even wear a Tenon t-shirt while presenting. If I break this promise, I’ll buy everyone in the room a beer at Redfields bar. Want to talk to me about Tenon? Awesome. Catch me in the hallway, at a social event, or email me ahead of time to set something up.

For the attendees

If you find yourself in a session that’s really just a sales pitch? Walk out. The general session schedule is chock full of great talks. Find one where the speaker respects you enough not to spend the whole time doing a live infomercial.

I’m available for accessibility consulting, audits, VPATs, training, and accessible web development, email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343

The Accessibility & SEO Myth

No, Accessibility doesn’t lead to better SEO. More importantly, this isn’t a good business case argument. It is time to put this one to rest.

In order to formulate a good business case argument, you must be able to prove that Taking action 'X' will have 'Y' consequences and in this case the argument is that improving accessibility will improve SEO. The implication that follows is that this will somehow make the organization more money or otherwise help the organization reach its defined goals, where more visitors equals higher possible achievement of those goals. This is only true if you weigh a handful of accessible development techniques with inordinately high levels of importance.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Contains:

  • 4 Principles
    • Split to 12 Guidelines, which are then
      • Split into 61 Success Criterion

The informative supplemental material for WCAG defines approximately 400 Techniques and Failures. At the time of this writing there are 93 Common Failures for WCAG. I’m of the opinion that saying “Accessibility Improves SEO” is greatly over-selling accessibility.

A Google search for "Search engine ranking factors" displays a number of results featuring leaders in the SEO/ SEM industry that outline the many factors that improve SEO. The vast majority of the identified ranking factors have no relationship of any kind with Accessibility. In fact, even many of the “on-page factors” don’t have much relationship with Accessibility.

Accessibility and SEO intersect in the following places:

  1. Page titles
  2. Headings
  3. Alt attributes
  4. Link text

In the entire list of 400 WCAG Techniques and failures, 21 of them relate to the above list of items. In other words, only 5% of WCAG techniques are correlated with SEO. None of this means that those 21 techniques aren’t important, they definitely are. Titles, headings, and link text are important navigation and wayfinding aids for users. But that’s not the same as claiming better accessibility results in better SEO.

“Better SEO” is not an accessibility business case and this myth needs to go away.

I’m available for accessibility consulting, audits, VPATs, training, and accessible web development, email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343

The incredible ugliness of political bias and our abandonment of logic & reason

Wise people (namely, Jennifer Groves) often say that you shouldn’t discuss politics or religion in a professional environment. Since most of the stuff I post about on this blog is work-related, I suppose this post is a little unwise. Those who know me on Facebook know that I post a fair amount of political stuff there and would rightly assume I’m pretty progressive, so I’ll try to leave my own biases out of this post.

A few weeks ago Maryland Senate President Mike Miller sent out a survey via email. I’m not sure how I got on his mailing list, especially since he does not represent my district. Still, I think it was awesome. The survey asked for respondents to weigh in on a number of things that will be coming up in this years’ legislative session. I have no idea what will be done with the survey information but I think it is a great idea for legislators to be reaching out to their constituents in this way. Why don’t more people do this?

I decided I wanted to share the link on Facebook. In the 2012 presidential election cycle, there were a few places that political discussions relating to Maryland politics took place but I could not find those same ones anymore and the ones I could find were ghost towns. I found one, however, aptly called “Maryland Politics”. Topics there appeared to be balanced in nature, though one very active participant tended to editorialize quite a bit when posting news items. Still, it didn’t seem too bad, at first. Since the general atmosphere tended to lean more toward my own political tastes, I stuck around. After sticking around it became more and more obvious that this group functioned more and more as the group creator’s own biased sounding board than a venue for actual discussion.

Naive, I know. Politics in this country is ugly and populated by candidates who run around chasing opinion poll after opinion poll, bloviating about whatever is the hot topic of the day that day and issuing reductionist statements that can fit into soundbites of appropriate size and simplicity so that they can be regurgitated by talking heads on the news channels frequented by their target demographic. This idea was parodied with laser-sharp accuracy in a Family Guy episode titled It takes a village idiot, and I married one:

Though clearly more intelligent than her opponent, Lois’ campaign falters as Mayor West proves more politically savvy than she is while Lois bores voters with detailed plans to improve the city, Mayor West garners support simply by avoiding answering questions and acting in a patronizing manner. Brian, observing that “undecided voters are the biggest idiots in the country,” advises Lois to dumb down her campaign. She soon discovers that she can generate support merely by dropping controversial terms such as “Jesus” and “terrorists” in meaningless ways, and by answering questions about her policy plans only by saying “9/11.” She wins the election, and continues to use fear tactics to raise funds for cleaning up the lake.

It seems like a chicken & egg scenario. Are the voters idiots? Are politicians just playing to our baser instincts? As I grow older I feel like we’re careening toward a world where Idiocracy is more like a documented prediction than a comedy movie. I think we should expect more out of our politicians, our peers, and ourselves.

Everyone has their biases, whether they admit to them or not. I have my own. But believing in and spreading baseless, deceptive, or wholly untrue allegations is unethical, in my opinion. Each voter deserves the right to understand and assess each candidate and each political issue based on actual facts, logic, and data: Voting records, position statements, recorded statements in the media and on the debate floor. Refusing to consider, discuss, share, or even acknowledge factual information is deception. Ultimately each person needs to determine which candidate fits our own preferences for what makes that candidate the right choice. Thankfully we live in a time when researching this information has never been easier. The for-profit news media is not a reliable source of such information. While my fellow liberals are quick to dismiss Fox News as biased, the other media outlets are just as biased. Even CNN and MSNBC have been accused of conducting a media blackout of Bernie Sanders.

You can and should avail yourself of resources that are better than the news media

(Mostly) Unbiased resources exist, mostly in the form of non-profit organizations who identify themselves as “watchdogs” or “think tanks”. Some of these can still be biased, depending upon who founded them and who funds them. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • If they’re focused on one political cause then obviously their positions and coverage will have a myopic focus on that cause. They will support those who support them and vilify those who do not.
  • If they’re founded by a single person or group of people who lean toward a single political ideology, so will the organization as a whole. Is the board full of ex-staffers from the Clinton administration? That organization will lean to the left. The converse would be true if they’re all from the former Bush administration.
  • If their position papers and blog posts would fit in well with a clearly-biased mainstream media source like Fox or Daily Kos, then they’re biased.

Resources I’d Recommend

Of the above, the Sunlight Foundation is particularly important based on the tools they provide for accessing important data.

Obviously making use of some of these resources involves a little more time and energy than flipping on your favorite news channel. You owe it to yourself to take the time to at least peruse a few of the fact-checking websites to verify whether what you’ve heard in the media is true or not. Come election day, vote based on facts, not rhetoric.

What to do when you get sued… (revisited)

Rather than re-write my post What happens when you get sued for your inaccessible website, I wanted to revisit the topic entirely. A few years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts about the “Accessibility Business Case” Ultimately, I determined that reduction of legal risk was the most powerful business case argument. Recent events are proving me right.

None of this is legal advice. I’m not a lawyer. This is advice based on over a decade of accessibility consulting experience.

Over the last few months, a few dozen companies have been sued for violating the ADA by the same law firm, representing the same plaintiffs. “45 Lawsuits. Hundreds of Demand Letters.”, says an article describing the activity. Regardless of your opinion on whether this type of activity is right or wrong, the fact is that it is happening. The rate of legal action in the United States has increased significantly in the last few years, with some (including myself) who feel that if legal action is the only way to make the web more accessible, so be it.

You’re getting sued/ threatened. Now what?

I’ve worked for both plaintiffs and defendants in many legal cases and have seen some interesting patterns along the way. If you find yourself on the wrong end of a complaint letter, there are a number of things you can do to avoid a long, costly, and potentially embarrassing fight.

Lawyer up, of course

Chances are you if you’re one of those with the most risk, you already have legal staff on hand. If not, it goes without saying that you’ll want to find one. If your lawyer doesn’t have any experience in this area, it may be worthwhile to find one that does.

Do not dig your heels in

If your lawyer says that you should tell the plaintiff to buzz off, find a new lawyer. This doesn’t mean you should roll over and give in to the plaintiff’s demands, but in most cases becoming non-cooperative is the quickest way to wind up in a courtroom. In this recent round of lawsuits, if you peruse the court records in PACER, you’ll find this pattern (simplified below):

  1. Plaintiff sends letter notifying defendant of alleged violations of ADA
  2. Defendant says, in polite lawyerese, “stuff it”
  3. Plaintiff files lawsuit

Everything is downhill from there. History proves this rather well with Target, Netflix, and more. Outright refusal to cooperate is very poor strategy.

Hire a qualified accessibility consultant

Every single settlement – and indeed most of the demand letters – that I’m aware of will call for the defendant to engage an accessibility consultant to assist the defendant in making their website accessible. This is pretty obvious. If your website is allegedly bad enough to warrant a legal complaint, then there are probably systemic issues in the organization. You may have problems in policy and procedure. You may have general quality problems. You may have training problems. You may have any number of problems that require the assistance of a qualified accessibility consultant. Find one immediately so they can help you along the way, and ensure that they’re involved in everything – as a team member, not an outsider.

Get serious about accessibility

There’s really no question about it: Whether or not you wind up averting a lawsuit, you will be fixing your website. If it goes to settlement, fixing the website will be one of the requirements of the settlement. This is where your accessibility consultant comes in. You need to make sure your consultant has experience with policies, procedures, project management, UX, and development. All of these things will come into play during this process and you need to make sure your accessibility consultant can handle that for you.

An effective approach to accessibility is going to require full support all the way up to the top of the org chart. The converse is also true in that I’ve never seen an organization be successful with accessibility in the long-term without executive support.

Accessibility Everywhere

When it comes to development, everyone involved must be empowered to contribute to the improvement of the system. Everyone from Project managers to designers, developers, QA, and content creators have an impact on the system’s accessibility and each should be allowed (and expected) to contribute to accessibility efforts. The larger the organization, the less that siloing accessibility will work.

Push hard on your vendors

In the recent activity, all of the defendants are retailers. Most retail websites operate on a handful of major e-commerce platforms and also use third-parties for coupons, gift cards, and similar services. In some of the earlier lawsuit settlements, third-party content was considered exempted from the settlement terms. The reasoning is sound: you can’t be compelled to fix someone else’s stuff. Due to the way that many of these e-commerce products are intrinsically tied to the rest of the business, I suspect that plaintiffs are less likely to have any sympathy with this argument. Back when Target was sued one of their arguments was that their problems were caused by Amazon’s e-commerce platform. So, while some things like your gift card provider might be exempt, blaming your accessibility problems on your choice and use of an underlying platform is probably going to gain little traction. Ultimately that which is served from your domain will be seen as being under your control and therefore the liability lies in your hands. Regardless of how any of that plays out legally, your best approach is to push hard on your vendors to get them to fix their own accessibility issues.

Collaborate

In my opinion, you should consider yourself lucky if the legal complaint comes from Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian. Their approach, which they call structured negotiations fosters a more collaborative approach than the typical complaint process. Why this approach is so awesome is that it is aimed at eliminating the adversarial nature you’d expect from a legal complaint. But even if it isn’t Lainey and Linda you’re dealing with, that doesn’t mean you can’t collaborate on a mutually agreeable outcome. If you agree that discriminating against people with disabilities is fundamentally wrong, then collaborating seems a better option than fighting – for everyone involved.

I’m available for accessibility consulting, audits, VPATs, training, and accessible web development, email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343

The business case for issue prevention: Extreme Accessibility

I originally posted this on LinkedIn. It turns out that LinkedIn is a poor place for me to reach my audience, as my average post gets 10x as many views as this post first got on LinkedIn.

There have long been discussions on the accessibility industry surrounding the business case for accessibility. The Education and Outreach Working Group at the Web Accessibility Initiative of the W3C developed a large set of resources on this topic to which I posted a series of blog posts in response. During that series, I concluded that “Reduction of Legal Risk” had the strongest ROI. At the time, however, I failed to realize what so many others also continue to overlook: accessibility issues are bugs and should be treated that way. Accessibility is unique in that it exists at the crossroads of technical quality and user experience. On the technical side of things accessibility can be seen as a quality domain. Bugs in the code result in user experience issues for specific populations of users. Resolving the bugs increases quality.

It is with this sentiment in mind that gave rise to Tenon‘s mission statement:

To create robust, accurate, forward-thinking software that integrates accessibility testing into all phases of development and workflow. Together we can achieve a more accessible Web.

We meet this mission by providing an excellent service and ecosystem to allow our customers to prevent bugs before they happen.

Remediation takes money and time. Prevention saves money and time

It almost seems too obvious to mention: no bugs means no money spent on fixing bugs. But bugs are inevitable. Given the inevitability of bugs, when the bugs are found and fixed is the critical factor in saving money. How much money is difficult to determine. Back before the web, Barry Boehm estimated the expense of post-production remediation to be 100x the cost earlier in the software development process. This became known as the Boehm Curve. While the “100x” estimation has been questioned by many, what isn’t under question is that late discovery of defects is orders-of-magnitude more costly. The cost of defects is massive.

…although all errors cannot be removed, more than a third of these costs, or an estimated $22.2 billion, could be eliminated by an improved testing infrastructure that enables earlier and more effective identification and removal of software defects. These are the savings associated with finding an increased percentage (but not 100 percent) of errors closer to the development stages in which they are introduced. Currently, over half of all errors are not found until “downstream” in the development process or during post-sale software use. (
Source: NIST)

Defects don’t just cost the money needed to fix them. Simple metrics like raw cost to fix a defect only take into consideration the time it takes for a developer to fix a defect. The economic benefits of avoiding defects extend into and beyond all phases of development including the maintenance phase. In total, the Cost of Quality is the Cost of Conformance + Cost of Non-Conformance and that includes typical development, remediation, maintenance, and user support costs. Many thought leaders in the quality domain focus on these costs alone. Others, such as Capers Jones agree that simple cost-per-defect metrics aren’t quite enough and apply other metrics such as function points.

Beyond development and remediation, there other costs you may be unaware of such as Costs of Acquisition and (missed) Customer Lifetime value. These are metrics intrinsically tied to a business’s profitability. System defects impact these factors as well for cases where the defects impact core system tasks or features used during conversion. Something as simple as an inaccessible “Sign Up” button may completely prevent somewhere from 7-12% of visitors from converting.

Reliable web accessibility business case numbers are hard to come by due to the strong relationships between quality, usability, and accessibility, but it isn’t hard to imagine that the end result is the same, from an ROI perspective, as in the brick & mortar world:

three quarters (75%) of disabled people and their families said that they had done this (75% of disabled people and 76% of parents or carers). Looking at this across impairment, the percentage of people who have left a business can reach 83%. In particular, 83% of those with memory impairment, 81% of those with a behavioural impairment, 81% of people with autism and 79% of those with a learning disability said they had left a business for this reason. (
Source: Business Disability Forum)

Given the significant risk to project budgets and revenue from users, proactively addressing accessibility makes the most sense

The above image shows an annotated version of the famous Boehm curve (Source: Scott Ambler) showing that even in Agile projects, due to the length of the feedback cycle and the increased likelihood that effectively addressing the issue becomes more difficult: “The average cost rises exponentially the longer that you wait because you continue to build upon a shaky foundation”. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of accessibility, where design and platform decisions made early will impact production and issue remediation later.

Extreme Accessibility delivers significant ROI compared to traditional web accessibility approaches

Agile techniques, such as Test Driven Design (TDD), pair programming, and Agile Model Driven Development (AMDD) all have very short feedback cycles, often on the order of minutes or hours. Traditional techniques, such as reviews, inspections, and big requirements up front (BRUF) have feedback cycles on the order of weeks or months, making them riskier and expensive. (
Source: Scott Ambler)

Reducing costs from software defects requires that we shorten the feedback loop for finding and fixing those defects. As indicated in the chart included earlier, the feedback loop is quickest when using Extreme Programming methodologies and this goes for accessibility feedback as well as other quality domains. However, accessibility professionals have shown little ability to fully integrate accessibility with extreme programming practices, which means that accessibility has, in turn, remained overly expensive, time-consuming, and ineffective. Feedback must occur at all phases of product development, with high importance placed on the earliest phases. Instead, traditional accessibility testing occurs in the last stages of the project which means, in turn, that accessibility compliance becomes more costly and time consuming than it should be.

The Extreme Accessibility methodology requires a cohesive approach to testing that involves creating 6 feedback points that feed into the others.

Requirements must be defined in a way that indicate the specific business and user-interaction requirements of what is being developed. These requirements should be separated into definitions of the distinct features being developed and should be done with enough specificity that they can be used as inputs for design, development, and quality assurance feedback points. Any feature that does not make sense when documented will not make sense when used. Therefore this is the first, fastest, and easiest point in the feedback loop. Using a domain-specific language like Gherkin facilitates this.

Design must adhere to the feature requirements defined for the product. Requirement definitions are implemented here and this offers the first opportunity to verify quality of a previous feedback cycle. Applying the principles of Lean UX are especially important here. As before, issues discovered within-cycle should be handled within-cycle as well, to avoid polluting later phases with quality issues.

Development is where the bulk of accessibility issues are created, often owing to a lack of appropriate tooling. Development processes within agile environments have their own unique feedback cycle. Developers can (and should) leverage code-quality tools such as linters, syntax checkers, unit testing, and other automation to check code prior to committing it to revision control. Developers should also leverage the feature requirements specifications as an input to verifying that they’ve met the requirements for the product. Code should never be committed that doesn’t pass automated tests, because letting these defects pass into the next feedback loop will significantly increase cost and risk. It is critical, in this phase, to leverage a tool that can integrate directly into their IDEs or task runners to shorten the cycle for accessibility feedback.

Quality Assurance is a verification step for development’s automated tests and an opportunity to perform manual review. In this phase the same inputs that were generated during requirements and used during development will form the basis for acceptance tests. Automation scripts should use the same tests as those used in development. In cases where feature specifications cannot be fed into automation, QA engineers will utilize those specifications as acceptance test scripts such as with Selenium.

Continuous Integration provides an opportunity to catch regressions in code before it is deployed using the same automation scripts used by development and QA staff. This prevents critical flaws from entering production.

Review provides the ability to gather up those quality flaws that slipped through the cracks, either by virtue of sheer mistake or by knowingly taking on technical debt along the way. The review process should facilitate exploring lessons learned along each cycle in order to improve future iterations.

Though much of the above sounds similar to the “test early, test often” beliefs espoused by others in the field, the specific details – including actionable guidance, job aids and, most importantly, tooling around such process have been discussed as mere concepts. With the creation of tools like Tenon.io this no longer needs to be the case.

I’m available for accessibility consulting, audits, VPATs, training, and accessible web development, email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343