Do It Myself Blog – Glenda Watson Hyatt

Motivational Speaker

Are Multiple Themes Useful in Improving Blog Accessibility?

Filed under: Blog Accessibility — by Glenda at 2:00 pm on Monday, August 24, 2009

Glenda Watson Hyatt presenting at WordCamp Fraser Valley A big kudos goes to Gary Jones of BlueFur Hosting for organizing a fantastic WordCamp Fraser Valley! And, a special thank you for including blog accessibility on the agenda.

Meeting other local bloggers was great. And, listening to all of the fabulous presenters I realized that the more I learn about WordPress, the more I still have left to learn. If you missed my rockin’ presentation, the ebook “How POUR is Your Blog?” is now available. Go grab a copy!

Response to my presentation was amazing. One idea offered during a break was that blogs could have two themes, one which is simpler or scaled back, and thus more accessible for some readers.

Instantly I cringed inwardly. My mind flashed back to the “text-only version” days, which many designers saw as the only solution to web accessibility, when, in fact, it was the lazy way out. Providing text-only versions may have benefited individuals who used screen readers, but they did not adequately and appropriately accommodate people with other types of disabilities. And, oftentimes, these scaled back versions of websites did not provide all of the same information or it wasn’t updated on the same basis as the regular websites. Text-only versions ghettoized people with disabilities.

However, now that I have had a couple of days to mull it over, perhaps the suggestion has some merits. Because of the nature of blogs, the theme controls the design and layout, the wrapping; the core content (like the posts, comments and such) would remain the same. By offering a choice of themes, readers could choose how they view the content and still participate in the same blog community with fellow readers.

I’m now seeing this option similar to a lower service counter for people in wheelchairs and those of a short stature, rather than a separate entrance with inferior services. But, similar to the aisles still needing to be wide enough in order to get to the lower service counter, the core content and other features would still need be accessible.

What are your thoughts on this? Could this work? Are there any potential limitations or drawbacks? If you have seen this done elsewhere, please share links. I’m curious to see what this might look like.

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13 Comments »

Comment by Marco

August 24, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

Hey Glenda.

I definitely encourage the use of multiple themes. In fact, I would encourage it for many different cases. A theme for high contrast, larger text size, serif, sans-serif, mobile, etc. This is easily achievable with the appropriate CSS knowledge. This could be a bit of a hurdle if you don’t know CSS, but there are so many people and resources out there to help that it’s definitely become much easier than it was when I first started!

As well, CSS shouldn’t interfere with the structure (HTML) of your template at all as you’re doing is simply manipulating it to make the appropriate look and feel changes to the structure that you would currently have. You might have to do some initial work with your templates, but once you’ve established them, you shouldn’t have to touch them again.

A great examples is Accessites.org. We’ve got the site set up for the different fonts you can use, but the principle is the same.

An important thing to keep in mind is that having an accessible theme doesn’t mean it has to be boring or strictly for people with disabilities. This was one of the biggest hurdles for accessible web designers back when I first started. It’s more important to think of it as reaching as many people as possible. It’s as simple as that.

Comment by Avil Beckford

August 24, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

Glenda,

It’s a really interesting idea and I wonder if there would be a way to update both themes at the same time because if it is not easy most people will not do it. Avil

Comment by David Clark

August 24, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

I have to vehemently disagree here – this harkens back to the days of text-only pages. Separate is not equal – never has been, never will be

Comment by Cyndi Cassidy

August 24, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

Hi Glenda,

I knew I had some articles bookmarked about this topic but I had to FIND them first!

Maybe these will be helpful:

Comment by Cyndi Cassidy

August 24, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

Your comments section won’t let me put in links so I’ll email them to you.

Comment by Bob Easton

August 24, 2009 @ 7:28 pm

It seems to me the suggestion offered at Word Camp is different than the one mentioned by Marco. Marco is correct in talking about the value of letting users decide how to alter presentation.

Yet, WordPress doesn’t work that way. The owner / author determines the WordPress theme. There’s no mechanism for letting the user decide which WordPress theme to see, at least not yet.

My hunch is the suggestion was not well thought out and would inevitably lead to the problems we saw when text only was a suggested solution.

Until WordPress can allow users to determine their own theme, independent of what the author decides, just say a very loud NO to the idea.

The best thing that can be done for WordPress is for the developers to GET A CLUE about the right ways to provide accessibility. They keep making poor, uneducated decisions, such as with the image loader that does not yet correctly handle a very simple thing, ALT text.

Comment by Ganga

August 24, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

Great topic, Glenda, and it’s been great meeting you at the Word Camp!

I don’t fully agree with having two themes, one for those with accessibility needs and another for the rest. I have the same concern you had, in that it can result in ghettoizing people with disabilities as a result of having different themes.

Do we have separate restaurants, auditoriums, cinema halls etc for those with special needs? No. There may be different kinds of entrances in a restaurant in the form of stairs and ramps, but once inside, everyone gets to enjoy the same choices of food.

There can be a lowest common denominator on what websites need to have in terms of accessibility. It doesn’t take much effort to incorporate simple things like the image alts and links. Colors and design can be chosen so that they are pleasing and easy on the eye, even for people with normal vision.

As for audio interviews, podcasts etc, I think this may be a bit more work, but where possible, a text can be provided – at the minimum, with a summary of what it is about. This is something personal to me since I’m hard of hearing and I shun websites that have audio-only articles and interviews without supplemented text. I can hear with hearing aids, but have to strain harder than the average person to try to capture everything being said, and this quickly drains me out.

On that note, it’s good that Youtube has now incorporated a closed captioning feature, and it’s optional for the video maker to easily add captions to their videos if they want.

Comment by DouglasT

August 25, 2009 @ 4:37 am

You might consider alternate style sheets on a single theme also. Everything else would remain the same, but the style sheet could be changed. Larger fonts, more contrast, etc.

Comment by Virginia

August 25, 2009 @ 7:49 am

This can be done easily with stylesheets. What you are asking about is already done with mobile/handheld stylesheets: a simplified design that still includes all the content. In the Opera browser, there is currently a View > Style menu that allows a user to select from various accessibility modes.

Comment by Dot

August 25, 2009 @ 9:50 am

I’m new to these issues and looking at them from the blogger’s point of view as well as the blog reader. As a blogger, it seems to me the concept of letting the user select the theme is a great one, IF that were possible and IF the selected theme could address all the issues, but I don’t think it could. It certainly couldn’t address the issue of captioning sound.

I think what bloggers want is not to have to do twice as much work, because blogging is already a lot of work, and not to have to create a special version for each type of disability someone has.

Perhaps the easiest solution from this viewpoint would be for all themes to come with accessibility options the user can toggle on or off according to her/his particular needs, while preserving the design the designer intended.

Comment by Rebecca Leaman

August 27, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

While I certainly understand the ’separate is not equal’ objection that David Clark brings up, I see the idea of multiple themes more as a matter of offering choices to blog readers. Accomodating readers’ preferences rather than imposing a restriction. After all, the option to choose would be the reader’s own — and, as Glenda points out, the theme controls basically the aesthetics of a blog, the ‘wrapping’ around the contents and not the content itself.

I love the idea that any reader, regardless of abilities, could decide how they wanted to experience a blog.

To take a very basic example, how often do ‘able’ readers find themselves zooming the browser to make text larger and easier to read, at the end of a long eye-straining day online, or to read blogs with low contrast between text and background?

I’m reminded, too, of those (too rare) wonderful websites that offer their content in both audio and text transcription, increasing the number of people who are able to access it – because they can choose the mode of delivery that works best for their needs and preferences.

It seems to me that the ideal – for any blog or website – would be to offer content in many forms and many media, to make the ideas it contains as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, regardless of the technology they use, their language and literacy levels, their abilities or disabilities, or whatever other characteristic might limit access. There, that’s Utopia for you!

Getting back to multiple themes for a blog — and yes, CSS style sheets are no doubt the most doable option there — the main stumbling block, as DOT hints, is likely to be the technical and practical challenges of implementation, especially for bloggers without the tech skills to produce custom stylesheets or modify their own themes.

A first step, I suppose, might be to try to encourage theme designers to build in switchable styles by default…?

Comment by Glenda

August 31, 2009 @ 11:10 am

Thanks everyone for this great discussion on the pros and cons of using multiple themes. It is useful to hear both perspectives.

I totally agree that we need many more themes that are fully accessible (and a “fully accessible theme” still needs to be defined with blogger-friendly guidelines, in my humble opinion). But I can also see the need for additional accessibility features, such as high contrast and large font size and even a combination of both.

The content would be exactly the same with alt attributes, captions, correctly nested headings, skip links, etc etc etc. And for those who need larger font size or a high contrast colour scheme, those options would also be available. In my mind, it would be like having a Braille menu available in restaurant. Everything else would be the same, but there’d be a choice of menu formats. After all, one format doesn’t fit all.

Is this a case of “separate is not equal” or is this serving up our blogs in ways that best suit our readers (within the confines of the blogging platform)?

What do you think?

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