Some thoughts about RGD’s accessibility webinar (Hi @good_wally)

[I had originally planned to just comment on my question, but what I wrote in a related email discussion sort of didn’t make sense. So let me write that down here too. So these really are just unorganized random thoughts.] Let me comment a bit on the question I posed near the end of the webinar, which ended up being literally the last question that got through: “What best practices would you recommend if the design had to work with a CMS hostile to doing things semantically?” This is, of course, a real example, one that I had already mentioned previously. In this particular case, which is a different case than what I had blogged about last time, what I found was that the CMS was so hostile to authors that I could not even get Microformat 1.0 content (dtstart and dtend specifically) to stick. Let us think a little bit here: Microformats are designed to work in pretty hostile environments. But in real-world environments that some designers have to work within, not even Microformat markup can survive. How can HTML structural elements survive? The answer is they don’t. I was not talking about environments where the the designer has the power to reconfigure the CMS (if so the question would have been moot); I was talking about situations where the designer is working with a non-technical client (with a CMS created by someone else) who has neither the technical skills to even go to the Administer screen nor the financial resources to hire someone to reconfigure their CMS. But they’ve already budgeted the money to redo their CMS—which you have no influence over either. I’m talking about a 100% hostile situation which you have no control over whatsoever. So what do we do in such cases? When people talk about making existing sites accessible this is the reality. Whether the CMS in question is WordPress or Drupal isn’t really relevant; in this particular case the hostile CMS is actually Drupal, but you can’t reconfigure it. In any case, I think the RGD is doing meaningful work in the accessibility area. A few days ago on an email discussion I actually cited RGD’s AccessAbility handbook because the RGD is actually one of the very few organizations that are not buying into the myth that print accessibility equals “large type size.” But someone disputed RGD’s ability to create accessible PDF files because the “accessible PDF” version of the handbook was not produced by the RGD but by an outside contractor. While the latter is true, I think, to be fair, this need to be put in some context. First of all, producing an accessible PDF from InDesign is not straightforward, and the steps Adobe documented (the same steps described by ADOD) do not actually work, and I can say this because I tried it when I did my issue of Cadmium (the OCAD SU zine that’s no longer being produced) and verified that the documented procedure did not in fact work. The other thing, which is quite tangential, is that (I might add having Accessibil-iT do the final work does not prove that RGD does not have the capability — it’s normal for graphic designers to contract out non-core tasks anyway —, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make) RGD has raised some points that do not seem to have been addressed by most other people talking about accessible print. So they are tackling a conceptual problem, with the appearance (let’s say this for the sake of argument) that they might not have the best practical skills (or craft). As our chatting at a pre-DesignThinkers student mixer two years ago showed, this is actually very “OCAD.”

Do all videos need to be captioned?

This looks just like how I feel!—me
I was at the opening for Craft Ontario’s LookListen exhibition and the usual thing happened: I knew no one (which turned out to be actually untrue, but I forgot her name), so I was planning to just see all the work and leave. Except that this time seeing all the work would take a lot of time, because half a dozen pieces were music videos. Now the funny thing was that they used speakers instead of headphones, so during the opening you in fact couldn’t hear any music at all. Music videos without music—yet touched me anyway. This sort of reminded me of the art course in my program where the professor did not buy into the idea of “accessible art” in terms of how our program—at least on paper—defined accessibility. In this specific case was the video “accessible” or not? If you define “accessibility” as getting access to the lyrics, then it was completely inaccessible—even to hearing people. But if you defined “accessibiity” as getting access to the elicited emotions, then you could argue that the video was in fact, in an odd way, actually accessible. This sort of brings us back to the RGD webinar I attended today. One random thing that struck me was how the presenter suggested that we “banish all colour cues.” My reaction was “banish? Are you serious?” Colour cues don’t need to be banished; they just need to be supplemented by other cues that are not colour-based: It turned out that this was in fact exactly what the presenter meant. In the words of one of our profs, we need the cues to be in “different modalities.” I think those music videos that were in the gallery did use two different modalities. Yet they were created as pure art. Maybe in this sense art can actually inform design.

Thoughts on RGD’s webinar on accessible design

So I told Lester that I’ll wait until today’s webinar is over and then I’ll decide. I showed up a few minutes late, but stayed through the end. It was a pretty rushed session, so I’m not sure if I had my questions answered (and honestly I don’t even know what my questions are, or I’d have zeroed in my thesis topic on one of those questions), but I guess in terms of inspiration there probably was something there. But getting the couple of questions that I managed to ask asked was like playing a game of Telephone. The questions were sort of rephrased, and you can’t fix things if you realize what you had put into words was not really what you intended to say. I’ll email, I think. In any case, a few things stuck out really bad:
  • The presenter mentioned two dyslexic typefaces that I had never heard of (Read Regular and Fabula), both of which are available only on request, with the web site of one of the two apparently having been taken over by a plastic surgeon and so must be no longer available. The two I know about were not mentioned even though they are available in more normal ways. I find this extremely curious.
  • Not unexpectedly, “plain language” and a “conversational style” were recommended. However, Louise Ravelli has long pointed out that conversational styles are not simple and in fact as complex as non-conversational styles, only in different ways.
  • The ADOD was suggested as a reference for creating accessible documents. While I don’t think there is anything better, I’m not sure if a failure to mention what it cannot do (which is not unimportant) says anything.
  • AChecker was mentioned. But as our AChecker assignment from last Fall shows, AChecker is hardly useful for anything but trivial sites. I am extremely concerned this has not been pointed out, or the fact that AChecker made it to the list of recommended tools despite its serious shortcomings.
In fact the presenter seems to really like the work that the IDRC has produced. Which is of course great from an ego standpoint, but very disturbing from a graphic design practitioner’s standpoint. If the presenter used these tools and failed to recognize there are huge problems, something must be deeply wrong (which suggests there are thesis topics buried in here, but I don’t know how to find them…). On a side note, the presenter used “roman” as the opposite of “italic.” This is rare gold; I need to ask him if he’s got some sort of printed reference somewhere so that I can to stash it in Wikipedia references.

Spec, something that people in my program shouldn’t even be worrying about

Today is August 30, the last day for submitting an entry to a certain design competition, but I’m not going to submit anything. Nor will I likely submit anything two months from now when the other competition closes — one that, if this means anything, I would probably not do well in any case but was still really excited about — in my eyes, it’s all about identity and EGD. And if you asked me, I was really disappointed when I found this other competition to be “equivalent to spec”: I was talking about my ideas with one of the docents at The Power Plant and neither of us thought there’s anything wrong with that competition. I had dug through hundreds of discussion postings on spec-vs-no-spec before I had any connection to the AIGA, but I have always felt real contests — especially those that are clearly branded as student contests, one that you find on your art school’s job board even — had to be some kind of an it’s-still-ok-even-though-it’s-kind-of-grey area. But compared to AIGA’s pretty much advisory position, RGD’s position leaves little room for interpretation. In a sense, the RGD’s much stricter position forces you to think more, so it’s a good thing, I guess. My program’s program director likes crowdsourcing, thinking it to be possibly a good way to get those pesky accessibility problems solved. But crowdsourcing in tech circles isn’t really the kind of taboo it is in the graphic design world. So who in my program will worry about spec? Probably very few. In any case, September is coming, and I will be back in the ceramics studio very soon. If I’m fortunate enough to be able to log sufficient time to enable me to produce some decent work before I finish my thesis in what now appears to be May, then maybe — just maybe — I might be able to show my work in some less controversial venue.

Design and research

Both the AIGA and the RGD were holding webinars today—at exactly the same time—, and since the RGD one seems to be directly related to my studies, I opted to go to the RGD one. What I got out of this: I have seriously underestimated the amount of work I need to do to finish this week’s assignment. Not that I wasn’t aware of that yesterday when I went to the library to do a good read of the course material, but if there is no established database and no established list of design journals in existence, then I’m pretty much screwed unless I started last Thursday, which I did not. Or unless the bibliography I should come up with would appear in a journal in a “related discipline,” which again is not going to be the case. I don’t know what I’ll be able to come up with, but whatever I manage to do will, as it stands, not be very good.
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