Making Money Accessible?

I’m sure the court fights and battles will go on for years but at least for the first time today a court has recognized that the U.S. Government does not comply with our own laws on accessibility when it comes to money. Maybe sometime I won’t have to ask others what the bills in my wallet are.
Sure their are strategies (folding money) and gadgets to read bills but the fact is that U.S. money is not accessible today. It should be in my opinion. How can we claim we as a nation want meaningful accessibility when something as simple as our money doesn’t meet that standard?

An Afternoon At The Movies

We are visiting the Dallas area for the Thanksgiving holiday and a wedding and took time to go see Stranger Than Fiction. Availability of descriptive video as much as the film itself dictated the choice. It came down to a choice between Fast Food Nation (no descriptions) or the movie we ended up seeing. Having read Fast Food Nation a couple years ago and the desire to see a described movie, we settled on Stranger Than Fiction.
Whether it is the direction of the thumb (up or down), number of stars or some other rating system, we all tend to have our ways of judging movies. For me I suppose my quick and dirty way of ranking a movie is the number of times I check my watch during the film. The really good ones will get a zero, films that capture my attention a one or two and anything beyond a five is likely not worth the trouble.
I doubt my system will get adopted by any film studio. Something tells me that putting a tag in a movie ad of “zero watch checks” according to Kelly Ford just isn’t a selling point. Still my rating system works for me.
Stranger than Fiction was by no means a great movie. With two watch checks, it was still a reasonable way to spend an afternoon at the movies.
the basic plot of the movie is pretty straight forward. Harold Crick’s been living a very uneventful and repetitious life. We are told for example that Crick brushes his teeth 76 times each morning.
How Crick’s life is explained to us starts to show the movie’s main twist. We quickly learn that the narrator telling us about Crick’s life is an author writing a book in which a character by the name of Harold Crick appears. Of course Crick hears this narrator too and the movie starts down the path of Crick trying to figure out what’s up. Things quickly escalate when Crick learns that the character in the novel is going to be killed. Of course this means the real living Crick too will quicly be a dead man.
Fiction is just that, fantasy. So as long as you are willing to suspend belief and accept the basic premise of the story and go with the flow, the story is told well.
I found a college professor played by Dustin Hoffman particularly entertaining. There was something amusing about his straight-laced delivery to Crick telling him, Crick, that he must die to make one of the best literary works ever come to fruition. Hoffman’s one of those actors that does a great job of letting his voice fit the role of the characters he’s playing.
Coming in at two watch checks, Stranger Than Fiction is a film I’d recommend. It isn’t a must see in the theater but is worth putting on your Netflix queue.

Weekend on the Coast

Conclusion of those little projects known as Vista and IE7 at work meant a short weekend vacation for Aimee and myself. We’re spending the weekend on the Oregon coast in Seaside.
This little city is quickly becoming one of my favorite “get away” spots. It is about four hours drive from Seattle and has much of what I like in a place to relax. The city is very pedestrian friendly and the ocean access and beach off the Promenade are excellent.
Access to much of the Oregon coast involves getting through some rugged and rocky terrain. I enjoy a healthy hike as much as anyone but it is nice here in Seaside to be able to walk along a smooth sandy beach that’s nothing more than a step off the 2 mile sidewalk known as the Promenade.
That’s not to say the more rugged beaches are far away. We went out hiking yesterday along a winding trail that lead to the beach. It was amazing to see how much ground the recent batch of rain here in the northwest dug up. Most trails along the coast are covered with accumulated debris from the surrounding forest. But in hiking yesterday it was easy to experience all the places where water had exposed tree roots, rocks and in general dug up the forest floor.
We capped the evening off with dinner at Lil’ Bayou. This is a must visit restaurant for anyone visiting Seaside. Great food at reasonable prices and excellent service.
Retirement, something not in the near future, would be pretty nice in a place like this. Like that’s any secret though as a quick browse of any coastal home price listing shows.

NY Times on Legal Action Against Target for Web Accessibility

The NYT has this article on the most current legal action over online accessibility. This time around it is the NFB against Target, with the case claiming Target’s web site is not accessible.
As the article points out, this is really just the latest in a series of legal actions to apply some sort of accessibility standard to the web. The typical question in these cases boils down to whether the web can be considered a place of public accommodation.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was written before the web became the ubiquitous part of society that it is today. That’s unfortunate because it has left room for much ambiguity in this area. Perhaps the legislation should have been stronger in the beginning to allow for more applicability in new circumstances but I think the spirit of the law is obvious—do not exclude parts of society from what you offer.
Whether it is this case or another down the road, I tend to think at some point the ADA or another legal standard will be applied to the web. Today it is mostly government web sites that have a legal obligation to meet accessibility requirements of Section 508 here in the U.S. There are other legal standards in the international arena as well.
Of course the real fun’s going to be determining what constitutes an accessible web site. Here in the target suit you see disagreement over even that basic fact.

The National Federation of the Blind sued Target, contending that the company’s inaction violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because the Web site is essentially an extension of its other public accommodations, and as such, should be easily accessible to people with disabilities.
A Target spokeswoman would not comment on those assertions, but in court the company offered testimony from three blind users rebutting the federation’s arguments.

From my experience pinning down exactly what’s accessible is often a challenge. I’ve successfully purchased items from Target’s online site on several occasions. Does that mean the site’s accessible? I also know of web sites that I’ve not been able to use but know that the reason was attributable to the particular screen reader I was using at the time.
Then too comes in the question of accessible versus usable. It is ironic that the article site’s Amazon’s “accessible” option here as an example of a company doing the right thing.

Amazon, she added, “is already generally usable for people with screen readers.” It has offered a text-only, streamlined site designed for such devices (amazon.com/access).

Ignoring the entire question of having a separate site for accessibility, opening the referenced Amazon.com web page one can quickly find a basic accessibility issue that violates any known standard on accessible web design. Specifically, the edit box used for entering search terms is missing the HTML title or label tag. These are used to give the box a menaingful name for screen readers and other assistive technology. Today this box reads simply as “edit” to a screen reader.
Now does this make the site inaccessible? By definition one could probably say yes. That said, the page is clearly usable. If there were multiple edit boxes on this same page, the missing labels could become quite a problem though.
What about user skill and knowledge? What level of familiarity with the web , access technology and such should be expected when considering accessibility and usability?