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Archive for January 3rd, 2007

Phong – it’s awful, isn’t it?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 3 January 2007

Lawrie Phipps (now working at the JISC but formerly of the JISC TechDis service) have worked together for several years and have published several peer-reviewed papers in which we have developed a model for addressing Web accessibility issues, which builds on the WAI WCAG approach, but seeks to address some of its limitations.

A while ago Lawrie emailed me the URL of the Phong Web site. He suggested that this would be a good replacement for the Flash King Web site, which we had used on a number of occasions to illustrate some of the problems with Web sites based on Flash (note the Flash King Web site is still available, but the links to the various projects we used in demonstrations are now disabled.)

Phong.com home page

Confusing? Poor usability, bad for accessibility? Yes. And when you get to a page, the interface is similarly flawed. But, OTOH, might this not be fun as a game? Mind this not be entertaining for children? Might not an interface in which animated links move as you try and chase them be fun for some people?

Or to put it another way, isn’t the goal of universal accessibility a pipe dream? In some cases (e.g. informational resources) this approach may be an appropriate one, but in others, it may result in pleasing solutions being discarded, even if, ironically, particular audiences may prefer them. The Peepo Web site provides an example of a very graphical user interface with interactive features – and this has been designed in this way by Jonathan Chetwynd, an accessibility consultant with an interest in accessibility for people with learning. At a CETIS Accessibility SIG meeting in 2004 he described the Web site as “a portal for people with learning difficulties, who were unable to read“. However commentators have reported that his interests have not been appreciated within WAI.

So if such sites can be accessible, usable and pleasurable to certain groups (I’m not saying Phong is, BTW) , doesn’t this devalue an automated approach to accessibility checking. What then are the boundaries to automated checking? How should we go about developing or commissioning Web sites for such groups? And when is it legitimate to discard WAI guidelines?

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