Thursday, April 29, 2010

Learning to teach in the virtual classroom

Greeting from the ANU Menzies Library Flex Lab (which appears to have been designed by a dentist), where I am in a course on how to use Wimba products for online education. At the moment we are learning about "Wimba Classroom" which appears to be an adaptation of a classic video conferencing interface (and similar to DimDim). This provides audio, video, electronic whiteboard, text chat and similar. This appears intended for real time classes, but does include an "archive" option which records all the interactions. It is suggested to have at least 56kbps. It can also be used in a physical classroom. What is interesting about this is the assumed educational and business model behind the mode of teaching.

Apart from Wimba Classroom, there are an assortment of other Wimba products. What surprised me was that these do not appear to be integrated: Wimba seems to have bought a series of separate applications for creating course content and different forms of communication and then just re-branded them all with "Wimba". As an example Wimba Pronto is a course content creation tool, previously sold under another name and similar to USQ ICE.

Wimba Classroom seems to work as well as other video conference products. It also has the same limitations as other such products. Sufficient bandwidth is required and also low enough latency if video or audio is used. There is an appreciable delay in slide dis-play even when we are all in the same physical room, connected to the ANU's very high speed network.

In addition the application emphasises visual aspects, as an example, slides are displayed for a presentation as bit mapped images. Apart for requiring more bandwidth, this precludes reading of the slides by people with a limited (or no) vision. Even with the presenter's slides in the demonstration I had difficulty seeing. Web pages and documents in some other formats can be designed to allow use with assistive technology. But this assumes there is some text in the content for a Braille or text-to-speech system to use. The bit-map images in Wimba Classroom and similar system do not allow for this. Institutions using such facilities need to keep in mind that Australian law requires access for the disabled, where possible: this is possible and so required.

Wimba Classroom can be integrated with Moodle (also used by ANU). I was easlity able to add an entry in a Moodle course for a Wimba Classroom. The idea is the students can read notes and then at the scheduled time enter the real time online classroom. Unfortunately at this point Wimba Classroom failed. I was impressed with the real time support provided by the company supporting ANU's e-learning system. Within seconds we were in contact with the support staff by real time chat, they excluded the problem to the "NOC" (Network Operations Centre) somewhere, who diagnosed a new problem with the interface between Moodle and Wimba and got to work to fix it. This incident highlights the need for good support for these e-learning facilities, particularly those working in real time.

There appears to be much more work needed in the design of the integration of e-learning tools. This is not just a matter of ensuring that the software works and the links are fast enough. Currently there appears to be a disconnect between the text rich non-real time tools such as Moodle, and graphic rich real time tools such as Wimba Classroom. Some continuum between the two should be technically possible. This would allow for more graceful dealing with technical problems: rather than the student being simply cut off, the system would degrade into a non-real time mode. Students who could not see images, because of limited bandwidth (or because they are blind) would get alternative content. Also this would allow for more andragogical modes of teaching: students could select a form of content and interaction which suited them.

Wimba Classroom and similar products force the participant to select a mode of communication, such as text, audio or video, rather than being able to communicate using whatever media is avialable and suitable.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sustainable Building Products Exhibition in Sydney

Along with the architecture conference at Darling Harbour in Sydney last week, there were the exhibitions: DesignEx, Form and Function, D4S: Design for Sustainability.

One notable products were Smart Glass from iGlass Australia: this is glass which is translucent until a current is applied when it become clear. The glass can be used as a projection screen. The obvious application I can see for it is in a learning center, where smaller rooms can be made private at the flick of a switch. This is much easier than moving hinged or sliding walls, or lowering blinds.

A slightly older products is marble from Ionia Stone of Turkey.

Ecoglo showed glow in the dark safety products, including non slip edges for stairs. Unfortunately the standards for illumination of exits administered by Standards Australia assume that lighting will be provided by battery powered lights and therefore does not allow for luminous material (New Zealand standards are more advanced). I asked about luminous tactile paving, Ecoglo have designed these but are awaiting standards approval. The idea is that the same floor marking which are used to guide the blind by touch (through a cane) can be used in the dark by sighted people.

Exeloo showed their computer controlled self cleaning public toilets. These report back to a central monitoring facility, not only any faults, but on the consumption of power and water.

Computronics showed their RGB Screens, these are daylight readable large LED screens for outdoor use. They are capable of displaying video as well as diagrams and text. This could be useful for an outdoor classroom.

Safety Floorings were showing recycled non-slip floor coverings. I asked about running cables under the coverings and Luke Doran recommended EcoTile's Cable Access Flooring. This consists of recycled polypropylene tiles which have feet molded on the underside. These are laid directly over the existing floor, leaving enough space to run cables. Carpet or other tiles can then be laid over the top.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Government Announcement Fails Accessibility Test

The Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, announced that the Australian Government would adopt version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). Unfortunately the web page with the announcement failed tests with both version 1 and version 2 of the guidelines, as shown with a TAW Automated Test.

On a version 1 of the TAW test, the page had zero Level 1, eleven level 2 and one level three problems. On the TAW version 2 tests the page had 12 "Perceivable" problems.

The minister needs to have his own web site checked to ensure he is following the policy issued by his own department and complying with Australian law. It should be noted that the Minister does not have the authority to decide what is, or is not, legal. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the Australian Human Rights Commission issues guidance and courts decide.

ps: The announcement page also scored only 34/100 on the W3C mobileOK Checker. While this is not required by law, it would be desirable if government information was provided in an efficient easy to read format.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Large print edition of Green Technology Strategies

Green Technology StrategiesThe large print edition of Green Technology Strategies is now available. After looking at the options for large print I took the easy way out and simply enlarged the existing typeset version to A4. This increases the print 130% to 14 points. This is a bit small for a for a large print book but has the advantage that the pagination and layout are the same as the regular edition. When I revise the book I will look at changing the font used and allow for a large print edition in the basic design.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australian Open Web Page Scores Mixed

Staff from the IBM Atlanta Innovation Centre were telling me yesterday how they designed the web site for the Australian Open in Melbourne with accessibility in mind and with a mobile version. Today I ran the home page through the usual tests I get my web design students to use on web pages. The results were not bad, but also not as good as I was expecting. None of the problems found appear to be serious and not enough to make the web site inaccessible. Some of these are likely to be deliberate design decisions, where the automated tests do not reflect the real world, some don't matter. But the others are things IBM should be able to fix, with a little effort:

Desktop version of the Australian Open web site:
  • Automated accessibility test (TAW): 5 Priority One, 131 Priority Two and 21 Priority Three problems detected on the home page.
  • HTML Validation: 100 validation errors detected.
  • W3C mobileOK Checker reports "This page is not mobile-friendly!". Note that this the ordinary desktop version of the page. Even so, it would be useful if it had some mobile attributes, such as small size, to make it easier to use on slow wireless small netbooks.
Mobile version:
  • Automated accessibility test (TAW): 0 Priority One, 10 Priority Two and 1 Priority Three problems detected on the home page.
  • HTML Validation: 10 validation errors detected.
  • W3C mobileOK Checker scores the page 79 out of 100. This would be a good score for a standard web page attempting some mobile compatibility, but is not good for a web page specifically designed for mobile devices.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

IT at the Australian Open Tennis

Greetings from the Australian Open in Melbourne. IBM have flown me down as part of their "Insight 10" (Twitter tag: #insight10 ) to show off the systems used for supporting the tennis.

This all started late last year when I had a phone call from Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide asking if I would like to be one of a small group of opinion makers. This sounded like a scam, or at best "cash for comment". It was explained that there would be no cash, which made it sound worse: why would I comment for free? However, I thought I would see what it was all about.

Some months later I got an invitation to the tennis. I don't actually like tennis, but was promised a look behind the scenes at the computer system used for the scoring and statistics, which sounded more interesting.

So here I am in the IBM corporate tent (an air-conditioned, carpeted tent). There is quite a buzz outside with people draped in Australian flags for Australia day.

We were all handed a HTC Android phone, running a the "IBM Seer" app. This is an augmented reality application which takes the image from the camera, the location from the GPS and the direction from the digital compass and overlays the scene with information about the venue. AT the tennis this shows things link which arena is which and where the toilets are. The application is a lot more usable than I expected, but has a few limitations. The HTC screen is not readable in the bright Melbourne sunshine. The text on the screen is too small for me to read.

At court side there are sensors and people with PDAs recording statistics on the tennis matches. I had assumed this would be just the score, but there is a radar system for recording the speed of the serves and people to enter the style of play. This data is transmitted to servers around the world, logged in a database and provided to the TV and web systems.

We then went down under the main courts where the public are not permitted. There in a room in the basement of the building, in a concrete lined room with a ziggurat ceiling (the underside of the stepped seating) was a room full of equipment with some very relaxed looking IBM technicians. I noticed the servers are mounted in SKB transportable shock mounted racks in stackable containers (as used for military IT systems). The people running the system travel around the world to different sporting events, taking the equipment with them.

Back at the VIP tent we were shown the tennis home page, which is only available in English (there is also an iPhone app available in multiple languages). One internal applications shown was the one used for scheduling the matches. This was refreshingly simple, with no graphics: just a grid of text, emulating a whiteboard. One problem with this is that to indicate a player is about to go on their name changes from blue to green. This needed to be changed to give some other indication for those who are colour-blind.

There was also a screen showing how much energy the system was using. I would have liked to see more of this, but my fellow Insight10s got very excited by another display analysing the online response to the event. This display scans blogs, tweets and other material online which mention the Australian Open and assess what is said. This .looks at what sponsors are mentioned and if the sentiment is positive or negative. This seems t be why I am here, with the aim of having me blog something which ends up in the positive category.

After lunch there was an entertaining tennis quiz, using "clickers" (hand held feedback devices, as used for quizzes in schools). There there were questions and answers by John Fitzgerald (ex-professional tennis player).

Last official part of the day before watching tennis was question and answer with the people from the IBM Atlanta Innovation Centre who look after the sporting application. They said I could ask anything so I asked if the Australian Open home page complied with Australian accessibility law. The last time I was involved with an IBM supplied sport system was the Sydney Olympics, where I testified in the Human Rights Commission that the web site was not accessible to the blind. The IBM people took this rather heavy question quite well. They said that the site was designed against IBM's own internal guidelines as well as other accessibility guidelines. The major difficulty for a sport such as tennis is complex multidimensional tables which update in real time. The answer to this is to provide micro updates. This reduces the bandwidth required for all users. Fir those with a disability it is possible to provide a text based running commentary and which s much like the scoring you hear on the TV broadband of the tennis. There is also a mobile version of the site, which we tried on an iPhone and which looked good.

ps: While IBM don't provide it there is also a system with eight cameras tracking the ball for enhanced display on TV.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Producing a large print book

With the e-book, paperback and hardcover editions of my book "Green Technology Strategies" available, I thought I might try a Large Print edition. These books use fonts of 16 to 20 points to make them easier to read for those with limited vision.

Guidelines usually suggest a sans serif font and wider spacing for large print books. For a novel, the larger font is usually accommodated by using smaller margins, a slightly larger page and increasing the number of pages in the book. But for a textbook, the page numbering can be significant.

The largest paper size offered by LuLu's print on demand service is A4 (8.26 x 11.69 inches). My PDF typeset original is designed for U.S. Trade (6 x 9 inch) with a 11 point Times Roman font. Simply by printing on larger A4 paper will enlarge the pages 130%, increasing the font to 14 points. This is a bit small for a for a large print book. I could reduce the margins to .5 inches (the minimum for LuLu), which would allow the text to be enlarged to about 138%, or about 15 points .

Other changes would require redoing the typesetting of the book. Currently I have just one typeset version for hardback, paperback and the e-book. Some of changes could be made to this with a large print version in mind, so the one original would work for all. As an example, a slightly larger font could be used for the standard editions, such as 11.5 point (up from 11 point) and slightly larger margins (1 inch up from .79). This would allow a larger large print version wile maintaining compatibility. Others require a different typesetting for the large print edition.

Times Roman is a serif font, which is not recommended for readability for those with limited vision. LuLu provide a limited range of fonts, which those in supplied PDF documents are converted to before printing (so it is best to start with one of these). Of the LuLu supported fonts, these are sans: Arial, Tahoma and Verdana. Of these Verdana looks the most suitable as it designed for readability at small sizes. Changing the font to Ariel adds about 10 pages to the book. Verdana is more generously spaced and ads about 20 pages. Increasing the font to 16 point would increase the book to 156 pages.

It might be worth changing the font for the e-book version as well as the large print edition. In fact it might be worth reversing the usual priority, where the print edition is seen as normal, and large print and e-book versions are derived from these. A standard size print edition with 11.5 point Verdana would look a little unusual, but be very readable.

Also adding 20 pages to the book might make it more marketable, with the customer feeling they are getting more (even if what they are getting is more white space). Originally I laid the book out to minimise white space, ignoring some printing conventions (such as starting a new chapter on an odd numbered page), so it looks a little crowded. Adding more white space, a larger font and larger margins would increase the book from 114 to 172 pages (a 50% increase).

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Validating themes for Wordpress

George Bray has a new blog "Electric Telephone: Letters home from the high broadband future". One of the postings was on a 3G Wireless Antenna. While the content was good, the formatting of the blog was technically awful, with thousands of HTML: markup errors (inlcuyind hundreds of surplus ) and unnecessary CSS. George responded that he had used one of the supplied themes and a quick search showed there was a whole industry around fixing up poor Wordpress themes. I had assumed it was just Blogger which had non-standard poorly designed themes.

Also I found a W3C MobileOK Wordpress Plugin. It seems a shame that having a design which is quick to download, works reliably and is easy to read seems to be treated as an optional extra, rather than essential feature by the Blogging community.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Problems with Myki Smart Transport Card Website

The Victorian Public Transport Minister Lynne Kosky has announced that the myki smart card ticketing system is available for trains in metropolitan Melbourne. However, there appear to be some problems with the myki web site.
  1. The W3C Markup Validation Service reported 47 Errors and 65 warnings.
  2. The W3C mobileOK Checker reported "This page is not mobile-friendly!".
  3. The TAW automated accessibility test reported 4 Level One, 30 Level Two and 29 Level Three problems.
These would tend to make the web site less responsive and usable.

The accessibility problems are of particular concern. The web site says:
"We make every reasonable effort to ensure that this website reaches level AA conformance with World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG), and conforms to the Victorian Government's Accessibility Standard. ..."

From: Accessibility, MyKi, Victorian Government , 2009
This statement is clearly false (even this page with the accessibility claim on it had dozens of accessibility problems). A reasonable effort has not been made and the web site does not conform with level Double-A of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Not even the description of the level of compliance aimed for complies with the guidelines (the term "level AA" is incorrect: the correct term is "level Double-A"). On the face of it the Victorian Government is in breech of federal anti-discrimination legislation.

As an example the home page says: "Click the 'BUY' button below to take advantage of the FREE registered myki offer." The image below says "Buy", but the ALT text for the image does not say "Buy" it says "Get myki". This is very likely to confuse any user of the system who can't see the image because they are blind, would not be easily able to identify where "below" was and so would not be able to find a "buy" button. This very obvious problem should have been picked up if even the most minimal accessibility testing had been done.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Robust standard web design

Palace Cinemas web site is reporting: "Sorry our website is running a little slow at the moment, we are working on the problem and it will be fixed soon."

This is a busy time of year for the cinema and the site may simply be overloaded by demand. One way Palace could reduce the problem is to design their web pages to be more efficient and more tolerant of communications delays.

Some was to do this are to use modern CSS based design, reduce the use of text in graphics and not have the design rely on Flash. As a by-product, this will allow for a smart phone compatible design.

A W3C Mobile Ok test reports a score of only 12/100. The Markup Validation Service reports 44 errors in the HTML of the web page. A TAW accessibility automated test reports 5 Priority One, 118 Priority Two and 9 Priority Three problems. Fixing these problems would increase the chances of the applicaiton working smoothly.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Problems with ACT Emergency Services Agency web site

In response to my posting about accessibility problems with the Victorian Government Country Fire Authority Web Site, a commenter has noted similar problems with the ACT Government's bushfire web site. I was unable to access the ACT Emergency Services web site thismorning. However, I was able to see the Google cache copy from 17 Dec 2009 10:04:58 GMT.

An automated (TAW) accessibility test reported zero Priority one, 67 Priority Two and 13 Priority Three problems with the ceched page. The W3C Markup Validation Service reported 42 Errors and 57 warning with this page. The page failed the W3C mobileOK Checker test. Obviously some of these problems may be due to using the cache copy, which is slightly modified from the original. But given the real site is not avialable, this is a valid test.

I suggest the ACT Government fix their web site, before more lives are lost to bushfires in Canberra.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cautionary Tales of Inaccessibility Not Learned by Victorian Government

The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C WAI)has released a set of "Cautionary Tales of Inaccessibility" to help promote good web design. I was contacted about details for "A Cautionary Tale of Inaccessibility: Sydney Olympics Website". Regrettably the Victorian Government Country Fire Authority Web Site may be added to this list. An automated test indicates that the CFA home page failed a W3C WAI Version 1 test, with 1 error at level 1, 36 at level 2, and 15 at level 3. The page also failed a W3C HTML Validation test, with 230 errors and 37 warnings. The page also failed the W3C mobileOK Checker tests.

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission identified deficiencies in the online distribution of bushfire information by the Victorian Government. Some media reports indicate that the CFA web site failed yesterday.

Any ICT professional involved with bushfire web sites must be aware that they have ethical as well as legal obligations to ensure that the systems they provide are operating correctly. Arguing that the web site is not essential and that citizens can get information from radio or other sources is not a valid defence, nor is arguing that they do not have sufficient resources, nor that they did not have the authority, or were ordered not to fix the flaws in the system. Professionals are required to act in the public interest, regardless.

The design of web sites for emergency use, including in bushfires is not a new field and there are some established approaches. I outlined some of these, along with methods of using the web for investigations, for the staff of the Victorian bushfire inquiry:

Role of ICT in Emergency Management

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Defence Budget Audit Needs Needs More ICT

The Minister for Defence, Senator John Faulkner, has released the "2008 Defence Budget Audit" (Pappas Review by George Pappas). Amongst other savings, the report identifies 15 to 30% of possible savings in operating costs for ICT. However, it does not detail this further nor look at the much larger savings (which would be in the billions) by the more effective use of ICT to run Defence. A reduction in ICT spending may be a false economy if it prevents an overall saving in defence, which could be as much as 15% of the total budget.

Rather than the process driven approach which has been tried in Defence many times and failed, I suggest a behaviour driven approach. This would retrain defence staff, both civilian and military with the new skills they need and provide direct incentives for them to use those skills effectively. Also they staff would be provided with the tools to work effectively, particularly ICT systems.

As an example, the audit report identifies video conferencing as a technology for savings, by replacing air travel. However, if staff are not trained in how to use video conference effectively and are not given incentives to use it, the technology will remain underused. At best video conferencing will be used to replace some unproductive face to face meetings with unproductive virtual ones.

Available are:
  1. DEFENCE BUDGET AUDIT RELEASED, Media Release, John Faulkner , Minister for Defence, MIN49/09, 17 November 2009
  2. Response to the Defence Budget Audit, Department of Defence, 17 November 2009
  3. Executive Summary, Defence Budget Audit, Department of Defence, 17 November 2009
  4. Defence Budget Audit, Department of Defence, 17 November 2009
The report recommended changes to Defence operations to reduce cost and increase effectiveness. The Government has accepted many of the recommendations, including to reduce the number of ICT contractors used. Recommendations to close smaller defence bases will be delayed until after the next election.

The executive summary states:
Capturing efficiency while reforming ICT. A holistic ICT transformation is planned to significantly improve the quality of the ICT infrastructure provided to Defence. While the current focus on the transformation effort is primarily on quality, there should be an increased focus on capturing the significant efficiencies in the process.

These reforms could save Defence 15 to 30% per year in operating costs, dependent on the future ICT strategy. These savings are estimated at $215 million per year, but have not been analysed in detail because the ICT strategy is beyond the scope of this review.

From: Executive Summary, Defence Budget Audit, Department of Defence, 17 November 2009
Several of the more general recommendations also relate to the use of ICT more effectively (excerpt appended).

Extensive documentation has been provided for the audit, with an executive summary (8 pages), full report (308 pages) and government response (4 pages). One flaw in this is that the response is a secured PDF document which cannot have text copied from it, making analysis difficult.

More seriously, the report itself is provided in the form of a bitmap images with no accompanying text. As a result it is not possible to search the document nor copy text from the document (copying has been barred for this document in any case). Where a document is only available in hard copy form it may be necessary to scan it in for online distribution. PDF has an option to provide an optical character recognition version of the document for searching, which has not been done in this case. Also this document has not been generated from a paper original, it is from a digital original. Those who produced the PDF version will have had to make a deliberate decision not to provide it in an easy to search text format and so as to limit access to the document by the public. Such action by a public servant is unethical and may be contrary to Australian law. In any case the document provided does not meet the Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes issued by the Australian Human Rights Commission likely placing the Department of Defence in breech of the Act.

From the Executive Summary, Defence Budget Audit, Department of Defence, 17 November 2009:
Reducing the cost of Defence inputs can be achieved in three ways:
  • Reducing non-equipment procurement costs. Defence procures a wide range of commercial products and services such as building services, travel and relocation services. Clear opportunities exist to reduce these costs by:
  • Procuring more competitively priced products and services. For example, unbundling routes and removing price arbitrage on removal contracts.
  • Changing the specifications for what is required to obtain less costly products, where doing so will not compromise capability. For example, increasing the procurement requirement that military clothing is imported from low cost countries.
  • Changing patterns of use. For example, making greater use of Defence’s extensive video-conference network rather than undertaking single day travel.
  • These improvements can save Defence between $326 and $518 million per year in non-equipment expenditure.
  • Reducing the cost of major equipment procurement.
Although a longterm task, there are significant opportunities to reduce the cost of major equipment procurement through:
  • Procuring a higher proportion of MOTS equipment
  • Increasing the level of competition for major equipment acquisition and sustainment contracts
  • Reviewing the proportion of local sourcing which is not justified by strategic requirements.
Purchasing a greater proportion of MOTS (which the most recent Defence Capability Plan (DCP) plans for) and increasing the level of competition on major contracts (which partially overlaps with savings identified in the lean backbone section) could ease cost pressures by $345 to $660 million, but these are not ‘banked’ as savings.
  • Reducing the cost of combat capability through the use of Reserves.
    Beyond support functions, there is also an opportunity to deliver the same military capability at a lower cost through a flexible surge model. This model makes expanded use of Reserves and deployable contractors.
    These changes could reduce the cost of combat capability by ~$50 million per year.
The total productivity dividend from all of these measures is in the range of $1.3 to $1.8 billion per year, and a one-off saving of $218 to $398 million. The extent of reform required to capture these savings will take 3 to 5 years. The operational cost savings already identified by Defence (as part of the Defence Savings Plan, also know as ‘E2’) have been integrated with or replaced by the Audit savings, which provide analytical substance, much greater detail and show where Defence can go further to realise additional savings.

Removing the long-term structural inefficiencies of a fragmented estate. This can be achieved by starting the process of consolidating estates into an efficient superbase model, laying the foundation for the next ‘S’ curve in Defence productivity. A superbase model would dramatically reduce subscale base costs,
extensive travel and relocation expenses, and the costs associated with managing a complicated supply-chain network.
The estimated yearly savings from a superbase model that would meet Australia’s strategic requirements would increase over time (assuming a staged consolidation), and could reach $700 to $1,050 million by 2035 (in 2008 dollars). ...

From: Executive Summary, Defence Budget Audit, Department of Defence, 17 November 2009

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Deployable Civilian Capability Disaster Management Software

According to media reports, the Prime Minister announced the creation of an Office of the Deployable Civilian Capability (DCC) within AusAid, at at the East Asia Summit today. This will have a register of up to 500 civilians ready to travel to disaster zones in the region at short notice. The DCC was included in the Government's response to the Australia 2020 Summit and the 2009-10 budget. A small Deployable Civilian Capability Group (DCC) was established in AusAid.
Regional Security - Deployable Civilian Capacity

Establish a deployable public service that will be able to more rapidly and effectively deliver development assistance.

Agree. The Government has agreed to develop a policy framework to enable rapid deployment of civilian experts to assist in international disaster relief, stabilisation and post conflict reconstruction efforts. An inter-agency task force is being led by AusAID to Undertake this work. Once established, a national deployable civilian capacity will allow more rapid and early delivery of stabilisation and recovery assistance to countries that experience conflict or natural disaster. The program reflects many of the ideas discussed at 2020, and also at the Youth Summit, and will be sufficiently adaptable to allow Australia to tailor our response to a particular event or emergency. It will also improve Australia's integration into multilateral reconstruction and stabilisation operations.

From: "Responding to the Australia 2020 Summit", Australian Government, 22 April 2009
AusAID is leading a whole-of-government taskforce to develop a Deployable Civilian Capacity, an idea raised at the Australia 2020 Summit. Once established, a national deployable civilian capacity will enable rapid deployment of civilian experts to provide stabilisation and recovery assistance to countries experiencing conflict, post-conflict situations or natural disaster. In cooperation with other government agencies, AusAID will pre‑identify, train, deploy rapidly and sustain civilian technical expertise. The program will build on Australia's experience of deploying civilian experts in post‑conflict situations, for example in East Timor and Solomon Islands, and improve Australia's integration into multilateral reconstruction and stabilisation operations.

From: Australia's International Development Assistance Program: A Good International Citizen, Budget 2009-10, Australian Government
As part of this I suggest the expansion of the Sahana open source disaster management system and online training.

Sahana was developed for the Boxing Day Tsunami and has been used in several subsequent disasters in Asia. A demonstration of Sahana available online.

Recently two New Zealand councils of issued a request for Expression of Interest for a Information and Communications System for a joint Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for emergency and disaster coordination. In response I suggested that a deployable system housed in a an airline carry-on size wheeled bag. Also I suggest that the Sahana system could be expanded from its disaster management role to cover coordination as well. The Sahana community saw this of interest, but not their core function. However, if the Australian Government provided some modest funding, this could be done.

The Deployable Civilian Capability Group could be equipped with low cost portable computer equipment allowing much more efficient coordinated relief operations. This would also take a load off the military communicators who are usually relied on during disaster operations, but are heavily committed elsewhere.

In addition I suggest using Mentored and Collaborative e-Learning to help train the group. The group members will rarely meet and have little time for face to face training. Using training in online groups will allow an esprit de corps to form, as well as make maximum use of limited resources.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Web accessibility and Government 2.0

The Australian Human Rights Commission has released its submission to the Government 2.0 Taskforce. The commission is not keen on PDF and recommends the W3C accessibility guidelines.The Sydney 2000 Olympics web case is described in the submission and my seminar notes for the Oxford University Computing Laboratory are cited.
  1. The Commission believes that government departments and agencies need to improve their provision of equal access to public information, especially for people with disability.

  2. Departments and agencies can improve their web presences by following the standards promoted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) and the Commission.

  3. Basic web accessibility is mandatory for Australian Government departments and agencies. Allowing sites to be launched that are inaccessible risks complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA).

  4. The Commission recognises the value of Web 2.0 technologies for collaboration with the community, however many of these technologies are not currently accessible for people with disability. Government departments and agencies should provide sufficient technologies to allow participation for all.

  5. Additionally, the Commission believes that online forums developed by the Government should have adequate agency guidelines and Acceptable Use Policies to enable moderators and developers of forums to be alert to discrimination that may occur online. This will help to foster a discrimination-free environment when engaging with the community.

Summary from: Web accessibility and Government 2.0, Australian Human Rights Commission submission to the Government 2.0 Taskforce – Towards Government 2.0 an issues paper, 1 October 2009

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Replace PDF with Accessible Web Pages

This is for a submission to the AGIMO PDF Accessibility Review. As the Australian Human Rights Commission points out in their DDA Advisory Notes, organisations who distribute content only in PDF format risk complaints for not providing information in an accessible format. While it is theoretically possible to make more accessible PDF files, I suggest that the Australian Government take the simpler course of providing information in alternative formats, specifically as accessible web pages. This would be simpler to do and have benefits for readers generally, not just those requiring to use assistive technology.

Since 2000, when I was asked to give evidence to the Human Rights Commission on the Sydney Olympics Case, I have been looking at how to easily produce accessible electronic documents. Many tools and techniques have been tried by my ANU web design and e-document students since then, including accessible PDF. In the last few years an approach has emerged using structured web design. This is now to the point where it can be used to replace most uses of PDF.

Using now available web standards and tools, it is feasible to create one version of a document which can be read on an ordinary web browser, can be used with assistive technology, can be printed in a similar format to a PDF document and also work with smart phones, netbooks and e-book readers.

The PDF format was created for producing electronic facsimiles of paper documents. This provided a useful transition, from paper to electronic documents. That transition is can now be completed.

Most government material is read online, not on paper. The government should therefore switch its emphasis from creating high quality paper documents, to creating high quality electronic documents. The simplest and most cost effective way to do this is to create government documents as web pages, while ensuring they can be printed in an acceptable format.

As an interim step, I suggest agencies be advised it is acceptable to have a PDF version of a document (which need not be accessible) in addition to the accessible web version. However, the web version should be offered before the PDF (as readers will usually pick the first plausible option on a web page, without reading further). Currently readers waste time and network resources are being wasted with people selecting the full PDF version of multi-megabyte government reports, when all they wanted was an executive summary.

To create good electronic documents will require some training of government staff in e-literacy. Currently staff think in terms of what the document will look like when printed, and how someone will read it on paper. They need to be educated to think about how the document will look on various electronic devices and how people will access this information.

Apart from providing better information to the public, well structured web documents will reduce the server and network resources needed by the government. This will reduce the cost of providing the service and also greenhouse gas emissions from the lower electricity use of the equipment (3).

See also:
  1. The World Wide Web: For Networked Information Systems, notes on for The Australian National University course "Networked Information Systems" (COMP2410), Tom Worthington, 2009.
  2. Metadata and Electronic Data Management, notes for "Information Technology in Electronic Commerce" (COMP3410) at the Australian National University, Tom Worthington, 2009.
  3. Green ICT Strategies (COMP7310), ANU Masters E-learning course, Tom Worthington, 2009

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Open Web Education Alliance

W3C, the people who do web standards, have set up an Open Web Education Alliance Incubator Group, to foster education about web standards. See: News, Deliverables, Meetings. and Charter:

The goal of this Incubator Group is to bring together interested individuals, companies, and organizations with a strong interest in the field of educating Web professionals, to explore the needs and issues around the topic of Web development education. This Incubator Group will detail the options for establishing a group dedicated to bringing Web standards and best practices to the process of educating future professionals in Web professions, no matter where this training and education might be provided, and will define the goals, activities, and a clear mission for such an organization, and will seek to establish this organization's viability and role.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Audit of Online Government Documents in Parliament

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) issued "Online Availability of Government Entities' Documents Tabled in the Australian Parliament" 25 May 2009 (Report Number: 37). Government agencies are required to keep online, and publicly available, the documents they present to Parliament. The Audit office found that 90% of documents were online, but 95% of these were in PDF format and did not meet guidelines for accessibility to the disabled. Somewhat paradoxically, the ANAO's own report is in PDF and so appears not to conform with the guidelines which the report recommends be used. The Auditor thought AGIMO’s web publishing guidelines were not at fault.

You can download the Audit_Report_37 in PDF, or view a web summary as a
Audit Brochure. Below are the key findings:

Key Government entities’ compliance with online publishing policy (Chapter 2)

The ANAO undertook a desktop review of a sample of papers tabled from 2000 to 2008 to assess their online existence, ease of discovery online, online accessibility, and consistency between the online and printed versions.

Overall, our testing indicated that the proportion of the tabled papers examined found online has improved from 54 per cent in 2000 to 89 per cent in 2008. This improvement is due to a number of factors, including an increased focus on the delivery of online services by government entities.

However, no more than 90 per cent of the tabled papers examined in any one year were available online. The main reasons that this level has not increased is that either some individual government entities still do not have a web presence or that they are not fully aware of the requirements to publish tabled papers online. Further, MOG changes have caused restructures of entities and their websites. In essence, the merger or creation of a government entity and the subsequent new website can result in documents or links to such documents being inadvertently removed. In either case, web users are hindered or prevented from finding documents online.

The ease of discovery of an online document was quite high, having increased from 89 per cent of documents examined in 2000 to 100 per cent in 2006, although it declined slightly in each of 2007 and 2008. The tabled papers we found online were generally able to be discovered through publicly available search practices. Where discovery was difficult, the cause was usually poor website design that hindered navigation by web users.

Online accessibility was examined in two parts: providing access to web users without the need to use proprietary software and providing access to web users with a disability. In the first part, the recommended formats are HTML which any web browser can view; and plain text or RTF which any text reader or open source word processing software can view. The use of these formats to publish documents online has varied considerably since 2000. In particular, of the documents we examined in 2008, about 25 per cent were in HTML and less than five per cent were in RTF.

In contrast, over 95 per cent of the documents we examined in 2008 were in PDF, being a proprietary software format. Although PDF can have a free reader associated with it, a link to a reader was only supplied for about 65 per cent of documents.

The second part of online accessibility pertains to the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 that requires government bodies to provide equitable access to people with disabilities, where it can reasonably be provided. To give effect to the requirements of the Act, the AHRC endorsed a standard15 on web accessibility. This standard recommends the use of HTML or text based formats. As mentioned, our testing has indicated that the use of HTML and text based formats is low. In addition, a number of government entities only publish documents online in PDF, which does not comply with this standard.

The authorised version of a tabled paper is the printed (hardcopy) version that is tabled in Parliament. It is important to ensure consistency between the printed and online versions. Our testing of online Parliamentary Papers for 2007 found over 90 percent of documents were consistent with the printed version. Based on our analysis, the ANAO considers that there are a number of useful practices to ensure consistency between the online and printed versions of a document. They include, but are not limited to: maintaining communication between the print and online publishing functions; ensuring that the document author verifies the online version prior to web publishing; and placing the final PDF version provided to the printer online.

Although the level of results achieved indicated an improvement in online availability of tabled papers, the ANAO considers that further improvement can be realised. Government entities should review the level and nature of their online publishing activity and assess the risks of them not complying with the online publishing requirements related to tabled papers. Specifically, entities with a high risk of not complying with the requirements, such as those having no web presence, those producing multiple documents for tabling in Parliament each year, or which have been subject to a MOG change, should address any shortcomings in a cost effective way.

Overall, increased government entity compliance in the above matters would benefit from further cooperation between the Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance), the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) and the Departments of the Parliament to confirm respective roles and responsibilities.

Government entities’ online publishing practices (Chapter 3)

Based on the results of our desktop review, we selected entities for detailed fieldwork that exhibited a medium to high level of compliance with the Government’s online publishing requirements to allow this audit report to convey practices that would lead to better reporting by all government entities.

Each of the audited entities had sound online publishing practices. In particular, each entity had:

  • a range of informative policy and guidance material to support staff performing online publishing functions;
  • well-defined processes for publishing documents online, including controls to restrict access to online publishing functions to authorised staff; and
  • processes and practices to help manage and provide assurance about online content, including obtaining advice as to the timing of the tabling of documents in Parliament.

In addition, each of the audited entities had controls in place to assist in managing the validity of their online content. In particular, all but one of the entities had a formal content management system (CMS). The ANAO’s audit report on Government Agencies’ Management of their Websites discusses entities use of specialist software to manage content.16

Only one of the audited entities specifically referred to the requirements for publishing tabled papers in its online publishing policy and procedural documentation. The ANAO considers that those government entities that have multiple documents tabled in Parliament would benefit from emphasising this requirement in their online publishing policy and procedural material. Further, in some entities the monitoring and reporting of web-related statistics was ad-hoc.

Overall, we considered that AGIMO’s WPG (which informs entities of the Government’s web publishing requirements) was relevant, accessible and easy to use. However, the following opportunities were identified to improve the level of guidance in the WPG about the online publishing of tabled papers and improve entities’ awareness and understanding of the requirements:

  • specify the requirements relating to tabled papers with greater clarity;
  • provide advice on the period of time that government entities must maintain documents online; and
  • provide advice on whether an entity can archive electronically its Parliamentary documents after a number of years.

Further, the ANAO considers that stronger alignment between AGIMO’s online publishing requirements and PM&C’s guidance for presenting documents to the Parliament could improve the effectiveness of entities’ online publishing practices for tabled papers.

15 The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which is a series of documents that explains how to make web content accessible to people with disabilities.

16 ANAO Audit Report No.13 2008–09, Government Agencies’ Management of their Websites, available from <>.

Summary of entities' responses

Each of the audited entities, including AGIMO, agreed with, noted or supported the three recommendations. In addition to the audited entities, we sought comments on the draft report from four other entities mentioned in the audit, the Department of the Senate, the Department of Parliamentary Services, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Human Rights Commission. Where provided, entities’ responses to a recommendation are included in the body of this report, and entities’ general comments are in Appendix 1. ...

From: "Online Availability of Government Entities' Documents Tabled in the Australian Parliament", Report Number: 37, Australian National Audit Office, 25 May 2009

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Making local government accessible

Leichhardt Council have made their Draft Management Plan and Budget 2009/2013 available online. Unfortunately, as Annandale on the Web says, this 1.5 Mbyte 298 page PDF document is not particularly public friendly. The council might like to consider making the plan available as a set of web pages which meet accessibility standards, in accordance with the Australian Disability Discrimination Act. An automated test appears to indicate that at present the Council's web site does not comply with the Act.

While not a legal necessity, it would be useful to have the web pages follow mobile web guidelines. The Council page which describes the plan scores 62/100 on the W3C mobileOK Checker, which is not a good result. The council should aim for at least 90/100. This would make for a much easier to handle document, in small easy to download and read segments. As well as working on devices such as iPhones and Blackberries, this would make the plan easier to read on older computers with slow Internet connections.

But apart from the poor formatting, there is much to be positive about in the plan, including support for light rail.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ABC Mobile Web Site Failed Accessibility Test

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation launched "ABC Mobile" yesterday. Unfortunately the home page does not appear to have been designed in accordance with guidelines for web accessibility for the disabled and may be unlawful. The ABC advertises for staff who have a knowledge of web accessibility and web standards and so would know its its obligations. The site also fails several mobile phone and other web guidelines. As well as the mobile phone compatible web site, there are Apple iPhone and Gooogle Android applications offered. However, the ABC should have put its resources into the basic site, rather than building nice to have, but non-essential features.

A test using the Test Accessibility Web tool (TAW 3.0 3/16/09 10:15 PM) against the WAI guidelines (W3C Recommendation 5 May 1999) reported: 1 Priority 1, 14 Priority 2 and 1 Priority 3 problems with the page. The Priority 1 problem is the most serious. The ABC has not included usable alternative text for the main navigation menu of the site. As an example, "Weather" is displayed as an image with no text saying "Weather" for those who cannot see the image. Instead the word "image" has been used for all the menu items, making the web site substantially inaccessible to those with vision impairment.

The W3C mobileOK Checker gave the home page of the new site 79/100 on mobile compatible tests. This would be a good result for an ordinary web site but is poor for a site specifically designed for mobile phones. The web page is designed for smart phones with large screens (about 3 inches and QVGA resolution) and would be difficult to use on an ordinary mobile phone. The page is 38KB: 9KB for the text and 29KB of images, which is too "heavy" for a mobile (W3C recommend 20 kbytes). There are 15 files required to be downloaded (the HTML and 14 images), whereas W3C recommends a maximum of 10. There are numerous errors reported with the HTML coding of the web site.

With its mobile service the ABC had the opportunity to not only provide a general news and entertainment service but one which would be of use in emergencies, such as bushfire and floods. However by not correctly designing the service the ABC has limited its usefulness.

Currently I am teaching mobile and accessible web design to second year and postgraduate students at The Australian National University in the course "Networked Information Systems" (COMP2410). The ABC home page would not be of an acceptable standard for student work on this course.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Government Funded Broadband for Seniors Web Site Fails Accessibility Test

The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) is funding 2,000 Internet kiosks via the "Broadband for Seniors" initiative. This is an excellent idea. But unfortunately, "NEC Seniors" the web site provided by NEC to help deliver the service, failed a basic accessibility test. Given that the kiosks are intended for senior citizens who are likely to have poor eyesight and other accessibility problems, it is unfortunate (and most likely unlawful) that the web site to deliver the service is not built to cater to these citizens.

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Monday, October 27, 2008 to be accessible and $6M damages

US retailer, Target Corporation has agreed to make its web site fully accessible to blind customers by February 2009 and pay $6M in damages to Californian vision impaired customers. The case is similar to the 1999 one concerning the 2000 Olympics Web site, which I was an expert witness for, but on a larger scale. Note that the Target Australia Pty Ltd web site is not necessary covered by the US legal decision.

For those interested in how to create accessible web sites (and which also work for mobile phones) see the notes for the course I teach on this at the Australian National University: Website Design, For Information Technology Professionals, for "Internet, Intranet, and Document Systems" (COMP3400/COMP6340).

By the way the Target Australia Pty Ltd home page passed an automated accessibility test at Level A. It had four Priority 2 and one Prioritise 3 issues. This is a relatively good result for a commercial web site. I was unable to get the test system to work with the USA Target site.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Making web sites for a mobile devices and people with disabilities

The World Wide Web Consortium has released the final version of "Shared Web Experiences: Barriers Common to Mobile Device Users and People with Disabilities". This is intended to help those designing web sites for both mobile and disabled users. It catalogues the overlap between the W3C's mobile and accessibility standards. This is useful, but is is disappointing that W3C have failed to get their standards writers to agree on one common standard. Instead of having on standard, the W3C has two standards which say much the same thing, and leave it to each web designer to try to reconcile the differences themselves.


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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pictograms, Icons and Signs

The book Pictograms, Icons and Signs by Rayan Abdullah and Roger Hubner provides a detailed, entertaining and educational look at the use of simple visual symbols. They begin by briefly introducing Semiotics, the study of symbols for communication, and describing the differecnes between pictograms (symbols representing a concept) and icons (pictograms on computer screens) and other signs and sign languages. However, most people can skip this part, which takes up only the first 27 pages of the book and get on to how to build pictograms and then get on to the examples from the last hundred years.

The bulk of the book consists of carefully rendered pictograms, starting with international traffic signs, first standardised in 1909.

Then the role of pictograms in the modern Olympic games is covered. I know a little of this having proposed that the Olympic pictograms as icons for Olympic web sites. However, I had not realised that the use of sport signs is as old as the 1936 Olympics. Apart from the Olympics, the early adopters of pictograms were transport and the book goes on to cover those for airports and railways.

One trend I noticed was back to pictograms with softer edges. The early signs, such as those for the 1936 Olympics used shades of grey. Later pictograms, and most in current use, use only two colours and no shading. However, systems such as that used for
domaine national de Chambord by Ruedi Baur use a blurry outline similar to anti-aliasing text.
A copiously illustrated and practical guide to informational graphics.

Pictograms and icons are a keystone of nonverbal and multicultural communication. But what precisely are pictograms, and when is it appropriate to use them? What are their advantages? What rules must be followed, and what are the pitfalls that designers of pictograms and icons must take care to avoid?

Drawing on a multitude of examples from around the world, the authors outline the history of the pictogram and show how it has been used in commercial and creative fields over the past century, as well as offering invaluable hints and advice to designers.

The book features:

• over 2,000 illustrations organized by theme, including pictograms from all the Olympic Games from 1964 to 2004;
• tips from successful pictogram designers, with real-life examples to instruct and inspire;
• a detailed discussion of icons, the "silent servants" of online communities;
• a chapter by designer Jochen Gros on his quest to create a visual language that crosses all grammatical, semantic, and semiotic boundaries—in effect, to create a "language without words." 2000+ illustrations.

About the Author
Rayan Abdullah teaches design and typography at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig. Roger Hübner does consulting and design for and teaches graphic design in Berlin.
Product Details

* Paperback: 244 pages
* Publisher: Thames & Hudson (November 13, 2006)
* Language: English
* ISBN-10: 0500286353

From: Amazon page for: Pictograms, Icons and Signs

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Testing a Government Sustainability Website

The New Zealand Ministry for the Environment has issued a Request for Proposal to do content relevance and usability testing of the website. There is a 17 page, 253kb MS-Word document with the requirements. This provides a useful overview of what is required in such evaluations. Curiously, the RFT does not ask for an accessibility testing of the web site.
GETS Reference: 23497
Title New Zealand based opportunity Content relevance and usability testing of website

Request for Proposal
General Information The nature of the project is to conduct target audience testing of the website, including relevance of content and usability that will inform the proposed refresh of the site scheduled for early 2009 (refer to schedule 1).


Additional Documentation to Download
File Name Description File Type File Size
RFP Content relevance and usability testing of RFP Content relevance and usability testing of WORD 253kb

Relates to the following TenderWatch Categories
864 Market research and public opinion polling services
846 Web development services

From: Content relevance and usability testing of website, NZ Government, 2008


The Ministry for the Environment’s Household Sustainability Team launched the website in December 2007. The website was developed to raise awareness and help inform people about the sustainable choices they can take in their homes, in the areas of waste reduction, building, renovating, energy, water efficiency and transport.
A series of user personas was developed during the initial design phase of the website. Since was developed, the Household Sustainability Team has commissioned market research to allow segmentation of the population and appropriate targeting of interventions to the segments based on what motivates particular groups of people. This research has allowed further refinement of the target audience (see below).

Since its development, underwent a minor refresh in June 2008. This refresh included changes to the visual design and usability of the site. An online survey of the site’s current users has also been conducted. This survey will help gain a greater understanding of who the users are, why they are using the site, and their expectations for the site. It is expected that this survey will contribute to the project to test content relevance and usability for the site’s target audience.

The long-term direction of is to further develop its ability to bring about behaviour change in the target audience in the areas of waste reduction, building, renovating, energy, water efficiency and transport. Testing the relevance of existing content and usability of for the site’s target audience is part of the wider development of the site. A larger refresh of is scheduled for early 2009, and will be informed by the findings of this testing project.

The Household Sustainability Programme is designed to deliberately target sections of the population who are aware of sustainability issues and are interested in changing their patterns of behaviour.

By accelerating changes of behaviour in our target audience it is expected that they will influence others, who will be “pulled along” with their peer group. Over time, the aim is to influence an increasingly wide section of the population until the majority of households support more sustainable patterns of consumption and behaviour.

Note: further information on the target audience is available on request.

This RFP seeks responses from agencies which are able to provide the following services:

1.Ability to identify and recruit target audience members
2.Website usability testing (based on the target audience’s ability to use the website)
3.Content relevance testing (based on relevance to target audience - may involve a social marketing approach)
4.Evaluation of the findings from this testing project to inform the proposed refresh

In order to provide a website that meets the needs of our target audience to make sustainable choices in the areas of waste reduction, building, renovating, energy, water efficiency and transport, the Ministry is seeking proposals for carrying out the following services:

1.Design and draft a content relevance and usability testing plan for (note: a summary of findings from the online user survey is available on request. The full report of results from the online survey will be available to the successful proposal once a contract has been awarded).
2.Contact, recruit and confirm members of the site’s target audience as participants for the testing.
3.Test the content relevance and usability of for the target audience.
4.Prepare a summary report of findings from the content relevance and usability testing of for the target audience that will inform the proposed refresh scheduled for early 2009.

From: Request for Proposals, For Content relevance and usability testing of website, NZ Ministry for the Environment

24 September 2008

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

ABC Mobile Web design

ABC's Media Watch program ("ABC Designs For The Future",15 September 2008), had a detailed discussion of the possibility of advertising on new ABC mobile web sites. Contrary to what the program said, the ABC could simply and cheaply provide a mobile option for its existing site. Examples were show of prototype ABC Weather, ABC Grandstand Sport and news pages. Most of the analysis was about the appropriateness of having advertisements on an ABC web site. What didn't seem to get discussed was why have separate mobile sites at all. The ABC's web site, including media watch already work on mobile devices and just need some minor improvements to make all the ABC web pages available on mobiles.

Presenter Jonathan Holmes said: "Try to view ordinary websites on one of the flash new 3G mobile devices like Blackberry and iPhone, and they're very clunky. And they'll also quickly bust your download cap. So everyone's racing to develop new, mobile friendly, websites - the ABC included...". That is certainly the case for Media Watch's own web site, which when viewed on a mobile device (I used Opera's "Small Screen" open to emulate a mobile device) has too much content and too much animation. However, this can be fixed by simplifying the standard web site and then using the options built into web standards to have it adapt when viewed on Mobile devices.

By making the main web site mobile compatible, this will also improve the quality of the web site for all users. Web designers have a tendency to clutter web pages with too much content. Mobile devices have small screens and limited bandwidth, providing a useful curb on the designer's enthusiasm. Where high bandwidth is required, the web server can automatically adjust the content to suit the device.

There have been several past attempts by the mobile phone and web industries to make mobile web sites a viable business. These attempts have mostly failed. The ABC should make a small investment in making all its web content mobile compatible. This can be done with a small project and mostly using automated tools. It would be a minimal expense and effort compared to creating and maintaining multiple new web sites. After it has done that the ABC can see who actually wants to view what content on which mobile devices. The popular services can then be improved.

Billions of dollars have been lost over the last ten years by companies attempting to create a profitable business from mobile web sites. If more companies wish to risk more money in the attempt, they are free to do so, with the consent of their investors. However, the ABC is a government owned enterprise funded by the public and so not be investing heavily in speculative ventures with minimal chance of success. The ABC is required by law to make its services widely available. There are ways for the ABC to provide mobile web access at minimal expense with little risk using available technology. I suggest the ABC take that approach and leave risky DOT.COM style web speculation to others.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Beijing 2008 Olympics Website Accessibility Problems

The E-Access Bulletin reports that Henny Swan from UK Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) says the web site for the Beijing Olympics website has several problems making it difficult for people with a disability.It will be interesting to see how the London 2012 Olympics does.

The item mentions the accessibility case for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. My expert witness statement assessing the accessibility of the Sydney Olympic Web Site for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission hearing is available online (8 August 2000). A decision was delivered 24 August 2000 and $20,000 damages were awarded. BOCOG invited me to Bejing to talk about that case and what was needed for Making an Accessible and Functional Website for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The website for the Beijing Olympics is not accessible to people with disabilities, a leading accessibility expert has told E-Access Bulletin.

With the games in full swing this month, their official website which include a full results service could be among the most visited sites in the world ( But Henny Swan, senior web accessibility consultant at the RNIB, said the service is inaccessible in a number of key ways.

"There text alternatives for multimedia which means many people, including mobile users, will be locked out of content. New windows also seem to open from within Flash movies, which is not only an accessibility but also a usability issue." Other findings include instances of animation that fails to stop moving after three seconds, she
said. "This can be a distraction for people with reading problems or people with low vision.

Last year Swan undertook an initial advance study of the accessibility of the Beijing Olympics site, then still under development. While the findings of her work were not all negative, the indications at that time were that various improvements were needed before the website would meet even the basic level of compliance with international Web Content Accessibility Guideline.

Returning to the site this month, she said there had been some improvements, although "where one issue may have been fixed, others have taken its place." Overall her findings indicate that the organising committee for the Beijing games seem not to have developed a clear accessibility plan for the website.

Olympic websites have a mixed history in terms of accessibility. The site for the 2004 games in Athens raised few complaints, but the organisers of the 2000 Sydney Olympics were successfully sued for failure to make their website comply with accessibility standards.

NOTE: For our full report on the accessibility of the Beijing 2008 Olympics website see section three, this issue.

From: Beijing Games Website Inaccessible On Multiple Counts, E-Access Bulletin, ISSUE 104, Headstar, August 2008

I ran a quick automated TAW Test which reported:

Test summary outcome

AutomaticHuman review
Priority 1275
Priority 27182
Priority 3019

The two Priority 1 issues were:

Found issues:

Priority 1[WAI] Priority 1 accessibility issues. A Web content developer must satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it impossible to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement for some groups to be able to use Web documents. 2 automatically detected problems and 75 problems that require human review have been found.

6.2 Ensure that equivalents for dynamic content are updated when the dynamic content changes.

  • Missing accessible alternative content in the body of IFRAME (1)
    • Line 222 ...

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Relationship Mobile Web and Web Accessibility

The W3C have issued a very odd document "Relationship between Mobile Web Best Practices (MWBP) and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)", which which brings new meaning to the term "nothing". It is not so much about the relationship between WCAG and MWBP, but the failure of the W3C to produce one. This document is the technical equivalent of Beckett's play: Waiting for Godot.

The working draft of 3 July 2008 tries to explain the relationships, overlaps and differences between the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Mobile Web Best Practices (MWBP). But it seems to be a by-product of rivalry between W3C working groups, which will be largely unintelligible to outsiders.

The WCAG were primarily intended to make web pages accessible to people with disabilities (such as the blind). But they also had mobile devices in mind, taking into account small screens, slow Internet connections, limited keyboards and pointing devices. I have been teaching the use of the accessibility guidelines for mobile devices to students since 2001.

The Mobile Web Best Practices (MWBP) are the latest of many attempts to get web pages on mobile phones. Previous attempts failed, largely due to the extreme limitations of mobile devices and partly due to the mobile phone industry's different business models. Mobile devices now have bigger screens and more advanced web browsers, so making web pages is easier. But the MWBP's work is still needed to help designers take account of mobile limitations.

This relationship document is very strangely worded. It is not so much a technical report, as a political one. It asks the reader to first read Web Content Accessibility and Mobile Web: Making a Web Site Accessible Both for People with Disabilities and for Mobile Devices and Experiences Shared by People with Disabilities and by People Using Mobile Devices. Then it asks the reader to either read MWBP to WCAG 2.0 or MWBP to WCAG 1.0 and WCAG 2.0 to MWBP or WCAG 1.0 to MWBP. There is the a table which apparently tries to make this clear:
Done Doing next Then read
None Both WCAG 2.0 and MWBP WCAG 2.0 and MWBP Together
If that is not enough for the reader, it then refers them to the to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and Mobile Web Best Practices. Then referring to yet another document: "Experiences Shared by People with Disabilities and by People Using Mobile Devices [Editors' Draft, January 2008]".

At this point the document finally gets around to telling the reader something useful about the topic:
"The Mobile Web Best Practices (BP) are not assigned levels. MWBP relates to checkpoints of all the WCAG 1.0 priorities (1, 2 and 3) and to all the WCAG 2.0 level A, AA and AAA success criteria."
However, we are now almost at the end of the document. So far there has been only one sentence containing useful information on the topic.

What then follows is a paragraph explaining why there is no mapping table detailing differences between WCAG and MWBP, and so attempting to explain why this technical report fails in what it set out to do. Then there is an appendix attempting to redefine common English words to be "Special Terms": everything, nothing, partially, possibly, and something. The document then ends.

This reminds me of many public service ICT documents written by people who did not want to do something and who used a lot of words to obscure the fact that they had not done it. W3C should decide if they genuinely want to relate Mobile Web and Web Accessibility (which would be a good idea), or if it is too hard to do. If it is too hard, then this document should be rewritten to honestly say that, rather than trying to obscure the fact that two of the working groups do not want to cooperate.

As it is,
the document "Relationship between Mobile Web Best Practices (MWBP) and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)", is like Beckett's play Waiting for Godot, where the characters wait for someone named Godot, who never arrives. In the case of the W3C's report we wait for a relationship which never arrives.

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