Monday, April 24, 2006

Road Test reaction

PING! An email arrives from Alex Bainbridge, director of Travel UCD, making an observation about the Road Test in the April edition of Travolution.

[Read the full Road Test from Travolution 3.0]

Alex writes:

“Sorry - I have to disagree with your findings - technically they are wrong.

“In Firefox, you can increase the font size (visually) where designers have set fixed fonts. If I were of reduced eye sight, which I am not, I would use a tool (ie a web browser) that lets me navigate how I want to....

“Otherwise it’s like saying that a Ferrari has to work for people doing their weekly food shopping. If that was the only car design available - yes - but it isn't. Buy an estate if this is what you need.

“You are referring to an IE [Internet Explorer] problem only.

“Of course, if Firefox had the same problem as IE - I would suggest that the designer has to change the pages... But as Firefox is a mainstream browser - let the users choose the most appropriate tool for their needs.

“Incidentally I use IE mainly, so this is not a Firefox/IE comment. It’s just a pragmatic view.

“Oh - incidentally - the page that has the full article on - on the Travolution site - has a fixed font size! Not a bad thing - and I am sure you did it for the right reasons.”

Ed’s note: We are aware of the Travolution site’s fixed font size. The most recent estimates give Firefox a 10% share of the browser market, with Internet Explorer grabbing 85%.

Kevin May, editor, Travolution

1 comment:

iheni said...

Hi Ian,

Many thanks for your comments and thoughts.

You are correct in saying that Firefox does re-size font sizes. While it addresses the issue of fixed fonts for users of this particular browser it is still not considered a "pass" in terms of making a site accessible as fixed fonts act as a barrier to access for other browsers. The issue here is really around standards compliance and following the internationally and universally accepted guidelines on web accessibility the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 1 (WCAG1):

"3.4 Use relative rather than absolute units in markup language attribute values and style sheet property values."

Whether a browser accommodates for fixed fonts or not WCAG requires that fonts are flexible. A website should never be built to accommodate a particular browser or software because if you do then you are at risk of locking users out. And while we don't want to pander to a particular browsers failing in their inability to scale font sizes the issue has to be looked at in a real life context: IE is the most widely used browser at the moment and you can't force, or expect, a user to use a browser that you have deemed the most suitable for your site.

Taking your Ferrari analogy, would you build a seat that only fitted a person of average height that had no flexibility to move the seat forwards or backwards? I would also argue that some of us could do our weekly shop in a Ferrari (although if I had one I'm pretty sure I'd have someone else doing one for me ;-)

Building on the standards compliance issue, all user agents (browsers, access technologies, media players etc) should also be built to a defined standard, the WAI User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG). Authoring tools (Content management systems, HTML editors etc) are the third piece of the picture. Authoring tools should facilitate the output of accessible content outlined in WCAG and user agents should be able to render and read accessible content.

It's important to remember that standards and guidelines like these not only enable sites to be accessible but also future proofed and protected against the website breaking when new technologies emerge. A useful document explaining the concept of web accessibility depending on these three components can be found on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) website "Essential components of accessibility"

So to wrap up, there are plenty of people out there who do want to resize text in IE, who may not have Firefox either because they are not aware of it or prefer not to use it. Who wants to be forced to drive an estate when you could afford a Ferrari? Or, to turn it on it's head who wants to be told you can only drive a Ferrari if you can only afford an estate?

I hope this helps and thanks for the feedback.