Category Archives: Personal

Different Accessibility Issues with Web Content

This article appeared originally in the October newsletter of the Guild of Accessible Web Designers (GAWDS) and provides the framework of a session that I will be presenting at this years
OzeWAI conference. Anyone who has experiences that they would like to share regarding using the Web whilst suffering from fatigue issues is invited to mail me at the address at the bottom of the page. (Note that this is a temporary address, subject to frequent change; those who know my real address are encouraged to use it.)

Introduction

When creating accessible Web content, we need to consider the needs of people with a number of issues which include but are not limited to:

  • Sensory impairments
  • Impaired mobility
  • "Different" hardware/software (not a PC with Internet Explorer with an 800×600 screen resolution)
  • Cognitive and print disabilities

I guess that most people reading this are nodding at this point, saying, "yes, I am aware of all these issues, and a load of other ones".

Allow me to introduce an issue which is rarely mentioned, or considered. I write from direct, personal, experience but am sure that others will be able to identify with at least some of the aspects.

Chronic Fatigue and Friends

I am tired. I am tired all the time to the point of incapacity. Whilst this has been tagged conveniently as "Chronic Fatigue" I have two underlying issues – sleep apnoea (apnea to our friends in the USA) and thyroid/adrenal insufficiencies.

Note that the effects of my fatigue problems, whilst ongoing for me, can affect other people for other reasons – jetlag, over-work, teething infants, and more.

So what has this got to do with accessible Web design? Everything.

Before my sleep apnoea was treated, I used to suffer from "microsleeps" this is where I would, throughout the day, keep falling asleep for fractions of a second (like narcolepsy). On an everyday basis, this meant that I
could not safely drive, use power tools, have a bath, etc.

When trying to read a Web page, I would often have to start a good ten, twelve times (and still had to give up on many occasions). This problem was worst when there were large, unbroken blocks of text and/or wide columns.
My work-around was to increase the font size, although this did not help me when language was excessively complex. A clear layout with small chunks of text and plain language made my life much easier in this respect.

Multi-column layouts (more than two) were an issue for me in the apnoea days and still are in "Chronic Fatigue Mode" although slightly less so. I hate cluttered layouts; when the mind is tired and wandering, bits of content all over the place – especially when there are bits of navigation in several different places – is hugely distracting and very frustrating.
Blogs are amongst the worst offenders – what is with trying to cram so much onto a single page? Something to linearise the layout would help me here, a simple and tidy design would eliminate the need.

Movement. Argh! I would like to see a guideline "Do not allow any form of movement on a page without first asking the user’s permission." When the slightest distraction can make a page hard to read, any movement (often advertisements in the form of animated images or Flash) can actually push
"hard to read" to the level of "unuseable" As a user of the Firefox user agent (Web browser), the AdBlock extension is my saviour here, allowing me to "ban" distracting and/or annoying advertising (and other) content.

One thing that I would point out is that those with fatigue issues can be very irritable (just ask my wife). The hard-to-read page full of distractions can make for one very annoyed reader (take my word for it); if you are trying to influence that reader to buy something, support a cause, vote for someone – you may well have just sent them off to the
competition.

Searching Smiffys Place

Whilst not every item on Smiffy’s Place is listed in the database, especially legacy HTML pages and some Web programmes, I thought that it was time to add a "proper" search facility, rather than relying entirely on Google.

To this end, I have created a search facility that can be used in both "normal" mode and also in Boolean mode for those feeling adventurous.

If a search fails to turn up anything, a Google search of the site will be offered.

At present, there is no limit on the number of results returned, but due to the relatively small number of pages/posts on this site, I don’t see this as being a big issue. I will be adding paging for search results at some point, in the same manner as category and month listings.

A Better Birthday Breakfast

Preamble

Quite some time ago, I decided that I did not care for institutionalised holidays and, since then, have only really celebrated birthdays and various astronomical events (such as Lunar New Year) – in as much as that is possible in a festival-mad society.

Not being a party animal, my celebrations are generally of a gastronomic nature; if they can also be in different locations, then so much the better. (Before I moved to Australia, I had four birthdays “away” – one celebrated in a aeroplane over the Alps, travelling from Venice to Bristol, one in Falaise, Normandy, one in Nuriootpa, South Australia, then Falaise again. If I remember correctly.)

The Omelette

Determined to make a good start to my birthday, I aquired a pack of Springs smoked ocean trout. This morning’s omlette consisted of four eggs, 150g fish and a good Microplane of a fine Reggiano Parmaggiano.

Washed down with a couple of large espressos of New Guinea Sihereni AX, courtesy of the estimable Mr Frew, this is one of the best birthday breakfasts I have eaten in quite some time, albeit at home.

Méthode

  • Put a Tefal crêpiere on moderate heat, wipe over with some kitchen towel soaked in oil.
  • Beat four eggs, pour into pan.
  • Break up smoked fish, distribute over egg.
  • Microplane cheese over egg and fish.
  • Serve with a good espresso.

The Last Post!

WordPress has release yet another security update. After the fun and games of recent upgrades, this is the end. Good bye cruel world, Smiffy's Blog is closing for renovations. This is the last post that will be made through the WordPress software.

The “user side” of this web log will be available for viewing until the new software is up and running – hopefully quite soon.

Having mapped most of the WordPress database schema, I am about to export all the old posts into my new test system. The first module to come on line will be the public side – then I can kill off WordPress once and for all. At this point I will be making new entries by writing SQL queries and feeding them directly into the database. (This is not as bad as it sounds, if one spends as much time writing SQL as I do.)

Chronic Illness (of the Health System)

As a follow up to my chronic fatigue post, I can advise that the only thing chronic is the inability of so many GPs to examine patients and make effective diagnoses. Happily, I have changed doctors (and, indeed, practices) and am now working with one who actually looks at the patient (rather than at their computer), thinks critically (especially with regards to the laboratory ranges of blood tests) and diagnoses in a proper, scientific manner. My underlying problem is simple – hypothyroid. This can be fixed, and will be fixed.

After three years of ill health, wasted time, wasted money, inappropriate treatments, lost work – the end is in sight.

My faith in the medical establishment is by no means restored – at least until the methodologies of the true healers become commonplace and accountants are no longer able to interfere in the practice of medicine.

Here endeth the rant.

Something Chronic

After three years of “being useless”, I have been diagnosed as having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Whoohoo! Just what I needed – I can now say “SeeEffEss” (CFS) rather than saying “I suffer from constant, debilitating tiredness” – what a saving of words and effort!

On the negative side, the underlying cause is currently unknown.

When will you get better?

I thought that I had finished my BADD writings until, going through the links from Diary of a Goldfish (from whence BADD emerged), I chanced on a post that struck a chord with me.

The writer of Croneway describes a situation where she is always asked: “when are you going to get better?”

I suffer – or at least would suffer – from severe sleep apnoea; when the condition was untreated, my life was sheer hell. Now I sleep hooked up to a CPAP machine, a little air compressor that keeps my airway open as I sleep. If I did not use this machine, I would be looking at all sorts of problems, not being able to drive, operate power tools, use ladders being the least of them, a somewhat reduced life expectancy being at the other end of the list. People know I use CPAP but don’t seem to understand the concept of “have to use it forever”, so I keep getting asked “do you still use that machine thing at night?”

I get the feeling that this may be a common experience for those with any form of disability or ongoing medical condition – people might ask you about it, but rarely to they listen.

Little Latin

Like that famous guy, I have little Latin and less Greek. I just about managed to follow the text of the Bayeux Tapestry, on my last visit (Harold Rex interfectus est et fuga verterunt Angli and all that), but would really like to be able to read (and write) a bit more.

So, here's an experiment. I know that people read this web log (spammers at the very least!) so what wisdom can I get from my readership? I put the question to you, dear reader, is there a means, online, by which one may acquire more than a little Latin in a quick and easy manner? We won't let the issue of my impaired short-term memory cloud the issue at this juncture.

Fergus Takes Ill

Getting towards fire danger season, a couple of weeks ago, I started working on our firebreaks. A nasty noisy and a nasty smell from ‘Fergus’ the tractor told me that something was amiss. Symptoms pointed towards a blown head gasket; all prepared to replace this, I removed the rocker box cover and was disturbed to find a valve missing. A spring had failed, the valve had dropped, smashed the rising piston and fractured the cylinder liner. That’s as far as I know at the moment – Fergus went on an ambulance today and was admitted to the G & J East Hospital for Sick Tractors.

For those who aren’t squeamish and don’t mind the sight of oil, I have taken pictures.

Fergus winched onto recovery vehicle
Fergus taken away by ambulance.

smiffysplace.com

Whilst my mss.cx domain (and this web log) were only intended for personal material, a certain amount of "workish" stuff is starting to slip in (complete separation of work and play is not easy for the self-employed). Having seen the .cx rootservers "disappear" on more than one occasion, I have decided to use a more reliable principal domain for my semi-personal material and have just registered smiffysplace.com, with my new favourite dot-com registrar-du jour, Godaddy. I will be retaining the mss.cx domain (I have had it too long to just drop it), but use of this domain will now be deprecated.

All URIs (addresses) for existing pages will (should) work with either the old or the new domain. Dublin Core 'identifier' metadata fields in page headers will be modified to reflect the new 'official' domain in due course.