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Interview with David Ball a Front-End Developer & Social Media Maestro

Author: Carl Heaton
He is our senior instructor and originally from Manchester UK. Carl teaches our Web Design and Online Marketing Courses.
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A few weeks ago we read an enlightening article in which David Ball a Front-End Developer and Social Media Manager based in the Uk describes his week long experience of using the internet as a blind user would.

A few weeks ago we read an enlightening article in which David Ball a Front-End Developer and Social Media Manager based in the Uk describes his week long experience of using the internet as a blind user would. We really liked his article so we got in touch with him and he was kind enough to answer a few further questions we had on the topic.

1.Hello David and thank you for the interview! Would you like to introduce yourself?

silktide site banner

Thanks for the opportunity! I’m a web developer working for Silktide in Derby, England. I love to make websites, which I’ve been doing here at Silktide for 8 years. For most of that time I created websites for clients, but recently I’ve been focussing on our own websites, especially Nibbler – a free web app that anyone can use to test their website and find problems and receive badges for best practice, which is really cool!

nibbler site on mac air

2. Why did you become a Web Developer?

blue dwarf game site

I suppose I chose to become a web developer at college when I’d created my first ever website and turned it into a cool social game to play online with my friends. It’s a text-based game that allows players to create an ongoing story (it’s actually still running, and has been for 13 years!). I realised I really enjoyed developing for the web, so chose a university course which allowed me to learn more.

3. A few months ago you wrote an article “Things I learned by being blind for a week” Can you tell us what lead you to undertake such an experience?

I’d always learned that when making websites we should create them in such a way that disabled people can access them, especially blind people. But the problem is, in my education they hadn’t actually taught us how to go about doing this, and so I just had to learn by reading articles online and looking at how other websites were made. The W3C documentation isn’t very specific, and I’m a very practical person – I like to see actual real examples of best practice. At Silktide we make software that tests websites, and so to give the best feedback on what makes a good website I was told to research accessibility, especially how to make a really good website for blind people. I thought the best way to experience how blind people use the internet is to blindfold myself and use a screenreader. It’s something that surprisingly few web developers are willing to do, but it was incredibly enlightening and I think essential for any web developer who creates accessible websites.

4. Are you surprised that a growing number of blind users are using instagram including Tommy Edison?

tommy edisons video channel

I’m not surprised that blind people are using the internet at all. Websites should be for everyone, whether you’re able-bodied or not. People who are blind want access to social networks to chat with their friends, and want to browse the web just like everyone else!

5. If technology allowed do you think the use a sort of vibration through tablets could work to almost implement a brail sort of format converting from text?

ipad braile keyboard

If there was a way for tablets to display braille, then yes I imagine that would probably be very popular for blind people who like to read braille. The screen readers we have now are actually very good, but there’ll be times when reading aloud isn’t appropriate, and also useless for users who are both blind and deaf.

6. You used a screen reader for your experience? What if any other options would you like to be developed to improve the experience?

jaws screen reader software screenshot

When I did my week of using a screenreader, I used JAWS and NVDA on a Windows PC using a keyboard. Having the keyboard that I use every day was crucial because I’m familliar with it’s layout (although blindfolded it’s surprising how difficult it is to remember where the keys are!). At the time I didn’t have a tablet so didn’t try that to compare, but I really like the idea of vibration feedback on a tablet to let you know which screen you’re on, and to alert you that you’ve selected a new option etc. A nice combination would be merging the two together, having the tactile feedback of a keyboard, combined with the vibration feedback.

7. Has it changed how anything about your design approach?

anchor text explained

Experiencing how blind people navigate a page has definitely affected how I now write markup, and structure a HTML page. I try to keep the markup as uncluttered as possible, and make sure that the order the information will be read aloud is sensible. This means no floating sections which will be read out of order, and certainly no tables! (unless it’s tabular data of course). I also discovered that “title” text added to a link is mostly useless, so haven’t spent so much time on crafting content for that any more, instead I’ve made sure the anchor text is descriptive and not just generic “read more” text, etc. Unless it’s absolutely clear from the context what the linked page will be. I wrote a blog article about this here: http://blog.silktide.com/2013/01/i-thought-title-text-improved-accessibility-i-was-wrong/

8. Some comments on your article mentioned the other accessibility groups that aren’t catered for particularly online why do you think so many users are not being considered by web developers and across technology in general?

dyslexic font explaination

I think many web developers don’t cater for certain disabled users because they either don’t understand or even think about disabled people, or they assume accessibility is something that’s expensive and time consuming. In fact if you think about accessibility from the start of your project you can build an accessible website without taking any additional time.

9. One comment on your article was “ It seems to me that it’s not the job of every web designer out there to dumb down their sites so that screen readers can use them. How would you respond to this?

w3c validator page

You absolutely don’t have to “dumb down” your site to make it accessible, just build it using web standards in a way that screenreaders will be able to predict and navigate, the same way we use web standards to make sure it displays correctly in each browser.

10. What advice would you give to our Web Courses Bangkok students wanting to become a Web Developer?

I’ve got loads of advice, but I’ll keep it simple! Always use web standards. And I don’t just mean W3C validation, being standard is about creating your websites in standard, predictable ways, using tried-and-tested methods, and battle-tested technologies. There’s more ways to view websites than ever before, on phones, PCs, tablets, TVs, etc, each with different browsers, and multiple iterations of each of those! It’s tempting to use hacks to make your websites display correctly on each. But hacks never pay! If you’re doing something weird like using a negative margin with a position:absolute to “fix” something that doesn’t look quite right in IE7, there’s probably a better way. Design with web standards from the start and it’ll be more likely that when your browser updates or you see the website on a slightly different device that it’ll look okay 🙂

Thanks David it’s been great and very enlightening hearing your answers. We’re off to play your Blue Dwarf game.

If you’d like to learn more check out his profile at Silktide or follow him on Twitter

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