Trudi Canavan

bestselling author of The Black Magician Trilogy

A Worthy Cause

It may surprise some of you to know I do read every email sent to me and every guestbook entry posted to my site. (Mind you, if someone sent me an email that waffles on for three pages, I’ll skim it. There are limits to my time and attention-span.) Sometimes I wish I had an assistant who could filter out the occasional rude or plain stupid email, but that’s a luxury that’ll have to wait until I’m mega rich.

Now and then I get an email asking a question or raising an issue I find interesting, and I consider whether or not to write about it in this blog. (I say in the guestbook that I may do this from time to time.) But like with the following guestbook entry, something about it makes me hesitate:

Hi there, Currently I am enjoying your first trilogy, and said I’d check out your website. I thought that I would let you know that your site is extremely inaccessible – that is to say, it is very difficult for disabled computer users, specifically blind people, to interact with your website. For example, most of the links or buttons on your site are infact images and as such can not be accessed by a blind person using a screenreader and keyboard to surf the net- you need to provide text alternatives (the alt=”” attribute of an image <img /> tag). Similiarly in the code of your website relies heavily on interaction with a mouse, but a great number of disabled computer users with a large variety of disabilities – simply do not use a mouse at all, they interact only using a keyboard. A method such as onFocus() should be used in place of mouse methods. The vast majority of people are unaware of the difficulties the average disabled user faces online, and as figures from the world health organisation show, approx 1 billion people worldwide are disabled. This is a large market you are excluding through the inaccessibility of this website. Apart from profitable reasons, it is socially responisble to provide services that are equally accessible to all, regardless of capability. Currently I am completing my masters in this field, if you would like independent confirmation (that I’m not half mad) please google the WCAG (web guidelines for accessible design from the web standards authority, W3C) and section 508 (American law on this topic). I would suggest you complain loudly and shame your web designer. I really enjoy your stories, and look forward to reading more, Kind Regards, Lauren.

Now, the first impression I get is that this person has absolutely no idea how to sway people to her cause. She started off well by educating with facts and explanations, but then made two huge mistakes: she did not research her target audience and she shifted to a tone that was condescending and even a touch threatening, both which will only alienate the person or people she ought to be wooing.

Of course, it’s possible she is an internet ‘troll’ trying to rouse debate (if you don’t know what a ‘troll’ is, look it up on google or wiki), or maybe a student hoping to get some useful text or statistics out of me and anyone responding to this post. But let’s go with the assumption she is trying to make the world a better place.

If you want to make the world a better place, do your research.

Firstly, if you are targeting a specific person, perhaps you ought to read the available information about that person. I am an Australian. I live in Australia. Waving American standards and laws at me isn’t going to have much of an effect – except to annoy me. I have a bio on my site. It wouldn’t have taken much research to find out where I lived.

Secondly, I am an author. Most authors can’t afford to spend a lot of money on websites. We don’t get paid to have a website – we get paid to write books – so we can’t spend too much time on websites. My website is an indulgence for me and my readers. We’re not going to commission a complete redesign of a website at the drop of a hat. Bear this in mind when promoting your cause to authors.

Thirdly, while Lauren has made some attempt to educate and explain, she does not acknowledge how little choice the average customer has. My website is a product I bought, and like many buyers, I don’t know that much about the tools used to make it. I do know that the types of tools used were initially restricted by what my ISP would support. My web designer did what she could with it – and I think she did a fine job. (Oh, and by the way, she’s a friend. I’m not going to complain loudly and shame her. I may, however, raise the issue in a friendly fashion in the future.)

Neither my web designer nor I decided that my site would be inaccessible to disabled people. Of course I want disabled people to be able to access my site. Why wouldn’t I? The more the merrier! If we’d had a choice at the time, we’d have made it as accessible as possible.

Fortunately, I’m not the sort of person who changes their views in reaction to one email. Fortunately, I’m not the average uninformed customer: I learned of this issue a year or so back, on a science program (though no solution was offered on it). Since then I’ve kept it in mind for the future. When the time comes for a redesign of my website I will see if there’s a solution available and, if it is affordable, implement it. Hopefully by then there’ll be a bit more choice in the marketplace. Technology changes quickly, after all. 

6 Responses »

  1. Paul,
    You’ve pretty much said all I was going to say. I totally understand Trudi’s situation, but also understand Lauren’s point of view as well – for all the reasons you have pointed out.
    I think I saw the same science program that you mentioned, Trudi, and wondered why they didn’t mention the W3C guidelines. The W3C has been around since 1994 and has offices all around the world, including Australia. The director of the organisation is the guy who invented the World Wide Web.

  2. Hey Trudi, I feel you maybe being a little hard on Lauren. While she didn’t phrase her comments in an altogether tactful way, I do believe she was trying to be helpful. Of course US law doesn’t apply in Australia and although the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) is US based, it is an international body and most governments base their laws and guidelines on W3C recommendations.
    I also understand that as a writer you have limited means to support your website and I believe you do a very good job in keeping it as up to date as you do.
    I did take a look at the HTML source for some of you pages and do see what Lauren means. Many of the links to navigate your site are images with the text describing where the link takes you being part of the image. This does make it hard for screen readers used by the blind to navigate around. The good news is that it is pretty easy to fix and as your site is small it wouldn’t be more than a couple of hours work, perhaps half a day at the most, to make your site more accessible. As Lauren said it is just a matter of adding ALT=”description of where the link goes” attributes to the A tags (the bit of HTML which defines the link) which have images. The screen readers can then read the ALT text and the problems are solved.
    At some point I should post about your books which I thoroughly enjoy. I must admit that there is a lot of good fantasy coming out of Australia recently.

  3. Great to see you regularly check your site. I think that the ALT= would be fairly easy to implement at least on the first page, one that asks if you want to see Writing, Painting etc, I imagine it could get more awkward after that depending how the site is designed (whether the menus are a single file included in each page or actually in each page).
    Anyway, I agree with her, but I agree with you, you should wait until you update the site majorly. You have a very nice site, and the new blog is great. Keep up the good work 🙂

  4. I think this lady is crazy to be honest =] 1 billion people worldwide disabled? NOT 1 billion blind people. I see her point in making it more accessible, but good grief, you can’t fit everything around everyone! Anyway, rant over. Love the books Trudi, Age of the Five was an amazing read.

  5. i think it is great that you read all of your emails, a lot of famous people dont do that
    about that speecific comment, i think you are right about not changing your views because of one email (us fans probably dont actually now much, or certainly i dont) but i was unaware of the problem that lauren raised and although part of her email was rude, she made a point
    despite what i said earlier, i will give my opinion, because i that is what the comments are for. i think , if you have time, you should try to make the website better for disabled people.

  6. I personally love the fact that you have a website and update it regularly, so few authors seem to. It is quite and interesting subject to look into in the future I think, as you said, when you feel that your website needs a new lick of paint.
    However, I personally wouldn’t worry about it for the moment, I know that there may be a large audience and that some may consider it unfair, but I’m sure that most would find a way around it, like someone to read the website out to them, and would just be happy that you had a website at all.
    On a sidenote, it is really annnoying when people start talking about inappropriate laws, especially as this person did seem to have done a lot of other research.
    Have a good day 🙂