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Access by Design : Comments

By James McNally

September 26, 2005



September 26, 2005 8:54 PM

I agree with this review as the book is not worth getting. I was sifting through while looking for other CSS books when I picked up the superb Bulletproof Web Design and Designing With Web Standards. With its lack of code samples and not much accessibility detail I was rather disappointed. Its not a bad book but not enough for what I needed.


September 27, 2005 5:49 AM

Over the last couple of nights, I was writing my own review of this book (not yet posted to my blog) and I came to the same conclusions. I decided to read the book again to see if I missed anything but it appears that I hadn’t.

The low quality of this book is very surprising considering that Sarah is a co-author to the excellent Web Style Guide and she won a writing award for another book.

I must admit that when I read her interview, I was surprised to read that she agreed to give a talk on Web accessibility even though she didn’t know anything about it and it almost seems to me that this book might have sprung from the notes she made before giving that speech. The information she presents in this book would have been perfect a few years ago but is not so new these days.

Sorry Sarah, I think you missed the target on this one.

gas guzzler

September 27, 2005 2:10 PM

Sounds like just another author out to make a buck. There’s nothing about web design that can’t be found for free on the web.

M Brown

September 27, 2005 8:07 PM

Just a bit of counterpoint to the prevailing winds here.

I do wonder a bit about the sentiment expressed in these comments that everything in the Horton book is old hat. It seems that she has found numerous sites whose designers do not appear to have heard all these ideas—even though, as is claimed in these comments, everybody already knows them.

The reviewer laments the absence of code samples. One can certainly debate that point. Yet I would point out that Web Style Guide also has no code samples. It seems to me that the author is trying to convey concepts, not prograaming practice, that is, concepts that can inform coding decisions. Is it not the case that coding practices, conventions, and systems change over time; what might be enduring are the ideas underlying good practice.

I also am curious about the tendency to understand the term “access” narrowly in terms of disabilities. It seems that Horton is trying to expand the term to include what she refers to as universal usability. She explicitly refers to Ben Scheidermann’s work in this area. So I would suggest there’s a lot more to say in this area.

Finally, I do think that dismissive comments such as those about the purported “low quality” of the book are altogether misleading. It’s fine to conclude that the book may be less relevant to experienced web designers, but that does not mean the book’s quality is poor.


September 28, 2005 6:15 AM

I think the assumption that access is refering to accessibility is pretty easy to make, despite the subtitle reference to usability. If she really wanted to enforce the concept of universal usability, perhaps the main title should have been Universal Usability by Design.

There is no question that designing for accessibility has an additional benefit of designing for universal usability although usability can mean more than WAI accessibility.

Perhaps my term “low quality” may have been a bit strong: I did struggle with that word for a few moments before posting but didn’t think of another at the time. However, whatever word or description I may have used (or not used), the fact of the matter is that this book is not as useful or as readable as the Web Style Guide and likely will not be awarded the same honour as her Web Teaching Guide.

Because I have been asked to provide a review of this book, I am reading it again to ensure that I have a complete sense of the book but I am getting bogged down by the heavy text and repetition of concepts.

Furthermore, there are images/screenshots that are not appropriate. For example, on page 29, she demonstrates that a particular site has used alt text for the images but the Search and Go buttons (button images with the word Search or Go on them) has the alt text of “Submit Query” which is not what the button image says. Also, there is no alt text for the Donate and Volunteer graphics. I don’t think that this is a very good example of the proper use of alt text.

In another example, on page 46 is a demonstration of CSS styling of H1, H2 and p but (1) standard practice is now to use lowercase for CSS selectors (minor point) but, more importantly (2) the margin is set to .83__qem which is a non-existant unit of measurement. These types of errors reduce the quality of this book.

Sarah Horton

September 29, 2005 8:42 AM

Hello, all. A couple things to clarify:

Gas Guzzler, the hourly rate for most authors (ok, maybe not JK Rowling!) probably works out to be a couple bucks an hour. I’d do better at MacDonalds! :-)

Jules, check out Really Undoing html.css – a great article on browser default styles. The syntax I show on p46 is courtesy of Apple’s Safari browser.

Otherwise, thanks for commenting and for checking out my book.


October 4, 2005 6:16 AM


That’s an interesting article, I hadn’t seen that one before. However, it doesn’t really answer my comment which was the use of (display of) __qem as the unit of measurement for the margin. If Safari is messing up the unit, then I would have recommended either using another source of code or simply handcoding the demonstration CSS.

As an author myself, I too disagree with the quick buck statement from Gas Guzzler: the buck is not quick (six months between royalty payments) although it is approximately a buck (~$1.00/hr).

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