Herbstcampus 2016 - Software development in an including society by Marco Zehe

Posted by Steven

This article is part of a series about Herbstcampus 2016, a conference that took place in Nürnberg, Germany. Links to articles about other talks I visited there can be found below.

The keynote of the Herbstcamps has been held by Marco Zehe, who is the quality manager of accessibility at Mozilla. Because of his blindness since birth, Marco is using other tools and perceiving his work differently than seeing people are.

Accessibility can be achieved by simple means, like choosing the right font and contrast or making the layout of an application zoomable. This is especially important because of the different devices we all use these days. A web site has to be usable on your big desktop screen as well as on your tiny smartphone, out in the bright sunlight. To enable your website to do that, you can just use the normal tools. You also should make sure that browser settings are used by your web application.

The situation above is a nice example of why accessibility is not just a topic for handicapped people. Especially older persons need readable fonts and zoomable user interfaces. Marco proposed that developers should imagine their own parents or grandparents using their applications. In 2030, more than 50% of the population in Germany will be over 60 years old. "These are the people who want to use the technology they grew up with, and they have money". Of course there are other target groups, too. Globally, around 20% of all people are challenged in a physically or mentally way. In Germany, there are around 150.000 completely blind people and around 1 million with handicaps concerning the eyes.

To test if your application will fulfill these demands, there are several options like building mockups and testing them on different target groups.

But not just the user interface can be an accessibility issue. Marco described how the app of the German railway company Deutsche Bahn provoked problematic situations when traveling via train. When booking a ticket to your target location, you have to add this ticket to a "my travel" section to view it. When adding a trip back to your departing location, the first ticket gets overwritten with the new ticket. The reason for this is that the app identifies tickets by route. Because there is no warning, Marco had a hard time convincing the controller of the train to not charge him extra for fare evasion.

The most interesting part of the talk was a live demo of Marcos screen reader software. Visiting different websites, Marco demonstrated how these websites are rendered to speech. For every component on the screen, information like the type of the element (slider, combobox, button) is mentioned as well as the access key and if it is enabled or disabled.

Marco concluded his talk by mentioning that developing with accessibility in mind is an important skill that is transferable to other settings and situations. Accessibility should be built in from the beginning instead of added at the end of a project.

In the USA and Canada, there have been high penalties against companies that had inaccessible websites. The National Federation of the blind is a mighty lobby against discrimination. Because there are similar laws in Great Britain, accessibility is a legal issue in Europe, too.

Marco motivated the developers to use HTML in the right way. The language has been designed with accessibility in mind and already has most of the needed features to implement accessible websites. It's good practice to use "real" buttons instead of "drawing" your own buttons with a CSS-advanced div-Tag. One of the most annoying problems are headlines that are not created using the "h"-tag. Only "real" headlines can be used to create a structured view of a website. Don't write "div-sauce". "Master the basics of HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Don't just use a framework without knowing these basics.", Marco said.

The Java Access Bridge provides a framework to embed accessibility in your Java applications.


Design your applications and websites accessible by using the right programming language concepts and additional frameworks and toolkits.

Other content of Herbstcampus 2016

These are the talks I visited:

  • Keynote by Marco Zehe
  • The new modules system Jigsaw in Java 9 by Martin Lehmann and Dr. Kristine Schaal
  • Git in the context of Visual Studio and TFS by Marko Beelmann
  • Introduction to the world of quantitative analysis by Harm Gnoyke
  • Experiences from 10 years of Domain Driven Design by Dr. Carola Lilienthal and Henning Schwentner
  • Technical dept hurts - how to find and get rid of it by Dr. Carola Lilienthal

(Herbstcampus Logo from http://www.herbstcampus.de/)