Prix Möbius Suisse Rewards Inaccessible Flash Site

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

Last Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009, the awards ceremony of  Premio Möbius took place in Lugano (CH). There were two categories: Premio Möbius Multimedia, for cultural CDs and DVDs in Italian, and Grand Prix Möbius Suisse, for Swiss websites about cultural heritage.

Prix Möbius international de la Communauté Européenne, Scienza Tecnica e Medicina, Cultura, Arti e Lettere, Educazione e Formazione permanente, Premio Möbius Multimedia Lugano

Prix Möbius candidates

In the Prix Möbius category, the candidates were:

Accessibility and ease of navigation

As for accessibility and ease of navigation,  the Zurich Kunsthaus and Centre Dürrenmatt sites are the best: they read well in linear version (as spoken by screen readers) and have hierarchical headers, which allow people using a screen reader to quickly navigate from section to section (unfortunately, the Centre Dürrenmatt, being a national museum, has to use the drab template of all Swiss federal and cantonal sites).

Next best is the site of Museum Franz Gertsch; “next” because in order to enter the otherwise accessible and easily navigable rest of the site, you have to click on the word “mehr” (more) in the home page – not a very intuitive process.

Then, on a par, there are  the websites of Fotomuseum Winterthur and Site Archéologique de la Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, which don’t use hierarchical headers, hence are not easily navigable with a screen reader.

The worst by far is the site of the m.a.x. museo:

screenshot of the site as seen with Firefox on a laptop with 1280x800 screen

Screenshot of the site as seen with Firefox on a laptop with a 1280x800 screen.

The site is entirely in Flash. What a screen reader would voice is “Page has three frames and no linksm.a.x.museo colon plus forty-one left paren zero right paren ninety-one six hundred eighty-two fifty-six fifty-six dash Internet ExplorerFrameFrame end.FrameFrame end.FrameFrame end.”

Actually, in spite of the “no links,” there are two links: to the Italian and the English version, but as they are within the Flash movie, the screen-reader cannot identify them. And these two don’t even show on a laptop with 1280×800 screen, using Firefox (see screenshot above).

And the winner of Prix Möbius Suisse . . .

. . . is the site of the m.a.x. museo, www.maxmuseo.ch. Leaving aside its violation of accessibility norms, the motivation for awarding it the Prix Moebius is rather odd: “It achieves an immediate, natural and linguistically coherent synthesis of the museum’s identity and of Max Huber’s world” (my translation). Now all the site says about the museum’s identity and Max Huber’s world is:

. . . the m.a.x. museo was established on the 12th of November 2006 by the wife of leading Swiss graphic designer, the late Max Huber, Aoi Huber-Kono, with the aim of disseminating design culture and leaving his work to posterity.
It is the aspiration of this museum that it will serve as a bridge towards young designers and artists of future generations through various exhibitions, while conveying the message of Max Huber who dedicated his life to design.
We plan to organize exhibitions primarily on graphic design in order to present “design” in general to the world.

Very synthetic indeed – not even a single link to other information about Max Huber in the links section.

Granted, the flash movie is pretty. But is this enough to decree that a site is “the best site for cultural heritage,” as the description of Prix Moebius Suisse maintains?

Two paradoxes

The first paradox is that the jury of Prix Moebius Suisse is chaired by Professor Paolo Paolini, who is in charge of a Master’s course in Design of Interactive Applications for Cultural Heritage. Does he really think the purely-flash site of the m.a.x museo is an example his students should follow?

The second paradox is that Professor Paolo Paolini is co-author, with his colleagues of the Lugano Università della Svizzera Italiana, Elisa Rubegni, Alberto Terragni and Stefano Vaghi, of “Accessibility for Blind Users: An Innovative Framework” (Springer Verlag, 2008), whose abstract says:

. . . The main thesis of this paper, which focuses on blind users, is that technical recommendations (as those of the W3C) are not sufficient to guarantee actual accessibility, that we define as the possibility for the users of “reading” the website and “navigating through it” in an effective manner. A consequence of our approach is the emphasis on design, as a way to achieve actual accessibility, and on usability (by blind users,) as the main evaluation criterion. . . .

Actually, Making Content Understandable and Navigable was already one of the two main themes of the first WC3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0). And WCAG 2.0 has a whole section entitled Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.

If more websites – including the site of the Moebius Awards, www.moebiuslugano.ch, which presently conveys textual info in the .jpg image reproduced at the top of this post without an alternative description and violates accessibility commonsense in too many further ways to list here – at least applied these existing guidelines, people with disabilities would have an easier time reading and navigating them.

So Professor Paolini and his colleagues want to go further than these WCAG, apparently. That’s great. But then, why did he, as chairman of the Prix Möbius jury, allow the award to go to a site that is fully inaccessible to blind people?

Political poisoned gift?

Could there be a political agenda behind the selection of the m.a.x museo site? A kind of “cultural exception” protectionist policy à la French? An unwritten rule to favor local sites [1], no matter how unusable and inaccessible?

If so, this is a very short-sighted and harmful policy, particularly for such flash-only sites:

  • The content of  sites made entirely in flash does not get indexed by search engines, which cannot parse text inserted in a movie anymore than in a .jpg picture. When I tried to find info about a very beautiful exposition of Bruno Munari‘s work the Museum had in 2008 by googling “max museo Chiasso” (without quotes), the first hit was indeed to section www.maxmuseo.ch/en/museo.html of the museum’s site, but that page says nothing about the Munari.
    And if you try the Google cache link for this hit, a message says: “This is Google’s cache of http://www.maxmuseo.ch/en/museo.html. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 16 Jul 2009 22:32:17 GMT. (…) These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: max museo munari.”
  • Sites made entirely in flash do not open at all in cell phones, and that again is paradoxical, considering that the Möbius Awards ceremony on Oct. 3, 2009, started with a round table about digital natives, where speakers underline the present evolution towards cell phones rather than computers for internet use.

Hence awarding the Prix Möbius to such a site lulls the site owner into thinking they have a good thing, whereas they only have a pretty gimmick that cuts them off from search engine results and from cell phone users. Above all, the award is an insult to blind people – and in the case of m.a.x museo Chiasso, to low-sighted people as well, as the navigation links in the flash movie are in very pale grey on white.

__________

[1] Re this possible political bias for Ticinese websites: in 2008, the Prix Moebius for cultural heritage went to kunstpanorama.ch, the sanely textual site of the Luzern Kunsthalle, though they also gave a special mention for cacticino.net,  yet another Ticinese flash website (of the Centro d’Arte Contemporanea Ticino). This is proven by web.archive.org/web/20080511213956/http://www.moebiuslugano.ch/annun.html, i.e., the version of the awards announcement saved on May 11, 2009, by the Internet Archive and by the entries about this 2008 Möbius award in Kultpavillon.ch, the blog of Kunstpanorama.ch. However, the page for the 2008 awards of the Premio Moebius website strangely lists cacticino.net for the Cultural Heritage award and kunstpanorama.ch for the special mention.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s