E15 – Interview with Makoto Ueki – Part 1

I’m talking with Makoto Ueki, a Japanese accessility consultant who is quite involved with the W3C, and is a regular speaker on the accessibility conference circuit.


Nic: Welcome to the Accessibility Rules podcast. You’re listening to episode 15. This episode has been sponsored by patrons like you. I really do appreciate your support. I’m Nic Steenhout and I talk with people involved in one way or another with web accessibility. This week I’m speaking with Makoto Ueki.

Hello, Makoto. Thanks for joining me for this conversation around web accessibility.

Makoto: Hi Nic.

Nic: Hey, I like to let guests introduce themselves so in a brief elevator pitch introduction, who is Makoto Ueki?

Makoto: I’m Makoto. Makoto Ueki. I’m a Japanese web accessibility consultant. I’ve been participating in W3C accessibility guidelines working group. I was chair of Japanese National Standards working group for web accessibility. Plus, I’m a chairman of a web accessibility infrastructure committee in Japan.

Nic: Wow, that keeps you busy I think. All that together. That’s quite an accomplishment.

Makoto: Thank you.

Nic: Just to get started, tell me one thing that most people do not know about you.

Makoto: I ride a road bike bicycle. I like to watch road races such as Tour de Four, Giro de Italia, and Vuelta España. I made a bike jersey. It has a message on my back which is, accessibility is the web, perceivable, operable, understandable, robust. That is the 4 principles of WCAG 2.0. I’m promoting web accessibility even when I enjoy riding my road bike on Saturdays and Sundays.

Nic: How wonderful. I like that. So that’s something we have in common, I didn’t know that. When I was a teenager, I was actually in a racing team for cycling.

Makoto: Oh, really?

Nic: That’s quite good. I actually ranked #14 in Quebec at one point.

Makoto: Oh. Wow.

Nic: Yeah. I was a big fish in a very small pond. It’s really not that impressive. Alright, well, thank you for sharing that. We are talking about web accessibility and there’s sometimes a lot of definitions about web accessibility. I’d like to know how do you define what is web accessibility.

Makoto: I’d say web accessibility is that web content is accessible and usable for everyone who is using the web. Many people has been told that web accessibility means that people with disabilities can’t use the web. That’s true and that’s not wrong, but I believe web accessibility is more than that. Web accessibility benefits everyone who is using the web. Accessibility is one of the essential aspects for better user experience.

Nic: I think that’s a point that is really important. More and more people are starting to understand that accessibility isn’t just for people with disabilities but for everyone. I’m glad you are saying that.

You spoke a little bit about all the work you are doing with standards with the W3C and with the standards in Japan. Apart from that, where does your role in the work of accessibility? How do you include that in your work?

Makoto: I’m a consultant. Most of my clients, Japanese companies. Some of them are global companies. What I am doing is testing, training, developing guidelines, supporting web masters and web developers, designers, for making web content accessible and usable. Another thing is standardization of web accessibility guidelines. I’ve been participating in W3C’s working group. I’ve been doing standardization work in Japan.

Nic: What do you mean by standardization work?

Makoto: For example, we have a national standard in Japan. It was published in 2004 for the first time. The national standard for web content accessibility. I mean, standardization work means creating guidelines as a national standard.

Nic: Are you talking about trying to align the Japanese standards with what the work is happening with WCAG?

Makoto: Yeah. Actually, the first version of the Japanese national standard, we called it, JISX341 Part 3. It had many Japanese specific requirements which are not seen on WCAG. But, we don’t want to have double standards so it was in 2010 that we updated the Japanese national standards to harmonize with WCAG 2.0. I joined the W3C WCAG working group in 2004 or 2005. The working group were creating, developing the working draft of WCAG at that time. There are some guidelines which we wished to incorporate to WCAG 2.0, and actually most of our proposals are accepted. Now we WCAG 2.0 has some criteria originally proposed by Japanese committee.

Nic: That’s fantastic. Can you give me an example of one criteria that was accepted?

Makoto: Yup. Let me see. Most simple example would be, it is a part of success criteria 1.3.2. There is a Japanese word which has 2 characters, 2 kanji characters. If we put a white space between the 2 characters it’s going to be okay if we see the words, but screen readers will read it as separated characters. Sometimes, it cause a problem because if the word were read as separated characters the reading will be different.

Nic: Right.

Makoto: For example, let’s say, Tokyo-to. Tokyo-to, which means Tokyo metropolitan area in Japan. If we put a white space between To and Kyo and Kyo and To then visually it is going to be okay, we can read it as a Tokyo-to. But screen readers will read it as higashi kyo miyako. It’s quite different.

Nic: Yeah, okay.

Makoto: And makes no sense. But, I think most screen reader users are doing something when they encounter such kind of incorrect reading when they are hearing it. They can imagine that it’s going to be this or that. Since the problem which was well known among Japanese users, when I made a proposal to the WCAG working group to include this problem, I thought this is going to be a Japanese specific problem so they won’t accept to have it in WCAG 2.0. But the result was it was accepted. Professor John Slatin, he understand and he tried hard to understand what the issue is. He investigated then he finally found that it also happens in English. For example, if you, let’s say the word “Welcome”, if you put a white space between each characters, W and E, E and L, L and C, the screen readers will read it W, E, L, C, O, M, E, not welcome.

Nic: That’s right.

Makoto: So I didn’t expect that but he found that. Finally don’t put white spaces or line break within a word. It’s one of the sufficient techniques in WCAG 2.0. That’s one of the achievements for me.

Nic: That is fantastic. See, I had no idea about that. I find it fascinating to hear about first how this criteria came about but also the impact of how screen readers handle different things for different languages. I think that’s really interesting. Thank you.

Makoto: I have another example which is not a language specific issue. In WCAG 2.0, we have this criteria 1.3.3, sensory characteristics.

Nic: Yup.

Makoto: The working draft has already had 1.4.1, don’t rely on colors only. The Japanese standards also had requirements, don’t rely on shape, size, direction, something like that. We proposed new success criteria and it was accepted. We have success criteria 1.3.3. now.

Nic: Wonderful. Makoto, even if we didn’t talk anymore about anything else this little bit of conversation makes me so happy. This is great stuff. Thank you. This is really good.

Makoto: Thank you. My pleasure.

Nic: Apart from this kind of standards that have differences but you’re trying to harmonize with WCAG now, harmonizing WCAG now with what’s happening in the Japanese standard. I think most of my listeners don’t know very much about accessibility in Japan. Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s like? Are people with disabilities really active at advocating for their own rights? What’s the situation out there for people that work in the accessibility field?

Makoto: The Japanese national standards now it’s translation of WCAG 2.0. The current version was published in 2016, last year. Finally, Japanese national standards became to be identical with WCAG 2.0. Yeah, the biggest difference between your countries and Japan might be the legal obligation. In Japan, we still don’t have strong legal pressure on web accessibility. We have a national standard which is called JIS, which stands for Japanese Industrial Standard. The national standards for web accessibility don’t have any legal obligation so even public sectors like Japanese government, ministries, and local governments, they are not strongly required to make their web content accessible.

I’ve been attending CSUN conference every year for more than 10 years now. Season conference is held in San Diego, the United States in February or March every year. It is the biggest conference on accessibility. In the past 5 years or so, I feel the difference between Japan and foreign countries such as United States, Ontario in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and countries in Europe. There is the legal pressure. One more thing, Japan is the most asian country on this planet. All the people are using the web as well. So I’d like to say that web accessibility benefits all the users as well. Even, actually we don’t have a strong legal pressure in Japan, but there are many examples of governments and local governments, which are published their web accessibility policies on their website. They have a web page which shows the results of testing. It’s something like conformance crane for Japanese national standards. Our websites are conforming to Japanese national standards at level AA, something like that.

For private sectors, companies, we have many examples of big companies, large companies, which are doing web accessibility. They also published web accessibility policy on their websites and some of them published the testing results and something like conformance crane as well. The companies are doing it at level AA or single A. I thought companies would do it at level single A, but many more companies than I expected are doing it at level double A.

Nic: If there is no legal requirement for them to do accessibility, what is the incentive for government agencies and for businesses to actually implement accessibility at that level? What’s their motivation?

Makoto: Well, for government agencies, they are recommend to conform to national standards at level double A by March next year 2018.

Nic: Okay.

Makoto: Many, most of government agencies and local governments are doing their efforts to conform to JIS within this year. For businesses, there are many cases, there are many kinds of motivation for them. For example, they are doing web accessibility for CSR, corporate social responsibilities or they are doing it for customers satisfaction or they are doing it as a part of user experience design or doing it as a quality assurance. Including accessibility into their design guidelines. There are many cases, but recently what I am feeling is that global companies, they are getting requests from overseas. Their branch in foreign countries has legal pressure so they are contacting to the headquarters in Japan to revise their guidelines or design templates or whatever. The headquarters in Japan is coming to me. Actually, I’m very busy.

Nic: That’s good.

Makoto: Also, we have Olympic games and paralympic games in 2020 in Tokyo. There are many companies which are sponsoring the Olympic games and paralympic games. One of my clients is actually the sponsor of Olympic and paralympic games. They are trying to make their web content more accessible by 2020.

Nic: I understand. That’s really interesting because a lot of people in North America talk about the business case for accessibility. There’s people that are mentioning corporate social responsibility. There’s people that are mentioning everything you said, but from what you said it feels like all  are stronger in Japan than they are here. I like to hear that these reasons are actually valid and being used for making accessibility happen. It’s good to see it’s working in Japan.

Makoto: We have a new trend on web accessibility among website providers. They are very passionate with making their web services accessible because if it’s not accessible then their services will not be approved as suit for companies. So web accessibility is going to be the competitive power for web service providers. For example, if your web services is more accessible than any other services in the same field then you will get more business opportunities. You’ll get many more clients, many more customers, users. Being more accessible is going to be a strong competitive power also in Japan.

Nic: I like that. I think that’s important to add. It’s a point that some accessibility advocates in America have been trying to make but you present it very well. I think if you allow me, I might use that argument again when I speak to clients myself.

Makoto: Yeah. We have a law which requires especially large companies to have employees who have disabilities. At least 2%, so there will be employees who need accessible web services. For web service providers, web accessibility is very, very powerful.

Nic: Yeah. That’s really, really interesting. Thank you Makoto. One last question I think I want to ask you before we wrap up this segment of the show, how did you get interested in web accessibility? What prompted you to learn about it and get so involved with it?

Makoto: It was about 15 years ago, I joined a consulting firm on web usability. The boss asked me to manage a new project which was Japanese localization of testing to for web content accessibility. To be honest, I didn’t know that people with disabilities were using the web at that time. I was confused. I asked my boss, what is accessibility? What is screen reader? What are you talking about? I had a 5 year career in the web industry at that time. I used to be a director of a web design company. I used to be a web master of a private company, but I didn’t know anything about screen readers. I have no idea. I didn’t have any family members or friends who had disabilities so I didn’t have any contact with people who are blind, who has low vision, who are deaf, who has mobility impairments and so on.

When I saw a person who is blind using screen reader for the first time, it was a huge impact for me. I was invited to a small classroom for people who are blind to learn how to use screen reader. There were more than 10 people who are blind. I met a woman who was over 80 years old. She lost her sight after she became 80 years old. She was learning how to search information on the web by using google. It took long time for her to find the information she was looking for. That was my starting point. Whenever I face accessibility issue for screen reader users which is hard to fix, writing reports for my clients on how to fix accessibility issues, for instance. I imagine which solution would work better for her, the old woman, then I make my final decision for my clients.

Nic: That’s a very human approach to technical solutions.

Makoto: Yeah.

Nic: It’s good.

Makoto: Web accessibility it tends to be a check list work, but basically for me it’s all about how easy users can use it.

Nic: Yeah. It’s very much what it’s about. It’s about people in the end.

Makoto: Yeah.

Nic: Yeah, I like that. Okay, Makoto, on that note I think I’m going to wrap up this segment for this week. Thank you for your fantastic discussion. This was really mind blowing good so thank you for that. We’ll finish our conversation next week.

Makoto: Yeah.

Nic: Before I go, I want to thank my patrons once again. Remember that if you need a hand in ensuring your accessibility, I’m available. Contact me on my website at incl.ca.