Standards and Accessibility

Oklahoma!

The Broadway show Oklahoma! opened during WWII on March 31, 1943 and ran for 2,212 performances. It was Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s first collaboration and it was a smash hit. There were many film offers from the studios but Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted to wait until they had made as much money as they could on Broadway, and from traveling companies, and from foreign stage shows.

They began production on the movie version almost ten years later. It was the first movie shot in Todd-AO, a widescreen format to rival CinemaScope. Todd-AO was shot on 65mm negative and Oklahoma! was shot at 30 frames per second. 30 frames per second eliminated the subliminal flicker of 24 frames per second which was otherwise standard. Unless they were under or over cranking. Want to speed up a horse race like in National Velvet? Undercrank.

The Silver Screen

I started working in the movies in theatrical post production in Manhattan and transferred to a Hollywood local in 1979. My first Hollywood job was working on the UCLA film archives project in studio vaults and I remember finding picture elements from Oklahoma! People don’t track things when a project is done. There’s no staff left, production is too complex, and pieces get filed oddly. Archiving was not really a thing then. Film was regularly sent for destruction after silver recovery. They didn’t call it the silver screen for nothing.

Production Requirements

When it comes time to do post production on a movie the money is mostly all spent, but they do budget for post production because it’s a production requirement. When it comes time to “add accessibility” to a digital project the money is definitely all spent because it was never a production requirement.

Operability

Released in 1955, Oklahoma! was shot in Todd-AO and simultaneously in CinemaScope. It was released in Todd-AO in 70mm and CinemaScope in 35mm anamorphic format. Supporting two versions was necessary because there weren’t enough theaters set up for Todd-AO. Operability was a problem.

Film Standards

Competing standards for shooting formats also brought about different standards for motion picture film stock. For instance, Todd-AO used Kodak Standard (KS) perforations while CinemaScope used Cinema Scope (CS) perforations that we called foxholes because originally only 20th Century Fox made CinemaScope movies.

Thanks to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), today’s web standards have helped create an environment far less restrictive than competing film format and film stock standards. You couldn’t run foxhole stock on a machine set up for Kodak Standard, but you could do the reverse. This site best viewed in Chrome reminds me of this.

Slow Down

Shot in Arizona and at at MGM Studios in Culver City, California, where I later worked,  Oklahoma! was released 12 years after the stage play debuted. Though Rodgers and Hammerstein did delay making the movie the fact is that making great things requires time. This still holds true. Making great software takes time. Look at the time put into operating systems. WordPress is 13 years in the making. We’re still developing the web 25 years later.

In a time of minimum viable products and largely inaccessible frameworks I have to wonder, what’s the rush? If you are going to leave out a sizeable portion of people by not including accessibility up front I guess you don’t have to slow down, but really, why rush to release without first considering accessibility? I know that some projects are urgent. I regularly worked 13.5 hour days seven days a week in the studios so I understand urgency. I’m just wondering what the rush is when you’re leaving out so many people.

Mission

My mission, by the way, in listening to this soundtrack is to make an effort to introduce Siobhan to more music. She likes show tunes so I’m trying Oklahoma! She and I watched the Todd-AO version a few times and now I have the album on her iPad. Great songs. Next I have to load the icon into her speech generating devices. Those speech generating devices have no standards at all. We have to reprogram her entire environment from scratch each time she moves to a new device. There are no open source Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) projects that include software and hardware.

Get It Right

So these are my thoughts as I listen to the songs from the Oklahoma! movie. My time spent working on movies and my time spent working on the web, a whole lifetime of rich experiences, informs everything I do. Let’s make sure that everyone has access to information and experiences so everyone can live a rich life. Good things take time and if you take a slightly slower approach and use open web standards you’ll find that you can surely make your projects perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Get it right the first time.

Update

Siobhan used the icon for Oklahoma! and I helped her locate the soundtrack in the impenetrable wasteland that iOS Music has become. But that sounds like a topic for another post.

Restricted Access Board

Fee Based Distribution

The U.S. Access Board is at the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking stage with 10 new standards, including the 508 refresh, and they are proposing to make some of the new standards incorporated by reference available only by fee and with distribution restrictions. If some of the documents we need to refer to are only available for a fee it will affect us negatively. For those earning less, the impact will be greater.

Comment by Public Resource

David Halperin and Carl Melamud of Public.Resource.Org have written an excellent comment on this aspect of the proceedings.

This issue was brought to my attention this evening by my colleague Sina Bahram who co-signed the comment.

Restricted Distribution

I have been using Section 508 guidelines, covering web accessibility, in my accessible user experience practice since 1999 and I know that the refresh of Section 508 is long overdue so I’m all for getting this information published, but this is the wrong way to go about it.

More onerous than the fee structure, the restrictions placed on open sharing of those documents will have a very chilling effect on my ability to debate the meaning of those documents which is the essence of what we do when attempting to apply the standards.

No matter how they are written, it’s the interpretation of the standards in the fast paced world of accessibility practice that matters. If we can’t freely share and debate the information we will be unable to practice effectively.

I am glossing over some details because it is late and I’m typing this on my phone. Fortunately, the comment referenced above is very thorough and explains the situation very well.

Action Required

I have written to the American Association of Law Librarians (AALL) which has a great interest in open and free access to legal information like this. If you can think of organizations like AALL and can spare a few minutes to alert them to this situation, or you can make a comment about it on the Access Board site, please do.