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Accessibility: Build it, and They Will Come

August 10, 2003

Second Voice Icon: AccessibilityNic Steenhout is a long time disability rights activist. He has been the director of a Center for Independent Living for several years. CILs are non-profit, non-residential advocacy and service organization operated by and for people with disabilities. He has been interested in web accessibility issues since images first came in the picture (pun intended).

Accessibility on the web raises questions, disagreements, and passion. Let me tell you why I personally cannot compromise on accessibility.

First, let me point out that I am a person with disabilities. I have several disabilities, but the most obvious is that I use a wheelchair. I do not have a vision disability, but have more than a handful of friends, employees and consumers who do. I cannot help but draw parallels between my experience with brick and mortar stores’ lack of access, and my friends’ experiences on the web. I can’t get in the building, they can’t get into the website. Different, yet similar. Let’s continue.

It’s Your Responsibility

Why is accessibility important to you, the designer? In many cases, it’s the Law (for US based companies, at any rate). While there is currently one case creating a precedent against the Americans with Disabilities Act applying to US based online businesses, this will likely change in the near future. The spirit of the ADA is not being followed by judges who see it as a brick & mortar law, when it is in fact a civil rights law. The disability community is working hard to push one that would represent that aspect. But the ADA is only one law that addresses online presence; there is also Section 508 (of the Rehabilitation Act). I won’t go into details of that, but basically if the group you are working with receives federal funding, they had better be compliant.

If you’re only the designer, why does it matter if your client insists on a non-accessible site? Consider this: in brick & mortar lawsuits it’s common practice to sue the owner as well as the architect, contractor, and anyone else involved in construction of the building. It’s only a matter of time before non-accessible sites will start being named in lawsuits. You can bet that as the site’s designer, you will be named in the suit as well. You have a responsibility to make accessibility happen; don’t ask your client, chances are they don’t even know what you’re asking about. If you develop solid habits when you design, it’s easy to make a site comply not only with priority 1, but WAI priority 2. (Priority 3 is much more finicky, but not impossible) Feed your clients accessible websites, perhaps even despite what they think they want.

…but it’s such a small market! It’s easy to dismiss accessibility concerns with a statistic. You may have good eyesight, but how’s your Vision? Approximately 10 million people with visual disabilities (blind and low-vision) live in the US alone. And the market share is growing, especially considering many folks prefer to shop online for products and services. An accessible web site is so much easier than fighting with transportation and figuring out a product at the store. Also consider that these 10 million people have family and friends who will often patronize a particular business because they know it’s more accessible to their loved ones with disabilities. And let’s not forget we live an aging society where soon a large percentage of people will have vision issues.

You Don’t Want to Consider Accessibility!

But how can we consider all cases? Some debaters are fond of using extreme imagery of folks with multiple and very significant disabilities (e.g. Deaf and Blind and paralysed “from the neck down”), arguing they will never receive the full experience that someone without a disability will. Of course not, but frankly we people with disabilities grow tired of other folks shrugging off their responsibility by using the extreme example. A little goes a long way, and making no attempt at all in this direction because “you can’t please everyone” is an excuse for the idle.

Okay! I got your attention, put that flame thrower back in the closet! Seriously, we say we’re all for accessibility, as long as we don’t have to work too hard at it. That last bit is unstated, yet comes through loud and clear in most discussions. In fairness, it is indeed a lot of work to go back into a site and retrofit for access. Just like it’s difficult, time consuming and costly to remove a 28” wide door and replace it with a 32” wide door. Had the proper width door been planned for from the beginning, well, you wouldn’t have had the problem to start with!

One major issue stems from the fact that more and more frequently, we don’t have the option of seeing products at a “real” store. Products or services are only accessible online, which means a person cannot visit the physical store. Without that option, a site that isn’t accessible shuts out a whole lot of people. And whether consciously done or not, that is discrimination.

As my good friend Dan Wilkins says: A community that excludes even one of its members is no community at all. Of course, this is not a question of community, but one of business. I would argue that without the community supporting the business, there is no business. But that’s another discussion.

Challenges to Consider

I was asking Denise, a colleague of mine, about the problems she encounters on the web. She pointed out that sites using Flash don’t let her go anywhere. And while there may be more accessibility features in the most recent versions of Flash, it’s still not really an accessible technology. She was also telling me that a number of sites have a splash page with one big graphic, and no alternate text or anything to give an inkling as to what she is supposed to do from there.

What I found very telling is that when I asked Denise if she could give me a few websites that she found particularly non-accessible, she couldn’t. Because if it’s not accessible, she moves on to another site! (and promptly forgets where she was). These companies never had a chance to even showcase their products to her.

Drawing another parallel with brick & mortar, I’ll tell you about Pete. Pete was my car mechanic in Illinois. Pete is probably one of the best, most affordable, and honest mechanics there is. A gem. But Pete’s garage was not accessible. It had one step in front of the entrance. It’s not much, only 6”. A mere step for you who are walking, you won’t even notice it. Yet it means that I can’t get in. And in the middle of winter, when it’s -20°F, or in the middle of summer, when it’s over 100°F, having to wait outside is not only unpleasant and inconvenient, but can be outright dangerous.

I asked Pete to put in a ramp. He then asked me, “why should I put a ramp in? You’re the only customer I have in a wheelchair.” I asked him why he thought that was. Of course if your potential customers can’t get in, you won’t have them as a customer! He agreed to build the ramp. And when he did, I recommended him to all my friends. Pretty soon, his customer base increased by nearly a dozen people. Not bad for investing $300 in cement.

The point of this is that while you can track who visits your site(s), you cannot track if they have a disability or not. So you can’t excuse accessibility by claiming you don’t have any blind visitors. But you can rely on the fact that if you build it, they will come. Word of mouth is big in the disability community.

Spreading the Word

Of course, awareness is a big problem. The issues surrounding the need for web accessibility seem to be a closely guarded secret. Frankly, before I landed in this wheelchair, I was blissfully ignorant of accessibility issues. I am not faulting anyone who doesn’t know about the issues for not fixing their sites. But the moment one becomes aware, one must think about starting accessible/universal web design.

I also fault people with disabilities in all this. If accessibility is such a secret on the web, it is in part because we don’t speak up enough. I have no compunction telling someone when their site (or restaurant, or…) is not accessible, but I find that a majority of other folks with disabilities aren’t that vocal. If more people took the time to email site owners with faulty design, we would see the word and requests for accessible sites grow.

On the other hand, having been on the receiving end of the rejection that usually follows my requests for accessibility, I know that it is difficult to keep on advocating. Typically, email asking for a site to be more accessible are either ignored, or sent canned answer like “thank you for bringing this to our attention, we’ll look into it.” Months later, of course, they haven’t changed a thing. It’s a brush off. Every once in a while, we get an outright we don’t care about it, shove off (in so many words or not).

In Summary

I probably could go on and on and you wouldn’t be the first one to rightfully accuse me of having diarrhea of the mouth/fingers. Let’s draw this to a conclusion for now. Here are a few parting thoughts/recap:

Making accessible sites is not that difficult.
Even if you opt to only fulfill WAI Priority 1, you’ll have a site that is at least usable.
Making accessible sites is the right thing to do.
Shunning (on purpose or not) people just because they have a different way to do things is bad, and you’re not bad people.
Making accessible sites benefits everyone.
There are more and more people surfing on devices that need a little help, like PDAs, cell phones, etc.
Making accessible sites brings in $$$.
In today’s market, I cannot accept the argument that a market share is too small to be worth catering to, especially considering the very low cost of building accessible sites. Every dollar in sales is important to today’s companies.
We must pass the word about accessible/universal design.
Until more and more people demand accessible sites, and more and more designers demand tools providing accessible design features, it won’t happen on the scale it really needs to.

For more on the subject, here are some sites of interest:

So… That’s that for now.

The text of this article ©Copyright 2003, Nic Steenhout, all rights reserved. Everything else falls under this site’s standard license.


Reader Comments

1
Michael says:
August 10, 01h

Great article and I’ll say “Amen to that brother”.

I recently set forth on a task of contacting local churches in my area about accessibility with their websites. After all with the evangelical church it’s important to reach EACH and EVERY PERSON right? Well not necessarily. Out of 7 site webmasters that I contacted I received 5 replies and only 1 of the 5 replies was “we’ll look into it”. The remaining 4 dismissed away the problems that I presented as either too time consuming/expensive or not a valid concern, “after all the site looks fine in lynx”. Even the pastor at my own church stated that it wasn’t important to him that the site be accessible as much as it was for the site to look the same in all browsers - and we have multiple disabled people in the church.

I’ve also been fighting a similar fight at work. I’m a lead designer for the UI on a web app that reaches 1500 internal users. Over the past few months I’ve been redesigning the site with standards and accessibility in mind. I haven’t had any push back on the UI coding but when I mention that in the near future we’ll be level/priority 2 compliant I get only the occassional head bobble nervous smile and the “that’s great but we really need to focus on…”.

It seems people believe that it’s extremely difficult and time consuming to build accessibility in. Instead they need to understand that it’s part of the underlying design and if that’s where you start it’s fairly simple to implement. In my mind if you’re doing it right it becomes a habit, and a good one at that.

We really need to get it into people’s brains that accessibility isn’t a secondary issue, it’s a primary issue. The problem is that people want what’s pretty - people want to live on the beach where it’s nice and sandy and they can see the water. But you can’t build a house on the sand next to the water and expect it to survive. So you build the house on a rock overlooking the sand and the water. The view is just as pretty and ends up being less expensive in the long run.

2
Nic says:
August 10, 02h

Before anyone accuse me of focusing entirely and solely on accessibility issues for people who have vision disabilities, please allow me to point out that a next installement will discuss other disability related issues such as: Colour blindness, seizure disorders, cognitive disabilities, ADD/ADHD, Deafness, etc, which are all part of the picture…

Huck says:
August 10, 02h

Great article. I’m often curious about the opinions of disabled folk, but I seldom hear from them. In fact, I’m curious why more disabled people don’t get into blogging. Is it the raw need for an accessible blogging program?

Anyway, I think the best way for me to learn about accessible web design is to hear about what makes a web site really easy to navigate from a disabled person’s point of view. Some good examples of accessible websites would be nice (and why, from a disabled person’s point of view). While Section 508 and the WAI priority stuff are a very nice objective resource, I want to hear what’s cool for a disabled person.

And thanks for being outspoken, I think that really helps a lot. :)

Joe Clark says:
August 10, 03h

A claim that 10 million people with visual impairments exist in the U.S. is, of course, superficially impressive, but has no bearing on the issue of Web accessibility. You have to look at the numbers of people with specific disabilities who are online and what their needs are. My book has the only credible statistics to press time - http://joeclark.org/book/sashay/serialization/Chapter02.html?mezzo#h2-685 - and I don’t know of many other credible surveys since then (though I think I have one embedded in my E-mail somewhere).

MikeyC says:
August 10, 05h

“The point of this is that while you can track who visits your site(s), you cannot track if they have a disability or not.”

Something just popped into my head and I hope this doesn’t come off sounding tacky or offensive: maybe it would help the accessibility cause if those with disabilities added some type of marker to their User Agent string. This might be one way or raising the profile of a particular disabled group so that webmasters would have a way of tracking them. Just brainstorming here…

“why should I put a ramp in? You’re the only customer I have in a wheelchair.” I asked him why he thought that was. Of course if your potential customers can’t get in, you won’t have them as a customer!”

This is so true. There was a usenet thread a little while back about the weightwatchers website blocking out Mozilla. A few people complained and posted the webmaster’s response and it was something to the effect of: “Mozilla users make up an insignificant percentage of our customer-base (you must remember that they did support Netscape 6+ which at this point probably has fewer users than Mozilla) so we don’t bother testing against it, we would rather just block the browser from entering the site…” but of course who knows how many potential customers they were blocking by doing this! Ditto with buymusic.com.

“Making accessible sites benefits everyone. There are more and more people surfing on devices that need a little help, like PDAs, cell phones, etc.”

I think companies are less likely to ignore these users than they are to ignore those with disabilities. Hopefully in the next couple of years enough people begin surfing the net from alternative devices that it makes ignoring accessibility issues simply too costly.

Jai says:
August 10, 08h

Nic, that’s among the best reads I’ve had in months. Thank you for it. There’s so much to think about, and though I am skeptical about accessability becoming as important as we hope it will, I will do my small part to try to make accessable sites (probably from here on out… retro-fitting scares me a bit… though it’s not an impossiility). Thanks for the insightful perspective!

7
Nic says:
August 10, 08h

Michael: for some reason, churches in general seem to be one of the least accessible places. Some here and there are pretty good, but most don’t. They don’t have to comply with the ADA, being a special class (unless and until they offer their venues to outside groups, but that gets complicated). Sooo, lots and lots of churches don’t have ramps. OTOH, I have heard of a couple churches really going above and beyond. One pastor I know of actually trained Dragon Dictate for his voice and rigged his laptop to the church’s sound system, so his sermon could be projected on a screen. They already had the hardware. They couldn’t afford an interpreter, and had two members that were Deaf. Another church I know holds one service every week entirely in Sign.

Sadly, these seem to be the exception more than the norm. Sad, considering what the values of church should be.

Huck: Lack of accessible blogging program is probably one reason more folks with disabilities don’t blog. Another thing to consider is that there may be a bunch of folks with disabilities blogging, but not talking about their disabilities. Many of my friends like the fact that people can’t see their disability online. Equalizes, it’s a somewhat safe place where the world doesn’t shun them quite so obviously. Also, lots of folks I know can’t afford the kind of computer and connection that makes blogging a “fun” thing to do (I just gave a P-II to someone who was still using a 486…)

Joe: Thanks for your point. You’re right, there aren’t ten million folks with visual disabilities online. And it is difficult to judge, the ratio of online/not online is likely to be different. It’s tempting, though, to extrapolate and compare numbers. Not all 260 or so million americans are online either, right? Dunno. The fact remains, as you point out in your book, I think, that if you pile folks that *are* online with visual disabilities, and all other disabilities that make surfing difficult, the numbers do become significant enough that we should pay attention. Yes?

Mikey: Your idea doesn’t sound offensive, on the surface. And I am not taking offense, but allow me to throw a thought at y’all. While the idea would be to help web designers to have a better idea of who visit their sites, I think many people with disabilities don’t particularly want to be wearing a sign on their forehead saying they have a disability to every site they go to. It would be a form of discrimination, unless *everyone* were identifying in one way or another through their browsers/whatever. I don’t think it would make enough of a difference.

Jai: Glad you enjoyed it. You’re right, retro-fitting is a hard task. You might want to look at WAI priority 1 and see what’s missing. Putting a meaningful alt to all your images would make a world of difference. If you do nothing else when you retro-fit, that would be it (of course, other people might disagree with me on that ;-) )

8
Nic says:
August 10, 08h

ughh, the pastor rigged his laptop to an LCD projector, NOT the sound system… kinda pointless to have it through the sound system if it’s for Deaf folks! Sign it’s time to get to bed.

socrates says:
August 10, 09h

Let’s clarify your argument so we can see better how all this will fare, and what approach is best:

1) Moral argument
-“A community that excludes even one of its members is no community at all”
-You imply, relying on the notion of equality, that there is a responsibility to include people with disabilities. But then you undercut this saying we needn’t concern ourselves with people with “extreme” disabilities, only those disabilities that are normal (not extreme). As much as you don’t want to hear it, others are thus quite free to say that making efforts to include the blind are “extreme” and not worth the effort. And you have no argument morally superior to theirs.

There are also moral arguments on the basis of individuality (and, by extension, private property) that run counter to your goal. It’s my site, so why do I have to cater to you? Or Spanish-only speakers? Etc.

2) Profit argument
-“Approximately 10 million people with visual disabilities (blind and low-vision) live in the US alone.”
An extremely small online market for most sites, unless you have a specialty site. (Or unless only some sites are accessible and corner the market, as in your ramp example, but then that’s not what you really want.) Hence the trouble/visitor is too high. A net loss. -At least perceived to be, anyway.

3) Legal argument
-” In many cases, it’s the Law”
-clear enough for gov’t sites

-“It’s only a matter of time before non-accessible sites will start being named in lawsuits.”
-maybe they will succeed, maybe not. But by the logic of equality, this is the direction it will go in. Like gay marriage. Maybe Canada will “accessify” first ;-)

If this is a clear summary, we can then conclude:

1) the equality argument is equivocal. Did it help in the past with other issues before it was dictated by law?

2) If the true cost of adding accessibility per visitor is actually low, you can push this aspect, though little or no profit will result except for specialty sites. The argument would be that it’s easy to do, so why not? (Somewhat like moving to xhtml over html 4.01.) In this vein, articles showing exactly what to do are needed. I followed the links suggested. I didn’t see any clear practical list with examples of common problems and what exactly I should be adding to my sites. An article taking a regular well-known site and showing exactly how to add accessibility to it would be of high value. ALA?

Then again, if the true cost is high, this approach won’t work anyway. Then…

2) Only legal challenges will force private sites to change. This would not be surprising. You want to impose costs upon profit based ventures. Naturally, they they will not take them on voluntarily.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be off to find a rooster for Crito.

Dave S. says:
August 10, 09h

Socrates — interesting you should mention the ‘it’s easy, why not do it?’ mindset in comparing XHTML to HTML 4.01. The funny thing about writing valid XHTML is that you satisfy almost every point of WAI priority 1, and only a few tweaks are needed to satisfy priorities 2 & 3.

Dave S. says:
August 11, 01h

(apologies Joe - I’ve been bringing the rest of my code up to speed to [hopefully] get this site validating front-to-back, even on these comment pages. Your original link was a casualty of that process, so I took the liberty of re-linking)

Owen says:
August 11, 04h

I’ve always found that discussion about the legal aspects of Web accessibility in the UK and, more generally, the European Union, is sadly lacking from much of the material on the Web. If it’s of any interest, here’s a brief summary.

Unlike in the US, the UK Disability Discrimination Act obliges *all* companies and other service providers to take all steps that are “reasonable” to change any practice, policy or procedure which makes it “impossible or unreasonably difficult” for people with disabilities to make use of a service, including those accessed via the Internet. Private and public sectors alike, profit or not-for-profit.

As part of the eEurope Action Plan 2002, the EU member states agreed that all public sector Web sites must be designed to be accessible, adopting the WCAG - by the end of 2001. Which is now some time ago and the situation hasn’t improved much. National and local government Web sites are notoriously inaccessible here with little hope for marked improvement for some years.

It would seem, then, that the law (certainly in the UK) will remain ineffective, until a successful case is made and won in court. The social, moral and commercial arguments, with which I agree, have had little force as yet. While I wouldn’t wish the task of taking an organisation to court over its inaccessible Web services on anyone, I often feel it’ll be the only available course of action to get things moving.

I still remain committed to an accessible Web, though, and enjoyed the article.

August 11, 05h

“Before anyone accuse me of focusing entirely and solely on accessibility issues for people who have vision disabilities, please allow me to point out that a next installement will discuss other disability related issues such as: Colour blindness, seizure disorders, cognitive disabilities, ADD/ADHD, Deafness, etc, which are all part of the picture…”

I was about to ask ;). Because I feel that most people think of WAI Guidelines as a kind of “accessibility for vision disabilities” only. But frankly, I don´t blame them, as there is very little reference within the Guidelines to other types of disabilities. On top of that, there seems to be an “anti-image” movement within the accessibility advocates (not many, but they´re there) that seem to forget that there are, in fact, some groups that benefit from the use of images/icons (like a house for “home”, an envelope for “email”, etc.) to reinforce the text-only links.

Regarding how easy/hard Level 2/3 are, I have to disagree with you. Yes, Level 32 is finicky, but most of the time, I find it quite easier to comply with Levels 1 and 3, than it is with Level 2. I don´t know, maybe it´s just me.

Socrates: I think you misread what Nic wrote… “we people with disabilities grow tired of other folks shrugging off their responsibility by using the extreme example” I don´t see anything that even hints that we ignore extreme disabilities; he merely acknowledges that there are some people with disabilities so severe that no matter how much effort you put in, they won´t be able to “receive the full experience”.

Chris says:
August 11, 05h

http://diveintoaccessibility.org would probably be a good link to add to the list above.

Interesting, if you try and add a title attribute to a link Movabletype will strip it right out again when you preview the post.

15
Nic says:
August 11, 06h

Socrates: I have never said, and will never say, think, or believe that it’s ok not to concern ourselves with people with significant disabilities. I am saying that you should at least start by making a site accessible to *most*. As Coletas points out, there will be people for which accessibility will be a problem. I am saying, don’t use the excuse that your site may be a problem for a few people to just ditch the effort to make the whole site accessible as much as possible.

“There are also moral arguments on the basis of individuality (and, by extension, private property) that run counter to your goal. It?s my site, so why do I have to cater to you? Or Spanish-only speakers? Etc. “

If you want to look at it that way, there is likely nothing I can ever say to convince you that discriminating against people with disabilities (or any other group) is not good

“An extremely small online market for most sites, unless you have a specialty site. (Or unless only some sites are accessible and corner the market, as in your ramp example, but then that?s not what you really want.) Hence the trouble/visitor is too high.”

Since when is it said that someone with a disability purchases only disability related products? We buy products like everyone else, and the range of what we purchase is as varied as what folks without disabilities purchase.

”- “In many cases, it’s the Law”
-clear enough for gov’t sites”

Yes, except that it’s not only government sites. It’s Federally funded organizations. This opens the umbrella *quite* a bit.

“the equality argument is equivocal. Did it help in the past with other issues before it was dictated by law?”

No, not in the USA. Forgive me for hoping that perhaps some people would decide to do the right thing. Been accused of being an optimist in the past.

“I didn’t see any clear practical list with examples of common problems and what exactly I should be adding to my sites. An article taking a regular well-known site and showing exactly how to add accessibility to it would be of high value.”

Hmmm. That’s an idea. Though I thought that WAI guidelines were pretty clear. At the bottom of each statement it tells you exactly what to do, what not to do and mostly has links to why you want to do that. Chris suggested a link that I hadn’t seen, and on the surface appears to be rather fantastic, that may provide you with the step by step you want:
http://diveintoaccessibility.org/

Soletas: There undeniably is a hierarchy within the disability community folks with vision disabilities find themselves rather high on the scale compared to the other disability types I mentionned. It is not surprising that we tend to think of visual disabilities before, say, ADD. We tend to think of what we have more epxerience with.

In an article for a disability related magasine, I talk about how we tend to focus only on a few types of disabilities. If you’re interested: http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/0503/0503ft2.html

It is interesting that you find complying with Priority 3 easier than 2… Anyone else like this?

Martijn says:
August 11, 07h

I have been reading a lot about accessibilty lately (because it seems to be an issue that is going round on designer info related sites). One of the main problems I experience is that the general rules and the testpages and validators do not give me feedback about the usability of a site, but only if I adhear to the accessibility.

I haven’t got a clue if a page is usable for different people with different handicaps because I cannot relate to the experience. I have downloaded and used screenreader software to see what that would be like, but I’m not used to navigate using audio only and I still use my eyes for the keyboard.

It would be very, very helpful if different people with different handicaps would deconstruct a website (say, amazon.com) and point out the problems and solutions to that problem from their point of view.

August 11, 07h

Talking about resources, there’s an article buried at the W3C I found very useful.
http://www.w3.org/WAI/EO/Drafts/PWD-Use-Web/Overview.html

18
Matthew Farrand says:
August 11, 09h

I enjoyed reading this article and I think that having it on a site that looks so good makes the point that accessible need not be ugly.

As to the practicalities of screenreaders, Julie Howell of the RNIB in the UK advised sighted web designers not to try screenreaders. They are complex bits of software, and what can appear as an accessibility problem could be the result of inexperience in using a screenreader. Better, she advised, to learn accessible web design techniques and get disabled people to test sites you have designed.

This sounds sensible to me. I got nowhere on the one occasion I tried using a screenreader to test a site I designed, and ended up cheating by turning the monitor on.

Joe Clark says:
August 11, 12h

I guess they really mean it when they say “No HTML allowed.”

The appropriate reference for statistics in my book is:

http://joeclark.org/book/sashay/serialization/Chapter02.html?mezzo#h2-685

August 12, 06h

It’s the same argument as people who only design for Internet Explorer. Making your website accessible is easy enough and should be mandatory for all designers. Although I have yet to deal with my home website (as it’s still being redesigned), at work I enjoyed taking our entire site through all 3 levels of the W3C Guidelines. What’s that? Did he say “enjoyed”? For yes, retro-fitting can be fun! After all, you’re being payed to maintain the site so get dug in.

The similarity to converting from HTML 4 to XHTML 1 is a good one, because a lot of the changes you use to make your site accessible require nothing more than INSERTING A FEW EXTRA TAGS. Most of the time they don’t affect the display, so you can work on the files secretly. But feel the pleasure as you tick off another box on the W3C Guidelines list. Think of it as a challenge. But unlike playing a computer game, there is a real benefit to be gained from it.

Besides, it’s the UK law as we’re a business!

21
Nic says:
August 13, 08h

Keith, thanks for the info, great links I had brainfarted about :-/

Owen, very often clients get wrapped in promises from designers/contractors, etc.

A few years ago, a city in Illinois rebuilt their sidewalk and from the start my organization was there asking them to get them build to code. WOudln’t you know it, it wasn’t. When we insisted it be redone, they said “no money for it”. When we threathened to sue, they said “but we have it in the contract, it’s supposed to be to code”… In the end, the contractor had to redo it at their own expense. I am anxiously awaiting the day this happens online :-)

Totally unrelated, I just got my new wheelchair, all US $3,500 worth of it http://bmee.net/temp/sweet.html Couldn’t help gloating :-)

August 13, 09h

Nic: Another useful site to add to your list: Accessify aims “to build up a collection of useful resources, links to the best accessibility sites on offer … and an online toolset for everyone to use free of charge”. See: http://www.accessify.com/


Socrates: “I didn’t see any clear practical list with examples of common problems and what exactly I should be adding to my sites.”

The UK Disability Rights Commission has an Inaccessible Web Site Demonstration that tries “to give you a flavour of the kind of difficulties a range of disabled visitors can face.” See: http://www.drc.gov.uk/newsroom/website.asp


Owen: Regarding the UK situation, the Disability Rights Commission has been tasked with carrying out a formal investigation into the state of web site accessibility, a key aim being “to identify recurrent barriers to web access and to help site owners and developers recognise and avoid them”. See: http://www.drc.gov.uk/newsroom/newsdetails.asp?id=393§ion=1

The UK government plans to review its own web sites for accessibility, and has addressed accessibility to a greater or lesser extent in its “Guidelines for UK Government websites” (http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk/Resources/WebGuidelinesArticle/fs/en?CONTENT_ID=4000019&chk=C7zlV4) and “Illustrated Handbook for Web Management Teams” (http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk/Resources/WebHandbookIndex1Article/fs/en?CONTENT_ID=4002528&chk=y%2BeOKM)

Owen says:
August 13, 10h

Keith: Thanks for raising awareness of the DRC’s work. I’m aware already of the “thousand Web sites” investigation, though I’ve never been able to attend the update meetings held in London every now and then!

And although the government’s making the right noises (a first step, certainly), the current situation is pretty awful. Working as a contractor for a number of government depts and EC programmes, providing Web design and evaluation services, I’m exposed to an awful lot of sites that don’t even pay lip service to accessibility.

In my experience, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that Web design agencies submitting proposals to undertake the work are adept at dissembling, mentioning the magic words “will comply with Level A of the WCAG 1.0” with no intention at all of making a site accessible.

I’ll put the soapbox away now.

socrates says:
August 14, 10h

Socrates: I have never said, and will never say, think, or believe that it’s ok not to concern ourselves with people with significant disabilities. I am saying that you should at least start by making a site accessible to *most*.
-you miss the point. The point is that people will say they already cater to “most”, so that argument doesn’t stand.

“There are also moral arguments on the basis of individuality (and, by extension, private property) that run counter to your goal.
If you want to look at it that way, there is likely nothing I can ever say to convince you that discriminating against people with disabilities (or any other group) is not good
-you miss the point. Discrimination in and of itself is not bad, it simply means choosing. The “moral” argument about *unjust* discrimination here is not clear cut because other values are in play. For example, should all private homes be required to be built/upgraded accessible to disabled people at the owner’s expense? How about all private shops? How about all government offices? How about the Supreme Court? From beginning to end you probably accord a decreasing value to the owner’s “right” to privacy/property/etc. vis-a-vis a public “right” to equal treatment.

“An extremely small online market for most sites, unless you have a specialty site. (Or unless only some sites are accessible and corner the market, as in your ramp example, but then that?s not what you really want.) Hence the trouble/visitor is too high.”
Since when is it said that someone with a disability purchases only disability related products?
-you miss the point. If all shops are accessible, no particular shop gains more than an insignificant average share of the small disabled market. Hence the only significant economic benefit is to early adopters until such time as their competitors become accessible, or to specialty sites. (One valid economic argument could be to grab the lead now and try to hold on to it. But even then it is a small gain that will be compared to the costs. Hence if the true costs are low, that must be clearly emphasized.) Another valid point is if there are goodwill spillover effects to the larger “regular” market.

Forgive me for hoping that perhaps some people would decide to do the right thing.
-again, it’s not the “right thing”, it’s simply something designed to help disabled people. It is equally “right” to require that all sites be translated into Spanish so that Spanish speakers are not discriminated against. Or to say that my site is my property and I don’t care about that market. You are simply an advocate of a particular group, and as such you are not “right”, and everyone else is not “wrong”. Baldly stating that people who disagree are “wrong” (immoral) will not attain your goal.

You could however make the point that disabled people deserve special treatment - be discriminated in favor of - because their situation is so unfortunate, but then the power argument from rights would have to be lost in favor of one of kindness/charity (or to use a disowned word, pity). You can see how marketing your goal to major sites would thus change radically, but perhaps be far more successful. Amazon and others could use a disabled association’s “We care!” logo on their site (which leads to a site explaining how the referrer went out of his way to help you, and how it can be done), generating economic good will for themselves at the same time.

Don’t kill Socrates. He has no opinion; he merely points out the logic or illogic of other opinions in order to find the best way forward.

MNS says:
August 15, 07h

As a person with poor eyesight, although mostly correctable with glasses, I am still extremely light sensitive. In the “natural” light of the Sun, I can read a newspaper without any correction at all. When I am infront of my computer trying to read fonts the size of the ones in this text box, things tend to get a little blurry, and my eyes do not focus well in the “unnatural” frequency of the light from the monitor screen. I also design the website for my small online business. I do not pay attention as to whether the sie is accessible or not. My theory is that if a website is coded to standards by the W3C and a piece of software is sold to a handicapped person that cannot interpret that coding so as to need “more special” coding, I would say the liability is on the person producing the software and not the person making the site. If you code a site to W3C standards, not one “normal” browser completely supports that let alone attempting to make a site fully accessable to every person under every circumstance. It just ain’t happenin’. Maybe someday we will all be trully “equal”. http://www.libertarianthought.com/texts/harrison.html

August 16, 03h

As someone without significant barriers to using most websites, it took me quite a while to start building sites which incorporate accessibility features.

But the key thing is - it’s not hard to do. Really it isn’t - the online tools from W3C and Bobby, and the text-browser emulators such as delorie.com give you as a designer instant feedback, and then it’s just a few bits of tinkering to get the pages to ‘pass the test’. Of course, that’s not the end of accessibility, and by no means all my sites and pages pass the full tests, but it’s got me started on the road and made me an evangelist for accessible, standards-compliant sites.

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Steven Wittens says:
December 09, 06h

I have to admit, I still like the idea of having impaired users signal their condition through an HTTP header. It’s something that is visible only to the webserver, so it’s still quite different from ‘wearing a huge sign’ IMO.
Most webserver statistics are handled through 3rd party software; if you get the word out to statistic-making companies (or open-source projects) to include a count about how many handicapped users visit their site, you’d reach a lot of companies immediately.
It could e.g. give designers/admins feedback about whether accessibility changes are having an effect.

You mentioned that impaired friends couldn’t give you a listing of inaccessible sites because they just surf on: but I doubt that impaired users will go and congratulate a webmaster/designer every time they visit a website that /is/ accessible (I know I wouldn’t).

There’s also the matter of what to report. What about something neutral like “I require an accessible website”?